It didn't dive. It didn't collapse. These are not hearty, congratulatory salutations. In the end, 365 days gone by, the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost exactly 0.04 points last year, the smallest net change in memory. The Dow Jones industrial average perked up 5.5 percent, about half the headway the index made in 2010. The Nasdaq index lost 1.8 percent in 2011.
This review, spelled out in other columns, is appropriate based on a few expert projections for 2012, which call for a reduction in consumer spending and a continuation of a housing market depression. It doesn't get more fundamental than that, especially with consumer spending making up 70 percent of the country's gross domestic product. In addition, strength in housing is traditionally a prerequisite for spending beyond one's means, home equity being the cornerstone of loans that are often spent on home renovations, vacations, college tuition and anything else short of retirement.
The employment picture is making slow gains, but many are betting this will stall, just as it did in 2011 after four months of false hopes.
The job market has done its normal post-recovery faux recovery, The New York Times reported Tuesday. About 40 percent of the job gains since June 2009 have been in low-paying sectors, such as hospitality and retail.
This is typical of a recovery -- high paying jobs are replaced with entry-level and even minimum wage employment. It is also typical to blame a lack of training as the reason a furloughed banker is making less as a landscaper. A course in data entry at the local adult learning center will not put that ex-banker back behind the wheel of a new Cadillac or provide him or her with a vacation in Hawaii. As such, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but that doesn't make a drop in the unemployment rate translate into a vote for President Obama next time around. A former manager at a shuttered factory pushing a lawn mower to get by does not a loyal Democrat make.
Some data shows consumers are already overspending and that incomes are not keeping up. With 7.5 million jobs lost during the December 2007 through June 2009 period, there is little pressure on employers to hand out raises this year. In addition tight credit and falling home values make it hard for homeowners to sell a home and move if the opportunity arises -- especially if most are downwardly mobile this year.
In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 1.24 percent, while the Shanghai composite index dropped 1.37 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell 0.8 percent, while the Sensex in India gave up 0.36 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index in Australia added 2.11 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain shed 0.26 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany lost 0.78 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 1.06 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 lost 0.55 percent.
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