Greater Des Moines is going to get a double-dose of economist Elliot Eisenberg this week.
Eisenberg, who spent 13 years analyzing data, making forecasts and weighing in on public policy for the Home Builders Association of America, has spent a little over the last year providing his unvarnished opinion on everything from whether Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be privatized to whether farmers should be crying in their morning coffee over the price of corn.
He mixes a fair amount of humor, some printable, some borderline, with the data. GraphsandLaughs LLC is the name of his consulting firm, by the way.
Eisenberg will speak Thursday during the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines annual dinner at Echo Valley Valley Country Club in Norwalk. The next day, he will be in West Des Moines to deliver a speech at People Co.'s Investment Expo.
Both audiences will have land on the brain. This is the seventh year for the Land Expo, an event that brings together investors in foreign and domestic property, lawyers, land owners, agriculture specialists, economists and other specialists together for one day. T. Boone Pickens is this year's keynote speaker.
Steve Bruere, who launched the land expo after founding Peoples Co., noted that this is the first time since his company has hosted the event that land prices, the corn and soybean prices that tend to drive them, and farm incomes appear to be headed down.
"I don't know what the overall message is going to be from the speakers this year," he said.
Eisenberg has taken note of the somewhat gloomier than normal forecasts for agriculture, but he says not to worry.
"Everything but agriculture is doing well and agriculture is not generally collapsing," he said. Corn prices have hovered between $4 and $5 a bushel as the result of a larger than forecast harvest, and though the prices are down considerably from 2013, Eisenberg doesn't see a cause for alarm.
"It's not stupendous, but it's good enough," he said. A price of $4 a bushel for corn is generally considered the break-even point.
As for the health of the overall Iowa economy, Eisenberg is plenty upbeat.
Greater Des Moines is "lapping" Hartford, Ct., as an insurance center, unemployment is low and the housing market is strong. Even a slight uptick in the unemployment rate wouldn't mean much.
"There is nothing really problematic" on the state economic front, Eisenberg said. He pointed out that he has been asked during previous visits to the state whether the potential exists for a bubble in the price of farm land. The quick answer is no, even taking lower crop prices into account.
"I don't see that either," he said.
Regarding the residential construction market, Eisenberg sees growth in the next year of about 20 percent. Sounds like a lot, but he pointed out that home builders are coming out of a virtual collapse in the market for new houses.
"The pendulum is swinging the other way," he said. "It will help the state economy to build an extra 2,000 new homes this year, but it's still not the frothy situation we had five years ago."
Eisenberg said that since leaving the national home builders group, he has been able to deliver his opinions free from the constraints of working for an organization that might like a little varnish on its news.
"When the economy started to improve, I decided I had things to say and I wanted the freedom to say them," he said. Even a short conversation is as entertaining as it is educational.
"I tell people I'm a crappy economist, but I'm an entertaining guy," Eisenberg said.