Good economic news as holiday season opens

Friday, November 29, 2002

The U.S. economy is always closely watched by business and government forecasters. But with the enormous increase in stock-market investors fueled by strong economic growth during the 1990s and increasing contributions to tax-deferred retirement plans, more Americans than ever are keeping tabs on national and international economic performance trends.

There is heartening news from Washington regarding the economy.

Consumer confidence has rebounded in November after sinking to a nine-year low. This good news is bolstered by new-home sales, employment gains, higher income forecasts, healthy growth in the gross domestic product, stronger inventories and improved trade -- all in all, not a bad performance as the nation's retailers brace for the holiday season.

As one economist put it: "The economy is doing better than it is getting credit for."

As a matter of fact, the latest reports indicate consumers are likely to be in a spending mood as they buy gifts this year. This is particularly welcome news, because retailers are faced with the shortest sales season possible between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas this year. The latest reports indicate consumers will be in a spending mood.

Reaction was mixed to the economic trends reported for November. There were enough investors who had hoped for an even stronger report to push stock markets lower on Tuesday, the day the latest figures were issued. But economists at some brokerage firms were touting the improved economy and looking for a solid holiday shopping season.

At least one key indicator is showing stronger-than-expected improvement. The GDP, which measures the total value of goods and services produced in the United States, grew at a 4 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter -- higher than the 3.1 percent rate that had been estimated a month ago by the Commerce Department.

The key to steady economic recovery, however, is in the hands of consumers. By their spending and investing decisions, they will directly affect production output, inventory buildups, hiring plans, retail performance and improved stock markets.

During the summer, it was obvious that consumers were jittery about the future. November's figures indicate some of those jitters have been calmed, and consumers are feeling more confident about their own jobs and earning opportunities.

If this trend continues, the economy will be further isolated from the makings of a recession. The further we get away from that possibility, the stronger future economic performance should be.

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