Ellen Zentner wins Lawrence R. Klein Award for forecasting accuracy

Morgan Stanley economist says growth expected to slow significantly in 2019

September 20, 2018

How will policy and trade impact the economy going into 2019? What does the future hold for growth, inflation and interest rates? Following four Federal Reserve interest rate hikes in 2018 to cool the economy, Ellen Zentner predicts two additional hikes in the first half of 2019. 

The economist with the most accurate forecasts — four years in a row — will deliver her predictions at an event in New York City on Oct. 16. Zentner also will be honored with the Lawrence R. Klein Award, regarded as one of the best-known and longest-standing achievements in the field.  Ellen Zentner. Download Full Image

Zentner demonstrated amazing consistency, outshining some 50 competitors for this year’s award, which is judged and sponsored by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The Blue Chip Economic Indicators newsletter is the source of the forecasts used to select the winner. 

Zentner, chief U.S. economist and a managing director at Morgan Stanley, has had the most accurate economic forecasts among the nation's top economists for the years 2014 through 2017.

“Given the growing complexities of today’s economic landscape, I am honored to receive this prestigious award for accuracy in forecasting. I share this with my team at Morgan Stanley, whose hard work and dedication help produce the thoughtful, in-depth and collaborative research our clients expect,” said Zentner.

“During the 2014-2017 period, GDP and CPI growth rates were bouncing around while unemployment was on a steady downward path,” said economics Professor Dennis Hoffman, director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “Ellen was the panelist that foresaw these gyrations most accurately. She caught the 2015 uptick in GDP and then the slower growth in the following year, and she was spot-on with the CPI and the unemployment rate. Her overall forecast error figures were the lowest we have seen in some years.”

With a keen eye toward early identifications of market-moving trends, Zentner has been named to the “Bloomberg Best” list of top forecasters. She has more than 20 years of experience as a Fed watcher and markets-based economist.

Zentner joined Morgan Stanley in 2013 from Nomura Securities International where she served as senior economist for fixed income. Previously, she was senior economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., and senior economist for the Texas state comptroller.

Zentner serves on various economic and academic advisory panels. 

She holds a bachelor of business administration and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado. Zentner and her husband are avid fly fishers and live in the Bronx, New York. 

Tom Keene of Bloomberg Radio and TV, a long-time colleague and friend, will present Zentner with the award.

At the ceremony Zentner will deliver her 2019 economic forecast, including these predictions: 

  • Growth is expected to slow significantly in 2019, as the impulse from fiscal policy fades and trade acts as a restraint on economic activity.
  • Though direct government spending continues to contribute positively to growth, the stimulus from tax policy is mostly absorbed in 2018.
  • Growth in business investment moderates in 2019, but still helps to drive higher productivity.
  • Household consumption holds up well through early 2019, supported by higher disposable income and tax refunds. A higher savings cushion alongside a largely fixed-rate household balance sheet remain cycle extenders.
  • Job growth puts further downward pressure on the unemployment rate, which falls to 3.5 percent in 2019.
  • A combination of temporary factors that had been depressing core inflation have now abated, and core inflation should remain comfortably at or above the Fed’s 2 percent goal.
  • Following four hikes in 2018, the Fed hikes twice in 2019, in March and June, where the hiking cycle will end.

Notable guests will attend the invitation-only award ceremony Oct. 16 at the University Club in New York, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Guests include:

  • Amy Hillman, dean of ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business
  • Dennis Hoffman, professor of economics and director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School of Business 
  • Hannah Klein, professor of biochemistry, medicine and pathology at the NYU School of Medicine
  • Randell Moore, editor emeritus of Blue Chip Economic Indicators

Established in 1976, Wolters Kluwer's Blue Chip Economic Indicators is synonymous with the latest in expert opinion on the future performance of the U.S. economy. Each month, the newsletter compiles the forecasts of 50 leading business economists for key indicators of economic growth. 

Rebecca Ferriter

Meet EyeTell, the next threat to touch-screen passwords

September 20, 2018

If you’re smart, you change your passwords every six months and avoid using “password123” to secure your information. That should be enough to protect you, right? It might not be, say Arizona State University researchers trying to stay on top of the latest cybersecurity threats.

Passwords are the keys to our most personal information, and hackers are constantly coming up with unique ways to unmask them. They can install special software. Ambitious hackers can watch the hand movements of a victim typing their password or analyze the surrounding reflections, like in eyeglasses or nearby windows. Now there’s a new, stealthier method that could make using passwords on a touch screen even more vulnerable. Passcode-protected phone Photo courtesy Unsplash Download Full Image

When you type in your passcode to unlock your smartphone, or any touch screen, your eyes naturally follow your fingers’ movements, and hackers can use this to their advantage.

Using this new tactic, hackers can record the victim and extract a “gaze trace” of where their eyes are moving across the screen. With less than one minute of video analysis, the program can decipher your passcode, PIN or lock pattern.

This is EyeTell — a digital tool that can decipher passwords based only on where your eyes move — and it’s the next potential threat to mobile users’ cybersecurity. 

Luckily for those users, ASU researchers anticipated this style of potential security breach before it could be deployed on a wide scale.

“As cybersecurity researchers, our main goal is to defend against various hackers,” said Yanchao Zhang, a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, whose team developed the software. “We have to stand in the shoes of the hackers and report attacks to spread awareness.”

Zhang and his team deliberately sought out this password-theft tactic to research the threat. Zhang worked with Yimin Chen and Tao Li, graduate students from his Cyber and Network Security Group; Terri Hedgpeth, director of ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services Technology Team; and Rui Zhang, University of Delaware assistant professor.

Often when a hacker finds a hole in existing cybersecurity measures, experts scramble to find a way to fix it. More recently, however, information security researchers have started to take a more proactive stance, seeking out cybersecurity vulnerabilities themselves. This approach affords them more time to address problems before they are abused.

The team’s conference paper, “EyeTell: Video-assisted touch-screen keystroke inference from eye movements,” was presented at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy this summer. This publication venue for cybersecurity research has an acceptance rate for papers of only around 11 percent with 63 selected out of 549 submitted in 2018.

“Keystroke inference is a critical threat against computer and mobile devices,” Zhang said. “We demonstrated the efficacy of our technique through comprehensive experiments on both iOS and Android devices.”

During Zhang’s research, the team found a few more mundane ways to discourage success with EyeTell and other similar video frameworks that hackers could use to steal password information: wearing colored eyeglasses, typing without looking at the screen and increasing your typing speed.

The next step for the team is more research. Now that experts know about the potential risk, they’re one step closer to finding technical solutions to curb the threat.  

“Mobile touch-screen devices, such as tablets and smartphones, have penetrated into everyday life,” Zhang said. “Cyberattacks are also becoming more and more advanced. Our research can inspire new research methods to identify security risks associated with mobile touch-screen devices and develop effective countermeasures.”

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering