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Panel asks: How scared should we be?


A video clip of the meeting.

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Five Richmond Hill Rotary Club members held a panel discussion Thursday to discuss issues related to the nation’s troubled economy.

Attorney Michelle Henderson moderated the discussion and subsequent question and answer session. The panel consisted of Nevon Patton of First Bank of Coastal Georgia, Eric Hartley of Smith Barney, Howard Rush of First Command Financial, Jimmy Burnsed of Bryan Bank & Trust and chairman of the Bryan County Commission, and Donna Jones of Sunshine Mortgage.

"It’s hard to turn on the TV or read a magazine without being scared out of your wits," Henderson said as she opened the discussion. "How scared should we be?"

"We don’t know how scared we need to be," Hartley said, saying that it is currently hard to tell what the financial future of this country will be.

So how did the country get to this point? Hartley summed it up with one word – greed.

"The major reason we’re here and having this discussion as debt and credit collapses is greed – that’s the crux to this thing," he said. "Things got ahead of themselves for almost two decades and everybody got comfortable with that – including lenders. As a result, we’re having this huge panic and unwinding."

Hartley pointed to the recent fall of investment banks such as Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. He said this occurred because "credit stopped flowing from of all the bad mortgages and the housing collapse. That means they couldn’t fund operations and deals …When we talk about banks, it’s all intertwined with our economy. The flow of credit and lending has almost come to a stand still right now. That’s the mess we’re in now."

Burnsed said investment banks are regulated much less than commercial banks, such as Bryan Bank, which may have opened up some room for error.

"The regulators always worried about the little banks because we were not diversified; we were in one community," Burnsed said. "They said the big banks are too big to fail because they’re diversified all over the country. Well, they’re finding out that isn’t true."

He also said the bail out could potentially get the economy back on track. He said the term ‘bail out’ is a bit misleading and "they should’ve said ‘stabilization’ because it is a stabilization of the market.

"To get these stocks back to some semblance of normality, you’ve got to come up with some sort of plan," he said. "This plan will work if they work it like it should."

Patton, a fellow banker, agreed.

"The bail out needs to happen or the whole economy is going to go to heck in a hand basket," Patton said. "Without it, many companies could go out of business. And I’m not just talking about investment banks - I’m talking about everyday companies. It’s going to affect everyone."

With all the talk of falling economy, how safe is your money in the bank?

Burnsed said Bryan Bank has been flooded with that question over the last four weeks. He also said the bank has ways to insure funds beyond the $250,000 FDIC guarantee.

Rush, who specializes in investments, said the best way for an individual to protect themself is to diversify their funds.

"If you’re diversified and if assets are allocated, then you’re typically going to be able to ride out the storm," Rush said.

In answering a question about how stable the housing market is in Richmond Hill, Jones, a mortgage lender, said there has not been much depreciation. She also said the fact that there are some areas of the city that have depreciated is unprecedented for this area.

Burnsed said Bryan is still a very popular area and "by next summer, I think we’re going to see a much more vibrant real estate market. There is going to be people looking for this market. They’re going to gravitate to Bryan County for one reason or another – the north end and the south end … I predict a big pick-up in ’09."

Burnsed said the housing market is a minimum factor in the overall economy, and the bail out could potentially correct the economy whether the housing market gets in line or not.

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