Economist Robert J. Morgan, Austin Associates, LLC
"We've seen more growth in the last 6 quarters than the last 4-5 years," stated Robert Morgan, an economist with Austin Associates, when he recently spoke to several of Citizens National Bank's business customers about the economic outlook for 2017. That statement speaks volumes about the direction Morgan feels our country is taking in regards to economic activity and the opportunity for businesses to expand over the next year. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has traditionally trended around 2.5-3% for the US. Since the recession in 2009, that number has averaged below 2%. That changed in 2016 and Morgan predicts real GDP to be somewhere near 3.5% by the end of 2017. Seventy percent of real GDP is driven by personal consumption expenditures, how much people are willing to buy based upon their confidence in the economy and employment. Consumer confidence reached a record level in 2016. That combined with improved employment rates will result in continued spending by consumers.
Areas Morgan feels will contribute to that growth will be automotive and housing. "Vehicle sales will continue to increase as the average age of the fleet of cars in the US is still 9.3 years old," explains Morgan. Home values will continue to rise as inventory of existing homes is extremely low and people will begin to build new homes in order to get the type of home they want. This will result in a strong construction sector.
"Cash balances for businesses have grown as business owners took a wait and see approach and held on to their capital. Their confidence is also beginning to build and they will begin to invest in fixed investments and expansion as their inventory has largely sold out and they need to create more product," states Morgan.
Of course, there are always uncertainties in the economy and Morgan cautions this optimistic outlook is based upon a labor market that continues to grow and foreign economic conditions not adversely affecting our domestic economy. Uncertainty about fiscal policy in regards to taxes, rising interest rates, increased regulation, and the simple demographics shift that shows baby boomers as the largest segment with very different needs and wants than the growing millennial generation will also play part in trends we see in the US economy. But overall, Morgan is very optimistic that we'll continue to see positive growth over the next year.
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