As if it weren't bad enough that the country is $2.5 trillion in the hole and the dollar is as strong as tissue, now the planets are lining up against us.
Next year, financial astrologers report, six heavenly bodies are camping in Capricorn, bringing an era of conservatism and probably a depression.
For investors, naturally, the outlook is abysmal. Profits in the unprecedented bull markets of the 1980s will soon be erased like chalk on a blackboard; one astrologer predicts the Dow Jones industrial index will slip more than 1,300 points to the 400-800 level by this time next year.
While you still can, they urge, move into short-term Treasury bills and get your flu shots: There's also going to be a plague.
Why listen to forecasters who spend more time studying the rotation of the planets than price-earnings ratios? Why not? How accurate has your broker been lately? A few of them have established a remarkable track record during the past decade--including precise calls on the August, 1987, top of the market and the crash two months later.
More recently, Arch Crawford--described by Barron's magazine as "Wall Street's best-known astrologer"--checked the New York Stock Exchange's horoscope and predicted during a telephone interview in October that the Dow Jones industrials would slide sharply in the two weeks following Election Day; it lost about 110 points. In his Crawford Perspectives newsletter of Oct. 31, he also forecast a market calamity close to Nov. 12, when "the cold and dour planet Saturn enters Capricorn, the cold and dour sign." The Dow plummeted 47.66 points on Nov. 11, the biggest decline in seven months.
So, Nancy Reagan, you are not alone. This is a new age for market forecasts, and many sophisticated investors are buying the newsletters and attending the seminars of prognosticators they hooted at not long ago. Although none will speak for the record, stock traders in Chicago and New York confirm that they are buying financial astrologers' newsletters and trading on the advice.
Today, that advice is gloomy.
Crawford, 47, has told the readers of his newsletter to sell everything. He put out the same signal Aug. 8, 1987, forecasting that the '80s bull market would crest on Aug. 24. He was just one day off.
Anyone taking his advice would have been out of stocks entirely by Black Monday on Oct. 19 because he also wrote that the top would be followed by a "horrendous crash into the eclipse of the sun."
(Crawford later forecast a second, smaller crash in February that did not materialize. Still, he is consistently ranked among the nation's top forecasters by the prominent newsletter Timer's Digest.)
His research into planetary, solar and market cycles leads him to forecast:
* A free-fall in the Dow Jones industrial index of 300 to 600 points by the middle of February, followed by rallies that will peak in late April.
* Headlong declines through the summer, with a low in August followed by a short rally.
* A crisis in late October to mid-November that will culminate in an ultimate low in the Dow around Nov. 13 of 400 to 800.
"You should sell Aunt Minnie's AT&T today," said Crawford, who trained early in his career as a conventional technical forecaster at Merrill Lynch. "For one thing, this is probably the most favorable tax rate for capital gains in our lifetime. For another, these are the highest prices we will see for 20 years."
Syndicated astrology columnist and author Sydney Omarr won't forecast the economy, but says the lineup of six planets in Capricorn foretells conservatism in money, values and dress.
"Money will be tight," says Omarr. "People will be inclined to be less haphazard and exercise more discipline. If you are conservative, this is your year.
"In March, there will be a rising trend, but people will realize there is no underpinning and panic. In April, we will feel threatened as a nation. A man on a white horse will show up in November." (He's not saying who.)
Omarr is a slight, gray-haired native of Philadelphia who works out of a high-rise condominium in Santa Monica. The walls are filled with letters and signed photographs from such clients as the late novelist Henry Miller and former Saudi oil minister Zaki Yamani.
He speaks cryptically but with authority from a wheelchair, declaring that the "warlike" planet Mars will influence the coming year, emphasizing the military and metal.
"Steel and steel products will make a comeback," Omarr says. "That may indicate that there will be a threat to security. There could be a necessity for armaments. I don't know which precise stocks would be best--possibly autos, steel companies and defense companies."
Other students of waves and planets put a different spin on the same data.
Diane Lancaster--a metaphysician and business consultant based in Washington--tells her clients not to buy any stocks. Saturn is the "lord of karma," she says, while Capricorn is the sign of big business. Apparently, that's trouble.