Barry McNamara  |  Published March 19, 2024

Mixed Signals

Emeritus business professor Ken McMillan shares cautious optimism about ’24 economy.

KEN McMILLAN: The emeritus business professor was once again the featured speaker at the Monmouth Rotary Club's annual ... KEN McMILLAN: The emeritus business professor was once again the featured speaker at the Monmouth Rotary Club's annual luncheon focusing on the economy.MONMOUTH, Ill. – It’s not a foolproof system, but one of the indicators of a solid economy is an automobile dealership with a full lot, according to retired Monmouth College business professor Ken McMillan.

McMillan made his remarks Monday afternoon during the Monmouth Rotary Club’s annual luncheon program focusing on the economy. Started in 1989 by 1952 Monmouth alumnus and former Security Savings Bank president Ralph Whiteman – who attended the luncheon – the talk helps Rotary members increase their understanding of the economy.

“There’s more new cars and new trucks on dealers’ lots,” said McMillan, who taught finance and economics at Monmouth for 25 years before retiring five years ago. “Driving by those lots two or three years ago, you’d have thought they were out of business.”

McMillan has given the talk the past several years, and his buzzword for the 2023 talk was “uncertainty,” following 2022’s “inflation.” Much of that lack of confidence in the economy a year ago was due to the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, which had occurred just a few days earlier.

“There’s more new cars and new trucks on dealers’ lots. Driving by those lots two or three years ago, you’d have thought they were out of business.” – Ken McMillan

“One big change this year is that the banking system crisis got resolved,” said McMillan, who a year ago said, “I want to feel confident that the economy is OK. I feel better about it, but not confident.”

Indicators such as those cars lots and year-over-year data that McMillan provided at the meeting – the unemployment rate remaining low, the Dow Jones Industrial Average up more than 4,000 points, and the rate of inflation down markedly from the past two years – provide a certain level of confidence for 2024.

“We’ve had a good stock market, which indicates optimism about the economy,” said McMillan.

But he also pointed to some areas of concern, including recent news stories about Dollar Tree closing 1,000 stores, Tyson Foods closing several plants, and fires in Texas that will wreak havoc with beef prices for at least the next two years. Combined with rising house insurance costs and real estate taxes, there is enough conflicting information to pump the brakes on unbridled optimism for the rest of 2024.

Still, the Rotarians who filled out the 35th Annual Economic Forecast that McMillan distributed to the group were likely very tempted to check the “Better Off” box when asked, “By the end of the year, the U.S. will be economically _____.”

Those who checked that box a year ago got it right. But McMillan might’ve made a few club members think hard about placing a checkmark on the “Worse Off” blank for their 2024 prediction.

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