Expert: Economic outlook bright

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Bryce Ralston, vice president and trust portfolio manager with Columbia Trust Company in Coeur d’Alene, gave the opening keynote address during the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation’s 2019 summit on Thursday. (Photo by MARY MALONE)

SANDPOINT — Job growth in Idaho’s retail industry is higher than the national trends and, despite the “affordable” issue, the housing market is strong in the state, said Bryce Ralston, vice president and trust portfolio manager with Columbia Trust Company in Coeur d’Alene.

“Construction, logging — all of these things are doing really well in Idaho,” Ralston said. “... With low interest rates, a strong housing market and a good labor market, I don’t think these trends are going to change anytime soon. Overall, Idaho is doing very well.”

Ralston delivered the morning keynote for the Bonner County Economic Development’s 2019 summit, held at the University of Idaho Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center. His economic outlook address, titled “On Borrowed Time,” kicked off a full day of speakers for the event.

Ralston briefly addressed the regional market, but much of his talk was focused on the U.S. and global markets, including consumer strength, monetary policies and trade. Despite some of the trade concerns and other global issues that hit the headlines daily, Ralston said 2019 has been a “great” year to be an investor, as the 60/40 portfolio — 60-percent stocks, 40-percent bonds — is on pace to have the best year since 1998. It has been a decade since the 2008-2009 recession, he said, and the question is — “Are we on borrowed time?”

“I’m not going to leave you hanging,” Ralston said. “I don’t think we are. We have some challenges ... but I don’t see anything really pushing this economy into a recession any time soon.”

While the economy has “slowed down,” Ralston estimated the U.S. has a 10- to 25-percent chance of falling into a recession in the next 12 to 18 months.

Nationally, he said, consumer confidence is high, interest rates are low and there are a strong labor and housing markets. While wage growth has been moderate or “weak,” he said, it is starting to pick up. Again, he said, that is on a national level. Globally, Ralston said economic activity has down shifted due to the “unknowns” in the trade war with China. Thursday’s developments toward finalizing a partial trade deal that would potentially ease tariffs are “encouraging,” he said. Ralston also encouraged people not to let the 2020 election deter them from investing, because elections “generally” don’t have as much impact on the market as one might think.

In summarizing, Ralston said the U.S. economy is in the latter stages of the longest economic growth cycle on record, and the Federal Reserve has indicated it wants to support the current trend by not raising interest rates. Equity position has been “somewhat light” and could lead to an upside if trade negotiations continue to move in a positive direction.

“Overall, if I had to just say bottom line, I think the policies that we have (and) the trade negotiations are supportive for a positive economic outlook,” Ralston said.

The BCEDC Summit annually brings together over 100 prominent business owners and community leaders, providing networking opportunities for small, medium, and large businesses in Bonner County. Other speakers throughout the day on Thursday included Marc Brinkmeyer, chairman of Idaho Forest Group, as well as leaders from Kochava, Litehouse Foods, Daher and Schweitzer Mountain Resort for a series of panel discussions and keynote talks on workforce housing and development.


Mary Malone can be reached by email at and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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