With all the negative campaigning that lead up to the election, you would think our economy is in an absolute shambles. However, a clean, unbiased look at recently released numbers show that our economy appears to be doing better than you might think. The following are some of those recent indicators.
After the unemployment rate ticked up from 7.8 to 7.9 percent in October, it's easy to say we're simply not making progress, but a closer look at the surrounding data suggests otherwise. First, payrolls increased more than expected, adding 171,000 jobs in October, soundly beating the most optimistic forecast from a Bloomberg survey, which projected a gain of 125,000.
Regarding the unemployment rate, the rise came from workers re-entering the job market. There can be many possible factors for such an increase, but one could simply be that workers were getting more optimistic about their chances to land a job, which would be a positive indicator.
Factory orders rebounded from a 5.1 percent drop in August to rise 4.8 percent in September. This was the biggest gain in a year. Core capital goods, a subset of factory orders that are used as a proxy for business investment, rose only 0.2 percent in September after a 0.3 percent gain in August. Still, the increases are a positive sign, as they serve as an indicator of business expansion and follow two months of significant declines: 2.7 percent in June and 5.6 percent in July.
House prices showed positive signs in more ways than one. First, the Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller home price index rose by 2 percent in August from a year earlier. This is a bigger increase than the previous month, which saw a 1.2 percent rise from the prior year.
In addition, home prices rose in 17 of the 20 cities included in the index. In July, prices rose in 16 cities, while in January, prices rose in only three markets. Phoenix saw the largest jump at 18.8 percent. The three cities experiencing declines were Atlanta, New York and Chicago.
Prices weren't the only bright spot for the housing industry. The construction of new houses jumped 15 percent in September, surging to its highest level in four years. The 872,000 housing starts beat all forecasts in a Bloomberg economic survey, which ranged from 735,000 to 800,000.
In addition, home builders were getting more optimistic about construction. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index increased to 41, which is the highest level since 2006 and the sixth consecutive gain for the index. (It should be noted that while the gains are encouraging, a reading of less than 50 still means that more responders indicated that conditions were poor.)
Consumer confidence spiked to its highest level since 2008, rising to 72.2 in October versus 68.4 in September. The Conference Board, which releases the index, also saw its present situation index jump. The index, which measures consumers' assessment of current economic conditions, rose to 56.2 from 48.7 the month before.
The rise in consumer confidence can be seen in our spending habits, which rose to their highest level since February. Personal spending rose 0.8 percent in September, while personal income rose only 0.4 percent. The saving rate dropped to its lowest level since November 2011, falling to 3.3 percent of disposable income from 3.7 percent in August.
Keeping the positive developments in mind should help you to stay disciplined, avoid panic, and adhere to your investment plan.
Larry Swedroe is a principal and director of research for the BAM Alliance. He has authored or co-authored 12 books, including his most recent, Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. His opinions and comments expressed on this site are his own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm.