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F E B R U A R Y 1958


Looking Glass

Through the medium of their published fore­
casts, “ interviews” have been held with 62 analysts
in order to obtain a comprehensive view of expert
opinion on the outlook for economic activity this
year. The following article is a report on “ the
other fellow’s” thinking ; no views or opinions of
this Bank are implied or expressed. In view of
the wide range of opinions given and the
opposing interpretations of current developments,
it would appear that the universal motto of fore­
casters might be “ Frequently wrong but never in
While there is definitely a majority opinion,
holding that the current downturn will be of
moderate proportions, the divergencies of views
are more pronounced than they have been for some
time. Standing together at the same point in
time and circumstance, a number of leading econo­
mists find themselves poles apart in their forecasts.
There is also an unusually large amount of
“ iffiness” in this year’s batch of forecasts, and
the sheer weight of number in agreement is not
particularly persuasive that the 1958 outlook is
an open book.

the economy is taking a breather while excessive
inventories are worked down and until an ex­
panded national security program begins to swell
the income stream. It is generally assumed that
expenditures for new plant and equipment are not
likely to turn upward soon. FEowever, the de­
pressing influence of curtailed business invest­
ment will be countered by increasing govern­
ment outlays— Federal, state, and local—gradually
increasing consumer spending, and the cessation
of inventory liquidation. Residential building is
also seen on the plus side this year, but there
does not seem to be too much strength of con­
viction on this point. Finally, many of those in
the camp of the moderates feel that a check to
the first-half decline and an assist to the secondhalf recovery will come from greater availability
of funds and lower borrowing costs this year.
In brief, this group of forecasts— the majority
group— finds the seeds for a second-half recovery
in both major areas of the economy, private and
public. Anti-recession programs of the Federal
government will not have to turn the tide un­

MERELY A BREATHER? The majority opinion is
that the present downturn will be a moderate one
in both duration and intensity. The earlier fore­
casts of temperate decline, made in November and
early December, generally referred to mid-1958 as
the turning point. Since mid-December the ap­
proximate transition date has been advanced to
Labor Day. After that date most of the economic
indicators are expected to veer upward again to
produce a moderate advance in aggregate business
One of the terms used frequently to describe
the nature of the downtrend forecast by the moder­
ates is “ breathing spell.” It is explained that

There are those, of course, who
are not looking through such rose-colored glasses
as are the moderates. This minority group does
not subscribe to the opinion that sometime during
the first six months of 1958 business will cease
living off its stocks and switch to inventory accu­
mulation. Its members point out that in the
1953-54 recession inventory liquidation was a
protracted process, dragging on through four
consecutive quarters before it was again necessary
to step up production in order to build up in­
ventories. With virtually nothing in short supply
and with an easing demand in general, this very
small group reasons, business is more likely than


not to continue working down its inventories well
beyond the mid-point of this year.
Nor does this group find strength in Federal
spending to the extent that the moderates and
optimists do. Undoubtedly, it is admitted, anti­
recession programs initiated by the Federal gov­
ernment will do the trick— but not overnight.
At least six months, maybe longer, will be re­
quired before business and personal incomes will
begin to reflect significantly the gradual increase
in Federal outlays.
One forecast in this group questions the
economic efficacy of the expanding national se­
curity program. There is “ little chance that we
can get rid of burdensome inventories or find
productive use for excess capacity by merely
increasing government spending for things which
we, as consumers, don’t want and which we, as
producers, can’t pay for. W e can’t live on
Estimates derived from government and busi­
ness surveys of a 7°/o or slightly greater decline in
expenditures on newTplant and equipment are taken
with a grain of salt by the pessimists. They point
to the tremendous sums invested in production
facilities in recent years and contend that industry
in general has excess capacity. This they argue
will take many more than just a few months to
correct. The depressing influence of declining
outlays for expansion and modernization of pro­

