Capital Spending Plans Keep Receding Into The Future

Some economists evaluating the Commerce Dept.'s latest capital-spending survey -- conducted in July and August -- have been impressed by how well spending plans have held up. The increase in current dollars for 1992 is now estimated at 4.3%, down less than half a percentage point from the previous survey. But economist William Griggs of Griggs & Santow Inc. notes that the key to analyzing such surveys is the way the patterns change from survey to survey. "When businessmen are not very optimistic," he says, "they cut back on current outlays and keep shifting the amount cut back to future quarters."

In April and May, for example, companies indicated they would spend $ 558.5 billion at an annual rate in the second quarter and $ 557.6 in the third. Now they report that they actually spent $ 540.9 billion in the second quarter and intend to spend $ 565.2 in the third.

"If you believe they will actually spend $ 24.3 billion more in this quarter than they spent last quarter," says Griggs, "I have a bridge for sale." He thinks capital outlays in 1992 will be up only half the 4.3% rise now projected.