Has the Recession Finally Ended?

A rise in retail sales and slowing of job losses could signal an economic thaw.

ByScott Mayerowitz
June 03, 2009, 8:12 AM

June 11, 2009— -- The economy continued today to show new signs of life, leading investors to think that maybe the worst of the recession is over.

After a week of little movement on Wall Street, stocks climbed Thursday morning, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 70 or so points at mid-morning thanks to a bevy of new government data.

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First, there was good news on the jobs front: the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week by 24,000. There were still plenty of folks needing assistance with the total number of people now collecting unemployment benefits rising by 59,000 to more than 6.8 million, the highest since 1967. But the pace at which jobs are being lost is at least slowing.

Today also brought some positive news from the much-battered retail sector. For the first time in three months, retail sales in May rose, by 0.5 percent, according to the Commerce Department. The sales were pushed higher by increased demand for new cars and sales at gas stations. It was the largest increase since sales rose 1.7 percent in January following six straight monthly declines. While this is good news, part of the jump can be attributed to a recent spike in gas prices which isn't helping average consumers.

Also today came word that the number of homeowners facing foreclosure was actually down in May compared with April.

But before anybody celebrates, the number of filings -- on 321,480 U.S. homes -- was still up 18 percent from the same time last year, according to RealtyTrac, an online company that tracks foreclosure properties.

May also brought the third-highest monthly number of foreclosure filings in the company's records and the third month in a row when the number of homes receiving foreclosure notices exceeded 300,000.

These days, any good new on the economy, especially in the housing market, the very place where the recession started, is very positive.

Make no mistake, millions of Americans are still without jobs or struggling to pay their mortgage. But today's news just adds to a wide range of economic indicators in the past few weeks that have shown signs that maybe the worst is over. Here are some of those other positive signs:

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.

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.

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