Corporate Finance & Governance | Financial Planning | Leadership / Management

Economy: Look ahead, not behind

Duncan First, a warning: Take anything Duncan Niederauer says with a grain of salt.

"I have a feeling more people listen to me than probably should," he says with a laugh.

Still, it's hard to ignore Niederauer. As CEO of NYSE Euronext, Niederauer knows a thing or two about investing and the financial markets, and he shared a lot of it with attendees at the 2009 Financial Executives International Summit in Dallas.

For starters, as we've said here time and time again, Niederauer believes it's time to leave the recession behind and focus instead on the inevitable recovery.

"I'm going to sprinkle a little optimism around because, frankly, people are being too pessimistic," he says.

Here are just a few of the nuggets of optimism Niederauer sprinkled around Dallas:

Contrary to popular demand, Niederauer believes the economic crisis is neither unprecedented nor surprising. "In fact, I would argue this is what America signed up for" as a free-market economy. Our economy is cyclical -- "pendulumatic," as Niederauer puts it -- and downturns happen from time to time.

One of the cool things about crises is that they give rise to opportunities."Let's try to look past the crises and see what we can take out of them," he said.

Look where you're going, not where you've been. "Sure, it's interesting to review why this happened," Niederauer says,"but I think our energy is better spent looking ahead."

Before worrying about driving people back into the stock market, we need to restore their confidence as consumers. "People are more worried about the roof over their heads, about keeping their jobs, about providing for their families than they are about whether they can or should get back into the stock market," Niederauer says. If we're wrong about the state of the markets and investors lose even more money, these folks will never return as investors.

We all need to take a deep breath and realize that President Obama can't work miracles. "The expectations for our new president are probably unrealistically high," Niederauer said. "His approval ratings here are high, but they're astronomical in some places overseas. Although I've heard he can, I have no proof that he can walk on water."

According to Niederauer, the engine that gets us out of every downturn is small business, so we need to provide the resources that will encourage the creation and ensure the success of small businesses.

More than anything, Niederauer says we must be patient. The economy won't turn around overnight, so let's set our sights on the long term.

"We need more people to stand up, be more accountable and try to be part of the solution," he said. "It's easy to stand up on TV and say, 'This is how we got here,' but that's not very productive right now. We need solutions that make sense so we can move our economy forward."

What signs of economic optimism do you see these days?


Bill Sheridan