Student in Milan, Italy, Wins My Forecasting Derby

John Dorfman

March 2, 2020 (Maple Hill Syndicate) – A student at the American School in Milan, Italy, Gregorio won my annual Derby of Economic Forecasting Talent (DEFT) for 2019.

Gregorio De Giuli, a 17-year-old high school senior, modestly attributed his success to “luck,” but there was more to it than that. “I looked at charts and followed the trend,” he said. But he believes that accurate economic forecasting “is basically impossible.”

Extrapolating recent trends as of early in 2019 enabled De Giuli to make close guesses on U.S. retail sales and on interest rates. For variables where extrapolation didn’t work well, such as oil prices, De Giuli didn’t do well – but neither did almost all of the other contestants.

Di Giuli plans to study economics in college, hopefully at Esabe University in Barcelona. He will find out in April where he is admitted there, but has already been accepted at a few colleges.

When I interviewed Di Giuli, the American School in Milan was closed because of the Covid-19 virus outbreak. He expects the school to reopen this week. “The economy surely will suffer” from the virus’s effects worldwide, he said, but the damage is likely to be only “short-term.”

Silver, Bronze

Forty-four people entered the DEFT competition last year. If you would like to enter the 2020 competition, it’s easy, and the rules appear later in this column.

Second price for 2019 went to Ryan Blumkin, a vice president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart in Omaha, Nebraska. He scored points for his estimates on interest rates and oil prices. I couldn’t reach Blumkin for an interview.

Janet Heliker, a retired economics teacher in Waterloo, Nebraska, won third place. About the virus outbreak, she commented, “I really can’t believe that people are so uptight about this.” She believes that the “wonderful medical system” in the U.S. will stop the virus from doing too much damage here.

U.S. Stocks, as of Friday, had fallen more than 10% from their peak a couple of weeks earlier. “I bought some stock on Friday (February 28),” Heliker said. “I saw this as an opportunity rather than a detriment.”

For his victory, De Giuli will receive a plaque commemorating his achievement. Second and third prizes carry no reward except recognition in this column.

A surprise last year was the unemployment rate, which fell to 3.5% from 3.9% at the end of 2018. Only eight contestants guessed the right number or lower. Thirty-six contestants guessed high.

Contest Rules

Would you like to try your hand at predicting the economy? It isn’t easy but it’s fun.

Contestants must predict six variables: U.S. gross domestic product, inflation, interest rates, the price of oil, U.S. retail sales, and the U.S. unemployment rate.

To enter, send me an email or letter answering the six questions below. You must include your name, occupation, address, and phone number in case I need to interview you. Entries that are missing any of this information may be disqualified.

You are not required to give the reasons behind your predictions, but I enjoy it if you do.

Send entries to, or John Dorfman, chairman, Dorfman Value Investments, 379 Elliot Street, Suite 100 H, Newton Upper Falls MA 02464. Entries must be postmarked or time-stamped by midnight March 23.

Here are the six questions.

  1. S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew 2.1% in 2019. How much will it grow in 2020?
  2. Inflation in 2019, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), was 2.3%. How much will it be in 2020?
  3. The interest rate on a 10-year U.S. government note was 1.86% at the end of last year. What will it be on December 31, 2020?
  4. A barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil cost $61.14 at the end of December. What will it cost when this year ends?
  5. S. retail sales totaled $528.37 billion in December 2019. What will the comparable figure be in December 2020?
  6. The unemployment rate stood at 3.5%, the lowest in years, as 2019 ended. What will it be at the end of this year?

The contestant who comes closest to the actual result on any of the six topics gets three points. Second closest gets two points, third closest gets one. In case of ties, the points are split.

The theoretical maximum score is 18, but no one has ever come remotely close to that. A score of 4 ½ to 6 will usually put you among the leaders.

There is no cost to enter, and I don’t make fun of the people who lose. Good luck in the contest, everyone.

John Dorfman is chairman of Dorfman Value Investments LLC in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, and a syndicated columnist. His firm or clients may own or trade securities discussed in this column. He can be reached at

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