Miss-Lou economy will feel some effects trickle down

Published 12:06 am Sunday, October 5, 2008

NATCHEZ — The nation’s economic crisis will have a ripple effect in the Miss-Lou; but no one here is going to drown, local financial analysts say.

The general consensus of locals is that while the area may experience some tightening of belts, it won’t be very bad.

Chuck Caldwell, a partner at local accounting firm Silas Simmons, said since Natchez is a small, rural town in a conservative state, the effects of the economic crunch won’t be as grand as elsewhere.

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“Natchez hasn’t had the boom and bust of the big cities,” he said. “Natchez, the whole state really, has been immune to the great run ups and the falls.”

He said the current financial woes will not create anything like a depression here or cause a huge economic downturn in general.

Caldwell said the biggest effect from the economic situation that’s raining down on the area is panic.

“Some of the panic of it that’s ever-present in the country is beginning to trickle down,” he said.

But what is going to ease up those fears is the $700 billion bailout, he said.

“I think the passage of the bill is going to cause an end to some of the turmoil,” he said.

What he advises residents to do is not let the grip of fear take over any kind of rationality.

He said it’s important to have cash on hand and not to have all money tied up in stocks and investments.

“But I don’t advise a panic — people going out and selling stocks and moving equity investments to cash,” Caldwell said. “One of the key things is to stay calm.”

And local business owners don’t see any signs of a total halt in luxury spending.

Annette Holder, owner of Mrs. Holder’s Antiques downtown, said she doesn’t feel people are going to completely stop spending.

“I think (the economy) has people concerned,” Holder said. “I do think (people) are going to be a lot more conscientious of what they spend their money on.

Holder said business isn’t going to be booming, though.

“I don’t think business is going to be terribly great until this works out, but it’s not going to go down the pipe,” she said.

And the area hasn’t seen major reductions in larger purchases — cars and houses — but a tightened credit market may be beginning to take its toll.

In the Miss-Lou, however, items that require mid-sized loans — such as cars — are still selling, though lending to some credit applicants has been reduced.

Like many other financing companies, the lenders that East Automotive uses have cut out financing to borrowers whose credit score is rated as “subprime,” East Automotive General Manager Carl Rogel said.

Borrowers who are classified as subprime are those who are considered to be at a higher risk of default, such as individuals who already have a history of loan default.

Otherwise, credit is pretty much available for those looking to finance a vehicle.

“Our primary lenders — GMAC and some of the bigger banks we use — their buying patterns haven’t changed at all,” Rogel said. “If (the buyer) has the credit score, it’s OK.”

While vehicle models with better gas mileage are selling at a higher rate thanks in part to elevated gas prices, larger vehicle models with low mile -per-gallon efficiency are still selling well, dealers said.

“The prices on the bigger models are falling, and people still want to drive them,” Rogel said. “They come in looking for a hybrid, and it’s priced at $27,000, and then they see an SUV marked down to $12,000. It takes a long time to make up $15,000 in gas savings.”

That may be because in part — even with elevated gas prices — people don’t have to do the driving they do in other markets.

“It’s not like Atlanta, where someone might have to drive an hour to work,” Rogel said. “For a soccer mom driving her kids to soccer practice, she doesn’t have that far to go, and a big SUV meets her needs, so that’s what she gets.”

The key to that soccer mom getting her SUV all goes back to her personal credit.

“If we can get them financed, we can sell anything,” Rogel said.

Co-owner of Crye-Leike Stedman Realtors Sue Stedman said the real estate business here is not likely to suffer.

“We’ve seen a little bit of a slow down, but we haven’t seen the devastation in the real estate market that other areas have seen,” she said.

But that isn’t set in stone, and there’s no real way to tell right now, she said.

“I think it’s too soon to tell,” Stedman said.

Loan and credit changes are an inevitable result from this economic struggle, Caldwell said.

“There’s been an unwise use of credit in the country. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in now is irresponsible use of credit,” he said.

Caldwell said lending practices will probably be more regulated from now on.

Holder said people will probably react to this situation by spending money more wisely.

“I do think we’ll need to learn to be a little more responsible,” she said.

Caldwell said he believes the economic issues will probably blow over in a year or 18 months.

“Coming to some agreement on some bill will calm a lot of fears and that will enable us to reach some point of stability in the near future,” he said.