Panelists at Univest Bank’s Economic Summit Bullish on Economy’s Future

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mark zandi
Dr. Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, shared his insight with those in attendance at Univest Bank’s annual Economic Summit.

The esteemed panelists struck an optimistic tone at Univest Bank’s annual Economic Summit, held in early May at the Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel in King of Prussia.

Jeff Schweitzer, CEO of the Souderton-based bank; Dr. Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics; John Kirwin, CEO of Argosy Capital; and former U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick shared their insights with those in attendance.

All were all confident about the future of America’s economy, particularly Zandi.

“My task is to consider the health of the economy, and for me, the most important thing I use to judge that is jobs,” said Zandi. “Through that prism, we’re doing really well. We created 2.5 million jobs last year and 2.5 million the year before that. In fact, we’re in the midst of the longest period of consecutive monthly job growth in economic history.

“Layoffs are at record lows, hires are at record highs, and wage growth is picking up.”

Zandi acknowledged how people have questioned the quality of the jobs created.

“When you’re creating as many jobs as we’ve been per annum, then yes, there are going to be some lower-paying jobs like retail in there. But we’ve created a decent amount of middle-paying jobs like construction and higher-paying jobs like financial services.

“The only part of the economy that hasn’t really created jobs is the energy sector.”

Zandi offered up what he believes to be the single best statistic to gauge how the economy is performing in real time.

“The number of claims for unemployment insurance,” he said. “Every Thursday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its count of claims for unemployment insurance from the previous week. If it’s less than 350,000, that’s a strong job market.

“In the last six to nine months, it’s been closer to 250,000. I’ve never seen that. That’s a sign of a very solid economy.”

Zandi also shared what he thinks will be the challenges that lie ahead.

“Our biggest problem for the foreseeable future will be finding and holding onto skilled workers,” he said. “That’ll be the biggest constraint on economic growth.”

Mike Keim, president of Univest Bank and Trust Co. and moderator of the panel, took some time at the beginning of the presentation to update guests on the progress his bank has made in the last two years.

“We’ve had two acquisitions and a lift out,” he said. “We acquired (Mount Airy-based) Valley Green Bank in January 2015, and that gave us our first visible presence in the Philadelphia marketplace and added $400 million in assets to our balance sheet.

“Last May, we were able to pick up a 15-person team (in Lancaster County) from BB&T that consists of 14 lending specialists and one retail specialist. Lifting out an entire team that knows the market, that lives in the market, made it easier to for us to enter the market.”

Which it did by opening a branch in West Lampeter Township, as well as a regional office in the Greenfield Corporate Center.

“The Lancaster market has been a home run for us, quite frankly,” said Keim.

Last July, Univest then acquired Fox Chase Bank, thus adding $1.1 billion in assets to its balance sheet.

“In a little over two years, we’ve been busy,” said Keim. “We’ve gone from a $2.2 billion dollar bank to a $4.3 billion dollar bank. What was only a Bucks and Montgomery (County) footprint with our financial centers has now turned into something that stretches from South Philadelphia, to Ocean City, N.J., to the Lehigh Valley, out to Lancaster.”

“We’re growing organically. Ten to 12 percent loan growth is what we’re forecasting for this year. We’re doing well.”

Just like the economy.

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