APLES, Fla. – April 9, 2015 – Have you heard the one about two economists and an appraiser?

Bearing happy national and regional forecasts, all three killed it before a cheering crowd of about 400 real estate agents at the annual outlook summit of the Naples Area Board of Realtors Tuesday afternoon at the Naples Grande Beach Resort.

The jolly tone was largely set by Elliott Eisenberg, former senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C., who now runs his own firm called Graphs & Laughs. He brought out the lighter side of household deleveraging, yield curve inversions and the quirky global dance between the dollar and deflation.

Pointing out that lower energy prices and interest rates have allowed households to pay down debt and put an extra $1,600 in family budgets, he noted that this has allowed people to spend more on "stupid stuff, which is the American way – and this is good for the economy."

But while having more money to spend, coupled with a strong dollar abroad, has made it easier to buy pricey imported fripperies like red-soled Louboutin shoes and sporty BMWs, as well as cheap European vacations, there are some downsides, he said.

That's because a strong dollar makes it harder for American manufacturers to compete internationally, he said.

"When it comes to manufacturing, things kind of suck," said Eisenberg, noting that improvements in that sector are what pull an economy in and out of a recession.

And because "corporations have become tightwads" and aren't putting as much money as they could into new plants and their employees' paychecks, the economy isn't rebounding as quickly as it could, Eisenberg said.

That's put a damper on homeownership among first-time buyers, who are just starting to emerge from their parents' basements and form households.

Nevertheless, on balance, the future is rosy, he predicted.

Hiring is up and new unemployment claims down, which should put consumers on a strong footing in the future. While seven would-be workers pursued every job opening during the recession, now fewer than two do, he said.

"You can sleep with the boss's wife and not get fired," Eisenberg joked.

Moreover, he expects the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise short-term interest rates before the fall, and won't do it quickly partly because it doesn't want to spark deflation and partly because the "rest of the world is in the garbage can" and the global economy may suffer as a result.

He expects rates will rise slowly from its current near-zero level to about 3.2 percent by the end of 2017.

Eisenberg also doesn't expect a return of the dreaded yield curve inversion, where short-term interest rates exceed long-term rates like mortgages, which generally presages a recession.

"No recession is in the cards unless something external happens," like a war or other unanticipated event, he said, exhorting the crowd of entrepreneurs to begin to take "prudent risks in your business – but don't go nuts."

While he took a less jocular tone, Florida Realtors chief economist John Tuccillo drew smiles when he noted that "short sales have become museum pieces" and that the issues that once dominated the market – namely foreclosures and huge backlogs of unsold supply – are no longer the bugbears they were a few years ago.

"What seemed like a mountain has turned into a ski run," he said.

Negative equity loans – also known as underwater mortgages – have also declined to about 30 percent statewide from about 50 percent five years ago.

Predicting positive effects on the state's economy from the opening of Cuba and the expansion of the Panama Canal, as well as continued population and job growth, he expects home sales statewide will rise 10 percent year-over-year in the near future.

Home prices also will grow, he said, albeit at a slower pace than in the past. Values should rise about 4.5 percent annually, he said, which are close to historical norms.

Naples-based appraiser Cindy Carroll remarked that on a local level, both price growth and inventory levels vary markedly by location and neighborhood.

For instance, some places, like Port Royal, may have already reached the top of their economic cycle and now have an oversupply of inventory, while others, like Royal Harbor and the Vanderbilt Beach area, still have room to run.

But she still expects a long-term appreciation rate of about 6 percent in most neighborhoods.

While that's not a return to the go-go years of the housing boom, Carroll is still bullish about the region's overall growth prospects.

"This is paradise," she said, to a round of applause. "Everyone wants to live here."

Copyright © 2015 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.), June Fletcher. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.