March 14. 2012 2:00AM - Last modified: March 19. 2012 11:55AM

The needle really is moving in the right direction

By Steve Jagler

  
In a Milwaukee Biz Blog last week, we told you that the U.S. economic recovery is picking up steam.

Several headlines since then are validating that projection.

- The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 218 points Tuesday at 13,178, its highest close since Dec. 31, 2007.

- The NASDAQ Stock Exchange closed above 3,000 for the first time in 11 years.

- The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey showed robust hiring plans for Milwaukee-area employers for the second quarter.

- Goldman Sachs lifted its estimate of first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) Tuesday to 2 percent from 1.8 percent, and other economists also lifted their estimates.

- U.S. employers added 227,000 jobs in February to complete three of the best months of hiring since the Great Recession began. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of Americans who had jobs jumped by 428,000 in February following a 847,000 gain in January. Over the past six months, the number of people who are employed has risen by 2.3 million - an average of 385,000 per month. That's the best growth since early 2000, when the dot-com bubble was in full force.

- The U.S. Labor Department said the national unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent last month, the lowest in three years. The unemployment rate was unchanged, largely because more people streamed into the work force. Wisconsin's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent in January from 7.0 percent in December, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.
- The U.S. economy has added jobs for 24 consecutive months.

- The U.S. Commerce Department reported Tuesday that retail sales climbed the fastest in five months in February, as rising gasoline prices were not enough to choke off U.S. consumers' demand for cars, clothing and other goods. The department said sales rose a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent to $407.8 billion in February, with January's retail sales revised higher to show a 0.6 percent advance instead of the 0.4 percent initially reported. December sales also were upwardly revised to show a 0.3 percent gain instead of a previously reported flat performance.

- With the demand for property and casualty insurance rising as the economy rebounds, Acuity announced it will need to hire 50 additional employees at its Sheboygan insurance headquarters and throughout its 20-state operations. In 2011, Acuity recorded a growth rate in written premium of more than 8 eight percent, an increase of $63 million, the strongest in five years. This year, Acuity's business is growing at a rate of nearly 15 percent, with the insurer seeing company-record levels of activity in both personal and commercial lines.

- Harley-Davidson Inc.'s common stock shares hit a 52-week high this week after Citigroup equities analysts raised their price target for the Milwaukee motorcycle maker to $50 per share from $46. Citigroup said the upgrade reflected 16- to 18-percent first-quarter sales growth for Harley, helped by mild winter weather. Harley's stock is up more than 24 percent since the start of the year.


The recovery IS picking up steam. Can I get a witness?

"Our survey data for Quarter 2 2012 is particularly encouraging because the positive hiring intentions are widespread across states, regions and markets," said Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup president of the Americas. "Positive hiring intentions tell us that employers are seeing increased demand for their products and services, and that is good news for the labor market. Although we are not out of the woods yet, our data shows that this hiring progression is increasingly solid. "It is well documented that this recovery is atypically slow. However, if we were able to see a time- lapse video of the recovery, we would see there is a noticeable positive trend. Compared to three years ago at this time, the seasonally adjusted Net Employment Outlook increased from -2 percent to +10 percent, which is considerable. The data tells us that the healing process is further along than most realize."

Thank you, sir.


Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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