Once a year they peer into a crystal ball and give their best predictions on everything from the price of gold to the political elections in the coming year.
They are The Prognosticators, Greenwich businessmen and other professionals who share their annual forecasts over lunch at Greenwich Country Club on the first Wednesday in December each year. Since the group's first meeting 35 years ago, a number of predictions have come true, and the group even has a champion know-it-all.
The magazine publisher told the group at its annual December meeting that he saw the local economy picking up, based on the advertising coming in to his publications. "He nailed the Dow Jones in 2005, and in 2006, and he came up with the price of gold at $1,370 for 2010 (tied with former First Selectman John Margenot)," said Parkinson.
"I told them I had the best darts in town," quipped Moffly.
Other notable predictions include one made by author Bill Ewald, who served in the White House as an Eisenhower speechwriter. "In 2008 there was only one person who guessed that the president would be Barack Obama. That was Bill Ewald," recalled Parkinson. "A bunch of us were tied that it would be either Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney. But only Bill Ewald guessed it." (Ewald must have had inside information, Parkinson added.)
The Prognosticators number around 18 now, and their specialty is predicting the economy. Parkinson, who keeps the prediction records, says the group's forecasts for 2011 are reasonably upbeat. "The numbers came in a little over 12,000 for Dow Jones," he said.
Since first gathering in 1975, the group has included such luminaries as Bernie Yudain, Greenwich Time columnist and town historian; Maury Hanson of the magazine Nutmegger, local radio pioneer John Becker, cartoonist Ranan Lurie, various preachers and a trio of female first selectmen. With the exception of these women -- Ruth Sims, Lolly Prince and Rebecca Breed -- the opposite sex hasn't had much staying power with the group.
One member of the group who has exhibited staying power is Martin "Marty" Edelston, founder of Bottom Line publications -- although he's not much of a predictor. "I don't look ahead as the others do," Edelston said. He joins the group each year just to be with this highly intelligent group. "These people are very humble," he said. "They don't put on airs."
A number of other journalists and publishers have joined the group over the years, including current members Emerson Stone, a former CBS newsman, and Roy Rowan, author and former Life magazine correspondent (whom they call "Mr. Block Island").
Dr. Brooks Hoffman, a retired gynecologist and obstetrician, is the group's co-founder as well as its timekeeper: when a member has taken his/her two minutes to expound on past or future trends, Hoffman tells them their time is up.
At 93, Hoffman is chairman emeritus who is also the keeper of the crystal ball. He came up with the idea for the group 35 years ago when he was lunching with Parkinson and Bill Pigeon, Parkinson's father-in-law. "What if we could predict some things for the next year?" Hoffman recalled asking them, such as the Dow Jones, the cost of a gallon of gas, or who would be the next president. Then the quirky name came to him: The Prognosticators.
His first action was to find a crystal ball. "I had to go to a magician's shop in New York City to find one," recalled Hoffman.
Last month newcomer Brad Hvolbeck of Prudential Brad Hvolbeck Real Estate, the group's sole realtor, handed out his graph that compares real estate sales to the Dow Jones and shared his perspective on real estate. "It shows," he said, "how the real estate market and the Dow Jones run on fairly parallel lines and have been doing so from 2007 to now." Of the Prognosticators Hvolbeck said: "They're a really terrific group of people from all walks of life."
Another newcomer is Quinton Friesen, executive vice president and chief operation officer of Greenwich Hospital, who's taken the place in the group of his too-busy superior, president Frank Covino. Friesen is finding it fascinating to listen to the group's predictions. In his own allotted two minutes, he told how Greenwich Hospital is keeping up with health care reform with the installation of a new computer system in order to have an electronic record.
First Selectman Peter Tesei appears to be another casualty of a too-heavy schedule -- he missed the December meeting. But his predecessor John Margenot was there to discover he came closest -- along with (who else?) Moffly -- to guessing the price of gold for 2011. "It's a nice bunch," Margenot said of the Prognosticators. Once a year, he says, "They sort of rise out of the ethereal air and make their predictions."
The most positive about 2011 is Moffly. "He has predicted 13,400 for the Dow Jones Industrials and 3,000 for the Nasdaq, says Parkinson.
But Moffly does see some bumps in the road. "He's a little bearish on the interest rate: 4.15 for the prime interest rate, an inflation rate of 2.6 and a national cost per gallon of regular gas at $3.05," Parkinson said, "with the price of gold to be $1,800."
Now all The Prognosticators can do is wait and see how their predictions pan out and wonder who will earn the coveted crystal ball for 2011.
Our prognostication? Jack Moffly.