Now let's hear from a real expert

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
October 15, 2006

The last couple of weeks, I've made fun of so-called financial experts. Today I thought it would be good to get advice and comments from some people who really know what's happening in the economy''your neighbors.

Pete Claussen, CEO of Gulf & Ohio Railroad (and the Three Rivers Rambler, a great fall outing I highly recommend) acknowledges the excess media attention given to recent highs in the Dow Jones Industrial Average: 'It took the Dow almost seven years to reach its previous high, so inflation-adjusted it is still about 12 to 15 percent below that level. A 3 percent bond yield would have put you up more than 20 percentage points ahead of the index.'

At least the valuations of the companies within the Dow are more reasonable today, notes Regal Entertainment Group CEO Mike Campbell: 'Most of the companies that make up the Dow are earning substantially more than they were six years ago.' But he warns of the potential economic risks of higher prices for natural resources caused by the exploding economies in China and India.

Josh McNeill, starting center for the Tennessee offensive line, agrees with Campbell's premise that low oil prices are good for the economy: 'These recently lower gas prices are great and I hope it will continue. My suggestion is to tap into our reserves in Alaska. It would help our economy, especially families that struggle financially.' Not bad for a college freshman from Mississippi.

At Pilot Travel Centers, president Jimmy Haslam sees business efficiency improving: 'We continue to see tremendous gains in efficiency made by American businesses which enable them to hold prices down and remain competitive.' He is cautiously optimistic that the economy will grow in the 2.5 to 3 percent range over the next year to 18 months.

In the nonprofit world, Second Harvest's Elaine Machiela senses a strong local economy: 'Our donation support has been outstanding. I'm not a financial expert, but when our donations are plentiful, that means people are feeling good about their community and their financial situations.'

Armistead Smith is the Chairman of American Trust Bank, along with being a gentleman farmer and horseman. He sees the economy from two distinctly different angles: 'For the group that's doing well, the economy is good. But if you're on the bottom end of the ladder or an entry-level job hopper, things aren't so good.'

My barber, Donna Bunch, has an interesting socioeconomic observation: 'People in their 20s are struggling, not because of the economy, but because of where they are in life. They have unrealistic expectations.' (I didn't ask Donna if she read the infamous 'birthday party story' about the 15-year-old in Knoxville.)

My next-door-neighbor, attorney John Valliant, thinks this entire exercise is folly: 'David, if you really want to do something useful, come over and help your favorite neighbor mow his grass.'

Now that's an expert opinion.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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