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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What economists can learn from weather forecasters

In a speech to the Australian Business Economists Association, the Australian Reserve Bank Governor Mr Glenn Stevens compared weather forecasts to economic forecasts and made some interesting points. One can read the complete speech here(http://www.bis.org/review/r111129d.pdf). Some points he made were
  1. Weather forecasts are based on understanding the big forces. that day's dynamics and explictly state their margin of error/give a range. Also, these are based on huge masses of data
  2. Economic forecasts are similar but do not generally explicitly state margin of error.
  3. Decisions based on economic forecasts may alter the outcome(like policy making, saving, spending) and so the process of economic forecasting is much more difficult. 
 Many financial authors and investors(in particular Mr Howard Mark of Oaktree) have trashed economic forecasts because they are often wrong, because there is little amity among forecasters, and because they have wide margin of errors. In contrast, despite our jokes about the weathermen, their short term forecasts are usually correct.

But to satisfy the logical side of us that hates ambiguity, forecasts are essential. So how to improve economic forecasts? Apart from not forgetting the big trends, having and using huge data masses of stock price/economic indicators should improve the accuracy. But most importantly, like how auditors are careful to word their audit reports to reflect the limited scope/margin of error, even economic forecasters should do the same, to bring more credibility to the profession.

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