Housing values, which are down 36 percent from their peak of late 2005, may not recover for a couple of decades.
  • Housing values, which are down 36 percent from their peak of late 2005, may not recover for a couple of decades.
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If you're dreaming of a return to the good old days — San Diego's bubble years of the late 1990s and the early part of this decade — dismiss the idea. Ain’t gonna happen. The San Diego economy may do a little bit better in 2011 than it did last year, but you may not even notice the improvement.

The unemployment rate is going to remain around 10 percent, probably higher. There won’t be a return to 4 percent for a long, long time. Both employment and population growth will be meager this year. Housing values, which are down 36 percent from their bubble peak of late 2005, may not recover for a couple of decades. Retail sales aren’t plummeting as they were in 2008 and 2009, but they will only crawl upward. Tourism is already improving a bit, but a return to the halcyon years is a long way off. Venture capital won’t be pouring into high-tech and biotech firms as in the past. The retailing and real estate weaknesses will drag down tax receipts, pushing the City of San Diego deeper into technical insolvency.

At the end of last year, the federal government and the Federal Reserve announced plans to pump trillions of more dollars into the United States economy. Economists rushed to raise their estimate of 2011 national growth from 2.5 percent to 2.6 percent or 3 percent and even above, partly because of strong Christmas retail sales. In San Diego, economists bumped up their forecasts slightly. Liquidity reigns.

But some forecasters urge sobriety: “We are borrowing and will have to pay it back,” says Marney Cox, chief economist for the San Diego Association of Governments. “We are robbing future growth. The weak 2011 has been postponed for a year.”

San Diego County jobs will grow by only 6000 to 12,000 this year, says Cox. That is puny. Alan Gin, economist at the University of San Diego, sees 10,000 to 15,000 new jobs. Kelly Cunningham, economist for the National University System Institute for Policy Research, sees a mere 10,000 jobs growth in the private sector. He sees job losses in state and local government, which to some extent may be offset by strength in federal jobs, mainly in the military.

Cunningham points out that in the disaster years of 2008 and 2009, San Diego County personal income dropped by 1.1 percent, but that was better than the national decline of 1.8 percent. The major reason was a fat increase in federal payrolls in San Diego. Without those, San Diego’s personal-income plunge would have been among the worst in the nation. However, if there is a federal pay freeze this year, San Diego County could get clipped by $190.3 million.

Cunningham believes that direct military/defense spending accounted for 16.2 percent of the San Diego economy last year. That’s not as high as it used to be, but it tends to be a predictable, sustainable source of growth.

However, “The San Diego unemployment rate is not likely to come down,” says Cunningham. “It will remain in the 10 percent range.” His biggest fear is “a huge meltdown” in state government finances, with the federal government not coming to the rescue. Such a calamity could wallop state and municipal government employment.

Cox, Cunningham, and Gin agree that health care will be the strongest area of local jobs growth, followed by business and professional services.

“The biggest jobs problem is in the narrowness,” says Cox. When the local economy began recovering from the early 1990s recession, “There was a broad range of growth — information, biotech, manufacturing. High tech came galloping to our rescue between 1995 and 2000.” Venture capital poured in. The initial-public-offering market was not just hot; it was insane. Local tech stocks would triple in their first day of trading. Now, venture capital is almost as weak as it has been in more than a decade, and initial public offerings are expected to improve only modestly.

“We will see a loosening up — more venture capital in 2011,” says Gin, and that will help tech firms, but he sees no flood. Biotech, software, and the new green technologies should do well, says Cunningham.

Residential real estate is not in for a recovery. There is an industry overhang, mortgage rates are rising (despite the Fed’s attempts to pound them down), and foreclosures pile up. Cox thinks home values will drop another 5 to 10 percent. “It could be two decades before we get back to inflation-adjusted levels of the peak,” he says, and it will “be three or four years before we see major increases in building permits.”

Cunningham is more pessimistic. Inflation-adjusted San Diego County home prices “may never reach previous highs without an unprecedented and unexpected rise of area household incomes,” he says. In the bubble years, San Diego’s median home price was 7 times median household income. Now it’s back to 4.2, but even though half of households can afford a home now, up from a pitiful 7 percent in the bubble years, San Diego homes are still less affordable than in most major markets.