ductive facilities will be neither short-lived nor
moderate in severity.
THIS TIME? So arguing, the pessimists (They
would choose the term “ realists.” ) take issue
with the opinion that present difficulties will be
ironed out by mid-year or so and the stage set
for the resumption of general economic expan­
sion. They do not set a date themselves; the
very nature of their forecast precludes a definite
terminal date. Their fear is that this time the
decline may develop the cumulative downward
forces that in the past have produced the whirl­
pool of depression. Few go so far as to say they
definitely expect the onslaught of a depression.
Only one forecast has been noted— there may be
others— that minces no wT
ords in projecting a
continuous decline well beyond 1958. “ Every
postwar boom has been followed,” this particular
analyst points out, “ by a major depression and
there is no reason to think that this one will have
a different ending.”
Other forecasters in this group carry their
arguments only to the brink of depression. They
do not plunge into the abyss. They are convinced,
however, that the economy this year will be sub­
jected to “ greater strains and stresses than any­
thing experienced since World War II.”
“ Balderdash” (or its eco­
nomic equivalent ) retorts another minority group;

The specter of unem ploym ent, on the increase at the open in g of 1958, holds no fe a rs for most fo recasters.

In gen era l, total con-

sumer sp en d ing is seen as bein g w ell m aintained or risin g this year.

U N S M P l O V M 6 NT



“ the corrective forces are already at work, and
1958 will be another year of economic expansion.”
The optimist group, including those who forecast
an upturn in the first quarter of this year or well
before mid-year, is small in numbers but imposing
in individual reputations. In the proverbial nut­
shell, this group views the downturn under way
at the beginning of this year as merely “ a sharp
bump” 0 the road to further expansion.
They “ flatly disagree” with those who have
forecast a recession this year. Their view is that
the rate of recovery from the decline in the final
quarter of 1957 will be slow during this Spring
but will pick up speed in the final six months.
The net result, according to their computations,
will be a total production of goods and services
during the year ranging in value from $440 billion
to $450 billion.
During the final months of last year business
began reducing its spending for new plant and
equipment. This and the reduction in Federal
government outlays because of the earlier cutbacks
in the defense program more than offset rises in
other sectors of the economy. These developments,
the optimists point out, had a sharp reaction in
the inventory policy of business firms. Instead
of accumulating inventories, business began to live
off stocks on hand and effected a net reduction at
an annual rate of $3 billion in the fourth quarter.
This, it is added, was worse than it might seem

since it followed an inventory build-up of $2
billion in the third quarter. Thus the over-all
impact of changes in inventories amounted to $5
billion 0 an annual rate basis, quite a blow to
the economic health of even as boom-prosperous
a nation as ours.
However, some of the forecasters in this group
feel that this has at least one favorable aspect— the
severity of the inventory change in such a short
time hastens the day when restocking of empty
shelves will increase the volume of manufacturers’
new orders. “ In any case, the rate of inventory
reduction can hardly get much worse, and in fact
must moderate before long.”
from basic factors such as population increase,
gain in family formation, and technological prog­
ress, the main reasons optimists find for forecast­
ing further economic gains in 1958 lie in the areas
of government spending and personal consumption
spending. Some emphasize the former, implying
that the new national security program is the
latest recession stopper and recovery starter. Its
impact for the first few months of the year will
likely be felt mainly in the confidence created
among businesses and labor by contract awards
and placement of orders. When actual govern­
ment payments reach full flood and swell the in­
come stream, the upward trend of general business

A s 1957 m ade room fo r 1958, the prospect fo r increased o u tlays for nation al security w as seen as a facto r of strength and auto sales
a p p eared as one of the m ajor d isquieting forces in the outlook.


Most forecasts fo r 1958 look fo r strong crosscurrents in construction


Factory b u ild in g

is seen declin in g

from ye a r-e a rlie r

peaks w h ile construction o u tlays o f state and local governm ents are view ed as in a rising trend.

activity will be accelerated markedly. All the
while, of course, expenditures by state and local
governments will continue to expand and provide
a sizable element of strength.
In the main, though, it is the consumer who
is going to carry the ball. It is clear that the
optimists are not resting their case solely or
principally on expansion of government spending
for defense and for anti-recession projects. They
point out that personal income is at a very high
level, only negligibly below last Summer’s peak,
and will rise to new record levels later this year.
Consequently, there are sound, logical reasons for
anticipating further growth of consumer spending
this year.
In other words, the economy is fundamentally
sound; the worst of the downturn may well be
behind us, and there is no reason to assume that
the private side of the economy needs to be bailed
out by the government sector. This being the
case, why look at 1958 as a recession year? In
fact, if the term “ recession” should be insisted
upon, it needs to be added that “ it is the most
prosperous recession you can have without calling
it prosperity.”
A NEW W RINKLE The three groups referred to
— pessimists, moderates, and optimists— shade
into each other and overlap on many points.
There are, of course, mutual points of agreement

and disagreement all through the gamut of fore­
casts. One of the most notable common meeting
grounds is in the field of monetary policy. Those
who have commented on the part played by the
monetary authorities have generally agreed that
“ appropriate” action will make a major contribu­
tion to recovery and resumption of the growth
trend. Some forecasts emphasized this factor:
“ Easy money will play the key role in combating
recession, just as tight money bore the brunt of
the battle on inflation last year.”
One of the more interesting possibilities ad­
vanced by some of the forecasters is that of a
concurrent rise in prices and decline in business
activity. This innovation in economic develop­
ment could occur, it is explained, only if the zigging of prices and the zagging of activity were of
very moderate proportions. The reasoning here
is that the recent rise in prices was brought about
mainly by the “ push of rising costs.” It is likely
that many of the upward pressures on costs will
not be modified during a mild recession and thus
the “ cost push” influence in maintaining or rais­
ing prices will continue.
This is one of the many interesting possible
developments considered in the forecasts. In
general, the coverage of principal factors and
developments was quite complete, and the fore­
casts were logically drawn on the basis of the
assumptions made.







HOME BUYERS added $81* bil­
lion to total m ortgage indebted­
ness on 1- to 4-fam ily houses in
1957. W hile this represents a
substantial flow of money into
the residential real estate m ar­
kets during the year, it w as
nearly one-fourth less than in
1956 and a third below that
experienced in the h o u s i n g
boom year 1955.

TO T A L A S S E T S OF C O M M ER C IA L B A N K S slum ped more than is u sually expected in the first
q uarter of the y e a r— by $10.2 b illio n —an d , alth o u gh they exp an d e d fa irly steadily d u ring the
Digitized fornine months, at the end of 1957 they were not sign ifica n tly ab o ve their level at the b eg in ­
ning of the year.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

ERNMENTS issued new se­
curities totaling $7 billion
in 1957, prim arily to sup­
port their capital spending
program s. This total ex­
ceeded that in 1956 by
one-fourth and w as on a
par with the previous rec­
ord set in 1954.

CONSUM ERS received a record
amount of credit in 1957. How­
ever, because repaym ents on
outstanding credit were also at
record levels, the net addition to
current purchasing power made
by consumer borrow ing, $2.7
billion, w as nearly one-fifth less
than in 1956 and w as less than
half that in 1955.


CO RPO RA TIO N S put a larger
amount of new bond issues into
the capital markets in 1957 than
ever before. The $10 billion of
flotations last year (mostly for
new capital) w as one-fourth
larger than the total in 1956 and
a third greater than in each of
the two preceding years.




THE RATE O N N EW ISSU E S OF TR EA SU R Y BILLS reflects the gen eral
pattern of interest rate behavior. D uring most of 1957 dem ands for
fu n ds ove rb alan ce d su pp ly an d rates reached record levels in e a rly Fall.
A fter m id-N o vem b er most rates experienced sh arp declines.

Peanuts Aren't Just Peanuts

“ Just peanuts!” How often this expression is
used to denote smallness, triviality, or insig­
nificance. But just as peanuts ofttimes prove to
be the staff of life to country squirrels and their
city cousins, so also are they of key importance to
the peanut-producing counties of southeastern
Virginia and northeastern North Carolina.
NUTS A N D HAMS These 21 counties, each of
which ranks among the nation’s leading peanutproducing counties, produce the bulk of all peanuts
grown in Virginia and the Carolinas. As late
as 1954, most recent year for which detailed
figures are available, these same counties pro­
duced two-fifths of the nation’s peanut crop.
Three-fifths of all farms in this 21-county area
grow peanuts to be harvested for nuts, and peanut
acreage comprises about 20% of all cropland
Picked-and-threshed peanuts account for 28%
of the value of all crops sold and one-fourth of
cash receipts from the sale of farm products.
Even the vines pay their w ay: peanut vines saved
for hay equal about two-fifths of the value of all
hay produced in the peanut counties.
Then, too, there is large-scale hog production
within the area. This has resulted largely from
the practice of turning hogs into the harvested
peanut fields to eat the peanuts which drop from
the vines during the digging process. Sale of
these porkers, from which come the well-known
“ peanut-fed hams,” provides farmers with an
additional source of income and has led to the
establishment of local pork-packing plants.
Some 33 peanut shelling and crushing plants
are in operation in Virginia and North Carolina.
In addition, there are 9 processing firms located
in or near the heart of the producing area. These


