Business: A Dutch Money Master

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Over the next five years OPEC's petro powers will drain as much as $570 billion from the world's oil-thirsty economies. Hardest hit will be the less developed countries. With their credit lines stretched to the snapping point, the LDCs may need $70 billion more than international banks are like ly to provide. Result: a potentially smoldering powder keg of political unrest in the Third World.

Delegates to last week's Washington meeting of the International Monetary Fund could find those gloomy predictions in the latest copy of World Financial Markets, the monthly newsletter published by New York's Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. Its editor is Rimmer de Vries, 51, the most respected private forecaster of world currency exchange rates and trade flows. Of the dozens of international bank letters, none has a more influential readership (25,000 select subscribers) than this slender (16 to 24 pages) pamphlet, crammed full of statistical tables and carefully crafted commentary. Says Manfred Wegner, a senior European Community monetary official: "De Vries is one of the gods. You don't go to bed at night with out studying World Financial Markets. "

De Vries' prophecies carry clout, in part because he has exhibited a phenomenal knack for predicting just about every rise and dip in the value of the dollar. De Vries has forecast U.S. balance of payments results so accurately that the Federal Reserve once launched an investigation to find out if some of its staffers were leaking the figures before the official publication date. All the Fed learned was that De Vries has a "secret formula" for calculating trade balances that he vows never to reveal.

A native of The Netherlands, De Vries arrived in the U.S. in 1951 to study for a Ph.D. in economics at Ohio State University. The key to De Vries' success is his spongelike ability to gather and absorb boundless bits of information. In his search for balance of payments data, he combs government documents and consults with officials of multinational corporations that move large amounts of money. De Vries also regularly travels to Paris, Frankfurt and London, where he enjoys an open door at central banks. Last week during the IMF meeting, he received visitors at an elegant 19th century Georgetown row house that Morgan Guaranty had rented for the occasion.

De Vries' latest predictions on the problems caused by OPEC surpluses are being studied closely by bankers and political leaders, since he has long been optimistic about the ability of the world financial system to handle the recycling of petrodollars. During the 1974 oil crisis, most experts forecast that OPEC coffers would be bulging with about $1.5 trillion by 1979 and that loans to LDCs would be insufficient to cover their deficits. De Vries, however, was among a minority of economists who correctly argued that OPEC would rapidly increase its imports and who predicted that international banks could handle the remaining petrodollar surplus. Now that optimist De Vries has turned pessimist, world moneymen are becoming very nervous.