RECon Recap: Ben Bernanke Discusses Hits, Misses of U.S. Economic Recovery

by Katie Sloan

Las Vegas — This is a “Rodney Dangerfield recovery,” declares Dr. Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Much like the late comedian, it gets no respect.

Referred to by President Barack Obama as “the epitome of calm,” the 14th chairman of the Federal Reserve shared his insights during a one-on-one interview with Marcus & Millichap’s new CEO, Hessam Nadji, as part of the brokerage firm’s 18th annual Retail Trends program at the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel early Monday evening.

The program was held in conjunction with the International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) RECon event, the marquee convention in the shopping center industry. This year the convention attracted 36,000 registered attendees, up from 35,000 a year ago and a post-recession high. The annual convention is a wall-to-wall networking and dealmaking event with educational sessions mixed in.

“In some dimensions it has been a strong recovery, in others it has been disappointing,” says Bernanke, who served as Fed chairman from February 2006 through January 2014.

The Upside

U.S. employers have added 15 million jobs over the past seven years, says Bernanke triumphantly before rattling off some other positive economic indicators. The unemployment rate is down to 5 percent, housing prices have rebounded significantly since the depths of the Great Recession, gas prices are relatively low ($2.28 per gallon nationally at last check) and consumer sentiment is strong.

What’s more, retail sales rose 1.3 percent in April from the prior month, the best monthly gain since March 2015.

The Downside

Bernanke doesn’t look at the performance of the U.S. economy through rose-colored glasses. Now a fellow in residence at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., he is disappointed by the minimal gains in worker productivity notched in the nonfarm business sector over the past few years.

In fact, worker productivity decreased at a 1 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter of 2016. (Productivity is defined as the output of goods and services per hour worked.) Increased worker productivity would encourage more employers to raise salaries or expand their workforce, say economists.

— Matt Valley

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