An economic observer turns the page

By Brian Ochsner ( I look back on 2006 with some satisfaction, some regret, and the realization that we live in a constantly and rapidly changing world. There’s a Chinese proverb that sums up what I see for 2007 and beyond: “May you live in interesting times.” This can be either a blessing or a curse. Which one it is depends on the preparation and actions you take to stay ahead of these trends.

One reason why some Americans are frustrated and confused about things is because they don’t understand the trends happening around them. The traditional ‘Mom and Pop’ retail shops are generally struggling… unless they know how to market well, and preferably on the Internet. They also see their dollars not going as far as they used to because of high inflation.

For folks looking for job security, well, they may be looking for a very long time. Ever since companies started downsizing in the ‘80s and outsourcing to foreign countries in the ‘90s, this trend has accelerated and will only continue. Not to mention changes in industries, combined with management risk in some companies, such as GM and Ford.

Douglas MacArthur said it best: “The only security a man has in this world is his ability to produce.” In today’s economy, you should learn sales, marketing, the ability to read financial statements, and to know what a good business looks like. If you have any (and preferably all) of these skills, you’ll have no problem getting employed, and should be able to start your own business. Best places to start learning these skills is by reading books from Robert Kiyosaki and Dan Kennedy – two of the best business and marketing minds I know.

One prediction I can make with certainty: In 2007 and beyond, big, dumb, slow companies will not be around for very long. If firms don’t adapt to business and economic conditions (and quickly), they won’t be in business.

Retail business is a maturing and slightly declining industry. Rising energy prices and overhead, time-crunched consumers, and less-than-knowledgeable employees are three big strikes against it. Having said that, I still believe that retail stores will still be around for a while.

But their days of dominance are done. So what businesses will be taking their place? Preferably ones that are Internet-based, have products or services that are in demand, and where customers buy them on a repeat basis. I can’t make a blanket recommendation, since everyone has different skills, abilities and personalities. One-to-one marketing and mass customization are two emerging trends that smart companies are utilizing. I’ll explain more about these trends in future posts.

2006 was a year where one of my commodity predictions was exactly true. This time a year ago, I took a stab at predicting the year-end prices of gold and silver. I wasn’t so close on silver, it was about $1/ounce higher than my prediction of $11.70/ounce, but my gold call was golden.

My gaze into the crystal ball had gold at $637.50/ounce (for proof, here’s the actual blog post, scroll down 2/3rds of the page). Here’s the December 29th screen shot from for Friday’s year-end close of New York gold:

SPOT MARKET IS CLOSED opens in 37 hrs. 32 mins. Dec 29, 2006 13:30 NY Time Bid/Ask 636.00 - 637.50 Low/High 636.00 - 637.50 Change +1.80 +0.28% 30daychg +1.00 +0.16% 1yearchg +120.60 +23.40%

I don’t know if I can repeat that again for 2007… if so, I’ll have a website with paying subscribers. I’ll tempt fate and call my shots again. For 2007 year-end, I’ll say silver will be at $18.40/ounce, and gold at $818.00/ounce. The reason I like commodities (and especially gold and silver) is because they’re great hedges against rising inflation that we’ll continue to see in the years ahead.

But my satisfaction with being right is tempered with sadness. An uncle of mine passed away Thursday night after 88 years on this earth. He became ill Christmas Eve and went to the hospital, where my dad and I visited him on Christmas Day, and said our goodbyes the day after.

Services will be in western Kansas on New Year’s Day. I’ll have a low-key (and pretty sober) New Year’s Eve, and a melancholy way to start 2007. You never like losing a friend or relative, but it’s a good reminder that our days on earth are numbered, and we need to make the most of them.

And it’s not just about using your talents to their utmost (which you should make every effort to do), or being financially successful. When you see someone on their deathbed surrounded by family members, your priorities and what you’ll be remembered for become very clear.

While I’ll still work hard at being a better copywriter and marketer, I’ll make sure that in 2007 I put enough time and effort to stay connected with friends and family.

I still believe it’s important to be flexible and adapt to changing business and economic conditions, I also believe you need to stay grounded in common sense, wisdom and Judeo-Christian principles. That’s a winning combination to navigate the interesting times of 2007 and beyond.

Best wishes to everyone for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.