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An optimistic Hank Fishkind credits the Federal Reserve's interest rate cuts.

Who's afraid of the big bad "R?" Hank Fishkind's not.

Downplaying the recession risk to the economy, the Orlando economist gave an upbeat speech Tuesday to a packed house of Tampa-St. Petersburg real estate types.

While growth won't be spectacular - and employment will just putter along - the economy should avoid a recession this year thanks to the Federal Reserve's panic-soothing interest rate cuts, Fishkind said.

"I think the economy's a little better than the numbers would tell you," he said.

Fishkind spoke at the invitation of the Bay Area Real Estate Council, a group of real estate attorneys.

Foreigners and out-of-staters will continue to flock to Florida, but Fishkind admitted his crystal ball was murky when it came to exact numbers.

The University of Florida, a main source of population estimates, has recently exaggerated population growth by mistakenly assuming thousands of investor-owned houses were occupied by families. The miscounting was worse in Pasco and Hernando.

"Nobody knows how many people are in Florida," he said.

James Thorner can be reached at or (813) 226-3313.

Fishkind's housing outlook

- HOME SALES: Pasco and Hernando counties' housing sales have hit bottom and will likely wallow awhile in the basement before inching up later this year. Hillsborough County is also close to bottoming out, but Pinellas County has a few more months of downturn before home sales and prices stabilize.

- FORECLOSURES: They get more press than they deserve. "It's a thimble in the ocean," he said. "Could they affect certain neighborhoods? Absolutely. But not counties as a whole."

- AMENDMENT 1 PROPERTY TAX CUTS: Don't count on any noticeable stimulus from tax cuts this year, he said. Most won't get a tax break until next year. And if people can't sell their homes, the portability issue - the ability to carry tax breaks with you to a new house - is moot.

- CONDO CRISIS: Fishkind was glum about the chances of a condo recovery soon in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. "This makes me nervous," he said to line graphs showing condos on a downslide. "I don't see a bottom."

- MORTGAGE RATES: Here the news was better. Fishkind expects home loan rates for creditworthy borrowers to drop below 5 percent this year. He called it a good time to refinance your house, provided you have any equity left.