updated 10/14/2007 5:47:11 PM ET 2007-10-14T21:47:11

Given the churning turmoil of global markets sparked by the U.S. subprime crisis, soaring oil prices and a renewed strength by foreign currencies, it might seem appropriate that any of those issues could figure in determining the winner of this year’s Nobel economics prize.

But, say watchers of the secretive prize, that’s too tough a call to make given that the people who ultimately decide the winner — or, in years past, winners — tend to favor economic theories that have had time to take root, grow and prove resilient.

“It is so hard to predict. Last year it went to the labor market area, so perhaps it will be statistics this time, but then again the securities market hasn’t won for about 10 years,” said Hubert Fromlet, the chief economist of Swedbank in Stockholm.

Speculation on this year’s prize has included economists who deal with international trade, macroeconomics and the labor market, among others.

Fromlet said Jagdish Bhagwati, a noted proponent of free trade and critic of opponents of globalization, was one of his favorites.

“International trade is probably worth a prize,” he said, noting that the Indian-born Columbia University economics professor was an external adviser to the World Trade Organization and served as a special policy adviser on globalization to the United Nations.

Other potential candidates include macroeconomists Robert Barro and Paul Romer, as well as arbitrage pricing researcher Stephen Ross, and Europeans Jean Tirole in France and Assar Lindbeck in Sweden, Fromlet said.

Like the traditional Nobel science prizes — medicine, physics and chemistry — there is no precise formula for predicting whom the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences will pick to win the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Previous winners of the prize, created in 1968 and not one of the original five outlined by Alfred Nobel in his will, have recognized research ranging from how the control of information affects markets to welfare economics used to explain the mechanisms behind famine and poverty.

Last year’s winner was American Edmund S. Phelps, who won for explaining the relationship between inflation and unemployment, work that has had a profound impact on macroeconomic policy.

Other names figuring in this year’s speculation include Americans Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago, who has researched finance, Yale professor William Nordhaus, and Sir Partha Dasgupta, whose research into the economics of environmentalism may carry a particular resonance given the rising importance of climate change.

Thomson Scientific, which tries to predict winners partly by analyzing citations in academic journals, said Tirole’s work on industrial organization, game theory, banking and finance have increased speculation he could win.

Nobel Prize winners receive 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.5 million), a gold medal and a diploma from the Swedish king on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

The other prizes were announced last week, with the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine going to Americans Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, and Briton Sir Martin J. Evans, for groundbreaking discoveries that led to a powerful technique for manipulating mouse genes.

France’s Albert Fert and German Peter Gruenberg won the physics award for discovering a phenomenon that enables computers and digital music players store reams of data on ever-shrinking hard disks.

Gerhard Ertl of Germany won the chemistry prize for studies of chemical reactions on solid surfaces, which are key to understanding such questions as why the ozone layer is thinning.

Britain’s Doris Lessing won the literature prize, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Friday for their efforts to spread awareness of man-made climate change and lay the foundations for counteracting it.

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