Recovery checklist -- six economic bright spots, two dim ones
Experts may differ on what to do about the economy, but they seem to unite around a central theme: Recovery will begin this year, it will be weak, and its path will be studded with pitfalls and danger.
To reach this consensus, economists tote up plus and minus signs now emerging from the longest and deepest recession since World War II.
On the plus side:
* Two major industries - housing and autos - both sensitive to interest rates , show strong signs of recovery.
* Consumers have boosted their savings rate to more than 6 percent of income. Another 10 percent income tax cut this July will put more cash in people's pockets. Both developments indicate that Americans are poised to begin buying again, once their confidence returns.
* Inflation has been cut sharply over the past year, from the 8.9 percent average of 1982 to under 5 percent now. Interest rates have dropped 4 to 5 percentage points.
* Defense spending, climbing at better than a 7 percent annual rate, will boost some sectors of the economy.
* The government's index of leading indicators, designed to forecast what the economy is going to do, has risen in seven of the last eight months for which figures are available. The stock market, also a harbinger of what the future holds, is bullish.
* The Federal Reserve, by allowing more money to flow through the banking system and by lowering the discount rate, is trying to prod the economy toward recovery.
Among all these signs, the upturn in the housing market stands out. Home sales, housing starts, and permits for future construction all are rising, spurred by a 4.5 percent drop in the average mortgage rate over the past year.
This decline, says a report by the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, results ''in a saving of almost $200 a month on a mortgage for a typically priced $70,000 home assuming a 25 percent down payment.''
Roughly one-third of American households, the report concludes, now can afford to buy a new home, compared with only 15 percent at the end of last year.
Housing is a bellwether industry so far as recovery is concerned, involving not only lumber, concrete, steel, glass, and other building materials, but hardware, appliances, and furnishings.