All Eyes on the Recession;
A Holiday to Count Blessings

Each new year always brings the ceremonial promise of a clean slate. Expectations of new opportunity. A renewed spirit. We analyze and assess the year that's ending, scoring and judging it by endless facts, figures, and statistics. We draw a mental line in the sand, and set about devising new ways to outperform, outsell, and outmaneuver the market and the competition. After profitable years, we celebrate. After stagnant years, we console our spirits, noting "it could have been worse." In truly bad years, we buckle down and put our nose to the grindstone. It's part of the blueprint of the capitalist engine, part of the pride of the American spirit.

Then there are those rare eras that jolt us in ways were never expect - upheavals that jump outside the familiar economic cycles. While it wasn't entirely clear at the time, the national economy was already slowing before September 11. But the terrorist attacks jolted not only the economy, it attacked our collective sense of well-being. Small businesses nationwide have taken a particularly hard hit as the economy sputters forward, as indecisively as the jangled nerves of the American public.

All eyes are now focused on economic recovery; when will it begin? It is a subject that experts have been in disagreement over, because there are no clear signals that the worst is over. If time heals all wounds, as the saying goes, figuring out just how much time it take for the economic recession to bottom out and begin to grow is a professional guessing game. Most recently, Federal Reserve officials have said they expect a "modest and gradual recovery in the economy next year," possibly not starting until mid-2002. That assessment stands in stark contrast to the quick turnaround many investors and forecasters had been expecting as recently as early December.

By any count, the economic signals have been mixed and at times confusing. Spending jumped a record 2.9% in October, and even new home construction was up - two indicators that most analysts were expecting to drop. Upon analysis, though, the causes were identified as temporary, and not indicative of long-term trends or a general economic recovery.

As the weather finally turns cold and the snow begins to fly, the familiar joy of the holiday season weighs a little heavier this year, September 11's events so fresh on our minds. Like so many Americans nationwide, many from the tobacco industry - individuals, families, and corporations - have been moved early on to help raise funds for the numerous charities established to assist victim's families. It's is a trend we certainly hope continues throughout the holidays. C.A.O. International contributed cigars to the exhausted and defeated rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center site. The Fuente Family donated all proceeds from a special sale of commemorative Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion A cigars to New York's Twin Towers Fund. Holt's Cigar Company made matching donations for each Fuente cigar it sold. They are only a handful among many companies, and countless individuals.

As the year winds to an end, its inevitable benchmarks will be calculated, but Americans this year will be taking extra time to remember our fallen heroes, who will never be far from mind, and to count our blessings.

E. Edward "Ted" Hoyt III