shellers, crushers, and processors provide employ­
ment for from 50 persons or less to as many as
1,600 per plant.
Suffolk, Virginia, has long been known as the
“ world’s largest peanut market.” Located in
Nansemond County, one of the 21 leading pro­
ducing counties, it is but one example of the many
communities which benefit from the operation of
peanut shelling, crushing, and processing plants.
Nearby Smithfield is the location of several
meat packing firms that prepare the lean, distinc­
tively flavored, peanut-fed hams that are esteemed
throughout the world.
And so peanuts aren’t just peanuts! They’re
a means of livelihood, feed for livestock, and the
source of tasty hams.
HOW IT ALL STARTED The peanut’s importance
to this area extends over nearly a century. First
produced commercially in this country in Sussex
County, Virginia, in 1844, peanuts soon became
the leading crop of that county. Cultivation
spread extensively into surrounding counties, and
by 1868 production in Virginia totaled nearly 7
million pounds.
After the War Between the States, the soldiers
who had fought in the Virginia campaigns carried
their liking for peanuts home with them. Peanut
production spread rapidly into other Southern
States, and by 1879 total commercial output for
the country had risen to about 38 million pounds.
Hand preparation of peanuts for market proved
impractical on a large scale, and the growing of
peanuts as a business was necessarily restricted
until machinery for picking, cleaning, and shell­
ing was invented. The first step in this direction
came in 1876 when a plant for cleaning peanuts
was erected in New York City, then the leading

peanut market. It was soon apparent that the
logical place for a peanut plant was the area of
production; so, one was built in Norfolk, Virginia,
in that same year. A second factory was built
in Norfolk in 1878 and another, much larger, one
in Smithfield, Virginia, in 1880.
Market expansion followed the introduction
of the new marketing methods, and production
of peanuts spread quickly throughout the South.
By 1909 peanut acreage harvested in Virginia
and the Carolinas amounted to 331,000 acres, and
production totaled 224 million pounds. This was
roughly two-thirds of the nation’s output.
Between 1909 and World War II, expansion
of both acreage and production of peanuts oc­
curred throughout the country. Expansion in the
Virginia-Carolina region was not as rapid as else­
where, however. This same lag occurred during
the war years when marketing quotas and acreage
allotments were suspended to encourage an
increase in peanut production for war needs.
Peanut acreage throughout the nation increased
two-thirds; that in the District slightly less than
two-fifths. The rise in District production com­
pared even less favorably than the upturn in
acreage. As a result, World War II production
in the District states averaged around one-fourth
of the nation’s total.
Even though the Virginia-Carolinas’ share of
the nation’s peanut acreage and production de­
clined between 1909 and 1945, the peanut’s im­
portance to the economies of the counties of
southeastern Virginia and northeastern North
Carolina assumed major proportions. By 1945
when District acreage reached its peak at 515,000,
two-thirds of all farms in the 21 counties were
growing peanuts to be harvested for nuts. Peanut
acreage comprised nearly 30% of all cropland
harvested. Value of the peanuts amounted to a
little less than two-fifths of the value of all crops
sold and one-third of the value of all farm prod­
ucts sold.
Given impetus by the acreage allotment pro­
gram in effect since 1949, peanut acreage has
declined sharply during the postwar period.
Last year, in fact, the District’s harvested acreage
of peanuts was one-third below the prewar high
of 1940 and two-fifths under the wartime peak
in 1945. There has been a significant upturn in
yields since the war, however, and the District
has regained some of the ground it lost to other
peanut-producing states prior to and during the
war years.

