Better Times By Super Bowl XLIV (the one next year)

By this time next year, consumers might be back in the game

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Here’s an important new economic indicator: The Super Bowl Playboy Party.

This year’s cleavagefest got canceled, just one sad sign of the joyless times we’re living in. Sports Illustrated also canceled its Super Bowl party. NBC has discounted its prices for commercials. Even scalpers are hurting: The going price for a ticket is down $2,000 from last year.

That’s all the fallout of a sharp recession, of course. And while the Big Game is always a welcome distraction, this year, the escapism won’t last long: As President Obama keeps reminding us, the economy is almost certain to get worse before it gets better.

[See how the recession has sacked Super Bowl spending.]

Everybody wants to know when the economy will start to bottom out and get better, and it would be great if the worst were behind us. Unfortunately, we may have to tough it out until next year’s Super Bowl before there’s much sign of a rebound. If Playboy reinstates its party, that will be one strong indicator that better times are ahead.

Here’s how some other aspects of the economy are likely to look by Feb. 7, 2010, when Super Bowl XLIV takes place in Miami (assuming the NFL doesn’t go bankrupt by then):

Economic growth, which fell 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter, is likely to keep falling throughout much of 2009. Forecasts vary, of course, but most economists don’t think GDP growth will turn positive until next fall or winter. And even then, economic growth will look like three yards and a cloud of dust, rather than a long gainer down the middle. Still, by this time next year, we might be in the mood for a modest party, perhaps because of fresh news that the economy grew in the fourth quarter of 2009 for the first time in almost a year and a half.

[See why "Wall Street talent" is an oxymoron.]

Unemployment could be the most depressing story of 2009. Forecasts for the year range from a relatively modest unemployment rate of 8 percent or so, to an unnerving 10 percent. Most economists think the unemployment rate will peak right around the time of Super Bowl XLIV, in early 2010. If there’s an upside, it’s that those huge layoff announcements may mostly be in the past by then, with the focus more on which companies might be starting to hire.

[See 5 pieces missing from Obama's stimulus plan.]

Housing. The boom and bust in real estate is what torpedoed the economy in the first place, and the economy won’t start to recover until the housing bubble deflates. The good news is that housing prices have already been falling for more than two years. And by early 2010, buyers might be out looking for bargains. Moody’s Economy.com predicts that housing prices should stop falling nationwide by the second half of 2009. Once the bust subsides, that will give buyers confidence that they’re not buying something that’s falling in value.

Consumer confidence. This closely tracks the job market, since work and income most directly affect whether people fell well-off or not. The dismal lows of the last few months may creep up throughout 2009, but not significantly. Once it starts to feel like the worst is behind us, however, consumers will slowly start to feel better. It will help when the awful headlines about collapsing banks, five-figure layoffs, and government rescues start to get replaced by something more upbeat. Maybe Super Bowl XLIV will serve that very purpose. And the Playboy index will perk up.

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  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.