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US, Mass. economic recoveries in ‘rebound phase,’ panel says

Lifts in housing, spending, jobs are among key factors

By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / March 2, 2011

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The US and Massachusetts economies are continuing their slow and steady march to recovery, a panel of executives and analysts said yesterday.

The panel, appearing at a breakfast program sponsored by Sovereign Bank and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, cited improving housing and commercial real estate; increased business spending; and private sector job growth.

“We are moving into a rebound phase,’’ said Greg Pinto, chief investment officer for Baystate Wealth Management, an investment adviser in Washington. “We are now cautiously optimistic.’’

Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern University, said the Massachusetts economy has slowed in recent months, following a burst of activity and job growth in the first half of 2010. Growth in the second half was slowed by cuts in government spending, offsetting private sector job gains with losses in public sector employment.

“We are looking at slight improvement, rather than a more rapid improvement,’’ said Bluestone, dean of NU’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

Bluestone also said the state’s housing market appears to have hit bottom but could rebound if the possibility of rising mortgage rates prompts buyers to make deals now.

Steven Andrews, a senior vice president at Sovereign Bank, said the commercial real estate market appears to be improving, as well.

Both office vacancy rates and rents have been stable, according to data from Reis, a research firm that tracks the commercial real estate market. And, Andrews said, the value of commercial real estate is rising.

Peter Smyth, chief executive of Greater Media Inc., which owns more than a dozen radio stations in Boston and other markets, said he’s also seeing signs the economy is improving and businesses are spending more. But he is not expecting explosive growth.

“We are starting to see confidence come back,’’ Smyth said.

An array of economic data — from unemployment to consumer confidence surveys — has indicated the US economy is slowly recovering, but remains significantly worse than it was before the recession began in December 2007.

The US unemployment rate fell to 9 percent in January, from 9.4 percent in December. But job growth has been sluggish, raising concern that unemployment could remain relatively high for some time to come.

In Massachusetts, the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent in December. The state is scheduled to release January figures tomorrow.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com.