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Published: Tuesday, 3/30/2010

Economist reverses outlook for Toledo area

BLADE STAFF

Less than six months after predicting a bleak economic future for Toledo, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group Inc. now says things are looking up locally and that the worst "is now in the rearview mirror."

Craig Thomas, a Pittsburgh senior economist with PNC, argues in his most recent "Toledo Market Outlook" that a slight rebound in the nation's auto sector is beginning to have positive economic effects locally.

"The success of the cash-for-clunkers program in depleting excess inventories means that production of vehicles and parts has restarted. Moreover, business and consumer spending is showing signs of life, which is generating new jobs in Toledo," Mr. Thomas says. "Already, the rate of unemployment, though still high, is below its recent peak."

Mr. Thomas, who was unavailable to be interviewed yesterday, wrote that he now sees a return to real estate appreciation in metro Toledo - albeit not until 2011.

"Annually, Toledo will see a small drop in house prices this year, but sustainable appreciation should return in 2011," he wrote. He also predicted existing home sales in the market would stabilize at around 12,000 annually, up from earlier in the recession when they were under 11,000 annually.

This market varies widely from Mr. Thomas's first such report in

October, when he called the region "a chronic underachiever." He predicted an unemployment rate in Toledo "over 14 percent" during 2010.

However, the highest jobless rate so far this year in the city has been 13.7 percent in January, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The rate fell in February to 13.5 percent.

The PNC economist still sees falling personal income as a problem in metro Toledo, but predicts that trend could stabilize as manufacturing gains strength. "The positive news is that it appears that the auto industry has been stabilized, and rebounding production should put an end to this recent slide in incomes," he wrote.

- Larry P. Vellequette



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