The New Year's period is about rebirth or, in the case of the drowsy U.S. economy, renewal. Since the Great Recession ended in 2009 the buds of recovery have appeared sporadically, only to ice over as the country's long winter of discontent continues.
That makes the main question facing Americans in 2014 a familiar refrain: Will this year bring a spring swoon or, at long last, a spring bloom?
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who for five years has sought to water the recovery with trillions of dollars in easy money, is one person who expects the economy to sustain its recent momentum.
"The combination of financial healing, greater balance in the housing market, less fiscal restraint, and, of course, continued monetary policy accommodation bodes well for U.S. economic growth in coming quarters," Bernanke said on Friday in what may be his last major speech as Fed chief before he leaves the central bank later this month.
Of course, the Fed has been notoriously overoptimistic in recent years about the state of the recovery. Yet recent trends suggest that this time Bernanke may be right.
Perhaps the biggest reason for hope: Washington seems less hellbent than usual on crushing it underfoot. The bipartisan budget deal in December suggests that Congress will avoid throwing the country off a fiscal cliff in the weeks ahead as lawmakers try to reach accord on government spending and the debt ceiling. As Bernanke noted in his address, some of the self-inflicted wounds that slowed growth in 2013, such as the tens of billions of dollars in sequester cuts, are unlikely to be reopened this year.
Consumers, too, are soldiering on, as stronger job growth in recent months supports spending -- the lifeblood of all recoveries -- and as households continue to climb out of debt. State and local governments, flattened by the housing crash, also are recovering, while the housing sector resumes normal service. In the corporate sphere, profits remain solid.
Meanwhile, what many forecasters once saw as the biggest threat to the economy -- Fed "tapering" of its monthly bond purchases -- has turned out to be less traumatic than expected. That is something to watch. Since last fall, mortgage rates have steadily edged up, threatening to restrain housing growth.
The upshot? 2014 "may finally be the year that the recovery gathers some speed," economists Paul Ashworth and Paul Dales of Capital Economics said in a note to clients.
Hope springs eternal.
Monday, Jan. 6
- Non-manufacturing Institute for Supply Management survey
- Factory orders (U.S. Department of Commerce)
Tuesday, Jan. 7
- Trade balance (U.S. Department of Commerce)
Friday, Jan. 10
- December employment report (U.S. Labor Department)