The Times West Virginian

March 9, 2014

Huntington Bank economist sees ‘strength coming from a number of different places’

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Economist Dr. George Mokrzan is positive as he looks toward the future of the economy for the remainder of this year.

Mokrzan, director of economics for Huntington National Bank, recently provided an economic update for 2014 and beyond. His presentation on the local and national economy took place at Milan Puskar Stadium on the campus of West Virginia University.

He joined the team of Huntington Bank in 1996, moving his way up to the position of director of economics in early 2013. In his current job, Mokrzan works with management and clients to offer economic analysis and commentary.

He was previously chairman of the Economic Advisory Committee of the American Bankers’ Association and continues to be involved in this national committee. He also serves as a panelist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s “Livingston Survey” and is part of CNN Money’s “Economist Poll.”

Mokrzan graduated from University of Rochester, earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, and Duke University, where he obtained his master’s degree and doctorate in economics.

In his forecast, Mokrzan talked about some of the strengths and weaknesses he saw in the United States economy. He said during a telephone interview that overall the forecast for this year is quite good and shows strong growth.

“I see that strength coming from a number of different places,” he said. “The consumer is coming back stronger. A lot of that has been because essentially their balance sheets have been improving.”

Mokrzan explained that consumers have been able to take advantage of low interests rates, reduce debt loads and see improvements in their financial assets and wealth. The stock market has also helped.

He said the housing recovery continues, and homeowners have seen housing booms in the country in the west and south.

Also, the nation is experiencing steadily rising employment levels, and is likely to see private-sector employment reach record highs. Because there is a little bit more weakness in the public sector, it may take longer for employment there to catch up.

Mokrzan expects the unemployment rate to keep declining, and reach the range of 6 percent by the end of the year.

In addition to this domestic growth, he commented that the world-wide economy will experience general improvement as well.

Mokrzan anticipated that approximately 25 percent of the world economy will benefit from movement and growth, but challenges will also arise from various locations. As long as the issues are contained in those areas as much as possible through policy response, those difficulties shouldn’t be a problem for the overall world economy.

Exports in the United States will continue to improve this year and be an area of strength for the domestic economy. For about 10 years, the export growth in the country has accelerated on a path faster than other advanced economies, Mokrzan said.

“A big area of growth has been exports of energy,” he said.

Due to the improvements in technology, energy production has increased 25 percent since the recession and is a potential driver of long-term economic growth. The country has also worked toward reducing imports and dependence on foreign energy, Mokrzan said.

He added that manufacturing in general will be vital to the economy. While this sector experienced a very tough decade, manufacturing is now maintaining strong productivity growth. As jobs in energy are created, employment in manufacturing and other industries will also result.

Mokrzan also mentioned that the inclement weather at the beginning of this year had a temporary influence on the economy. For instance, the weather has caused a slow-down in automobile sales and has also impacted activity in other sectors.

But Mokrzan isn’t alarmed by these statistics. His forecast and hope is that spring will arrive in the second quarter and will bring balanced economic activity with it.

“As we go on in the year, I think we are likely to see some price pressures,” he said.

Mokrzan believes that gradually rising interest rates are likely as the economy gains some strength and movement. These should be manageable increases because they are a function of a stronger economy. But based on this forecast, it will be a little bit more costly to borrow than in the past.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.