Seattle economists predict slow recovery in 2010
By JOSHUA ADAM HICKS
Bellevue Reporter Former Staff Writer
January 25, 2010 · Updated 11:45 AM
False confidence is so "Decade from Hell," to borrow a phrase coined by Time magazine.
The days of banking on high-risk investments are over, at least until our short-term memory problems allow for the next economic bubble.
But don't expect history to repeat itself any time soon. Economic forecasters predict a slow recovery from the massive recession that tore through world markets last year.
Pent-up demand normally creates high levels of snap-back growth after a recession, like the one in 1982. But that isn't likely to happen this time around, according to Michael Dueker, head economist for Russell Investments North America.
"It's time to pay the piper for the fact that we've had a financial crisis," he said during a recent economic-forecast conference in Seattle.
Bottom line: credit is hard to come by, and 90 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product is dedicated to bailouts and stimulus funding, which keep our economy afloat, but make it hard to bounce back.
Dueker says mediocre growth is the number-one risk for the U.S economy. He fears the government will rack up a series of deficits and end the decade with a large debt and a high interest burden.
Dueker predicts that the nation's economic growth in 2010 will amount to roughly half the drop in output that occurred during the downturn, resulting in a permanent hit to the tax base.
So what drives the economy at all during this slow-moving recovery? Some say clean-technology.
"Lots of money is pouring into this space," said Brian Reidy, a former executive from the renewable-energy sector who spoke at the economic forecast conference in Seattle.
Investments in the clean-technology sector surpassed software and biotechnology in 2009.
Jobs will inevitably follow the money, and Reidy says the Northwest is primed to take advantage of that trend with its high concentration of software and power-electronics workers – both of whom will be needed to create storage capacity for renewable energy.
Reidy says there will be manufacturing opportunities for the region as well so long as renewable-energy devices such as wind turbines are produced near available energy sources – windswept Eastern Washington, for instance.
Additional economic growth will come from the recent surge in new computing and mobile-communications platforms, according to Mark Anderson, CEO of the online tech-industry newsletter Strategic News Service.
Anderson points to the emergence of new devices such as the iPhone and the Tablet PC as a positive sign for the greater Seattle area.
"This is probably the most exciting time in computing and communications ever, and all of this comes home to the Puget Sound region," he said at the Seattle conference.
Anderson predicts new companies will arise to make software for both the PC and phone industries.
"We should be careful with, loving of and helpful for those companies being born every day here in Seattle and around this region who are working on content and applications," he said.
"We're very luck here because as technology leads out of the recession, this location here, probably more than any place outside Santa Clara, will benefit," Anderson continued.
The future doesn't look so bright for real estate and development.
Around 38,000 construction jobs were lost last year, and home values dove a minimum 25 percent in most cases.
Jim DeLisle, director of graduate real-estate studies at the University of Washington, predicts the housing market may take another 18 months to bottom out, while it could be another four years before anything significant happens on the development front.
Worse yet, DeLisle predicts a debt crisis on the horizon for commercial real-estate owners.
"We're not out of the ballpark," he said. "This isn't over yet."
DeLisle also suggests a new crisis looms in the form of bullet loans coming due within the next few years.
"One reason banks didn't put all their money out to small businesses like we hoped they would is that they have problems we haven't seen yet in their own portfolios," he said.
DeLisle suggested investors are likely to shun risk and focus on the safest ventures.
Commercial vacancy rates, meanwhile, will remain above 10 percent until 2011, according to Bill Pollard, co-founder of Talon Private Capital.
This will give tenants the leverage to demand better lease rates, in many cases before their contracts expire.
Pollard predicted "C buildings are going to get hurt, secondary locations are going to get creamed," and tenants will flock toward quality spaces without paying higher rates.