The stock market is poised to perform well in 2011, but the job market … not so much. That was economic outlook offered by several Chicago-area business experts at a forum Wednesday evening, where some also demanded that city and state politicians tackle swelling fiscal problems.
“I spend a lot of time talking with [company executives] and almost without exception in the last six weeks of the earnings season, the calls have been going better and better,” said John Rogers Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Ariel Investments. “The CEOs seem more confident, the balance sheets are strengthened and they are starting to talk about hiring again.”
“I’m very, very optimistic about next year, I think the market is going to go higher,” he said.
Rogers was one of four business experts participating in a panel discussion on economic recovery presented by the Chicago Tribune and PNC Bank. It was part of a Tribune series of “Chicago Forward” forums on public policy.
The optimism did not extend as much to the hiring picture.
Daniel Ustian, chairman and chief executive officer of truck and engine maker Navistar International Corp., said, “I think jobs will lag. I do believe corporations have found a way to be more efficient, and the adding back of jobs won’t be at the same rate as we came down.”
The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy can provide the conditions for growth, “but it can’t get people to actually make the investments to hire the workers,” said Randall Kroszner, a former governor of the Federal Reserve System who is now an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
To help stimulate the economy, Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration need to rethink the tax code, he said, adding that some recommendations by the president’s bi-partisan deficit reduction commission make sense.
He cited the idea of lowering tax rates but applying them to a broader base, which could be achieved by eliminating of loopholes that tend to benefit the wealthy.
Addressing problems closer to home, Christie Hefner, former chairman and chief executive officer of Playboy Enterprises Inc., said the city and state have not gone far enough to address looming pension liabilities. And she criticized the city for using one-time windfalls from leasing assets as a way to balance its budget.
While some business groups have decried the fiscal problems, they need to take it a step further, she said.
Business leaders need “to be willing to hold people accountable to the extent of withholding endorsements, and withholding financial support unless there is a willingness to actually act like grown-ups,” Hefner said, drawing applause from the audience in the Thorne Auditorium of Northwestern University’s Law School.