Utah, on its way up from a long but mild recession, will converge next spring with a national economy on its way down - a relatively painless prelude for both Utah and the rest of the country to a decade of good, solid growth throughout the 1990s.
That's the upbeat prognosis that Jerry L. Jordan, chief economist for Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp., brought to Utah this week for First Interstate Bank of Utah's annual economic luncheon.The bad times are over for Utah, Jordan assured, and that includes the "boom and bust" cycles of oil and real estate. The state's energy industry will show "steady progress," he said, and real estate will "gradually stabilize."
"When you overbuild as much as Utah has - although not as much as many other Western states - you have to absorb the supply or bulldoze it," he said. Since the latter isn't practical, he conceded, the state will have to "grow into it." That's happening, he said, but it will take a while longer.
But what about cutbacks in Utah defense contracts due to U.S./Soviet arms reductions? Well, yes, Jordan agreed, there will be some belt tightening there, but no one's going to starve. For example, the cutbacks in Utah contracts are not likely to be nearly as severe as they were in the 1970s following the end of the Vietnam War.
The key, he said, is to diversify, something the state has been doing for years. And then there are all those aging baby boomers across the nation. They are going to have more discretionary income in the coming decade and they'll be looking to spend it on travel, tourism, recreation/entertainment and health services. Utah is better positioned than most states to cater to that agenda.
But what's this talk about a recession next year? Well, it has to do with the Federal Reserve being more concerned with inflation than sustaining growth, said Gordon. If the economy has to be "cooled down" for awhile, the Fed might feel it is better to get it over with now, not later. In any case, the Fed will attempt to engineer a "soft landing."
Real Gross National Product should be down about 0.5 percent next year, said Jordan, reviving to 3.4 percent by 1990. Consumer prices should rise 5.6 percent next year compared with only 4.7 percent in 1988. A shift towards "greater restraint" should drive inflation back below the 5 percent level in 1990.
Jordan expects interest rates to reach "cyclical highs" in the first half of next year, then move downward in the first half of 1990 before edging higher once again.
The implications of the mild downturn that First Interstate forecasts for next year aren't all that bad. For one thing, said Jordan, it will be accompanied by considerable improvement in the U.S. trade and current-accounts deficits, although, at $100 billion in 1990, the latter will still be large.
"Nevertheless," he said, "continued, relatively strong export growth is good news for a number of states in First Interstate territory, since the territory is generally more active in foreign trade than the country as a whole."