Finding road to financial recovery

Some experts say Denver area could emerge better from economic crisis

Posted 1/14/09

In a time when there are more questions than answers, experts are looking closely at the factors that caused the deepening economic crisis in search …

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Finding road to financial recovery

Some experts say Denver area could emerge better from economic crisis


In a time when there are more questions than answers, experts are looking closely at the factors that caused the deepening economic crisis in search of a solid road to recovery.

Many people know that with weakening job stability and diminishing retirement funds dominating headlines, forecasts for the upcoming year are bleak.

While experts have diverging viewpoints on just what will resurrect the economy, most are optimistic that Americans will emerge with a better understanding of the financial system and a renewed sense of responsibility.

Dr. Richard Wobbekind, chief economist at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has a unique perspective on Denver’s economic pulse. He has prepared detailed forecasts for the state and has an extensive educational background in regional economics and business research among others. Wobbekind is now using that know-how to teach Denver area residents about the ebbs and flows of business cycles, impacts of global markets on the local financial landscape and practical ways for investors to weather the storm.

In his travels as a leading keynote speaker at seminars statewide, Wobbekind has seen first-hand the stresses that everyday Coloradans are enduring. Residents over the age of 50 are becoming increasingly worried that there is not enough time to recoup the losses sustained by their retirement savings. Those who diligently squirreled away money for use in the wonder years feel slighted by the recent turn of events.

“People are most upset because they have done everything right, but still lost a lot of money,” he said. “They feel like the system let them down in some sense, and in many ways it did.”

Wobbekind has long taken a realistic look at the state of the regional and national economy, and he shares the opinion that many experts are now dispensing. Rather than furthering the belief that things will return to normal late this year or even next year, Wobbekind predicts a full economic recovery in five to six years.

In the meantime, the rate of job loss will grow, homes will continue to be foreclosed upon and college and retirement savings will likely continue their downward trends before leveling off.

It will take a combination of factors to return to normal, but rest assured: gone are the days of overinflated home values and aggrandized stock prices, both of which fed into the last two recessions, he said.

When all is said and done, there will be more stringent lending regulations, and, likewise, smarter consumers. Corporate profits will be kept in check, and there will be more oversight in the stock market and better enforcement of rules that are critical to keeping it in working order, he said.

Sadly, some people are just now realizing the need to reduce frivolous spending and forego a lifestyle far beyond their financial means. Wise spending habits seemed to dissipate nationwide as the population grew further away from the troubling memories of the Great Depression, Wobbekind said.

“Because everyone has been prospering for such a long time, we lulled ourselves into a sense of security,” he said.

A collapse of this magnitude has never been seen because global markets have never been so closely interlinked to have such a profound worldwide effect. Essentially, because of advances in technology, a financial hiccup on the other side of the world could have an immediate negative impact on U.S. markets.

When the housing and financial markets imploded and spread into the stock market, consumer confidence took an unprecedented dive. Not surprisingly, much of today’s turmoil stems from perceptions of doom and pessimism on the part of consumers, workers and corporations.

Widespread fear is partly responsible for contributing to the “death spiral” in which the country is caught right now, said Bart Sayyah, director of economic development for the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.

A global economic slowdown directly affects the Denver area because certain local sectors rely heavily on support from foreign countries. When consumers in large European nations and flourishing countries such as China stop spending, corporations, in turn, strive to contain costs, resulting in a trickle-down effect to Denver-based telecommunications companies, agricultural exports, software developers and distributors, and the tourism industry. It also leads to reductions in capital expenditures and foreign investments that help keep the markets afloat.

“Even throughout the first three quarters [of 2008], businesses were continuing to invest,” Wobbekind said. “Now that they have stopped investing, the economy fell off the table.”

The crisis has resulted in a lack of available credit, making if harder for venture capitalists to help entrepreneurs start a small business. It is also more difficult for prospective homebuyers with good credit to secure a loan.

In the coming years, there will be a noticeable evolution in social programs, perhaps on a larger scale than the period following the Great Depression of the 1930s. Out of necessity, wages will rise, productivity will increase and the population will learn more about the finer points of the credit system and how it functions, he said.

If approved soon enough, the economic stimulus package being proposed by the incoming Obama administration could provide a much-needed boost to Denver’s job sector and be critical in restoring confidence and putting the nation on a “path to prosperity,” Wobbekind said.

The Federal Reserve, the central bank system of the United States, has provided strategic rate cuts under strange circumstances, but those moves alone have not inspired confidence, he said.

While no businesses in the Denver Technological Center, Meridian International Business Park or Inverness Business Park are hiring on a large scale, the South Metro area is well-positioned to come out of the economic crisis stronger than ever. Savvy investors are looking to snatch up real estate at bargain prices, including one San Francisco-based renewable energy company that is considering moving its headquarters to either Arapahoe County or Douglas County, Sayyah said.

The South Metro area is fortunate enough to have an educated labor pool, something that entices larger companies that pay higher wages to relocate here. And because of Arapahoe and Douglas counties’ diversified economy, the area is more resistant to the violent downturns that typically hit the coasts much harder.

Denver International Airport and the FastTracks initiative, which is expected to improve regional transportation, are also considered critical assets. Those factors, combined with a favorable regulatory environment and Colorado’s distinction as a desirable place to live, will likely lead to a quicker recovery, Sayyah said.

When the smoke clears from the continuing collapse, the economy could actually come out stronger because of increased awareness and understanding. Wobbekind estimates that 30 percent of the crisis is real, while a whopping 70 percent is imagined.

“The health of the financial community has to be based on the real economy being healthy,” he said.

Although there are few silver linings to cling to at the moment, it will be an unforeseen industry that will help awaken the idle economy. More than a few experts have predicted that clean technology and renewable energy will lead the way, but there is no clear way to determine what will launch the comeback.

Eventually, Sayyah said, an increase in spending and consumer confidence could spread like wildfire in much the same way that rampant fears have a prevailing influence over the existing situation.

For now, consumers must find a healthy balance between sensible spending and saving enough for potentially more difficult times, and wait until the storm passes.

“We lulledourselves into a sense of security.”

Dr. Richard Wobbekind, chief economistLeeds School of Business


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