2009: Will the economy rebound?

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, January 1, 2009

It would be safe to say that 2008 was the year of the bear — the bear market, that is.

The economy took a drastic downturn last year, as real estate, insurance, automakers and banks were among the large corporations and organizations that took major financial hits.

However, local experts in banking and real estate believe that the worst might be behind the nation and that the economy is set to rebound in 2009.

Wem Malone, city president of CCB Community Bank, is among those who feel that the economy will start to come back in the new year.

“I believe we’re going to stabilize,” he said. “I don’t have any thing to base that opinion on, but hopefully the worst is over with.”

Malone said one reason the economy could be headed back in a positive direction in 2009 is the lowering of key interest rates.

As of Wednesday, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was a record low 5.1 percent. In October, the same rate was as high as 7.4 percent. Rates for 15-year and five-year mortgages are also currently much lower than the 2008 rates.

“All these lowered rates should make house loans more affordable,” Malone said. “When people look and see that they might get a better deal on something, they should be willing to spend money and help turn the economy around.”

Malone said he feels one of the problems with the current economy is that people perceive the economy is doing poorly. He believes that restoring consumer confidence is necessary to reverse the 2008 economic trends, and that president-elect Barack Obama has already shown he is up to the challenge of restoring that confidence.

“If you look at what Obama’s doing, he’s bringing together some of the smartest people he can find into his economic team,” Malone said. “Again, perception is such a big part of this. I think that people will start to have faith and confidence in him, and that in turn, that will help the economy come back.”

Debra Donaldson, president of the Covington County Association of Realtors, said that the local real estate market was strong last year, despite national trends. On July 26, the U.S. Senate gave the Treasury Department the authority to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest mortgage companies in the nation. That action, combined with the general economic decline, eventually led to an 18-year low number of new home sales in December.

Donaldson agreed with Malone that the Obama administration could help the national real estate market make a comeback of its own.

“Election years are always tough on everybody because of the uncertainty,” she said. “I think that we have a president now who wants to make the economy settle down a bit. Once the economy settles, and as long as people are remaining in their jobs, that will help the housing market to stabilize.”