For 2012, "cautious" optimism abounds

Today's data on global manufacturing was better than expected. Combine that with slightly better numbers on unemployment and housing last month, and analysts think the economy is, well, better.

Kai Ryssdal: There was, hard though it may be to believe, some economic data out today. Something called the Purchasing Managers Index, or PMI, for December -- a sense of how manufacturing's doing around the world. How fast goods are being made, and delivered, among other things.

Looking at that and some other indicators, Marketplace's David Gura says the news ain't all bad.


David Gura: No economist I talked to would tell me, straight up, he’s optimistic. I heard a lot of modifiers –- “cautiously optimistic,” “reasonably optimistic.”

Mark Zandi is with Moody’s Analytics.

Mark Zandi: I don’t think 2012 is going to be a break-out year for the economy. It should be OK, but I don’t think we’re going to take off.

But he says that’s because it’s an election year, more than anything else. Lately, we have gotten some pretty good data on the housing market and jobs.

Alex Brill: I think we are seeing signs the economy is improving.

That’s Alex Brill, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. The four-week average of how many Americans filed for unemployment for the first time is at its lowest level in more than three years.

Mark Vitner is a senior economist at Wells Fargo.

Mark Vitner: We’re entering the new year with a good bit of momentum.

But -– and I heard a lot of buts today -- there are many Americans who’ve been out of work for a really long time. And even though we added a net two million jobs last year, Mark Zandi says something’s holding back the labor market.

Zandi: Hiring levels are still very, very low by historical standards, and we’ve got a long way to go, but it feels like we’re moving in the right direction.

Economists are saying the same thing about where the housing market’s headed -- we’ve seen construction pick up and pending home sales were strong last month.

Heather Boushey is chief economist at the Center for American Progress. She says the housing market’s back to where it was a decade ago.

Heather Boushey: One friend of mine was noting that it’s not like ringing in 2012; it’s been more like ringing in 2001.

And then there’s what’s happening overseas. Economists will continue to keep a close watch on Europe in 2012, because of how it could affect the U.S. economy. And today’s PMI numbers tell us something important about that. They’re grounds to be even more reasonably optimistic. The data show India and China are participating in the global economic recovery, despite what’s happening in Europe. If they weren’t, that could slow down growth in the U.S.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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