WASHINGTON -- There are intermittent signs that the recession may be near an end, though darkened by forecasts that the economy will likely take much longer than expected to achieve a full recovery.
Home sales are slowly climbing; durable-goods orders to U.S. factories, absent the transportation sector, were up 1.1 percent in June; corporate earnings have begun to improve; and banks are making a comeback as a result of a growing savings rate.
But it may be a bit premature to begin cheering that we are coming out of the woods, as a Newsweek cover story suggested last week. Housing prices are still falling, mortgage foreclosures are rising, consumer confidence fell sharply last month, unemployment is nearing 10 percent, consumer spending has flat-lined, and the economy is still contracting, though at a slower rate.
Even so, recoveries have to start somewhere, and the preliminary signs of modest improvement in some sectors suggest we're nearing the bottom of this recession.
Predictably, President Obama was taking credit for any improvements, saying they showed that his administration's policies were working. That's a stretch. There is no evidence that his snail's-pace public-works plan has created many jobs that made a dent in the recession.
Who says so? Dr. Christina Romer, chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Last month, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo asked the $800 billion stimulus question in a way that few, if any, White House reporters dare to ask at the president's news conferences:
"When the stimulus was first announced, the president said he expected that in the coming years the administration, based on the policies on economic revival, could save or create 3.5 million jobs. At this point, does the administration know how many jobs have been created or saved?"
Romer replied, "You know, it's very hard to say exactly because you don't know what the baseline is. Because you don't know what the economy would have done without it."
We do know that month after month, the number of jobless workers has climbed dramatically since Obama's big spending plan became operable. The Congressional Budget Office, which keeps track of the spending plan, says that only a small fraction of the so-called stimulus-bill money will be spent -- not "obligated," as the White House likes to say -- by the end of the year.