Prior to the Great Recession, a new year brought renewed optimism. But I’m concerned about business in 2014. This year, any optimism is tempered with uncertainty due to dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
Experts are battling over the economic outlook, all sides armed with data to support their specific contentions. Those with a bullish prediction believe that the run on Wall Street will continue and the economy will organically ramp up growth. Others contend that the nation is on course for a major economic collapse due to debt and a stock market bubble created by the Federal Reserve Board.
Frankly, most self-proclaimed experts have allowed their opinions to be corrupted by their political leanings or investment interests. Uncertainty abounds.
In the midst of this uncertainty, executives have put their hands in their pockets when it comes to growth and hiring.
Here are my top seven business concerns for the coming year.
1. The Jan. 1 changes to mortgage rules, which lower debt to equity for borrowers to 43% and restrict the ability to tailor mortgages to individual needs, could depress new housing markets.
2. While interest rates remain historically low, they will eventually rise, and some economists predict a dramatic increase. Is 2014 the year in which federal government tampering stops working?
3. Many are concerned that Federal Reserve tapering could send the stock markets into a tailspin, but my concern is that overvaluations in the market could mirror a too-hot wood commodity market. If investors start cashing in profits, could a downhill spiral begin panic selling?
4. According to the Ro-Mac Lumber Whole House Commodity Index, housing costs have risen 6.3% since 2012. A plethora of manufacturers have announced substantial price increases after Jan. 1 to cover increased costs. Will high material and labor costs tamp down housing in 2014?
5. Where are all of the good workers? Unemployment remains high but the industry is struggling to find qualified employees at all levels. Recruiting good people at affordable wages will be a challenge for everyone.
6. Commercial credit for marginal businesses will be both more difficult to get and more expensive. The inability to secure adequate capital will inhibit growth for many companies in all areas of the supply chain. This could stretch lead times and availability.
7. In Florida, many counties have done a poor job of managing budgets. In an attempt to create revenue, new and reinstated impact fees—along with odious regulations—will blossom in 2014. Instead of encouraging growth, governmental greed by Florida political leaders will have the opposite effect.
Though most executives are trying to be optimistic, there’s plenty of uncertainty and many are concerned. Everyone is hoping for a robust year in housing, but the memories of 2008 and the subsequent years of riding the economic roller-coaster are still fresh.
—Don Magruder is CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply and former chairman of the Florida Building Material Association. Contact him at [email protected] or 352.267.5679.