3. China Is Still Red Hot: Although the Chinese stock markets remain under pressure due to a tightening of money, ISI's survey of Chinese sales rose last month to the highest level in a year and a half. Last week saw a surge in Chinese vehicle sales and purchases of U.S. goods.
2. China Is Not the Only Booming Region: While the global recovery from the 2008-09 wipeout is solid, some countries are posting much better results than others as successful sets of actions are differentiating themselves. This is called an "asynchronous" recovery by economists. The best real GDP reports in the fourth quarter came from China, +9.9%; Indonesia, +5.9%; U.S., +5.7%; Japan, +4.6%; Philippines, +3.8%; France, +1.9%. Among the worst: Latvia, -8.9%; Greece, -3.9%; Czech Republic, -3.1%; Spain, -0.7%.
1. Attitudes Are Improving: Optimism is spreading, which is important as confidence is a huge part of spending by both countries and individuals. USA Today reported last week that nearly two-thirds of Americans call their outlook for the United States over the next 20 years optimistic, and more than six in 10 say today's youth will have a better life than their parents. Meanwhile, the Business Council reported that top U.S. executives say their companies are aggressively planning to grow, according to a Reuters story. And Business Week reported that U.S. executives are boosting earnings estimates at their fastest pace since 2002.
I love listing this news, as it helps to explain why investors retain their resilience. But I would be remiss if I did not also point out that so far bank loan officers don't seem to share in the positive vibe. Declining bank loans in the U.S. and flat lending in Europe help explain why money growth is sluggish in both regions, according to ISI analysis. Weak money growth will pose a big problem for economic activity, as companies and individuals simply must have more access to reasonable amounts of credit -- not crazy amounts, just what used to be considered normal -- to grow.The strange and unexplained element in all this is that short-term interest rates have never been essentially zero for the biggest borrowers as they are now. And when I say never, I mean going back to at least the 1700s, according to analysts at Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Pessimists could say that if you can't get an unbelievably strong recovery when rates are at zero, then how are you going to get even a modest recovery when rates begin to rise, as they are now. We'll leave that very good question for another day.