Businesses aren’t investing in the U.S. because of a lack of consumer demand, International Paper CEO John Faraci told me on Friday’s Kudlow Report. “I think this was all about consumer spending and demand,” he said. “You know, the problem we have is there’s inadequate demand to create jobs. We know how to respond when there is demand.”
The U.S. Commerce Department estimated that gross domestic product expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, falling short of analyst expectations for 2.5 percent growth and coming in well below the fourth quarter’s 3 percent rate.
Faraci said consumer spending has been dampened partly because the nationwide housing market has yet to recover. “Until it does,” he said, “we’re not going to see the kind of consumer spending you would expect coming out of a recovery.”
When I asked Faraci why companies are not investing, he once more pointed to demand that has not materialized. “Productivity has obviously been very good, so we’re creating more capacity with less resources,” he said. “But at the end of the day, this is really about responding to demand, whether its automobiles or packaging products we make for a whole variety of industries and end users.”
“We’re investing in India. We’re investing in Russia. We’re investing in Brazil,” Faraci added. “Not to ship products back here, but because demand exists in those markets. At the end of the day, this is really about responding to demand. We’re not going to go out and invest unless there’s demand.”
Don Peebles, CEO of Peebles Corp., a real-estate developer, agreed with Faraci that housing remains a drag on the economy. Where a strong market, cheap money, and high leverage fueled growth before the financial crisis, Peebles said “the housing market is not [now] able to carry the economy.” According to Peebles, “Americans’ wealth has been decimated as a result of the lost value in their homes.”
Peebles also acknowledged that rising health-care costs and uncertainty over taxes are a challenge. But he added that the number-one issue is access to capital.
Rounding out Friday’s business panel was Mort Zuckerman, founder of real-estate investment trust Boston Properties and publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report. Zuckerman blamed the housing-market collapse, as well as health-care costs and an “inadequate, badly structured stimulus program,” for today’s lackluster growth picture.
“Clearly,” Zuckerman said, “you should’ve had a GDP growth now of somewhere between 6 and 8 percent, with the degree of monetary and fiscal stimulus.”