NEW YORK (
) -- The economy seem to be getting better, and just as importantly, Americans seem to believe the economy is getting better.
Of course, nobody is waving pom-poms and popping champagne corks over recent economic data. Those data show moderate growth, at best, in key areas such as jobs, housing and consumer spending.
But with the fiscal cliff behind the country, financial industry observers say the U.S. may have crossed a critical point in building momentum toward a more robust recovery.
Diane Swonk, chief economist at Chicago-based
, says the U.S. economy is at a turning point and primed for the strongest growth since 2007 -- if Washington can continue to get its act together.
"Economic fundamentals are improving," she says. "Home prices are rising instead of falling; this is finally generating a more meaningful recovery in housing." In addition, "cuts to state and local government budgets ... are abating and removing the greatest headwind to employments gains. Plus, corporate America is flush with cash. All that's needed is a dose of certainty to release those funds and invest in the future."
That's not all. A
study from American Express
(AXP - Get Report)
says more Americans are financially "optimistic" this year than last year (39% to 35%) and know they are going to spend more cash this year:
- More Americans say they will hike spending on tourism and travel (26% this year, versus 22% last year).
- More Americans say they will spend on clothing and accessories this year (28% vs. 23%).
- More Americans plan to dine out (19% vs. 14%).
- More Americans expect to go to concerts, sporting events and other entertainment venues (19% to 14%).
- The largest "big ticket" purchases will be new cars (26%), followed by major household appliances (17%) and home renovations (11%). About 8% of Americans say they are buying a home.
That survey, which took place in December, didn't account for a fiscal cliff deal, but 74% of Americans "were aware" of the negotiations in Washington, D.C., and another 59% said the outcome "would affect them personally."
Perhaps as a hedge against further bad economic news, U.S. adults say they will save more cash this year than last. The savings target this year is $10,893, on average, as opposed to $7,633 in 2012 (although Amex says Americans wound up saving only $5,906 in 2012).