Sunday, January 4, 2004

Business rewind



WINNERS

Greater Cincinnati homebuyers. Although the sales pace slowed as 2003 neared its end, interest rates continue to stay low and the peak spring selling season is on the horizon. Builders, too, have cranked up their efforts. Alan Greenspan winces at the suggestion that presidential election-year politics will play a role in Federal Reserve policy, but if interest rates stay low for whatever reason, 2004 could be another record-setting year for the housing industry.

Fifth Third Bank. The local banking giant snagged Paige Davis, star of The Learning Channel's hit show Trading Spaces, for its home-equity loan ad campaign. Last year actor Verne Troyer of Austin Powers fame headlined the ads. But Davis hits the prime demographic target - women age 18 to 45.

Local exporters. As the dollar drops in value on the foreign exchange, fortunes are rising for companies selling their wares in overseas markets and especially Europe. It's a healthy, albeit temporary, reminder that the global marketplace creates benefits for homegrown companies.

LOSERS

Anybody who wants to keep warm. Prices for natural gas - the region's prime fuel for home heating - are headed to the stratosphere as Congress continues to create a national energy policy that balances corporate and environmental needs with the simple fact that freezing kills people. Rewind says: January is white-sale month so let's hope Lazarus-Macy's has a great deal on blankets.

Tower Place. At least three stores are closing soon. Sure, every mall turns over some stores at the end of every year. But with the new emphasis on Fountain Square, and even the cornerstone Williams-Sonoma closing, the downtown mall needs a boost. Rewind, who recommends the counter at nearby Hathaway's, sees lots of energy at work downtown and hopes Tower Place's setback is temporary.

Local patients. Insurance provider Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield and the region's largest hospital group, the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, can't agree on a new contract. They'll work it out eventually, but the customer is likely to pay the price in the long term.

WHAT'S THAT ALL ABOUT?

Tristate traffic. The formula's a killer: Busier lives lead to more development, which leads to more roads, which creates more congestion, which makes everybody miserable because they don't have time to sit in traffic. Ahem. Is it time for light rail yet?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Where are we supposed to go? Hospital capacity is already tight in Cincinnati. Where are other hospitals going to get the room for our patients?" This plea, from obstetrician James Wendel, shows the mess that the health-care squabble between Anthem and the Health Alliance has become.

THE CRYSTAL BALL

A mini-tech boom. Analysts forecast technology spending to increase up to 6 percent in 2004, but it won't look anything like the explosion of the late 1990s. Businesses are stingier and investors, burned by the dot-com bubble, are wary. Still, it could be a plus for areas such as Over-the-Rhine, which has drawn interest as a base of operations for techies.




BUSINESS HEADLINES
Happy days here again
LCA-Vision, Humana see boom in '03
4th quarter gentler for the year's underperformers
Look Who's Talking: Douglass McDonald
Business agenda
Business rewind
Price mystery baffles analysts