Has the Recession Finally Ended?

Strong home sales are just one indicator that the economy may be on the mend.

June 3, 2009— -- The economy is showing new signs of life this week, especially in the housing market, the very place where the recession started.

Make no mistake, millions of Americans are still without jobs or struggling to pay their mortgage. But a wide range of economic indicators are showing signs that maybe the worst is over.

Home Sales: The number of homes under contract for sale in April is up 6.7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. This was the third straight month of increased home contracts and a much bigger jump than analysts expected. It was the biggest month-to-month increase since October 2001.

Many buyers are taking advantage of depressed real estate prices and an $8,000 tax credit offered to first-time homebuyers. The sales are a good sign for the economy because they show that many average Americans are now willing to get back in the game.

The Stock Market: The Dow Jones industrial average is almost even for the year. The 30-company index closed Tuesday at 8,740, just 35 points down from its 2009 high. Yes, the market is still way down from its October 2007 high but the panic seems to be gone and stocks have steadily climbed out of their decade-long low hit in March.

Auto Sales: Yes , General Motors and Chrysler are restructuring through bankruptcy court, but Americans are starting to return to car dealerships and are making purchases. In May, Americans bought new cars and trucks at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 9.91 million units.

That's the fastest sales pace for new cars and trucks for this calendar year and a 6.4 percent increase from April's figure. Big ticket purchases -- such as a new car or truck -- show consumer confidence in the economy increasing, a necessary element to get out of the recession.

Consumer Confidence: Americans are regaining faith in the economy and feel as if they have more money in their wallets. The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index hit a high in May as Americans felt more at ease with the state of things. In recent weeks, that confidence has waned slightly, not because of some meltdown on Wall Street but by a rise in gas prices. The average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline has gained 48 cents since the end of April.

The Global Economy: China's economy shows signs of a strong recovery, in part due to its government's strong stimulus plan. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on a trip to China Tuesday said the efforts of China and the United States are starting to pay off and the global economy is showing "early signs of stabilization."

Unemployment: This is probably the biggest sign of recovery, or at least one that hits home the most for American families. Unemployment now stands at 8.9 percent with 5.7 million Americans losing their jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007.

On Friday, the government releases the unemployment figures for April. Another 550,000 jobs are expected to have been lost last month and the unemployment rate is expected to climb to 9.2 percent. That in itself is not good news. But what is good news is that the rate of job losses appears to be slowing. The country might not add new jobs anytime soon, but at least the avalanche of pink slips appears to be easing.