Except for those who are still unemployed, 2012 has been a good year so far. The U.S. economy is recovering slowly, and there are many indications it will continue to recover. Markets are up, with the Dow reaching the 13,000 milestone last seen in 2007. Greece hasn’t defaulted. Even unemployment is showing signs of improvement.
The U.S. picture
The consensus prediction is for 2% to 3% economic growth in 2012. That’s better than the 1.7% of 2011, but too slow to quickly cut unemployment from 8.3% to a more acceptable level.
Job creation, nevertheless, is increasing. December, January and February added 244,000 jobs a month, the most since before the Great Recession. Many experts think that productivity growth is maxed out and more hiring is inevitable. Businesses are investing in new equipment after spending the last two years increasing production by working off spare capacity.
Consumers are spending and borrowing again, even for big-ticket items like cars. February auto sales were at the highest since 2008. Housing starts show signs of recovery, spurred by continuing record-low mortgage rates.
So what gives us pause? Oil. Should tensions with Iran turn to war, higher gas prices would dramatically cut consumer spending, and slow the U.S. economic recovery as a whole.
Europe and Asia
Europe appears to have avoided a severe financial crisis, and while its recession is expected to be mild, the United States is feeling the effects. Banks with exposure to European debt, and the global economy as a whole, may be affected if debt restructuring doesn’t go smoothly.
China’s growth is slowing, impacting the global economy and the recovery of almost every nation. Can the Chinese avoid a hard landing on one hand, and avoid inflationary over-stimulation on the other hand? We’ll see.
What we think
We’d summarize the first quarter and the outlook going forward with two words: wary confidence. There might be some slowdown and market volatility. Oil prices will affect the economy. Fixed income has been a haven for investors, but that may be changing. Interest rates are likely to rise, and the 30-year bull market in bonds will become more bearish. And, as always, a diversified portfolio is a prudent hedge against unpredictable events and a good long-term strategy for investors.
Wealth Enhancement Group