The government revised its estimate of how fast theUSeconomy grew in the third quarter from 1.6% to 2.2%. Stocks did very well mid week as investors were cheered by faster growth in the economy which drives corporate profits higher. Bonds on the other hand slid on the news as stronger economies can mean higher inflation. 

The polls tell us that the Republicans lost the election over the Iraqi War and scandals. But, scandals are a part of the political fabric and largely accepted. It’s obvious that the Bush’s administration’s handling of the war is the major reason for the Republicans’ historic defeat. Even at the outset, the war was fraught with political risk. The world was not behind it nor was a significant minority (at that time) of the country. Wars are never as quick or efficient as hoped. In time and with daily reports of increasing chaos, support at home quickly diminished. The no-war minority grew more vocal, and with the help of opportunistic politicians and an Administration deaf to outside voices, an unstoppable groundswell began.

This economy continues to surprise analysts with its resilience in the face of circumstances that have crushed previous expansions. The government announced today that the unemployment rate fell to 4.4%, its lowest level since May 2001. The report also showed that service sector activity accelerated as housing declined.

Just before landing an airplane, the pilot flares back, slowing its speed by transitioning into a stall attitude. After slowing down, he changes pitch into a landing attitude shortly before touching down. The stall essentially drops the plane onto the runway. Stall too early and you get quite a bump. Contents in the overhead bins most definitely shift, if not fall. Stall just right and the plane gently touches the runway, its speed no longer sufficient to keep it aloft. Airline captains get applause when they land a plane like that.

If you had been given a glance into the future by reading a few of this week’s headlines, would you not guess that stocks would be fall rather than chase new highs? North Korea claims that it detonated a nuclear device, Fed governors threaten further rate hikes, housing continues its retreat, a plane crashes into a Manhattan high-rise, and option scandals at major corporations abound. And aren’t we in the midst of the historically weakest time of the year for stocks – September and October? We have to marvel at the new highs being made.

No one doubts the economy is slowing, but there is mounting debate as to how fast; will we get the “soft landing” that is hoped for or something more disruptive? Just a month or two ago the worry was that continued economic growth combined with tight labor might spark inflation. So far that has not happened. The most recent report of prices paid at the producer level released Tuesday showed a drop of .4%, well below expectations.

Everybody’s on hold; from the Space Shuttle Atlantis, to the Federal Reserve. While NASA hopes to launch today at 11:40 after a three year hold, we hope it will take considerably less time to re-launch the economy. The Fed has decided to hold further rate increases until it gets a better picture of the economy’s health. The Bank of Japan, the Bank of England and the Bank of Korea announced a similar strategy this week. Even OPEC is expected to hold oil production steady when they meet next week to see what happens. Doing so would help avoid a supply-driven run-up in prices. So the world watches the economic data to learn just how fast the US and the global economies are slowing.

Three weeks after the Federal Reserve ceased its 17th straight quarter point interest rate hikes debate continues as to whether they are finished, even among Fed officials. Minutes released from their latest meeting reveal that members expect core inflation “to decline gradually” and that pausing was a “close call.” Many believe that more increases may well be needed even while saying “the full effect of previous increases in interest rates on [economic] activity and prices probably had not yet been felt, and a pause was viewed as appropriate to limit the risks of tightening too much.”

Back in mid July we suggested the Fed might pause at its August meeting. On August 8th they held their benchmark lending rate at 5.25%, while saying that consumer prices will “moderate over time” because of their 17 prior rate increases, surging energy prices and a cooling housing market. In the eyes of many the move was a bold one for new Fed chief Ben Bernanke. Inflation hawks (those who believe inflation is worse evil than slow economy) immediately criticized his decision as a gamble that could jeopardize the Fed’s credibility as an inflation fighter. Yet, as the data have come in, the decision seems all the wiser. Both the Producer Price Index and the Consumer Price Index showed that inflation unexpectedly dropped last month. Housing starts slid 2.5% last month for the fifth time in six months. And yesterday, Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators dropped in July.