A friend suggested the other day that “if we are in a recession, at least we can now begin looking forward to the recovery.” The economy has certainly received some serious knocks lately and one could easily make the case that the two-year recovery is in trouble. Supply disruptions from Japan’s earthquake dealt the first blow followed by an equally devastating rise in oil and gasoline prices. Then came the political train wreck over the debt ceiling with questionable warnings of US default coupled with more substantial threat of a downgrade of US debt (S&P has not yet announced their decision). Add Europe’s debt problems and emerging market slowdowns and the global picture gets darker.  

There were a few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy week for economic data. New home sales in April jumped over 7% and drew down new-home supply to 6.5 months. Corporate profits were up an annualized 25.6% for the first quarter. And personal income rose 0.5% in March as wages and salaries rose a modest 0.3%. But, from there the news was less encouraging. The government’s second estimate of economic growth for first quarter GDP was no higher than it’s initial estimate of only 1.8% annualized. Initial jobless claims rose 10,000 last week to a 424,000 level. And on the manufacturing front, damage from interrupted Japanese supply lines began to show in the numbers. 

Markets are reacting positively to a rare concerted intervention in the currency markets by the world’s biggest economies, known as the G7, to stem the damaging rise in the value of the yen as well as from news that Libya’s government announced an immediate cease-fire and end to all military operations across the country. A strong yen makes Japanese exports much more expensive on world markets. As a primary part of Japan’s economy, exports will be crucial to the re-building of their economy. Additionally, Japan’s decade-long struggle with deflation will be made even worse by a strong yen.