Anxiety over Asia's financial woes has subsided among investors, but few Wall Street economists think the huge region's troubles are over or their economic impact here yet appreciated.
Summed up in the measured words of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, the United States has so far experienced "only the peripheral winds of the Asian crisis."
The recent stock market rally in New York "almost seemed to say the Asian crisis was over," said Bruce Steinberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch & Co. "Well, don't bet on it."
While the bearishness of early January was overdone, "any sense of stability in Asian markets is tenuous," Mr. Steinberg said. And even if markets have bottomed out, "the economies of the region will be in deep retrenchment throughout 1998."
South Korea will be in a painful recession, while Indonesia "remains a powder keg," he said.
Last week, Michel Camdessus, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, made an unusual appearance before the Senate Budget Committee to detail economic reform efforts in Indonesia and appeal for an IMF funding increase from the United States.
Economist Sung Won Sohn of Norwest Corp. said stock and currency values in Korea and Thailand "are trying to stabilize" and trade balances are improving "but more economic pain is on the horizon" from mounting bankruptcies and higher unemployment.
And in Indonesia, he noted, "political uncertainties have paralyzed the economy and debt moratorium is a possibility."
As for Japan, Mr. Steinberg said, "its best growth prospects for 1998 are probably for a flat economy." Indeed, he thinks the value of the Japanese yen is headed still lower versus the dollar, which would deepen the U.S. trade imbalance.
Moreover, investors are assuming no devaluation of China's currency, he said, but that will be "a close call."
Edward Yardeni, chief economist at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, said he agrees that "for now the worst is over in Asia as far as the financial markets are concerned."
But the growing turmoil in Japan's Finance Ministry-its top officials resigned late last month-may delay banking reforms and badly needed economic stimuli, he said.
Mr. Yardeni still expects real U.S. gross domestic product to grow just 2% this year and the inflation rate measured by the consumer price index to fall to 1%.
"The yield curve should be completely flat by the end of the year as the government bond yield falls to 5% and the Fed lowers the federal funds rate by 50 basis points, to 5%," he said.
As the economist saw it, "the positive impacts of the Asian crisis should prevail during the first half of the year, boosting real GDP growth above 2% in the U.S. During the second half of the year, the negative consequences of the Asian crisis should depress real GDP growth below 2%."
The bottom line for investors is that stock prices will probably go up "only 5% to 10% this year"-a far cry from the past three years. Then, Mr. Yardeni said, 1999 and the fateful year 2000, with its troubling potential for computer problems, will probably be bear market years for stock investors.