Saturday, August 13, 2011

South Florida Businesses Not Seeing A Recession Coming

Even as investors panic and fears of a second recession loom, South Florida businesses look around and don’t see 2008 staring back at them.

Jose A. Goyane, the owner of Tre Italian
Bistro located at 270 E. Flagler St, says business didn't
miss a beat over last two weeks of Wall Street turmoil.
Jose is talking to Lori Rosenberg, who has lunch there
three times a week, on Aug. 12, 2011.

Peter Andrew Bosch / Miami Herald Staff
When the stock market crashed in the fall of 2008, Jose Goyanes panicked. And for good reason.“October 2008 was the worst month of business I ever had in my life,’’ recalled Goyanes, the owner of a restaurant, beauty parlor and barber shop in downtown Miami. “It was scary. I ended up calling every company I did business with and saying, ‘What can you do? We need to lower our costs.’ ”

But Goyanes didn’t pull out his Rolodex this time around, despite fears of a 2008 repeat as the Dow Jones index shed more than 1,900 points in 18 days, gutting 401(k) accounts, and analysts warned a second recession might be coming.

“It’s not 2008,’’ Goyanes said during the lunch rush Friday, when a full dining room at his Tre Italian Bistro spilled into the sidewalk tables outside. “Rain hurts us more than a bad day on the stock market, I can tell you that.’’

With economists and investors divided between concern and confidence, South Florida’s economy finds itself in limbo, too. Business owners and managers interviewed during Wall Street’s erratic week mostly described a summer significantly improved over 2010 but still stuck in the kind of low gear brought on by the recession and 2008 financial crisis.

They did not see immediate fallout from new warnings that the economy could be sliding back into a recession, or see customers pull back as major stock indices finished the week down about 7 percent from where they were on Aug. 1.

But there was consensus that a new cloud of uncertainty and anxiety has settled over the local economy, endangering what seemed to be a fledgling recovery.

Tere Blanca, CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate, said the volatility on display last week could prompt companies to rethink expansion or relocation plans. “Deals that are in the pipeline could come to a screeching halt in the next 30, 60, 90 days,” she said.

Volatility “directly impacts the mood of corporate America and how they perceive their own future,” she said.

Bob Lepisto runs a boutique cruise company in Miami called the SeaDream Yacht Club. A suite cabin in an upcoming Greece cruise costs $22,000, and the cheap bunks cost $8,900. He thought Wall Street’s wild ride would prompt his affluent clients to take a step back on travel plans. But he was wrong.

“I expected to see people absolutely sit on their wallets and not make decisions,” Lepisto said. Instead, “this booking week is up year over year.” Even corporate groups — which saw the biggest drop-off in South Florida after the 2008 crisis — are holding firm.

“I had a UK company on last week for an incentive and they just this morning sent me an email saying they want to do 2012 if we have the space,” he said.

Marketing firms say their clients aren’t showing concerns about the economy, as was the case in 2008. Several said they are hiring and planning to expand to new offices this year. One reason is the recession thinned out about half of the competition.

“Everyone is thinking, ‘OK, here we kind of go again.’ We’ve been through this not too long ago,” said Tadd Schwartz, principal of Schwartz Media Strategies in Miami. “I think businesses in general are more in tuned and weathered to how to approach this. It’s not as bad as two or three years ago.”

Source:  The Miami Herald
By:  Douglas Hanks

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