The unemployment rate dropped significantly in December, falling from 9.8 percent to 9.4 percent, but not many were fooled by the data. Looking beyond the headlines showed twice as many people stopped looking for work as persons who found jobs, which made the declining rate patently deceiving. The housing market, meanwhile, has few improvements to point to. More like none.
Stocks have improved; manufacturing shows signs of strength; and the financial sector shows gains, giving economists cause to raise their assessments of where 2011 is going. Retail has shown improvement. Industrial production rose in December.
In contrast, David Blitzer, who oversees the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, said of the most recent monthly report, "The double-dip is almost here ... there is no good news in October's report."
The dreaded double-dip? Economists were tossing that thought around late last spring, when the recovery was wobbling. With a renewed resurgence in most sectors, Blitzer's comments are increasingly isolated.
But it follows the recovery can only go so far without improvements in jobs, housing and international trade. In November, the U.S. trade deficit shrank for the third consecutive month, but only by the slimmest margin, dropping by $100 million to $38.3 billion from a revised October deficit of $38.4 billion.
In international markets Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan was flat, climbing 0.04 percent, and the Shanghai composite index in China lost 3.03 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 0.52 percent and the Sensex in India gained 0.12 percent.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index shed 0.18 percent while the DAX 30 index in Germany lost 0.06 percent. The CAC 40 index in France lost 0.28 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 index added 0.06 percent.
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