WASHINGTON -- The biggest unasked question in today's economy is whether it has started turning around before President Obama's spending-stimulus program has fully gotten under way. There is growing evidence that the U.S. economy is showing signs of life amid increasing reports that Obama's nearly $800 billion economic stimulus is trickling into the economy at an ever-slower pace. We've had two back-to-back months of increased existing-home sales. Banks are making a comeback as the administration's stress tests largely acknowledged. Bank of America's stock rose by nearly 10 percent Monday after a favorable recommendation from Goldman Sachs, as did other financial equities. Bank deposits are up, mortgage loans are rising, suggesting that credit has begun flowing again, and we are seeing an uptick in construction.
This week, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) put out a report saying that builders' confidence in the market for new homes climbed for the second straight month. David Crowe, NAHB's chief economist, said the renewed confidence level "indicates that home builders feel we're at or near the bottom of the market." And the decline in housing prices appears to be slowing.
Consumer confidence is rising, too, though retail sales remain sluggish and unemployment, now at 8.9 percent, continues to rise, but the signs suggest the economy clearly has begun bottoming out.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has been the unsung hero in the Fed's heavy lifting in this recovery, predicted as much. "We continue to expect economic activity to bottom out, then to turn up later this year," he told lawmakers earlier this month. "The pace of contraction may be slowing." The White House maintains, of course, that all of this is the result of the administration's economic stimulus and its other recovery policies. But there are reports to the contrary that suggest the flow of infrastructure spending to the states has been slow and that much of the critical decision-making at the U.S. Treasury has been "on hold" because of bureaucratic snafus, White House micromanaging and unfilled job slots in key positions.
Late last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Obama's infrastructure spending that estimated that only $49 billion of the nearly $300 billion being sent to the states would be spent by the end of fiscal year 2009.
The report, said Brendan Buck of the House Republican Study Committee, "reveals that stimulus dollars are mired in typical glacial bureaucratic processes."