NEW YORK — Economists can’t predict the economy, but maybe hemlines can.Expect the economy to improve by spring because most women will then be wearing shorter skirts, according to a hot-off-the-press Taubman Centers Inc. survey utilizing "the hemline indicator." It’s the decades-old, notoriously accurate forecasting tool that says when hemlines go north, so does the economy. And there’s some solid rationale behind it: When women loosen up their look, they get loose on the spending side, too.On its Web sites in January and early February, Taubman, which owns or manages 30 major centers, asked 1,000 shoppers nationwide where they think skirt lengths will be this spring. Nearly half of those responding predicted skirts will rise above the knee or higher — foretelling good economic times. An additional 28 percent showed "cautious optimism" by projecting just-below-the-knee skirts.Here are the totals, released Thursday by Taubman.Cheesecake! (Miniskirts and good times ahead): 18 percent.Above the knee (Light at the end of the tunnel): 30 percent.Just below the knee (Cautious optimism): 28 percent.Ankle duster (Uncertain times ahead): 24 percent.But experts advise not utilizing only the hemline indicator as an economic forecaster. A good backup is the Super Bowl indicator, which says when a team from the old AFL wins, then it’s going to be a down year. Stats show that from 1967 to 1997 this indicator was right 27 of 30 times, though for the following four years in a row, it was wrong. (The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this year’s champs, are an expansion team, not from the old AFL, indicating an up year). Then there’s Leonard Lauder’s measuring device. He says look to lipstick sales as a barometer of consumer behavior. He’s not about to just gloss over the matter.

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