The popular wisdom today is that the U.S. economy is on track for a recovery and that a double-dip recession has been averted.
Among the optimists is the head of one of the world's biggest financial firms, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, who says a better tomorrow is on the way. "The U.S. economy is experiencing a mild recovery," Dimon told CNBC earlier this week. "We think housing is at or near a bottom."
Recent data support the notion that the economy is indeed improving. The new year started off with four months of economic momentum behind it, and the recent December data only further support the bullish case:
Manufacturing: The U.S. ISM manufacturing index rose more than expected to 53.9 in December from 52.7 in November to its best level since June. This week, Jefferies chief equity strategist Sean Darby predicted the decline in American manufacturing is over. (See: Made in America: The Comeback)
Jobs: Weekly first-time unemployment claims fell below 400,000, while the ADP report showed the private sector added 325,000 jobs in December, nearly double the expected rate. Additionally, the national unemployment rate fell to 8.5%, with 200,000 nonfarm jobs added last month. The U.S. economy has not seen that many workers added in a month since March 2009.
Auto sales: Automakers sold more than 1 million vehicles last month, which is 8.7% more than the total sales in December of 2010. And the Big Three all posted double-digit sales for the entirety of 2011, which is inherently good for both jobs and manufacturing. (See: Author Clark: Chrysler's Made-in-Italy Comeback)
The consumer: In November, consumer credit outstanding grew to the highest level since September 2009. The optimistic take on these figures says consumer confidence is on the rise as Americans are willing to increase spending again. Holiday retail sales were also strong.
"The underlying signs of positive trends are unmistakable and undeniable," says Yahoo! Finance economics editor Daniel Gross, who also believes the Economic Cycle Research Institute, which warned in recent months that the U.S. was likely headed for another recession, may be wrong for the first time ever. But, he adds, "I think this is a good time to sort of curb your enthusiasm a bit."
Coming from Gross, who's known for spotting the positives in the economy even in gloomy times, the "curb your enthusiasm" advice is a bit of a surprise. However, as the name of his Yahoo! column the "Contrary Indicator" suggests, he's not opposed to going against the grain.
For instance, in April 2010 he went contrary to popular opinion, declaring America was turning around from its post-Lehman lows. Since then, there have been some bumps along the way and even renewed calls for recession by the ECRI's's Lakshman Achuthan right here on The Daily Ticker. But all the while Gross has remained steadfast in his glass half-full sentiment -- and he's generally been right in his assessments. (See: As Gloom Rises, U.S. Economic Data Turn Positive)
"You always have to be careful when a consensus forms around something, especially after it seems these events have already happened," Gross tells The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget in the accompanying clip. "I'm still optimistic on a relative basis, but maybe curb some of this enthusiasm that all these Johnny-come-latelies have been expressing."
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