Since the early days, the US economic recovery has depended significantly on manufacturing and exports to sustain its momentum until consumer spending and housing could begin pulling their weight. But disruptions in the supply chain from Japan, brought about by the tragic earthquakes and tsunami, have taken a greater than anticipated toll on manufacturing. Add the weight of Europe’s debt crisis and Asia’s monetary tightening and one might reasonably ask the question of whether sufficient momentum remains to get us over the hill? 

Our economic recovery has, in the opinion of most economists, become self-sustaining, but remarkably slow relative to former recoveries. Job growth has been a primary drag and remains exceptionally slow to recover. Ben Bernanke, during the first-ever press conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting said “the labor market is improving gradually. We would like to make sure that that is sustainable. The longer it goes on, the more confident we are.” Economic growth slowed to 1.8% in the first quarter, following at 3.1% rate in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Fears of a debt contagion in Europe got the attention of US investors this week. As of Friday morning the NASDAQ is off 7.2% the S&P 500 is down 6.2% and the FTSE All US Index is down 6.5%. The S&P Europe 350 is down 11.6% for the week and 16% over the past 30 days. Worried Bond investors flocked to the relative safety of US Treasuries driving intermediate and long-term bond indices up 2.2% and 5.6%, respectively, for the week. Concerns that severe fiscal problems in Greece, and growing pressures in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Italy might cripple the European recovery along with reports a few forecasts that China is months away from a burnout started a selling wave that grew throughout the week.

Corporate earnings for the first quarter of 2004 released to date suggest a favorable trend is developing.  As of today, 242 companies of the Dow Jones US Total Market Index have reported and are up and average of 28%.  This total represents less than 15% of 1,632 stocks in the index, but if the trend continues, first quarter 2004 results will compare well with the 24% average gain of S&P 500 fourth quarter 2003 earnings.