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KEEPING UP WITH THE DOW JONES

At 76 years of age, Robert Eggert is the embodiment of power. He flies to meetings with Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He swaps fishing gear with Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He pals around with Milton Friedman, considered one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century.

Eggert rattles off the dynasty builders he's worked with like an East Valley Rotarian talking about insurance salespeople. He gossips about Lee Iacocca.

Eggert is mentioned weekly in the Wall Street Journal. The New York Times calls him the "best known tabulator of prevailing business sentiment" in the country.

An economist who produces a monthly report on the state of the nation's business, Eggert is the business world's answer to Jimmy the Greek. His newsletter the Blue Chip Consensus is sent to 1,489 subscribers heavily represented in the Fortune 500. For a $439 annual fee, subscribers are treated to prognostications on where the U.S. economy is going. The Blue Chip Consensus hands out tips on what type of investments to buy, and predicts which business sectors will be soaring or sinking.

Eggert does this all from Sedona, which, when you come to think about it, is a pretty good place for prognosticators.

Crystals and metaphysical bookstores have popped up like mushrooms in Sedona during the last ten years. The influx of soul-searchers reached its peak during 1987's "Harmonic Convergence," a rare planetary alignment that worshipers thought signaled a new age of peace and harmony.

"We had all types of people here," Eggert says with a laugh. "A handful even felt that Bell Rock was going to go up in the air and well, you know, kind of hover there. We tried to joke with them, but they were so serious."

Eggert shrugs off the New Agers with an it-takes-all-kinds attitude. After all, as the only credentialed seer in town, he thinks there's room for everybody, even a practitioner of the dismal science.

These days, it's called that with good reason. Eggert is predicting that the economy is sliding quickly into a recession, and Arizona will take its lumps with the rest of the nation. SEDONA IS NOT exactly Wall Street, but it's where Eggert wants to be, and where, thanks to technology, he can be. Telephones, computer modems and facsimile machines keep him in touch with financial centers thousands of miles away. Eggert, in fact, had one of the first fax machines in the country and, as he says, "The telephones work just as good here as they do in New York."

It's hard, actually, to imagine Eggert working on Wall Street. He reaches out to meet his guests with a massive, calloused hand, and leads the way to a small and Spartan office.

His life has run full circle from small-town farm boy in Lincolnshire, Illinois, to big-city businessman, back to the small town, where this time he leads the life of a gentleman rancher, raising quarter horses. Eggert's pointy boots, bola tie and Western shirt fit a lanky, six-foot-four-inch frame and an easygoing personality. He can talk as easily about agriculture and horses as he can about the recent vagaries of the Dow Jones, and it's not an act.

"The first horse I ever rode was a blind horse named Buck," Eggert recalls. "I rode him three and a half, maybe four miles to school every day. Damned if that horse didn't know the way better than I did."

He is extravagant in his praise of his newfound home, and has adopted a certain small-town chauvinism. "I like places like this. This is where I always wanted to live. And, there are restaurants here as good as any in New York."

THANKS TO HIS electronic ears, Eggert has a $700-a-month phone bill--the highest, AT&T says, in the whole town. It's the result of the method by which he compiles his newsletter, a method that is not very complicated at all. Every month, Eggert calls 76 other economists nationwide--he refers to them as "cooperators"--and asks them their views of business conditions. The responses are returned, compiled and released as a "consensus" prediction. His newsletter, in other words, heralded by the Wall Street Journal as one of the "most accurate" in the country, does nothing more complicated than add 76 numbers and divide by 76. For this Eggert earns a six-figure income.

"I noticed real early in my career that economists were all over the map," Eggert says. "The old story that if you lay economists end to end, they all point in different directions, it's literally true."

Eggert admits his economic forecasting method is not foolproof, but it is consistently close to the actual numbers.

"In any one year, there will always be a better economist than the consensus, but there is never anyone who can consistently beat it," Eggert instructs. "Accuracy is like a hand grenade. You don't have to be exact. As long as you're reasonably close, it's effective." Eggert has known about averaging for years, although it began to make him rich only thirteen years ago, when he began publishing his newsletter. His career began in the 1930s in the stockyards, where he projected beef sales for the American Meat Institute. "When I started averaging the figures out, it was uncanny. You come up with a great ability to zero in on the actual number. It's not perfect, but it works."

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J. W. Casserly