Economic Forecast

Economic Forecast: Arizona, U.S. to Show Improvement in 2012

Improvement in both the Arizona and U.S. economies can be expected next year, but full recovery is still a few years away. That’s according to experts who spoke Wednesday at the 48th Annual Economic Forecast Luncheon, co-sponsored by ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business and JPMorgan Chase.

 More than 1,000 people packed into the Phoenix Convention Center to hear the outlook for 2012. The experts say that though U.S. economic growth was actually slower this year than last year, conditions for 2012 are looking up for the nation and state.

“Although the Arizona recovery is tepid at best, every key indicator is expected to improve in 2012 as compared to 2011, including jobs, incomes, sales and even housing,” said Research Professor Lee McPheters, director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “Still, no indicator will be sharply better until the national economy moves onto a faster growth path.”

McPheters says Arizona hasn’t been rebounding with the same vigor seen in previous recovery periods. The state lost 324,000 jobs from 2007 to 2010. By the end of this year, only about 20 percent of those will be restored. However, Arizona did move from No. 49 among the states for job creation in 2010 all the way up to a Top 10 growth state this year.

“After three consecutive years of lost employment, about 23,800 jobs were added in 2011,” said McPheters, editor of the prestigious Arizona and Western Blue Chip Forecast publications. “Arizona employment is expected to increase by 45,000 jobs in 2012. However, we’re now at about 9 percent unemployment in the state and expect unemployment to continue to be a problem next year, dropping to around 8.5 percent. Healthcare and manufacturing are among the sectors doing relatively well.”

McPheters also expects Arizona’s population to grow by 1.5 percent in 2012, faster than the national average of about 1 percent, but slower than Texas and Colorado. Personal income is expected to go up 6 percent in Arizona. Retail sales are projected to rise by 8 percent. Cautious consumers have largely been putting off non-essential spending, but may relieve some pent-up demand next year.

In the hard-hit housing market, McPheters predicts 20-percent growth in single-family housing permits. However, Elliott D. Pollack, president of highly regarded economic and real estate consulting firm Elliott D. Pollack and Company, explained that even a large percentage growth in this area doesn’t mean much.

“Permits have bottomed out, but they are still down 89 percent from the peak,” Pollack said. “About 50,000 to 55,000 excess housing units remain in the Greater Phoenix area.”

Foreclosures and short sales have been dragging down existing-home prices. Pollack says, in the third quarter of this year, 25 percent of the existing-home transactions were foreclosures, and another 29 percent were short sales. Also, more than 40 percent of the homes being sold are going to investors and other owners who won’t actually live there.

“On the positive side, the number of units going into foreclosure is declining, and housing prices appear to have stabilized,” said Pollack. “Depending on population growth, job growth and other factors, we could see full housing recovery in three to four years.”

Pollack says the apartment market is already looking good, as many people switch to renting. Vacancy rates in industrial space have started to decline, and an increasing number of companies are looking at the Phoenix area as an alternative to California. Still, about one out of every four square feet of office space in the metro area is vacant.

At the national level, experts expect 2012 to bring an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of somewhere between just under 2 percent to 3 percent. Professor John B. Taylor, the George P. Schultz Senior Fellow in Economics at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, talked about what needs to be done in this area.

“The economy wasn’t nearly this weak in the 1980s, following an equally deep recession when unemployment rose to even higher levels,” said Taylor, who served as Undersecretary of the Treasury during President George W. Bush’s first term and on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers for President George H. W. Bush. “Recently, we have seen a return toward more government intervention for fiscal, monetary, regulatory and tax policy. These swings have had enormous consequences for the American economy.”

Taylor says the country needs a predictable government policy framework based on law with strong incentives derived from the market system and a clearly limited role for government.

Anthony Chan, chief economist for private wealth management at JPMorgan Chase & Co., specifically addressed the future of the financial markets. He said many stocks are a bargain now.

“We currently face oversized volatility and uncertainty; for this reason, we believe stocks are attractively priced from a historic perspective,” said Chan, who served as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, appears monthly on CNBC, and is a member of the Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones weekly economic indicator panels. “Prices should gravitate toward fairer values when the outsized degree of uncertainty lifts.”

Chan added corporations are sitting on “huge amounts of cash,” while paying out low dividends. When business sentiment improves and uncertainty is reduced, he expects faster employment and economic growth. He also believes high-yield and municipal bonds will remain a good investment as long as the country doesn’t fall into recession. Still, he is concerned the United States may be losing some control over its long-term destiny, noting that China and Japan hold a combined 46 percent of U.S. Treasuries.

“It is hard to believe the U.S. influence will remain as dominant as it once was, if this trend persists,” said Chan. “Meantime, emerging markets are becoming more attractive. Consider a diversified portfolio.”

For more details and analysis on the 2012 economic forecast, including the presentation slides, go to knowwpcarey.com.