Economics has been called the “dismal science,” but there was nothing grim about the views presented at the Rutgers Quarterly Business Outlook on Wednesday.
The event, held once again at the Camden campus of Rutgers University, attracted about 145 business people and educators. This was the 73rd forum since the event kicked off in 1994.
Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, gave the economy, as a whole, a passing grade.
“We wanted the hare, but instead we got the tortoise,” said Naroff, a former president of the Philadelphia Council of Business Economists.
He said too many homes were built during the “housing bubble” phase, but the housing market has been slowly improving as consumer confidence has returned and more people have bought homes.
The Bucks County resident, who is frequently quoted by the national media, told the audience he’s optimistic that the national economy is making a rebound for a number of reasons.
Lending appears to be picking up, consumer spending has increased — as indicated by the purchase of autos in March — and demand in the education and health care sectors will continue, Naroff said.
Smaller cars flew off dealer lots in March and gave U.S. automakers their best monthly sales in almost five years, according to published reports.
Naroff said the economy is beginning to show stability, but he added that growth would be modest — in the 3 percent range.
Naroff’s sunny view got — perhaps surprisingly — support from fellow panelist, Bruce Paparone, president of Bruce Paparone Inc., a company that builds primarily single-family luxury homes in South Jersey.
“Things do seem to be getting better,” said Paparone, who has built housing in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.
He said traffic is up 40 percent and sales — without giving specific numbers — are up 26 percent in the first quarter of this year.
Paparone, whose office is based in Stratford, Camden County, said building permits are on the rise, prices had hit rock bottom and foreclosures had peaked — all good signs for a slowly recovering housing industry.
“Overall, I’m extremly optimistic that housing is improving,” said the Haddonfield resident, whose company has been in business since the 1950s.
The third panelist, David J. Hanrahan, founding president and CEO of Capital Bank of New Jersey based in Vineland, admitted many people despise bankers as a result of the financial crisis of the past four years.
Despite that, Hanrahan, a Harrison, Gloucester County resident, said he’s proud of the service his community bank provides to local residents.
The banker said the health of the banking industry is improving, with fewer banks failing, greater profitability and fewer problem loans. Hanrahan, nevertheless, said some small community banks will keep struggling because of lack of capitalization and overhead requirements.
Hanrahan said the Dodd-Frank Act, enacted last year to reform of financial institutions, will have an impact on banks. The role of federal lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also will draw attention as federal regulators look to reform banking.
He noted three out of every four mortgages in the country are derived through Fannie and Freddie. Taxpayers have spent more than $150 billion to rescue Fannie and Freddie, the most expensive bailout of the 2008 financial crisis, according to experts.
Expect a lot of debate on Fannie and Freddie,” Hanrahan said. “There will be a lot more (banking) legislation you’ll be hearing about.”
Jaishankar Ganesh, dean of the Rutgers School of Business in Camden, thanked the panelists for their views.
As for the economy, he commented, “We seem to be running a lot to stay in place.”
Wednesday’s event was co-sponsored by the law firm, Flaster Greenberg in Cherry Hill and the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey in Voorhees.
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