The commercial real estate market remains in the doldrums. “There is too much retail space,” says Cox. “Consumers won’t be spending as before, not using credit cards as much and not tapping home equity. Marginal shopping centers will have to do something else with their property — it could be something connected to services.”

Taxable retail sales, which plunged 8.8 percent in 2008 and 12.8 percent the next year, inched up 0.5 percent in 2010 and will go up 2.5 percent this year, says Cunningham, conceding that the increase is not imposing.

San Diego has another problem: California. “I anticipate state taxes will be going up — if not on consumers, on businesses,” says Cunningham. “More taxes and regulation will cause unemployment to rise, businesses to leave. We are discouraging productive people, dampening job prospects.”

The county’s population will rise by only 30,000 this year, or by less than 1 percent, says Cunningham. “It will mostly be babies,” he says. “There are still more people moving away from San Diego than moving in,” partly for the same reasons businesses are deserting.

San Diego’s tourism this year should be a little better than last year, says Jerry Morrison, La Jolla–based hotel guru. “But there are still too many unemployed, still too many uncertainties about markets.” According to Smith Travel Research, hotel occupancy through November averaged 68 percent, up from 64.2 percent in the same period of last year. But five years ago, occupancy was pushing 76 percent. Through November, the average room rate dropped to $123.32 from $126.81. That’s a far cry from $138 in the first quarter of 2008. It’s supply and demand, says Morrison: San Diego is overbuilt, but visitors aren’t streaming in. “Travelers will go where the price is right, irrespective of the [hotel] brand,” says Morrison. “They want free breakfasts, free internet, and free parking.” A number of San Diego hotels have failed economically, although they are still operating — taken over by the lender or a new buyer who got the facility at a deep discount. Those hotels are likely to continue struggling this year. ■

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Founder Jan. 5, 2011 @ 9:11 a.m.

Great story of a great problem for all of SD!

The only way that housing prices will hit the levels we have seen, is if we have massive inflation, and the US Gov't. is doing everything it can (including printing lots of extra money) to prevent that!

Consider this: No Good Jobs No Good Credit No House Loans No High House Prices

Unless the US Tax laws are changed to allow deductions for additional homes (like several years ago) our increasing housing glut will doom SD's housing market for many years to come...


Don Bauder Jan. 5, 2011 @ 11:44 a.m.

For me, the bottom line is that the biggest disaster this year would be a return to rapid growth in the U.S. economy. The banks would start lending money and all that money that has been created would turn into inflation. As long as unemployment remains high and the economy weak, it's like gasoline in dry grass -- it won't flare up until somebody lights a match.However, there are two extremely powerful institutions that will try to make sure that the economy doesn't recover strongly and that unemployment stays high: 1. The banks themselves (at least the big ones on Wall Street). They are getting free money from the Fed as long as unemployment remains high. Do you seriously think the big banks want unemployment to improve significantly, and the spigot get cut off? Of course not. They want very slow growth, and they can make it happen by lending very slowly; 2. the U.S. government and Federal Reserve. They created all the liquidity. They know it can turn into disastrous inflation. Both the Treasury and Fed want slow growth. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Jan. 5, 2011 @ 12:43 p.m.

No Good Jobs

Bingo-we have a winner.

The creation of good paying manufacturing jobs is the ONLY thing that is going to pull us out of the depression.

Nations that do not manufacture or produce goods is a nation in decline and decay.


Don Bauder Jan. 5, 2011 @ 1:51 p.m.

The simple way to say it is that the U.S. overconsumes and underproduces. But every strategy offered by economists today encourages more consumption, more risk-taking and less saving. In other words, the poison that got us into this mess is now the medicine expected to get us out. Best, Don Bauder


Founder Jan. 5, 2011 @ 2:38 p.m.

I see a much leaner America, where those with jobs try to hide their wealth from all those with no jobs and a recent memory of what the good life was all about...

Crime will soar and so will the number of gated Communities.

Drug cartels will increase their hold on California and start openly supporting elected Officials that are friendly...


Don Bauder Jan. 5, 2011 @ 2:52 p.m.

It will be a long time before drug cartels openly support U.S. political candidates. Best, Don Bauder


Founder Jan. 6, 2011 @ 8:36 a.m.

