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French whizzkid wins top US economics award

Dan MacGuill · 4 Dec 2013, 16:19

Published: 04 Dec 2013 16:19 GMT+01:00

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Financial whizzkid Christophe Barraud, only 27 years old, will be enshrined as the year’s top forecaster of the US economy in the January issue of Bloomberg Markets magazine.

The story of the world’s best predictor of American macroeconomic trends being a Frenchman is even more surprising given the fact that Barraud has never set foot in the United States.

“It might seem strange, but yes, it’s true,” he told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday. “I think I might be obliged to go there now, though.”

The Paris-based chief economist at Market Securities came out ahead of 75 of the world’s leading experts, with a 61-percent accuracy rate in his predictions over the last 12 months, French newspaper Le Figaro reported.

'A predilection for monk-like work'

What makes him stand out, even in such an elite group, according to Le Figaro, is his “predilection for monk-like work,” spending untold hours crunching numbers and poring over statistical analyses that would look like hieroglyphics to most of us.

“When I was at Dexia [Securities], in 2009, I spent six months poring over the American real estate market,” he told Le Figaro.

“I sifted through published figures for home sales in 30 states, in order to predict the overall trend,” he added.

As well as a hyper-developed eye for detail, it would seem that the accuracy of Barraud’s predictions also comes from his understanding of how seemingly peripheral events can have a major impact on the entire economy.

For example, Barraud spotted a looming strike among workers at US telecoms giant Verizon in August 2011, and factored it into his quarterly employment predictions, making them more accurate than most.

“You have to follow the press every single day – that’s huge,” he told Le Figaro.

Unlike many economists, the Frenchman also places a great deal of emphasis on that most underrated phenomenom – the weather, which when severe, Barraud says, can have a massive detrimental impact on retail sales and delay the number of new houses being built - an important indicator of the US economy known as "housing starts".

An instinct for odds, honed on the racecourse

Despite having a PhD, Masters and undergraduate degrees in economics, Barraud traces his instinct for forecasting to childhood trips to the racecourse with his father in Nice, in the south of France.

“I used to wonder what strategy to implement in order to have profits, like whether you’d make more money always backing the favourite, or always backing the outsider,” he told Europe 1.

“These aren’t the same kind of models, but it’s the same intuition that attracted me to economics,” he added.

According to Bloomberg News, this first love led a 20-year-old Barraud and a friend to start an online business allowing gamblers to bet on the outcomes of tennis and football matches, as well as elections.

Story continues below…

So now the question on everyone's mind, no doubt, is what does the world's best soothsayer see in store for the near future?

According to Bloomberg News, Barraud - who is a fervent critic of austerity policies - is predicting three-percent growth in the US, 0.7-percent growth in the eurozone, and 0.8-percent growth in France, for 2014.

Christophe Barraud isn't the only French brainiac to receive American plaudits this year. In early January, US President Barack Obama announced his intention to appoint French economist Dr. Esther Duflo to his Global Development Council.

Duflo, an expert on development and poverty alleviation, is a lecturer at the elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where in 2002, she became one of the youngest professors in the university's history to be awarded tenure, at the age of 29.

In 2011, Time magazine named her one of their 100 Most Influential People in the world.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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