UPDATE at 11:52: CNN adds a fourth important component to the good economic news:
“NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — New home construction got off to a strong start for the year, with housing starts and building permits rising in January on a monthly and annual basis — another sign that the U.S. housing market and broader economy are headed in the right direction.
The Census Bureau reported that housing starts rose to an annual rate of 699,000, up 1.5% from December. Compared to a year ago, housing starts were almost 10% higher.”
Three stories, all from the AP, all reporting significantly improved economic performance:
“DETROIT — General Motors earned its largest profit ever in 2011, two years after it nearly collapsed into financial ruin.
Strong sales in the U.S. and China helped the 103-year-old carmaker turn a profit of $7.6 billion, beating its old record of $6.7 billion in 1997 during the pickup truck and SUV boom.”
“WASHINGTON — U.S. factories boosted output last month and December ended up being their best month of growth in five years.
Strong auto sales and growing business investment in machinery and other equipment are keeping factories busy and helping the economy grow.
The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that manufacturing production increased 0.7 percent in January. And output soared 1.5 percent in December, according to an upward revision. That’s the biggest one-month gain since December 2006.”
“WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving.
Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of claims since March 2008 — six months before Lehman Brothers collapsed and only a few months into the Great Recession.
The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations in the weekly data, fell for the fifth straight week to 365,250. The average has fallen nearly 13 percent in the past year.
The consistent decline indicates that companies are laying off fewer workers, and hiring is likely picking up further. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Jeremy Lawson, a senior economist at BNP Paribas, said the report points to solid hiring this month, similar to the average net gain of about 200,000 in the past three months.
“Most indicators are pointing in the same direction: a healthy job market,” Lawson said. The additional jobs will provide more income for consumers and support greater spending, an importance source of growth.
– GM — “Government Motors”, as its detractors like to call it — posts its highest profit ever.
– Manufacturing scores its biggest one-month jump since December 2006.
– Weekly jobless numbers fall to lowest in almost four years.
As always, it’s important to note that we still have a long way to go, with millions of our fellow Americans still wanting to work and still unable to find it. But a corner does seem to have been turned.
– Jay Bookman