U.S. Economy Hits Sweet Spot

U.S. may take back role as main engine for global growth as China, Europe decelerate.

The U.S. once again may be emerging as a main engine for global growth -- and at an opportune time, as Europe slides into recession and China’s economy decelerates.

An improving job market, rising stock prices and easier credit are combining to lift U.S. consumer confidence and spending, with optimism measured by the Bloomberg Comfort Index near a four-year high. Personal-consumption expenditures increased by the most in seven months in February, rising 0.8 percent, the Commerce Department said last week.

‘Big Plus’

All this means the consumer rebound in the U.S. “is a big plus for Europe and Asia,” as companies in the two regions will see increased demand for their exports, said Joseph Carson, director of global economic research at AllianceBernstein LP in New York. The U.S. trade deficit widened 4.3 percent in January to $52.6 billion, the largest since October 2008, as imports rose to a record high.

Spending Recovers

U.S. consumers helped power the global economy from 1995 through 2007, as their spending was boosted first by a run-up in stock prices and then by the housing bubble. Personal-consumption expenditures rose at an average annual inflation-adjusted rate of 3.5 percent during the period. After nose-diving in the recession, spending has recovered to grow at an annual 2.1 percent pace.

Better Off

More Americans say they are personally better off since Obama took office in January 2009 than worse off, a Bloomberg National Poll found last month. That’s the first favorable reading for the president on that question since Bloomberg began asking it in December 2010.

Spending Capacity

The capacity of consumers to spend “has been greatly enhanced now that financial obligations absorb a much smaller share of overall income,” Carson wrote in a March 16 report. So GDP growth this year could exceed 3 percent, he predicted.

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