Why have peanut pro­
ducers been confronted with smaller acreage allot­
ments during most years since 1949? The answer
is a familiar one—-the necessity for adjusting
production to bring supplies in line with current
During World W ar II when farmers were
urged to plant larger acreages of peanuts as a
safeguard against shortages of fats and oils, the
increased output also permitted an increase in
the consumption of edible peanuts. Consumers
were glad of the chance to substitute peanut
products for foods in short supply such as butter,
cheese, jams and jellies, candy, and imported
nuts. Per capita consumption of peanuts jumped
from 4.4 pounds in 1939 to 6.6 pounds by 1945.
Peanut consumption per person dropped to the
prewar level shortly after the war and has held
at about that level since. The war-created demand
for sizeable quantities of peanut oil has also di­
minished. As a result, the Commodity Credit
Corporation has found it necessary to purchase
large quantities of peanuts during most years since
There has been a slight rise in the over-all
demand for edible Virginia-type peanuts since
1950. The significantly increased yields per acre
have provided the product to meet this upturn in
demand for Virginias, however, and no appreciable
increase in acreage has occurred.


The Fifth District
Recent weeks have brought diverse changes in
District business, but on balance the decline in
activity continued in December and early January.
Trade, as reflected in reports from department
and furniture stores and automobile dealers, made
a good showing in December, and department
stores continued to report a healthy volume in
the opening weeks of the new year. Bank debits
showed a better-than-seasonal gain in December,
reflecting an increase in total payments made.
Despite these hopeful signs, however, many basic
indicators continued downward. December manhours of work in durable manufacturing industries
shrank by 3% from the previous month, and
bituminous coal production fell sharply in Decem­
ber and started January at lowr levels. Despite
Christmas week shutdowns, textile manufacturers
found little improvement in their situation in
January. Farm income showed the decline ex­
pected to result from smaller 1957 crops.

Bituminous Coal
The bituminous coal industry started 1957 with
hopes of continued improvement but ran into
difficulties as the year progressed. Such im­
portant consumers as the steel industry and the
cement industry bought less than expected ton­
nage and the general decline in industrial produc­
tion cut back other industrial purchases.
The strong source of demand on the coal in­
dustry during 1957 came from outside the con­
tinent, as overseas shipments were one-fifth higher
than in 1956. Even with a drop of 8% in Cana­
dian purchases, total exports were up by 12% .
This was in contrast to the drop of 4% in domestic
consumption and a reduction of nearly 3% in
total production.
Production from the mines of West Virginia,
Virginia, and Maryland held up better than this,
however, due to the favored position of these
mines for export. The District’s share of bitumi­
nous output thus continued to increase as it has
done in recent years, rising to 37% of the 1957
national total.
Coal prices rose in the Spring of 1957 but have
weakened somewhat as output declined. The
premium charged earlier for export coal has dis­
appeared, and some price cutting has been reported
in domestic markets.


Current industry forecasts place this year’s
production and consumption about 3% below last
year’s. The decline is expected to be centered
in coking coal used for steel production and in
foreign sales, which trailed off in late 1957 due
to a slowdown in industrial activity in northern
Europe. The total of 475 million tons, if realized,
will call for somewhat higher average production
than was achieved in the closing weeks of last
Despite stiff competition from petroleum and
gas, bituminous coal use by electric utilities in­
creased last year and is expected to show a further
gain to 165 million tons in 1958. Aggressive
research has produced great advances in efficiency
in coal-fired boilers; this has cut coal require­
ments per unit of electrical power but has main­
tained coal in a favorable competitive position at
substantial distances from the mines.
The railroads have sunk to insignificance as
users of coal. Still important as recently as 1951,



consum ed


o f the

bitum inous


m ined in 1957 and g ive prom ise of an in cre asin g dem and.

A rare sigh t is this steam locom otive, fo r the co al-b u rn in g iron horse has been overtaken by the diesel-p ow ered stream liner.

when they bought 54 million tons, they are ex­
pected to use 6-7 million tons in 1958. Cement
mills— which fire their kilns with bituminous—
are now more important consumers than the rails.
Competition from gas and petroleum have
driven down “ retail” use of coal for heating.
The loss amounted to one-third from 1956 to
1957, leading to an expected use of about 36 mil­
lion this year.

