The economic rebound in 2011 will be slow but steady—but not strong enough to prompt employers to begin hiring again, according to the findings of the latest Turnaround Management Association survey.

Other continuing clouds on the horizon include heavy debt burdening the commercial real estate industry, and reduced tax revenues for state and local governments, which at the same time face onerous pension obligations.

Sixty-four percent think the commercial real estate industry will fare the worst in 2011, followed by the residential real estate industry, cited by 40%. The outlook for retail, however, improved, with 26% expecting it to fare poorly in the New Year, down from 35% last year.

Conversely, the industry that experts expect to improve the most is the automotive industry, cited by 37%, followed by technology (32%) and energy (25%).

Yet, the overall outlook for 2011 is somewhat positive, with 31% thinking the worst of the economic crisis is over, expecting improvement in 2011. However, 20% think the worst is yet to come, and another 20% don’t expect substantial economic improvement until 2012.

“I haven’t seen any economist who predicted back in 2008 that there was going to be a U-turn and the economy was going to come roaring back,” said Thomas S. Henderson, a bankruptcy attorney in Houston. “These things are like turning around an ocean liner.”

Some companies are preparing to spend their cash reserves in 2011, with 35% expecting their clients to engage in mergers and acquisitions in the coming year. However, 31% expect those funds will go untouched.

Only 2% think companies will increase their workforce, and 30% think companies will continue to increase productivity without increasing employees. Only 7% think companies will commit to capital spending.

“The panic, or debacle, that we were in during the Great Recession of 2009 and 2008 seems to be subsiding, but people are very cautious,” said William K. Lenhart, a partner with BDO Consulting. “Businesses are looking at opportunistic buys. Otherwise, they’re just sitting on the sidelines.”

“People are generally just starting to feel better, but we are only inching forward,” added Thomas E. Pabst, president of Hyperams, an asset disposition and distressed investment firm in Chicago. “There doesn’t seem to be any indication that improvement will rapidly accelerate in 2011.”

Members of the Turnaround Management Association include turnaround practitioners, attorneys, accountants, investors, lenders, venture capitalists, appraisers, liquidators, executive recruiters and consultants.

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