Some lingering clouds on economic horizon

Many analysts, while encouraged by recent economic news, hesitate to endorse President Reagan's prediction that the recovery now under way will be ''powerful and sustained.''

Recovery there will be, and very likely faster than the 3.1 percent growth rate for 1983, which remains the administration's official forecast.

But some clouds linger on the economic horizon, with the potential to cast shadows across the path of economic developments this year.

Neither Congress nor the White House, for example, is yet doing what has to be done to reduce the structural deficit that threatens to keep the budget nearly $200 billion in the red, even after the economy revives.

That deficit springs from a widening gap between what the government collects in tax revenues and what it spends.

To narrow the gap, experts agree, Congress and the President will have to take some tough measures, including cuts in the growth rate of spending for defense, social security, and medicare, plus tax increases of some kind.

Intense debate is likely to focus during the spring and summer on how far the government should go in these directions, especially where defense outlays and taxes are concerned.

Ultimately, if the lending community becomes convinced that deficits are not coming down, interest rates could climb again, jeopardizing the recovery.

Even now, despite widening optimism about the economy, real interest rates remain very high relative to inflation.

Consumer prices are rising no more than 3 to 4 percent at an annual pace. Yet consumers and small-businessmen trying to get loans generally find interest rates running 12 percent or higher.

Concern over the deficits and their implications for interest rates and inflation is not the only reason that recovery may not prove to be as buoyant as the White House hopes.

The United States is snapping out of recession faster than its major trading partners, which promises to send the US trade deficit soaring to a new record this year.

The size of the trade deficit, which may reach $75 billion or $80 billion in 1983, is not the critical factor. More important is what happens to American jobs when US trading partners buy fewer American goods.

Millions of American jobs are tied directly to exports. When exports fall, people lose jobs. This year's negative trade balance, says economist C. Fred Bergsten, will exert a ''significant drag'' on US recovery.

This drag will be removed only when US trading partners, both European and third world, are prosperous enough to accept a brisker flow of American goods.

If US foreign trade were to be in balance this year, instead of deeply in the red, perhaps 1 million more Americans would find work and the gross national product would grow by an additional percentage point.

Another area of concern is the slowness of US businesses, battered by the worst recession since World War II, to schedule fresh investment in new plants and equipment.

Capital outlays of this type create jobs, boost the competitiveness of US goods, and help to modernize the industrial sector. Surveys indicate, however, that corporations on the whole plan to spend less on capital improvements this year than they did in 1982.

This is not surprising, given the extent of idle plant capacity that exists in the wake of the recession. US factories are operating at less than 70 percent capacity, a post-World War II low.

Whatever the reason, a major surge of capital spending - which would be a spur to growth - appears to be denied to the economy this year.

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