NEW YORK (AP) -- After this week's victory parties die down comes a sobering challenge for the man answering to the name "President-elect": How to keep the nation's longest-ever economic expansion from withering.
Failure to accomplish the goal may brand the next president as the man who brought the good times to an end, whereas a triumph may be taken for granted by a public long accustomed to financial good times.
This expansion, 116 months old, began after the last recession in 1990-1991, a downturn that political analysts often contend cost President George Bush a second term.
Measured by old-economy standards, it should now be weary and lamed, but it isn't. The stride diminished to 2.7 percent in the July-September quarter, half that of last spring, but it's still healthy.
Moreover, expectations remain high. Consumers are spending and borrowing, and the University of Michigan consumer survey shows the public expects good times for at least another five years.
A recession, therefore, would come as a shock not to be forgotten and, fairly or unfairly, not to be forgiven. But keeping the expansion alive is a high-wire act that allows for few fiscal or monetary miscalculations.
The new president must deal with the ever-present possibility of inflation. This scourge has faded from public consciousness, wage and price increases having been offset by productivity gains since the mid-1990s. But recent figures show slower gains in output efficiency, or output per work hour.
He must consider the level of debt, which is unusually high in both business and consumer economies. Corporate bond failures are increasing, and many consumers continue to spend only by borrowing from their home equity.
Business failures may rise, especially among high-tech companies with grand plans but few practical accomplishments. Failures could mean rising unemployment, something the workforce has not had to deal with in years.
Always volatile, the stock market could fall rather than rise, as millions of new investors are anticipating. Will foreigners, big customers and heavy investors withdraw their support?
The trade value of the dollar must be considered. Americans now enjoy relatively low-cost imports due to the strong dollar. Should the dollar decline, there could be problems for consumers.
Energy supplies and prices are problems not likely to disappear entirely, and could have a severe impact on economic growth. Billions are being spent on new energy sources, but they're a long way from market.
And, never to be minimized, government and regulatory mismanagement -- mainly the handling of spending, taxes and interest rates -- could drag the economy down into recession or lift it unwisely into inflation.
All these possibilities exist now, largely obscured by the soaring rate of productivity. But as the economic expansion slows, some will become more visible, and they must be dealt with by the White House's new resident.
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