US businessmen still bullish on Reaganomics

Despite their concern over federal deficits and rising interest rates, American businessmen still feel that, in time, President Reagan's economic policies will work.

That view is expressed by a top business economist in close touch with dozens of corporate leaders across the United States.

''Businessmen,'' he says, ''tend to hark back to the principles on which the President's policies are based: lower government spending, lower taxes, less government regulation.''

''They see the problems all right, notably that a President who pledged a balanced budget by 1984 will run a deficit that year of about $200 billion,'' the economist said. ''But businessmen like the President's principles.''

A more tempered view is struck by John M. Albertine, president of the American Business Conference Inc., whose members are US firms with revenues from

Business leaders, he agrees, like what the President stands for. But many also say they believe that the present recovery is ''tenuous,'' despite its robust start, because huge budget deficits are putting upward pressure on interest rates.

This breeds caution among businessmen making plans for capital spending.

Federal Reserve officials, who track government and private borrowing, say that business investment in new plants and equipment is unusually low this year, given the strength of the recovery.

A sharply different view of what may happen over the coming months appears to dominate the financial markets, as distinct from corporate board rooms.

Among financial managers, according to Wall Street sources, short-term concern over rising interest rates and an impending borrowing clash between the Treasury and the private sector outweighs long-term implications of the President's program. ''It's not a question of what will happen,'' said a well-placed source, ''but when it will happen.''

By this he meant a ''crowding out'' of private borrowers by the enormous deficit-financing needs of the US Treasury - a clash that may propel interest rates higher. Already, long- and short-term rates are 1.5 to 2 percent above the level of last spring.

When will the clash come?

''If the recovery continues through 1983 and into 1984,'' says Alice M. Rivlin, outgoing director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), ''we can expect some problem (in the credit markets) by 1984. But the timing is very uncertain.''

''We do expect interest rates to drift down next year,'' Dr. Rivlin told reporters, ''if inflation remains moderate and if some progress is made on (reducing) the deficit.''

She foresees ''good prospects'' on inflation. ''The CBO,'' she said, ''is not looking for any resurgence of inflation. By any measurement, it should be 5 percent or under for the next couple of years.''

Through July of this year, the US Labor Department reports, consumer prices have risen at a 3.2 percent annual pace, compared with 3.9 percent for all of 1982. Since 1979, when the consumer price index measured 13.3 percent, progress against inflation has been dramatic.

Most analysts agree that the danger of an early upsurge of inflation is remote, because oil prices are expected to remain stable and because labor costs in the US are rising at the slowest rate in many years.

Yearly pay hikes in major labor contracts averaged only 2.7 percent in the first half of 1983, according to the Commerce Department - the lowest rise in 15 years. These pay hikes compare with 6.7 percent in pre-recession contracts negotiated in the same industries.

Economic recovery will spur wage demands somewhat. Nonetheless, unit labor costs - a major contributor to the nation's underlying inflation rate - are expected to rise modestly over the next couple of years.

If progress against inflation continues to be good, the same cannot be said for reducing future budget deficits.

''Awareness of the (deficit) problem is very strong on Capitol Hill,'' Dr. Rivlin says. ''But without presidential leadership, it will be very hard to get a tax increase.''

Most analysts agree that higher taxes are needed to get the deficit down. Within White House councils, Mr. Reagan continues to reject any early tax increase, according to sources.

Given that attitude, Congress appears unlikely to tackle a tax hike on its own, at least before the 1984 elections.

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