The economy is coming back according to stocks, bonds, gold, economic reports, and Mr. Bernanke. The S&P 500 gained 13% in 2010 and 1.4% so far this year. Companies are poised to report strong earnings for the fourth quarter with profits for S&P 500 companies expected to be up about 20%. Unfortunately, unemployment is not yet following suit, despite the unexpected drop in the headline number.

In conversations with clients, friends, and relatives this past week there seemed to be an almost universal ‘good riddance to 2010.’ But there also seemed to be hope that the now one will bring improvement. We join the hope that faith, optimism, and resilience will prevail.

Inflation continues to be subdued at the consumer level, but one wonders for how long as prices continue to rise for producers of goods and services. Other economic indicators released during the week were mostly positive, some strongly so. The US equity markets are largely unchanged on the week while Treasures gave up .56%. However, there were two strong buying days for Treasuries indicating the two-month slide may be reaching a climax.

The biggest news this week was that of the deal reached between President Obama and Congressional Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts. On the news, the S&P surged two thirds of a percent then settled back as investors considered both the potential for higher deficits, at least in the short run, and the difficulty of getting it through Congress as liberal Democrats railed against the measure throughout the day. Obama defended his deal saying he was able to preserve tax breaks for the middle-class and extend unemployment benefits that were set to expire. 

The US stock market as measured by the MSCI US Broad Market Index is up 2.4% for the week. The S&P is up the same and the Dow is up 2.3%. Various economic reports released this week proved considerably stronger than expected, boosting the outlook for stocks. Wednesday was a particularly good day, when it was reported that private employers added more jobs in November than previous months and the Fed’s Beige Book report of regional economies concluded that “the economy continued to improve, on balance” from early October to mid-November. Today’s jump in the unemployment rate so far, has not stemmed the advance. 

Equity markets took a 1% hit on Tuesday when Cisco, a bellwether of the tech industry, expressed concern over its projected revenues. Investors ignored analysts’ reminders of the recent reports of other large techs which were in sharp contrast to Cisco’s warnings. But investors are concerned over the broader question; will companies be able to grow sales numbers sufficiently in a sub-par economy to sustain record earnings momentum? 

It has been a busy week across the country, but especially, in Washington D.C. and on Wall Street. Republicans gained over 60 seats in the House, roughly twice the post-World War II midterm average. Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve risked credibility again by increasing their record stimulus to buy an additional $600 billion of Treasuries through June to reduce unemployment and avert deflation. And amidst it all the S&P 500 charged to its highest level since September 2008 on strong earnings releases and speculation that the Fed will indeed stimulate growth and that banks will be allowed to raise dividends. But alas, as the presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner said on Tuesday night, “we have real work to do – and this is not a time for celebration.” 

One of the most compelling human instincts is to excel at whatever we do, to be the best we can be, to win. No matter what endeavor we pursue, our careers, our hobbies, the games we play – all are more exciting when we compete to win.

The economy continues to flounder with few signs of improvement in unemployment. Unemployment remains entirely too high with few prospects of decline any time soon. Housing remains in near depression as would-be buyers cannot sell their current homes or they worry about losing their jobs, or they cannot find financing. Manufacturing continues to grow, but much slower than earlier in the year, and not fast enough to create jobs. But there are at least two bright spots, (not counting the growing possibility of a gridlocked Congress forced to compromise). The consumer appears to be increasing his outlays for goods and services and the stock market continues to recover from 2008. 

Yesterday’s rally of nearly 1.5% brought the US equity market halfway back from its 3% decline dealt largely on Tuesday over concerns China’s growth may be slowing. A similar drop in Treasury bonds also rattled investors as they feared the Fed’s $600 billion bond purchase program designed to stimulate the economy would spark inflation. Investors sold US government debt driving some yields their highest levels in more than three months. The 7-10 year Treasury index is down a little over 1% for the week as of yesterday’s close.