Finesse, not speed, may hold the key to sustained US recovery
Washington — ''Who will win the battle between the momentum of the recovery and the negative impact of higher interest rates?'' That question, says Jerry J. Jasinowski, preoccupies American business managers trying to decide how much capital to invest in their companies' futures and when to invest it.
''Right now, there is an enormous amount of momentum in the recovery'' that normally would spur manufacturers to expand their productive capacity, says Mr. Jasinowski, senior vice-president and chief economist of the National Association of Manufacturers.
But interest rates are also creeping up, giving managers pause about making long-term commitments on new plants and machinery, he says. Investment now tends to be concentrated in ''cost saving'' areas, he adds, notably computers and related equipment.
''I don't know any business people who think that the next six months is the right time to make huge capital expenditures,'' says John M. Albertine, president of the American Business Conference, Inc. (ABC).
''What interest rates are doing in the September to November period will determine capital investment plans,'' Jasinowski says.
''Among our members, there is a widespread consensus that interest rates will rise in the third and fourth quarter of the year,'' Mr. Albertine says. ''A 12 percent prime seems a reasonable prospect.'' The prime - the rate charged by lenders to their best corporate customers - now stands at 11 percent.
Jasinowski and Albertine, through their organizations, represent thousands of US corporate leaders across the spectrum of American business.
Businessmen cite two problems that, in their view, cloud the prospects of their companies and of the United States economy itself:
* One is the size of budget deficits in 1985 and thereafter, the so-called ''outyears.'' Deficits put upward pressure on interest rates, partly because lenders foresee a competition for capital between the US Treasury and private borrowers. Higher interest rates in turn make it more expensive for businessmen to borrow, which over time slows economic momentum.
* A second problem is the soaring value of the dollar against foreign currencies, which makes American exports prohibitively expensive for many overseas customers to buy.
''Anyone who is in export markets in a big way is taking a shellacking,'' says Jasinowski. ''There is no hope at this point for any export market providing [support] for the recovery.''
''Seventy percent of our member firms are exporters,'' says Albertine. ''The value of the dollar is a very serious problem for them.''
A French importer, for example, now pays eight francs to buy a dollar's worth of American goods, compared with five francs not too long ago. In almost every export market in the world, US businessmen have seen their sales dwindle as speculators and money managers bid up the value of the dollar.
Experts agree the dollar is overvalued in relation to other currencies. There is nothing in the relative performance of the Japanese and US economies, for example, that should keep the dollar rising against the yen. Instead, investors worldwide are speculating that US interest rates will remain high until federal budget deficits shrink. So they are rushing to put their money into dollars to earn higher interest rates than they can at home.
''What happens to interest rates in the winter, spring, and summer of 1984, is a very open question,'' Albertine says.
Jasinowski says, ''What we are likely to see is a choppy set of interest rate movements'' as the Federal Reserve Board tries to confine the growth of the money supply within the central bank's revised targets for 1983.
''It will be a good thing,'' Albertine says, ''to moderate the growth of the economy'' lest too rapid a recovery generate a demand for capital that would find the US Treasury and the private sector on a collision course.