By "openly" I meant using their cash to "help" elect the Leaders that make things easier for them to stay in business and maintain the status quo...


Don Bauder Jan. 6, 2011 @ 11:57 a.m.

If you meant simply using mob money to elect politicians, that's been going on for many decades...more than a century, actually. The dirty money is usually laundered through a front of some kind -- say, a corporation or partnership. Joe Kennedy was inextricably tied to the Boston mob. He funneled enough money to the Democrats that FDR named him ambassador to the UK, and also head of the SEC, despite the fact that Kennedy was a notorious stock market manipulator. Joe Kennedy's son, Jack, kept a mistress in the White House, Judith Exner, who was supplied to him by a Chicago mobster. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 6, 2011 @ 7:44 a.m.

Why does this blatant ad keep showing up? Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 7, 2011 @ 5:16 p.m.

The biggest problem with the national and local economy is low diversity. Too much dependency upon IA (information age) jobs and business is that information is getting cheaper/free and fewer and fewer people/nations need to buy it. Even these jobs have been/are being exported and the Indians and Chinese can produce/consume/sell their own, thank you very much (they gleefully whisper under their breath). First Tricky Dick cracked open the East, Reckless Ronnie threw the steel sector their way, and all the F-offing Kings of the Realm of US followed suit, to a degree that is absurd, but far from unpredictable. This summary is, of course, an inadequate WAG from the gut, but the details would go beyond any sensible attention-span. Yeah, it goes 'way back beyond TD.

A great bulk of the "lost" jobs were fluff jobs anyway, and we're going to have to learn to do without them. The military is mega-fluff, a giant cash-cow that makes the one drawn (by some kinda folks alien to us) on the ceiling at Lascaux look like a fly-speck.

San Diego is just one of many GSSC's (Giant Sucking-Sound Cities)that are largely "sustained" (the latest buzz-word in the pantheon of puffery) by such fluff as the "housing industry" that, together with tanning-salons and t & d expansionaries (what will the Reeder do for ads?) put even LA-la Land to shame (at least they have a sorta "real" port--just watch ours go poof with the Navy withdrawal).

Oh, yeah, "tourism" will keep going as a "stay-cation" or "close-cation" distination for the marginal masses hanging onto a dwindling handful of tech jobs, but that will not support an economy even as big as the one we now enjoy for long, that the prognostications of the pessimoptimists presume.

"Health care," particularly for the jobless elders will make Obama's "death panels" look humane when president SP starts invoking her parasite/varmit-control solution to the burgeoning baby-boom oldsters who look more an more like moose or wolves from the presidential helicopter.

The trickle-down of "venture" capital will not be enough to maintain, much less transform, the patient, and impatience is bound to produce scrapping over the leavings.

McMansion-building will turn to a thin mist of crawl-in closets, and even crumbling existing homes will be for few fragments of the techies working here for Indian and Chinese firms (as the retired will have to flee upon the repeal of Prop 13), and "wired" will return to it's former definition, as the rabble turn to smoking sagebrush since president SP will not "feel their pain." They won't be able to afford the solace of shopping-centers.

With smaller and smaller gaggles of consumers--the Golden Goose of commerce--the middle-men and middle-women will finally feel the pinch, followed by the Kings and Queens, who will live happily ever-after, their troughs running over with willing slaves. I'm optimistic.


Don Bauder Jan. 7, 2011 @ 10:31 p.m.

Good analysis, but I don't think the bulk of the jobs lost to slave-wage nations were "fluff" jobs. Steel, rubber, auto, machine tool, metal fabrication jobs generally paid American workers well. Now those jobs are gone and the chief executives of the companies that dispatched the jobs overseas enjoy utterly obscene compensation. Ditto for Wall Street, which all along was pushing the offshore movement. The only thing of importance to U.S. companies is profits. So we destroyed our economic base genuflecting on the altar of greed. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 8, 2011 @ 8:40 p.m.

U R quite rite, uf course. Genuinely genuflucktuatedly. As you probubly noticed, I busted the Reader's 3K limit for driveling and had to cut my nattering nabobing off at the dramatic finish. Always write so the ed. can cut off the end; at least that's the way it always was at the SDU[T], eh? Did you ever have an editor actually make one of your pieces better or cut something needless in the middle of a paragraph or piece? 'Course not--you're too good. Back to my new bottle of single-malt.

