As the crisis in the Middle East has intensified, many Wall Street analysts have all but given up the game of trying to forecast the short-term financial outlook.
The situation is too full of imponderables, they say, to enable them to make anything more than a blind bet on what the markets might do in the next few days or weeks.But that doesn't mean that all the forecasters' crystal balls have been consigned to cold storage.
On the contrary, they say, some intriguing possibilities have arisen when they look beyond the questions of war or peace, and long conflict or early resolution of the showdown.
"Instead of monitoring short-term market swings caused by events in the Middle East, investors may do better to focus on long-term themes," said Jack Lavery, director of global research at Merrill Lynch.
"The major trends that we expect to unfold in 1991 are likely to be independent of the outcome of the conflict.
"In particular, the economy is likely to remain in recession through the summer, and the stock market will probably remain under pressure until the latter part of the year."
In a similar vein, other analysts note that stocks started declining last summer before Iraq invaded Kuwait, apparently beginning to sense the onset of a recession in the domestic economy and credit traumas in the banking system.
"Believing the bear market will be over when there is a resolution to the gulf crisis is a major mistake," asserted Joseph Feshbach, analyst at Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc.
"While debits and credits on a bank ledger are not as telegenic as tanks and missiles in the Arabian desert, over the long run the banking crisis is likely the most important," said Erich Heinemann, chief economist at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co.
Stock traders showed their confusion and uncertainty over the Persian Gulf situation last week, sending the market through contortions as hopes rose and fell hour-by-hour for a peaceful settlement.
Beyond the primary issue of whether war could be avoided, many analysts saw reasons to believe the Gulf crisis would have long-lasting effects that are now only dimly visible.
For instance, suggested Edwardi Yardeni, chief economist at Prudential-Bache Securities: "Whether it is war or peace, we believe that OPEC is finished.
"As a result of the Persian Gulf crisis, it is now obvious that the Saudis always counted on the U.S. military forces to protect them from their hostile neighbors.
"As a quid pro quo, the United States expects that the Saudi royal family will pump as much oil as the world needs at a reasonable price.
"Saudi Arabia would be another province of Iraq today but for the rapid deployment of U.S. troops into the region."