NEW YORK -- Prophecy is a lot safer in this age of the electronic computer than it was in bygone ages.
It still pays to hedge one's prophecies somewhat, says Fern Pomerantz, a vice president of Predicasts, Inc., of Cleveland, which does about the broadest line of business prophesying in America today.
'We're rather shy about saying just how soon our prophecies will come true,' she conceded.
Prophecy always has been profitable. Sophocles, the Greek poet and dramatist, said 'Prophets are all a money-getting tribe,' and Saint Matthew said a prophet need never lack for success and honor save in his own country.
But it was a hazardous business. Prophets who told people things they didn't want to hear stood to be beaten and if a soothsayer's pleasing prophecies didn't come true, he was in danger of being beheaded by the ruler or stoned to death by the mob.
Since Predicasts' just released annual volume of forecasts contains 50,000 long- and short-term preductions, a little hedging may be wise.
Ms. Pomerantz said Predicasts' record for calling the shots well ahead of time in the business world has been 'as good or better than that of the econometric forecasters who build computer models.' Predicasts uses the computer but doesn't build models. She said inflation and high interest rates have played havoc with some of the company's dollar volume forecasts but unit volume predictions have been quite successful.
Predicasts was founded 23 years ago by Sam Wolpert, who sold it a few years ago to the Indian Head division of the Dutch Thyssen-Bornemisza Group. It has 200 employees and does a business of about $10 million.
The bundle of 50,000 forecasts, made up of three quarterly editions and an annual summary, sells for $575. Among its more startling conclusions this year, Predicasts says the market for voice recognition equipment, now used in many computer-controlled warehouses and in other businesses, will grow by about 78 percent a year in this decade from $15 million to $150 million.
The study also envisions a 70 percent annual increase in this decade in selenium micronutrients, a 55 percent annual growth in the production of shrimp in fish farms and 47 percent a year for plasma processing equipment. Big gains are seen for robots, intrusion detection devices and for such prosaic things as radial truck tires, other fish culture and polystryrene insulation.
But Predicasts forecasts aren't all rosy. It sees a continuing drop in demand for combustion turbine power, exports of lead, coal, poyethylene and many other commodities and a drop in labor demand by the railroads and some other industries.
Predicasts also puts out an annual volume called the U.S. Economy Outlook. In the 1983 edition, economist and editor T. Kevin Swift is on the optimistic side compared with most current prognosticators.
He sees the middle and late 1980s marked by moderating inflation, lower interest rates, a flowering of pent-up consumer demand for a great many things, a new wave of advanced technology in the United States and generally improved productivity.
Swift climbs right out on a limb by predicting a 3.4 percent average annual growth in the GNP after adjustment for inflation in these years. 'When compared with the negligible net annual growth experienced since 1979, the latter half of the 1980s and the early 1990s will be a period of unprecedented prosperity,' he writes.