J. R. R. Tolkein reminds us that patience is integral to any great undertaking and accomplishment.  For the past year, we have watched almost every notable statistic available to determine the current and likely future health of this economy.  Most have been mixed to mildly positive with just enough question marks to keep overconfidence in check.  The past twelve months are remarkable in their stark contrast to the mood and assumptions of the late nineties, when virtually everything was rosy beyond historical precedent.  

The U.S. economy added 308,000 jobs in March, almost three times economists’ expectations and the largest gain since April 2000.  Treasury Secretary John Snow said “strength is apparent across the board, including strong job growth in construction, retail, and business services.”  The increase follows gains that were revised upward to 46,000 for February and 159,000 for January.  Manufacturing may soon be joining the party as this was the first month without a decline since August 2000.  The Unemployment rate rose to 5.7% from 5.6% as more people returned to the labor force to seek jobs. 

The Dow Jones index has given up about 1.7% so far this week, while the S&P 500 has declined a little over 1%.  The technology concentrated NASDAQ is down 2%.  The declines are most likely the result of investors’ disappointment with the earnings reports that have been pouring from Wall Street this week. 

As we head into earnings season, the top international news stories, mostly about Iraq, continue to steal the thunder from some pretty good company earnings.  By the end of today, 95 of the S&P 500 will have reported their earnings.  First Call reports that the number of reports beating expectations is well ahead of this time last year.  Granted, the comparisons are pretty easy, but hey, let’s enjoy a little good news.  Many of the major banks reported strong results this week.  Bank of America’s 4th Quarter net income rose 27% and beat average analysts’ estimates by $.06.  BB&T reported a 21% increase in earnings.