Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Summer 2002Kellogg School of Management
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Brian Wesbury '89
Alumni Profile: Brian Wesbury '89
Fortune teller
Named the nation’s top economic forecaster by the Wall Street Journal, Brian Wesbury ’89 has an uncanny knack for predicting the future

Brian Wesbury ’89 can’t forget the first time a radio reporter asked his opinion on an economic matter.

The durable goods report had just come out, and CBS Radio News had called the economics department at Chicago’s Harris Bank for a quote on the numbers. The call was routed to Wesbury, then a 25-year-old junior economist who’d had little experience with the media. But the interview ended abruptly with Wesbury’s response to the first question. “Uh … uh …. I can’t do this!” Wesbury stammered as he slammed down the receiver.

Wesbury has more than redeemed himself in the 18 years since then, as far as the Journal and many other top media outlets are concerned. Now jocular and relaxed with the press, Wesbury dispenses his wisdom daily to reporters hungry for his unnervingly accurate take on which way the economic winds will blow.

His opinions appear often on the Journal’s op-ed page, as well as in publications such as Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and Investors Business Daily. His stage fright long since conquered, Wesbury is a regular guest on CNBC and CNN-fn, and comments weekly on economic issues for WPTT radio in Pittsburgh. His monthly column, “The Outlook,” is published in The American Spectator magazine, and his book, The New Era of Wealth, was published in 1999 by McGraw-Hill.

Now chief economist at the Chicago investment bank of Griffin, Kubik, Stephens & Thompson, Wesbury acknowledges he has developed a “gift for a good quote.” But Wesbury clearly brings something else to the table, and that is his uncanny knack for predicting the future.

Wesbury was one of only nine economists on the Journal’s 52-member forecasting panel to foresee last year’s economic slowdown. Among those nine bears, his predictions most closely mirrored the official numbers reported by the Department of Commerce. He was spot-on in his forecast of meager economic growth in the first half of 2001, followed by a contraction in the third quarter. He based this prediction, as he does every forecast, on some sophisticated number-crunching, as well as an astute reading of history and politics. He believes the Fed raised interest rates too sharply in 1999 and 2000, and he also determined that tax rates had gotten to be “too disproportionate” a share of the GDP. “In the past, this has led to a downturn in the economy,” he says.

It’s not the first time Wesbury has gained renown for his accuracy. He’s been named the most accurate forecaster by both the Bond Buyer and Bloomberg Interest Rate surveys. Earlier this year, Forbes touted Wesbury as one of the magazine’s “two favorite working economists.”

“What Brian actually does is ask the critical questions that few formal economists bother to ask anymore,” publisher Rich Karlgaard says. He notes approvingly that Wesbury avoids abstractions such as “consumer confidence” and focuses instead whether America’s suppliers are being helped or hindered in their efforts to innovate and produce.

The 43-year-old Wesbury, who lives in Downers Grove, Ill., with his wife, Brenda, and infant son Kyle, says Kellogg’s broad curriculum and challenging coursework set the stage for his success. “I feel so well-rounded,” he says. “I know that without that education, my career would not have been the same.”
As for the view from the top of the Journal list? Wesbury is confident in this prediction: “I won’t stay there. There’s only one place to go, and that’s down.” But that’s OK, he adds.

“It’s not so much about winning, but being close to the top,” Wesbury says. “It confirms that somehow, the view I’ve taken of the world is pretty accurate at this juncture.”

— Rebecca Lindell

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University