In short, the industry will be hard-pressed to
hold the production gains of the past three years.
Yet the longer-run outlook is bright: bituminous
coal is sharing in the tremendous increase in
energy use and research continues into its uses
as a source of chemicals. A 1955 estimate of a
10-year increase of 50% in the demand for bitumi­
nous may well be realized. West Virginia and
the other coal producing states of the District will
share in the benefits of this increase.

Bitum inous coal production topped out in the second h alf of

TEXTILES A weakening of cotton cloth prices in
January symbolized the continuation of problems
for the textile industry. It had been hoped that
the widespread week-long mill closings at Christ­
mas would reduce inventories enough to improve
the order position of the mills, but this apparently
did not happen.
Together with lower cotton cloth prices, mills
face higher raw cotton costs. A relative scarcity
of good quality cotton is forcing competitive bid­
ding for supplies at higher prices. The spread
between cotton costs and selling prices shrinks as

District Briefs
1957 afte r a th ree-year gro w th from its p ostw ar low in 1954.

Fifth District
(A v e ra g e D a ily 1 9 4 7 -4 9 = 1 0 0 )




a result.





1 95 2



1 955


1 957

FURNITURE District furniture m a n u fa ctu rers
curtailed production in the closing months of last
year and now hold a limited booking of orders.
One spokesman forecasts first quarter industry
sales at 70-80% of the same period last year,


adjustment for seasonal forces. Reports from
automobile dealers in major Fifth District cities
indicate on balance that new car sales in Decem­
ber were somewhat better than in November.
EM PLOYM ENT Total nonagricultural employment
in December wr fractionally above November
due largely to a seasonal increase in retail workers.
Most other types of employment except Govern­
ment showed a decline between November and
December; this was particularly pronounced in
mining and construction.
Insured unemployment in early January rose
substantially over December in each state of the
District. The largest increase— more than 50%
— came in the Carolinas and Virginia, while the
District of Columbia had an increase of 16%.


rate of decline in

nond u rab le m an ufactu rin g



Decem ber, as d u rab le industries declined 3% from N ovem ber.

pointing to limited buying at the Chicago Winter
Home Furnishings Market in mid-January.
AGRICULTURE Cash farm income continued to
lag with the November total 22% below the same
month a year ago. Crop income was down 32%,
while income from livestock and products was up
Department store sales exhibited real
exuberance in December, rising 4% after seasonal
correction from November to a level almost even
with December 1956. This brought the year’s
total 1% ahead of 1956. The December sales
performance was a surprise to store operators, for
sales early in the month foretold a poor Christmas
season. Sales strength came mainly in the ordi­
nary Christmas gift items and did not indicate any
great breadth of demand. Weekly figures in early
January, however, continued to show strength.
Retail furniture stores in December maintained
substantially their November sales level after


BA N KIN G Nowhere was the Fall slowdown in
the pace of District business more evident than
in the loan activity at member banks. Typically
District bank loans rise throughout a good part
of the Fall— particularly during December— be­
cause of the strong seasonal upsurge in business.
This Fall, however, something wr missing. Total
loans of District weekly reporting banks edged
up only slightly—-about 60% less than they rose
the last quarter of 1956. Even more important,
their business loans— still a better indicator of
economic activity— hardly rose at all.
Greater than seasonal weakness in several types
of loan demand at these same banks thus far in
1958 provides further evidence of continued soft­
ness in the Fifth District economy. For the first
three weeks of the year, business loans fell by a
shade more than they dropped at this time last
year. Roughly the same is true for consumer
and real estate loans, which also slid a little
further than they did during the first three weeks
of 1956.

C o ve r—The

M artin

p ap ers, Inc.

Com pany

3. Richm ond

N ew s­

4. Fairch ild A ircra ft D ivision, H a g e rs ­

5. V irg in ia En gine ering Co. Inc. an d M errill

C . Lee, Architect

6. K ay h oe Construction C o rp o ra ­

tion - M iller & Rhoads
C h am p ion

Pap er

Chocolate C o.

7. V a. Dept, of H ig h w a y s -

& Fibre


9. Planters

N ut

10. N atio n a l C o a l A sso ciation

C h e sa p e a k e an d O h io R a ilw a y Co.