Economist optimistic on future

DULUTH - After a year of struggling in the housing crisis, Bryan Cohen said an "optimistic" economist made him feel better about 2009.

"I think it is good news," Cohen said of Wednesday's economy report from Donald Ratajczak, a retired economics professor, who said homebuilding may begin to rise again in the fall.

Ratajczak's humor-infused financial forecasts have become an annual event for the Council for Quality Growth, but this year, the crowd of 300 people involved in the development community were thirsting for hope.

And Ratajczak delivered.

He said, if the economy suffers no more major shake-ups, then the housing market could improve in the third quarter of 2009 and come back to a positive in the fourth quarter.

"It is not a depression. A recession is something where you get hit over the head, something of a shock and then it gets absorbed and you move forward," Ratajczak said. "Maybe by the summer we'll see a little bit of an uptick (in the housing market)."

He said 2 million jobs could still be lost before the economy gets back on track, but he said he is already seeing signs of the stock market hitting bottom and federal bailouts have helped the credit market. With the cost of energy and food back down, Ratajczak said he doesn't believe the crisis will reach depression levels.

But he did warn that the recovery could be followed by inflation if officials don't rein in the cash infusion after it begins to work.

Ratajczak also said the first three months of the year would be important to the recovery efforts, if Congress passes President-elect Barack Obama's proposed infrastructure-building measure.

Cohen, who works for Touchstone Homes, said 2008 was tough, but Ratajczak's report made him more optimistic about 2009.

"Clearly, when you can see a bottom has been reached, you can see things improve," Cohen said. "At the end of the day, if you have jobs and interest rates (low), you can find people getting back into homebuying. ... Hopefully, if things get stable, we'll see that confidence return."