WASHINGTON—Top financial experts announced this morning that any chance for the struggling U.S. economy to improve now rests solely on the shoulders of Spokane, WA resident Bill Loughlin, who is currently browsing the power tools section at Sears.

Since pulling into the Northtown Mall parking lot at 10:07 a.m., Loughlin has been closely monitored by market analysts and government officials, all of whom confirmed economic recovery hinges on the 46-year-old not leaving the store empty-handed.

"It's all up to Bill now," said Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who along with thousands of investors worldwide is holding his breath as Loughlin shops for hardware. "At this point, our only shot at creating jobs is for this guy to buy a drill press, maybe a scroll saw. Even something as simple as a wet-dry vac would help in the short term."

"Fuck," Bernanke added after Loughlin walked away from a Powertec 12-amp bench planer that sells for $249.99. "That would have been huge. We really, really needed that."

Markets have been fluctuating wildly since Loughlin entered Sears and rumors began circulating on Wall Street that he might purchase a durable good. The Dow Jones industrial average spiked 300 points on news the shopper was headed directly for the washer-dryer section, but took a 400-point plunge after he spent five minutes trying on sunglasses.

In overnight trading, Japan's Nikkei index rose 28 percent in response to murmurs that Loughlin was considering fixing his wife's broken dishwasher himself, but would need to purchase a new drain pump assembly.

"We're desperately hoping he'll get that Dewalt five-piece cordless combo kit he just picked up and inspected," said Robert Baird, president of investment banking at Morgan Keegan & Co. "Not only would the $430 he spends dramatically increase retail sales, but the purchase might signal that Bill has finally decided to build that outdoor shed he's been talking about, which would provide a huge boost to consumer confidence."

"The potential for growth there is tremendous," he added.

Some advisers remain skeptical, however, offering less optimistic projections or even positing that Loughlin will not buy any product at Sears, an event that could potentially crash all global markets.

"There's nothing in Bill's history of household expenditures to suggest he would buy anything over $75 without confirmation from [his wife] Anita, and she's in meetings all day," Douglas Preiser of KeyBanc Capital Markets said. "I'd honestly be surprised if he returns to his Jeep with anything more than a stud-finder or a box of nails.

Assuring the public they are doing everything in their power to get Loughlin into the checkout line, leaders in Washington have called a joint session of Congress this morning to debate a bill that would provide Sears with tax breaks in exchange for sending an experienced salesman to assist Loughlin.

"I think I speak for my fellow Democrats when I say we'd all like to see Curtis [Brolner] out on the floor, as he's been Sears' top salesman three months running," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said in response to Republicans who argued Loughlin is technically hardware manager Laura Primly's customer. "What our opponents don't seem to realize is that Curtis moved three of those Craftsman 22-inch self-propelled rear-bag lawn mowers last spring. That's data you can't ignore."

Added DeFazio: "But let's put partisanship aside. The clock is ticking, Bill had a small breakfast, and we need to get someone out there to tell him about that sale on metal lathes before he heads to the food court."

At press time, the Dow had plummeted to a 12-month low after Bill discovered Sears' customer restroom was out of order.