Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Economy Has Turned the Corner

Last year the economy was doing well until two events occurred: the EU situation and the gulf oil spill. Those two events pushed back progress and began talk of a double dip recession. However, by late summer or early fall, it became obvious that talk of the impending drop into the fiery pits of hell were overblown. But, there was still a dearth of data to show the economy had turned the corner.

Now one can make the argument.

Let's start with top line economic growth. The economy has now printed six quarters of GDP growth. Simply put, economies grow in an expansion, not a contraction.

Next, let's turn to retail sales. The Christmas season was the best in several years. More importantly, consumer spending is now at levels higher than the previous expansion, and retail sales have been printing some strong numbers for the last several months. The data indicates the consumer has returned and with the savings rate fluctuating between 5%-6%, there is plenty of ammo to keep spending.

Next, look at manufacturing, which the recent Beige Book also indicates is doing well. However, we've had two great data prints this week -- the first from Chicago and the second from the ISM -- indicating that manufacturing is on track -- in fact, more than "on track;" on fire. A cheaper dollar and strong overseas growth should help manufacturing to keep the momentum up.

Services are also in decent shape, although not as good as manufacturing. This does not mean they are in a recession, but it does mean that on a scale of 1 to 10, they're probably 6.5; they're in OK shape, but also appear to be turning the corner. However, with an expanding economy, this sector should continue improving. (UPDATE: The latest ISM was strong as well, printing a stronger number).

Employment also finally seems to be improving. While weekly initial claims have jumped around for the last month, the problems have been administrative, but fundamental. The last two ADP reports have been good and while the BLS data has been weaker, NDD has correctly noted the data has been positive for some time and all the revisions have been positive.

Housing is still a basket case and will continue to be for for some, largely because of a massive inventory overhang. But if that hasn't killed the recovery yet, then it probably won't.

In short, the data (I know, those pesky facts again) indicate the economy has expanded for over a year and most of the underlying components are improving. There has been enough data over a long enough period of time to indicate we're turned the corner.