Friday November 2, 2012

So far it’s been a good week in terms of economic news around the country. From auto sales to home prices, manufacturing to consumer confidence, things are looking up as we head into the final days before the 2012 election on Tuesday.

General Motors and Chrysler both reported their strongest U.S. sales for the month of October since the financial crisis sent both automakers into bankruptcy, according to Reuters. GM sales rose 4.7 percent, while those at Chrysler increased 10 percent. Both said total vehicle sales were the best they had seen since 2007.

Some automakers are talking about expanding their production plants. Honda, for example, wants to expand its Ohio plant and add some 200 jobs. That’s definitely good news for job-seekers.

The manufacturing sector expanded in October for the second consecutive month following three months of slight contraction, and the overall economy grew for the 41st consecutive month, according to the latest report from the Institute of Supply Management. The SMI index registered 51.7 percent, up from September’s reading of 51.5 percent. A reading above 50 percent indicates expansion.

Home prices saw broad gains at the end of the summer selling season, with values rising even in hard-hit regions of the country such as Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and South Florida, the Washington Post reports.


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Overall, real estate values rose 2 percent across the country in August compared with the same month a year earlier, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index. The data show that the housing market, which experienced some of its worst years since the Great Depression after the financial crisis of 2008, is finally finding its footing, some analysts said.

"The sustained good news in home prices over the past five months makes us optimistic for continued recovery in the housing market," David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

The Washington Post said others cautioned not to make too much out of the report. Stan Humphries of the real estate Web site Zillow warned that Case-Shiller is mimicking what other indicators already have shown -- that the housing market is improving after hitting bottom. He said the gains mean average home prices are back to their 2003 levels, though still down about 30 percent from their 2006 peak.

Still, at least the prices are now going in the right direction.

The Post also reports a surge in consumer confidence in October, to its highest level in nearly five years. Americans were encouraged by recent declines in the unemployment rate. And they responded by spending more on cars and trucks, at retail businesses and on goods produced at U.S. factories.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose to 72.2 last month, up from 68.4 percent in September. That’s the highest reading since February 2008. While the index is still below the 90 reading consistent with a healthy economy, it has risen from 40.9 a year ago. That’s the biggest one-year increase since 1994.

"Consumers were considerably more positive in their assessment of current conditions, with improvements in the job market as the major driver," said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board, in a statement.

Speaking of the job market, a report released Thursday from Automatic Data Processing showed 158,000 new private-sector jobs created in October. The Wall Street Journal says the ADP report is seen as a preview to the closely watched government employment report due out today.

We’re hoping for a really good report from the U.S. Department of Labor on the employment scene, mainly because that will be one more indicator of a sustained recovery and that bodes well for the entire country. But also, we’re hoping stronger employment growth will give President Barack Obama the extra edge he needs to win on Tuesday.