» Subscribe Today!
More of what you want to know.
The Daily News

Forgot your password?
TDN Services
Research millions of people and properties [+]
Monitor any person, property or company [+]

Skip Navigation LinksHome >
VOL. 125 | NO. 95 | Monday, May 17, 2010


State, National Economies Take Different Paths to Healing

By Andy Meek

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

Poet Robert Frost could appreciate one of the themes emerging as the U.S. economy shakes off the effects of a painful recession.

Two roads – representing the national and state economies – have now diverged within the clearing where investors, borrowers and policymakers find themselves.

"(The economy is) heavily medicated, full of emotional volatility, yet ultimately on the mend."  

– David Waddell, Waddell & Associates

Tennessee bankers got an earful about that trend a few days ago. More than 120 bankers from across the state were in Nashville Wednesday for “A Day with the Commissioner” hosted by Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions Commissioner Greg Gonzales, along with the Federal Reserve Banks of St. Louis and Atlanta.

St. Louis Fed president James Bullard – whose Fed district includes Memphis – told the bankers the picture for the U.S. economy is looking brighter.

As proof, he pointed to a host of benchmarks such as five positive employment reports in the past six months and rebounds in manufacturing and home prices.

“We are seeing continued signs of recovery for the U.S.,” Bullard said.

David Waddell, president and CEO of Memphis-based investment firm Waddell & Associates, sees a similar pattern.

“I think what most people underestimated during this period was one variable specifically. And that was speed,” Waddell said. “Speed by which we went down. How quickly the credit system stopped functioning. How quickly employers shed employees. How quickly legislation arrived. How quickly the Fed reacted.

“And now we’re on the other side of it, and things are progressing much faster than most prognosticators expected.”

But no sooner than he’d pointed to a rebound for the U.S., Bullard turned his attention to the state level, where many economies are still on their knees.

That includes Tennessee, where the state’s general fund is about $154 million below initial projections for the budget year that ends next month.

And that trend extends beyond state and local governments. Wall Street investment banks are roaring back to life, while community and regional banks still have black holes on their balance sheets in the form of heavy commercial real estate exposure.

Because it’s putting out a growing number of financial fires, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. – the federal agency that guarantees consumer bank deposits and takes over failed banks – has gone on a hiring spree.

The FDIC announced earlier this year it’s hiring 24 temporary employees in Tennessee, most of whom are for its Memphis and Nashville field offices.

At the start of 2010, almost 63 percent of Tennessee’s 157 biggest banks – those with assets of more than $100 million – were either unprofitable or reported flat earnings.

Bullard noted that Tennessee’s total tax revenue was about 9 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession began.

“Like nearly all states, Tennessee’s state government is facing a budget crisis in 2010, which will be more challenging than it was in 2009,” Bullard said.

Prominent banking analyst Meredith Whitney picked up on that theme in her presentation to the Tennessee bankers.

She said as many as 1 million to 2 million jobs could be lost during the next 12 months because of cash-starved state and local governments tightening their belts.

It’s a far different picture than the one confronting the overall economy.

In the weekly e-mail to his mailing list after presenting his 2010 State of the Union (an economic-themed recap of the past year) to clients in February, Waddell chose a simple metaphor to describe the nation’s outlook.

“You may recall our outlook for 2009 as markets and an economy in ‘rehab,’” Waddell wrote. “Heavily medicated, full of emotional volatility, yet ultimately on the mend.”

PROPERTY SALES 61 61 6,453
MORTGAGES 46 46 4,081
BUILDING PERMITS 113 113 15,474