Signs the Economy Isn’t a Total Basket Case

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For quite some time, there was no shortage of indicators pointing to the fact that the economy wasn’t doing so hot—including some odd data about a falloff in men’s underwear sales, a rise in animals being abandoned at pet shelters, and the impressively overqualified status of this year’s census workers. Now, at long last, we’ve got some signs that the economy is picking up.
Moms will feel $3 more worth of love this Mother’s Day. Consumer spending for the holiday is expected to total $14.6 billion this year, with the average person spending $126.90 in 2010, up from $123.89 in 2009. Since this is a per-person average, I guess if you’re a mom of three kids, you’ll actually feel $9 worth of love in a few weeks.

An extra half-million cars should be sold by year’s end. The latest estimates indicated that 12.5 million cars are expected to be sold in 2010. That’s 500,000 more than predictions made a few months ago. Still, even while car sales should be up 20% compared to last year, cars just aren’t selling like they used to; a few years back, dealers typically handed buyers the keys to 16.5 million new cars annually.

Big unexpected drop in foreclosures. At least in California, where mortgage default notices fell 40% in the first three months on 2010. Also, the median price of a home in southern California was up 14% in March, compared to a year earlier. Around the country, people don’t feel aren’t feeling all that great about their homes, however: One in four homeowners with a mortgage—27 million people in total—think that underwater, in debt for more than the home is worth.

Big unexpected job boom. At least in North Dakota, where there’s plenty of employment to be had in the thriving oil industry. The state has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 4%. Unfortunately, North Dakota is having trouble housing the influx of workers, with motels, apartment complexes, and mobile home outposts all full to the brim. The odd result is that the rise in jobs has also caused a rise in rates of homelessness.

Apple just had its best non-holiday quarter. Or make that Apple just had its best non-holiday quarter yet again.

Consumers are fatigued by all the frugality. Coupon Sherpa offers 9 indicators, including rises in the sales of high-end wines, clothing, and gadgets.

The recession actually ended last summer. That’s what some economists say, even though many consumers don’t believe it. Then again, according to some other, more cautious economists, maybe the recession didn’t end. Clear enough for you?

The Wall Street Journal dropped its Cheapskate column. Neal Templin, author of the column who I’ve give props to for taking to task companies that make rip-off $4 razor blades, and for writing honestly about his family’s schizophrenic approach to extended warranties and his 22-year-old daughter’s sensible strategies for living on the cheap in the big city, wrote his final column last week. I’ll miss the column, though Templin pretty much gets the point across with this single sentence:

I’ve always believed that Americans know perfectly well how to save money: spend less.

Amen.

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