January 5, 2011
Here's a post from our friends at the Wharton School of Business that takes a look at the economy globally, with some cautious optimism. I believe that in our local New York City housing market we've clearly seen some stability and even modest appreciation off the lows. Yet nationally, housing and unemployment are still putting a drag on the economy. Read on to see the perspective of some Wharton faculty on how that may look in the year to come.
The Global Economy in 2011, A Rocky Ride or Smoother Sailing Ahead?
In the United States, most experts are betting that the economy will grow stronger this year, but they warn that high unemployment, a depressed housing industry and other problems could dampen growth. Meanwhile, the fate of the euro is still in question, and the specter of inflation looms large in China, Latin America and India despite their resilience to the recent global downturn. In the Middle East, observers expect renewed growth, but they note that resource constraints will become an increasing problem for the region. Knowledge@Wharton spoke with Wharton faculty and other experts to get their views on what's ahead for the world economy in 2011.
The United States: Housing and Unemployment Risks
In the U.S., "the threat of a double dip [recession] has passed," says Wharton finance professor Richard Marston. The congressional compromise to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for two years should help the country's recovery, he predicts. "With the added stimulus of the tax bill, we will have continued growth in 2011."
Still, "there are some very severe downside risks," says Wharton finance professor Franklin Allen. One main concern is housing: Allen, Marston and other experts agree that the uncertain housing market will continue to be a drag on the economy.
"In the housing market, the data is going in different directions," Wharton real estate professor Susan M. Wachter notes. Some reports show sales picking up, while others show prices continuing to stagnate. "The bottom line is that we're bouncing along the bottom.... We're likely to be in a holding pattern." Fortunately, Wachter says, the weak housing market probably will not do too much additional damage to the economy, as most of the harm has already been done. New-home construction is not likely to go lower, for example.
According to Wachter, the housing market has enjoyed some stability because many lenders have been reluctant to foreclose and sell homes at fire-sale prices. A lender is typically willing to sell when a foreclosed property can fetch as much as the appraisers say it is worth, she says, but appraisers rely on backward-looking data that is quickly out of date in a volatile market, making it hard for the lender to know what a property is really worth.
Another problem, Wachter notes, is the recent rise in mortgage rates, which increases payments, makes homes less affordable and undermines sales. In addition, high unemployment reduces the number of potential buyers, she adds.
"The unemployment situation is still not good, and that's going to take a long time to change," Allen agrees. "There's been some upturn in consumer spending, but until things start looking better on the housing and unemployment fronts, I think [consumer spending] won't drive things forward."
While many U.S. retailers reported a good holiday season, it is not certain that consumers, who are the most important force in the economy, will continue to reverse the tight-fisted habits developed in the past few years, Allen says. Whether they have really loosened their purse strings or did so only for the holidays is unclear.
U.S. economic growth also could be hampered by ripple effects from the continuing debt problems in a number of European countries, Allen notes. In addition, economies are starting to overheat in some developing countries, especially China, he says. China has started to raise interest rates to curb inflation, but that could draw more foreign money into China, possibly depriving other countries of capital they need to speed growth while worsening China's inflation problems.