Three key economic indexes rise

The ghosts of economy past, present and future clanked through the room last week and agreed — for the first time in three years — that things are looking up.

The Conference Board’s index of leading indicators — the ghost of the future — has been whispering of a recovery for nearly a year.

Of course, that prediction did ring a bit hollow, what with unemployment climbing into double digits and the nation shedding millions of jobs. After all, these are things — like the stock market, consumer expectations or new manufacturing orders — that are only potential predictors of the economy’s direction.

Then, in the past several months, the board’s coincident index turned positive. That’s the measure of indicators that parallel the broader economy, such as the gross domestic product or personal income.

But Thursday, there was one last rattle of chains, and the board’s index of lagging indicators shuffled in.

Its components, things such as the value of commercial loans or ratios of inventories to sales, do not generally improve until a turnaround is truly under way. And that index last week edged above zero.

That change “confirms that improvement in the economy began some time last year,” wrote Kim Whelan, an economic analyst for Wells Fargo.

Only, not enough. Not yet.

Growth remains excruciatingly slow. Some 15 million people are officially out of work and looking for a job. Millions more are either too discouraged to look or have settled temporarily for part-time jobs.

One of the very best indicators, housing starts, remains as depressed as poor, overworked Bob Cratchit.

Meanwhile, Georgia has lost 9.5 percent of its jobs since December 2007. Even with rapid hiring, it would take a long time to make up that ground.

Sorry, Mr. Scrooge. The nightmare isn’t over yet.

Triple play

In February, three key economic indexes were up simultaneously for the first time since May 2007:

Leading index 107.6 (up 0.1)

Coincident index 100.1 (up 0.1)

Lagging index 108.0 (up 0.3)

Source: The Conference Board