THE current United States economic downturn has thrown a mantle of gloom over the front offices of corporate America. "The recession is proving to be both broad and, in the case of consumers, deep," says David Wyss, an economist with DRI/McGraw-Hill, an economic consulting and forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass.
"There are very few industries (in the US) that won't be hurt," says Mr. Wyss. Economic recovery, assuming that it isn't aborted by a protracted war in the Gulf region, won't have a positive effect on most industries until early in 1992, Wyss says.
Although the economic consensus is that recovery should be under way later this year, the upturn is expected to be mild. According to a recent report by Kidder, Peabody & Co., US gross national product will only be rising by about 1.5 percent during the second half of 1991. "Economic growth," Kidder Peabody concludes, "will be slower in the rebound than in previous post-recessionary periods, and below trend growth should prevail for several years."
When economists refer to dominant US industries, they invariably point to a small cluster of companies and sectors. In a new book, "The First Universal Nation," political commentator and demographer Ben Wattenberg notes that the US "holds the technological lead in aircraft, airlines, pharmaceuticals, computers, biotechnology, plastics, synthetic fibers, telecommunications equipment, and petroleum exploration, to only begin a very long list."
That's true. But as Wyss notes, most of those same industries are now trapped in recession. Their best prospects, he says, will come after 1991.
Wyss sees only a handful of US industries as currently strong. "Some rebound in the oil industry and the oil services sectors" can be expected, he notes, given climbing energy prices. Also, last year's congressional enactment of new clean air legislation will benefit public utility construction and some pollution control companies. The pharmaceutical and health care sectors should also do fairly …