Wanted: a leader with integrity

As I write this in mid-August, the stock market just finished a super-duper roller-coaster week. Undoubtedly, there is more to come. Ironically, so far commercial real estate has not caught the frenzy.That is not to say that activity is especially robust, but it is not dipping off the radar screen either. In fact, interest rates are attractive. This is somewhat of a conundrum. Obviously, lenders want to lend money and earn a return. Their current cost of funds is extremely low (look at your savings account statement and even your NOW accounts). So getting a strong “net interest margin” while lending 5 to 5 1/2 percent is easy to do. However, some of that margin needs to anticipate risk — risk of inflation? stagflation? deflation? It is hard to say.But the performance of our elected congressmen and senators is no cause for hope. And the presidential candidates descending on New Hampshire is underwhelming as well. The recent pictures of President Obama show a haggard, weary, almost “deer-in-the-headlights” politician. Where is the leadership going to come from to guide us out of this fiscal, budgetary, high-unemployment, “hockey stick” “lagging” recovery?I am still not convinced that we truly are out of recession — remember, figures lie and liars figure! How often are the economic data restated multiple times? Just as important, while unemployment continues to hold the spotlight as a key metric, underemployment is seldom mentioned and every day we meet folks working less hours, fewer days, no overtime, on contract with no benefits, etc.Muddling throughBeyond the presidential aspirants, we have the Committee of Twelve to observe. Ostensibly, they have a hard bargain because if they do not come up with real savings for both houses to vote on, then spending cuts will automatically kick in. For several years, we have heard about the need to cut the rate of increase in the growth of spending. That is no longer going to do it. We have to cut future costs and current costs (and we need to raise revenues). With GE paying no federal taxes on $18 billion in profits, where is the AMT for corporations? After all, Mitt Romney says they are people!At 60-plus years old, I will muddle through this. I am fortunate to have several skill sets that will remain in demand post any official retirement date. However, I do worry about my kids — 22-year-old Tim, a senior in college, and 25-year-old Emily, a junior auditor for the Inspector General’s office of the U.S. Department of Transportation. What future do they have?The fact that the economy only grew at a revised rate of 0.8 percent during the first half of this year is numbing. This is especially so given the extraordinary amount of fiscal and monetary stimulus enacted. We now realize that neither American businesses nor American consumers have confidence in either the administration or the Congress to firmly address the nation’s ills by putting us back on a path to fiscal sanity.So once again I ask, who has the integrity and leadership skills to lead us out of the current quagmire? Please step forward as I, for one, am ready to support you.Bill Norton, president of Norton Asset Management, Manchester, is a Counselor of Real Estate (CRE) and a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS). He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.