WASHINGTON (AP) — The economy is ending 2011 on a roll.
The job market is healthier. Americans are spending lustily on holiday gifts. A long-awaited turnaround for the depressed housing industry may be under way. Gas is cheaper. Factories are busier. Stocks are higher.
Not bad for an economy faced with a debt crisis in Europe and, as recently as last summer, scattered predictions of a second recession at home. Instead, the economy has grown faster each quarter this year, and the last three months should be the best.
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“Things are looking up,” says Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.
When The Associated Press surveyed 43 economists in August, they pegged the likelihood of another recession at roughly one in four. The Dow Jones industrial average was lurching up or down by 400 points or more some days.
There was plenty of reason for gloom. A political standoff over the federal borrowing limit brought the United States to the brink of default and cost the nation its top-drawer credit rating.
Most analysts now rule out another recession. They think the economy will grow at an annual rate of more than 3 percent from October through December, the fastest pace since a 3.8 percent performance in the spring of last year.
Many economists still worry that the year-end surge isn’t sustainable, in part because the average worker’s pay is barely rising. And Europe may already be sliding into a recession that will infect the United States.
The outlook could darken further if Congress can’t break the impasse blocking an extension of a Social Security tax cut for 160 million Americans and emergency unemployment benefits.