Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hope springs eternal

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Winston Churchill, 1942 following the allied victory at El Alamein
There are some hopeful signs that the freefall of the economy may be ending. A few positive statistics don't make a trend, but we should appreciate hopeful news when we get it.

There have been a number of positive developments in the beleaguered housing market. Building permits, housing starts, and housing completions all rose in February relative to a month earlier. Existing and new home sales also rose modestly in February. Mortgage applications, which include new purchases and refinancing applications, also jumped 30 percent in the last week. The news is tempered by falling prices and large numbers of foreclosure sales. Also, the housing figures are generally much worse than a year ago. Nevertheless, the numbers are improvements and may indicate a bottoming out of the housing market.

Initial UI claims fell slightly in the beginning of March. The numbers still indicate rising unemployment, but if they hold up, the rate of increase would slow.

Orders for durable goods are also up, and the stock market has made up more than half the ground that it lost since the beginning of the year.

I'm not looking forward to opening my retirement or investment statements this quarter, but I might be able to do it sober.