Early this week investors were treated to a very nice surprise when the Federal Reserve reported that manufacturing in New York State expanded considerably more than expected this month.   Orders and sales grew the most since January, bolstering expectations the economy will accelerate in the second half.  The DOW rose 202 points as investors said the report may foreshadow a strengthening in U.S. manufacturing, which contracted from March through May.  The New York results prompted Bear, Stearns & Co. and Lehman Brothers Inc. to raise their forecasts for Thursday's Fed report on factories in the Philadelphia area according to Bloomberg.

Roughly three quarters of companies have reported their earnings for the third quarter.  First Call tells us that the actual earnings are running 3.1% ahead of the final estimated earnings for S&P500 companies.  But these earnings expectations have been cut several times by analysts in the weeks leading up to reporting season.  At the beginning of the second quarter of this year earnings growth was expected to be over 16%, but by the start of the Q3 reporting season expectations had been cut to just under 5%. 

Today, economists are declaring the recession is over.  In fact, it was likely over before it was officially announced last fall.  This morning, the government released its data on fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product that showed the economy grew at a 1.7% rate. This strong increase suggests that the first quarter of this year may be the strongest in two years.  Increased spending on the part of the government and the consumer likely fueled growth as strong as 4.2% say the experts.  And that spending is likely to continue as the University of Michigan Confidence indicator rose to a 15-month high of 95.7 in March from a 90.7 in February.  Bloomberg reports that consumer spending grew at a 6.1% annual rate in the fourth quarter, the fastest pace since the second quarter in 1998.