PS: However, I don't think you meant to elastrate my entire point about fluff jobs though, did you? Or did you?

Best, Twisted


Fred Williams Jan. 8, 2011 @ 1:41 a.m.

The San Diego economy doesn't inspire hope.

While there are a few good paying professions left, many of these jobs can be moved overseas...particularly biotech and IT.

Finance has ballooned in importance in recent decades, but it remains parasitic on real world activities. The same for real estate and land development. They ought to be supporting actors, a result of other activities being successful, rather than an ends in themselves.

What remains is only the work that cannot be done elsewhere, a lot of which is what Don Bauder calls "taking in each other's laundry". Police, fire, and education are more properly seen as (necessary) public expenses rather than investment of productive economic activity.

The same is true of military spending. When you step back and look at it from the proper perspective, it's not promoting the overall economy but a drag on it.

In the end, what does San Diego make? Sunshine and good vibrations to sell to fickle visitors? Shall the San Diego economy rest on hosting others?

We know how this has come to be, and now I wonder how San Diego could dig itself out of this hole.


Twister Jan. 8, 2011 @ 9 p.m.

Just follow the BIG money! But only for answers, not for investment.

I'm telling you the truth Fred (I wish you'd comment more), the young people (20's, 30's, and even 40's) are re-forming, sucking it up, getting the message that living life and getting into acceptance of each other beats the hell out of, of, waal, Wal-Mart.

Honest to God, friendship, common courtesy (not ass-kissing), being as good as your word, hanging out, value, selecting (not just settling for) sufficiency, social integration, some sort of vaguely familiar thang kinda like love, and judging not to unwarranted conclusions. Hell, Fred, it even comes into them like osmosis--they don't even have to prate about it. And don't.


Don Bauder Jan. 8, 2011 @ 8:43 a.m.

Excellent points. I'll just expand on a couple of them. First, military spending. San Diergo makes weapons. They are used either to destroy something, or they sit on the shelf. They don't add a thing to productivity of the nation. Second, tourism. It's a good business, yes. But most of the hotels are owned by companies outside San Diego, so the profits flow elsewhere. (Many hotels, of course, have been going under of late.) Hotel and restaurant pay is very poor. Finally, finance. The U.S. has gone from product engineering to financial engineering. Much of the activity is just money-changing -- pea and shell games. Some of it does nothing for the economy, and much of it, such as leveraged buyout activity, actually detracts from the economy. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 8, 2011 @ 8:50 p.m.

"The U.S. has gone from product engineering to financial engineering. Much of the activity is just money-changing -- pea and shell games. Some of it does nothing for the economy, and much of it, such as leveraged buyout activity, actually detracts from the economy." --Bauder

KEEP ON KEEPIN' ON MAKING THAT POINT. Repitition, repitition, REPITITION! It's the ONLY way to counteract titilation, titilation, TITILATION.

Do not keep makin' the same mistake of thinkin' that educatin' and educatin' and educatin will bring US up frum dummer.


Don Bauder Jan. 8, 2011 @ 10:29 p.m.

You're right. I've said it before. But with your blessings, I will keep saying it. Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 9, 2011 @ 8:17 p.m.

We gotta get it onto bumper stickers or maybe post-its and stick 'em up in quantity in all the public restrooms or sumpin!

Bless you, bro!


Don Bauder Jan. 9, 2011 @ 9:53 p.m.

How about this for a bumper sticker: "Fight potholes. Abolish CCDC." Best, Don Bauder


Twister Jan. 15, 2011 @ 3:01 p.m.

JC didn't say the money-changers couldn't change money, he just tossed them out of the temple.

As to CCDC, as big a pothole of our credit-cards tho it may be, it is the PRINCIPLE, so well stated by you, that is a the core of all scams. Since this applies to the current blog too, I'm gonna double-post it, if our honorable moderators will kindly permit such a transgression . . .

Keep on repeatin'


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2011 @ 8:27 p.m.

The money changers would rather practice their black arts in the temple. It lends respectability. Best, Don Bauder


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