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Local Experts Predict Minimal Long-Term Economic Effects from Japan Crisis

The United States could see an increase in demand for supplies needed to rebuild

Japan’s current crisis and economic situation in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami most likely will have an impact on the global and U.S. economies, but experts predict the long-term effects will be minimal.

“You may see some short-term impact, but it won’t have a lasting effect at all,” UCSB economics professor Dr. Peter Rupert said. “If you look at data a year from now, you won’t even see a ripple.”

But key elements of Japan’s manufacturing have frozen, and Toyota, Honda and Nissan automobile plants in northern Japan have closed.

“If they can’t make Toyotas in Japan, there are facilities in Tennessee. We can move manufacturing here, which may help the U.S. in the short term,” said Brad Stark, a principal financial adviser for Mission Wealth Management. “Historically speaking, these types of tragedies are net neutral — what you lose you gain in rebuilding.”

With shipping ports and roads destroyed, some companies can’t export products from northern Japan.

“For me a concern is ports and Japan’s inability to trade, relative to the U.S. that gives some companies opportunity to expand,” said Jeff Grange, a financial adviser with Crowell, Weeden & Co.

Stark said the United States could see an increase in demand for supplies Japan will need to rebuild, such as steel and heavy machinery.

“The earthquake in Kobe in 1995 created a lot of damage but also created a boost for the economy because there is so much rebuilding going on,” UCSB economics professor Henning Bohn said. “In the short term, you may have disruption from factories standing still, but after that you really don’t have a hit on the economy.”

Grange agreed.

“Their market over the first six months lost 25 percent of value, but six months later they were trading at above pre-earthquake levels,” he said. “Japanese people are very resilient, and their government does many of the right steps to get production back and the economy on its feet.”

A long-term variable will be the impact Japan’s nuclear crisis has on the talk of alternative energy supply.

“I do worry that some places can say this form of energy is dangerous so they will curtail some of our plans,” Rupert said.

Contrary to some countries, President Barack Obama has backed the progression of nuclear power plant development since the earthquake and tsunami. But if Japan experiences radioactive contamination, its economy won’t rebound as quickly.

“If they don’t get nuclear situation under control and have areas of land that can’t be used for a long time, there will be much greater dislocation if people can’t clear out the rubble and rebuild,” Bohn said.

The tragedy has caused greater scrutiny of nuclear power plants, which could help prepare for future natural disasters.

“I believe we’ll probably do things like beef up security on power plants to make sure they are safe, but it’s hard to say what positives there are with such human loss,” Rupert said.

With the death toll nearing 6,000, Stark said it’s hard to talk about business when so much life was lost.

“What we should never forget is the human cost and how much of a trauma it will be for a long time,” he said. “Economically, it’s much less of a deal.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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