The housing industry has bottomed out, but still hasn't shown signs of bouncing back,
Wells Fargo Bank senior economist Mark Vitner told an audience of the bank's Southwest Florida business customers Tuesday.
"We haven't seen the beginnings of a real recovery based on demand," he told an audience of about 100 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Myers. And that's bad news for the economy, he said: A normally functioning home-building industry would add 3.5 million jobs, half the number lost since the recession began.
Vitner expects the country to avoid a recession but not by much: 1.5 to 2 percent growth for the next two years.
Fort Myers-based real estate broker Tom Pepitone of Pepitone Properties Corp. said he agrees with Vitner's prediction and has seen it start to play out already.
"In talking to all my tenants in the buildings I manage, they all see a better year than last year but they're worried the next years aren't going to be great here," he said.
The biggest problem locally, Pepitone said, is getting financing for new construction. "People can't get financing, even if they're strong."
Vitner said that though the United States isn't in great shape, things are much worse in Europe as the financially weaker countries start to implode.
"The euro currency is going to fail. It's doomed," he said. "They're somewhat in denial about that."
First to fall, Vitner said, will be Greece.
"Greece is absolutely going to default" on its
debt no matter what it does, he said. "They can't fix it. It is not a fixable situation."
The United States could still correct course, Vitner said. He suggested a stimulus program based on spending to improve the country's infrastructure in ways that would improve the economy - improved intersections or "smart traffic lights" to make traffic flow more efficiently.
If this country does avoid another recession, he said, there's a little good news for Floridians. The state's economy historically grows 1.5 times the rate of the national economy.
Even so, Vitner acknowledged, "It's still not much to jump up and down about."