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Economy starting to show some real signs of life . . . maybe

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Feb. 29, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
February 29, 2012 3:46 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Quick, someone. Knock on wood.

While some signs seem to indicate that the nation really might be lumbering out of the Great Recession that economists say technically ended in June 2009, we’re holding our breath, crossing our fingers and, yes, knocking on wood. We won’t believe it until . . . well, we like to think that we’ll know recovery when we see it. And we sure don’t want to jinx it by proclaiming it a done deal.

OK, so there’s this: The Dow closed above 13,000 Tuesday for the first time since May 2008, reflecting investors’ growing optimism. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index came in at its highest since December 2007, the start of the recession, and is close to a level reflecting a stable economy. (Caveat: The price of gas has risen 20 cents since that  survey was taken.) And on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reported that all regions of the country experienced increased economic activity in the first month and half of 2012.

In Detroit, U.S. automakers who were on the verge of collapse three years ago can hardly make cars fast enough to satisfy surging demand. Buying big-ticket items such as cars is a good indication that Americans are feeling more optimistic about their economic prospects.

Automakers are adding shifts and hiring thousands of workers. Instead of wondering if they can survive, their biggest concern is whether they’re hiring too many people too quickly. Given the horrible job losses of the last four years, that’s not a bad problem to have.

Speaking of jobs, the nation added 243,000 of them in January (the state added 13,200), and the jobless rate is down to its lowest point in three years: 8.3 percent. That rate has fallen for five months in a row. Yes, many people have given up looking for work or are earning less than before, but the general trend is a good one.

Even housing is looking up. Despite still-depressed prices, more people signed contracts to buy homes in January than in nearly two years. Clearing out inventory of foreclosed homes and ones that have languished on the market is an important step in the housing market’s recovery. Prices won’t start going up until demand starts meeting supply.

The economy could still be jolted by rising gas prices, strife in the Middle East, a nuclear showdown with Iran or the European debt crisis. But many economists say that Americans are starting to believe that the worst is over.

If we’re not exactly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, at least more of us think we do.

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