After seeing Tuesday's economic reports on factory orders, nonmanufacturing activity, retail sales and layoff announcements, some experts are worried that the U.S. economy might not recover as soon as most had hoped. According to Mike Moran, an economist at Daiwa Securities, the majority of the data was disappointing. For starters, the Institute for Supply Management's nonmanufacturing index fell below 50 in January, to 49.6, after reaching 50.1 in December. Economists were expecting a reading of 51.8. A level above 50 points to expansion outside the factory sector, while a reading below that mark suggests contraction. "The nonmanufacturing index seemed to be signaling a recovery in December, but there was no follow-through in January," Moran said. "This is not a big decline for the economy, but the report suggests it is not gaining momentum and advancing out of recession." In another report, factory orders rose 1.2% in December, edging past economists' forecast of a 1% gain. But the results of November's index were revised downward to a 4.3% decline from a drop of 3.3%. Economists offered mixed views of the factory orders data. Moran expected a 1.5% increase in factory orders in December, but Peter Kretzmer, an economist at Bank of America, offered an optimistic view of the numbers. Kretzmer wrote in a report that the increase in orders provided more evidence that manufacturing is rebounding. Separately, after three straight months of declines, job cut announcements rose 32% to 212,704 in January, up from 161,584 in December, Challenger Gray & Christmas said. The January tally is the third-largest number of monthly layoff announcements since the firm started tracking them in 1993. "Consumers are spending less and business is spending a lot less," John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray & Christmas, said in a statement. "Until this trend reverses, companies will have to continue to find ways to contain costs because there isn't enough money coming in." Elsewhere, sales at chain stores fell 0.7% during the week ended Feb. 2, according to the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi and UBS Warburg weekly report. At least one economist believes even the positive reports might not be enough to lift equities higher, at least in the near term. "With the stock market going down so sharply, businesses are not going to be encouraged to expand," said John Lonski, an economist at Moody's. "And consumers will become fearful of job security. You could argue that the latest slide in equity prices has diminished business and consumer confidence enough to sap the U.S. economy's newfound momentum." Since the beginning of the year, the
Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen 3.3%, the S&P 500 has dropped 5.7%, and the Nasdaq Composite is off 5.2%.