Economic Outlook: Tucking in 2010

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Dec. 29, 2010 at 9:22 AM
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Hopes for a late December bounce in U.S. stock markets are fading along with hopes of finding a plasma screen television for less than $200.

Not going to happen.

But the month, for all its Scrooge-like behavior, continued to defy logic and emotional expectations and managed to out-perform November with the Dow Jones industrial average adding an average of 16.5 points a day so far.

If that isn't underwhelming enough, the month appeared even more dreary because the Dow added nearly 250 points Dec. 1, then took the 18 other trading days to tack on 65 more points. That's a 3.6 point gain-per-day average for a long home stretch.

The bright spot for December was clearly consumer spending with research firm SpendingPulse reporting a 5.5 percent increase in store receipts during the holiday season from a year ago.

That spending came from wage increases in the past year, as unemployment rose to 9.8 percent in November, representing the elephant in the room -- or one of them, along with housing data -- while some economists talked of a recovery that is beginning to stand on its own legs.

Consumer confidence dragged in December, turning slightly lower than November, the Conference Board said this week. Home prices in October dropped from September in 20 out of 20 cities monitored by the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, prompting David Blitzer, index committee chairman, to say, "The double-dip is almost here … there is no good news in October's report."

From Christmas to New Years Eve, however, U.S. markets are behaving as if they are in between hangovers. Just 2.4 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, a clear sign many investors stayed in bed.

As the year fades, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. tallied its dead, announcing 157 banks failed in 2010, an 18-year high that is not pronouncedly higher than 2009 when 140 banks failed. The Treasury, in turn, said it has begun its own death watch, monitoring 19 troubled banks that have failed repeatedly to make dividend payments on their Troubled Asset Relief Program loans.

The more traditional patient charts on the nation's banks are kept at the FDIC, which keeps a list of banks in trouble, and that number is at a 17-year high with 860 banks on the list.

Twenty percent of banks on the problem bank list fail, on average, which means 2011 could see 172 banks fail to make it to 2012.

In international markets Wednesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan added 0.5 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China rose 0.68 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong surged 1.54 percent while the Sensex in India gained 1.15 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia was flat, losing 0.04 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index lost 0.26 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany gained 0.37 percent. The CAC 40 in France added 1.06 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.22 percent.

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