Will the Worlds Longest Investment Party continue for yet another year? Will some foreign element poison the punchbowl before Mr. Greenspan takes it away? These are the weighty questions before us today.
They will not be answered here.
Instead, consider these news flashes from the future, my fearless predictions for 1998:
The Importance and Destiny of Plano, Texas Will Be Discovered. As the Pacific Rim rolls with all those punches, development economists will show us that the real problem wasnt over-building, over-investing, or over-lending. Using well regressed models, the economists will show us that the United States is doing so well (and most everyone else is doing so poorly) because we have more square feet of closet per capita than any nation on earth.
Closets, they will note, can be filled with consumer products. If you dont have them, you cant buy anything. The International Monetary Fund, long known as the bank of last resort, will name the United States the consumer of last resort. They will search the nation for model communities— towns with particularly high levels of closet per capita.
They will find Plano.
Doctors Will Become Stockbrokers. After being led astray for a few years by the phenomenal incomes of lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice suits, doctors will stop leaving medicine to go to law school. Instead, they will become stockbrokers, having noticed that the income of the average stockbroker now exceeds the income of the average doctor in general practice.
The change will mean that millions of Americans will, once again, be able to talk with their (former) doctor. Communication will usually be by phone, at the dinner hour. Mutual funds will be prescribed to cure most ills.
Real Estate Prices Will Continue To Rise. This will occur as a defensive move by worried investors. Investors will shift more money to real estate after it becomes clear that it is more difficult to manufacture real estate than it is to manufacture stock certificates.
Counselors Will Discover A New Malaise: "Optionitus". While only a minority of the workforce, a growing legion of stock option-rich workers will fret about whether they should cash in their options and drop out. Many will take the money and run, aggravating the shortage of software engineers, programmers, and marketing executives. An unanticipated side effect: sales of take-out pizza plummet.
A Fortune 500 Executive Will Be Kidnapped And Found Weeks Later, Dead From Indigestion. Before his death, it will be learned, he was forced to live on a diet of pink slips.
The Number of Mutual Funds Will Exceed the Number of Elvis Imitators. Although it was once projected that the number of Elvis Imitators would exceed the population of the United States shortly after the year 2000, that concern will pale before the growth of the mutual fund population. Having exhausted all possible combinations of words like "growth", "equity", and "sure-thing", new funds will be named for families and for cities with populations of 50,000 or less.
Fidelity, always aggressive, will start the Jones Fund and no one will be able to keep up with it.
A Large Bank Will Make A Takeover Bid For the U.S. Postal Service. "This is a very logical move for us," their press release will say. "And its the best way we can affirm our commitment to growth through credit card marketing. You need full vertical integration to survive in the current environment." Other banks will put in higher bids. The postal service will finally be sold to a consortium of credit card banks.
The transaction will put the Federal budget into a significant surplus. Interest rates, already under pressure, will decline sharply. Except on credit cards.
Public use of e-mail will soar.
After Years of Political Wrangling, The Tax Code Will Be Replaced By A Sales Tax. Dubbed "The Labor Force Restoration Act of 1998", the tax code will be abolished after it is realized that millions of potential employees are committed to dealing with taxes. Liberated, they would ease a growing labor shortage.
Retail Sales Will Soar After Major Retailers Launch A New Financing Plan. Impressed by the results of "no interest for three months" or "no payments for a year" financing, 1998 will see a department store offer an even better plan for consumers— the Estate Account. "No interest or payments today. Pay in the Hereafter, instead. " The new account will work by accruing interest while you are alive and presenting the bill to your estate.
Questions about personal finance and investments may be sent to: Scott Burns, The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas 75265; or faxed to (214)-977-8776; e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org Check the website: "www.scottburns.com." Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns.