For months, the Administration has been trying to make people feel better about the economy. From Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s “green shoots” to President Obama’s “glimmers of hope” to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s recent reports of “signs of healing,” there’s no shortage of forced optimism. Meanwhile, GDP is sinking, unemployment is reaching 26-year highs, and conflicting indicators abound. But, in the Washingtonian spirit, we can point to some distinctly nonwithered shoots:
1. Job-Market Recovery. According to a recent Watson Wyatt survey, only 13% of companies plan more layoffs, down from 23% two months earlier. Then again: “Companies have made such severe cuts that they can’t lop off any more,” says David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates.
2. Consumer Confidence. The “customer-satisfaction index” spiked for two quarters in a row, according to the University of Michigan. Then again: Service employees are likely “more attentive to customers because they don’t want to get fired,” says Carey Leahey, senior managing director at Decision Economics.
3. Consumer Spending. After hitting bottom in February, the number of global manufacturers shipping wares to the United States edged up for two months in a row, based on an analysis of customs data by research firm Panjiva. Then again: Those numbers are still below January levels, and in April nearly a third of global suppliers said their U.S.-bound shipments were down by 50% or more.
4. Housing Market. Although the overall volume of applications for building permits tumbled to a record low this past spring, permits for single-family homes rose for two consecutive months. Then again: Cheer up! There’s no caveat coming. “Single-family builders tend to be mom-and-pops,” says Leahey. “They don’t waste time getting a permit unless they have financing, so it’s hard to punch holes in this.”