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A Quartet of Economists Optimistic about Tampa's Future

  TAMPA BAY TIMES -Snowbirds aren't the only ones flocking to Tampa Bay this time of year.

Every January, the bay area becomes a mecca for top bank economists. 'Tis the season to share annual forecasts in luncheons and meetings galore with current and prospective clients, area chambers of commerce and other business groups.

The Tampa Bay Times caught up with four visiting economists to get their take on where Tampa Bay and the broader national economy are headed. 

 

By and large, they're an optimistic bunch. Some common themes emerged: The bay area's economic fortune hinges strongly on what happens in Washington; housing's comeback appears to be real; and the return of temporarily sidelined, discouraged job seekers into the labor pool won't be enough to push unemployment back up.

Richard Moody, chief economist, Regions Financial

As the nation goes, he says, so goes Tampa Bay. In fact, the region may fare even better given its rapid drop in unemployment and the improved diversity of its economy beyond construction and tourism.

The housing recovery kicked into a higher gear in the last months of 2012, Moody said, with housing starts nationally up 27 percent for the year. He forecasts housing starts doubling within two years.

Bill Adams, senior international economist, PNC Financial Services

"It's a slow-growing economy, but it's a much less scary place than last year … when we were seen on the verge of a global recession."

Adams' forecast calls for 2.1 percent growth in the U.S. this year, with unemployment stagnating for the first half of the year before gradually falling to about 7.5 percent by year-end.

The housing market, both nationally and in Florida, is on much stronger footing. The drop in home prices from their 2006 peak has positioned Florida once more as an affordable housing market. That bodes well for the state in attracting retirees and families, driving home prices up once more.

Anthony Chan, chief economist for private wealth management, JPMorganChase

With fundamentals still solid, he sees the stock markets ending the year up 8 to 10 percent — and we're almost halfway there already with January's surge.

Housing prices throughout Florida are also heading up, particularly in the south, and Chan doesn't see the foreclosure overhang stopping it. "Look at the way prices are jumping in Miami. They're almost jumping Gangnam style."

He downplayed historically low labor force participation rates, saying it's driven largely by retiring baby boomers and the younger generation staying in school longer.

Jeff Korzenik, chief investment strategist, Fifth Third Bank

"We see this as a year of accelerated growth," Korzenik said. "We are still facing the same challenges, but for the first time in several years we have new opportunities for growth."

Those opportunities are widespread — from the housing market's comeback to an improved international climate.

Foreclosures aside, housing prices will continue their upward trajectory, he predicts, in part because a new wave of home buyers is on the horizon.

"One thing particularly troubling during the recession is the way household formation rates came down," he said.

"They are now rebounding, which is very good news. We have the children of the baby boomers — the echo boom — coming to the age where junior is finally moving out of Mom's basement. They're forming their own households."

Korzenik also remains bullish that the jobs recovery will continue.

Rather than a surge of discouraged workers re-entering the market, he said, what's more likely is more dual-income households turning into single-income households. Couples with kids will increasingly opt for one parent to stay home because of stagnant wages, he reasons. "If your wages are significantly reduced, the trade-off between (paying) child care costs and free time gets to be a tougher calculation," he said. "Some of the drop in labor force participation will probably stay permanent."

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