Though mixed, some signs of mid-year economic hope

By , Staff writer

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    A home sold in New York City in June. The housing marking is showing tentative signs of recovery, which is one good signal among a mixed bag of mid-year economic indicators.
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Compared to the clear, bright sparkle of Fourth of July fireworks, what's going on in the economy these days is a lot harder to decipher.

Big banks aren't needing new bailouts, but the stock market isn't soaring either.

Jobs keep disappearing even as economists predict a recovery.

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What's going on?

The economy appears to be in a transitional phase. The worst of the recession may be over, but a recovery isn't yet here. Expect more days like Thursday, where one report (factory orders) looks good, while another (jobs) comes in worse than forecasters expected.

Despite the ups and downs, many economists say some key indicators are moving in a positive direction.

Here are a few:

•The housing market is on the mend. The process will still take some time. But consider that the California Association of Realtors recently reported rising sales and rising prices for homes. Inventories of unsold homes have come far down in that hard-hit state.

•Credit markets continue to improve. Again, the healing process has a long way to go.

•The job market, while weak, is no longer as eroding at its worst pace. Of the 467,000 jobs lost in June, about 50,000 were government jobs, many of them temporary positions at the Census Bureau. "Jobless claims appear to have peaked in April," writes Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners, an investment firm in Greenwich, Conn. He notes that the year-over-year rate of change in joblessness has held steady for three months, "behavior typically seen at a trough in the business cycle."

Plenty of hard slogging still lies ahead.

So do, probably, more ups and downs in economic data.

Oil prices have been bouncing around as traders read the tea leaves on demand. Thursday's weak jobs figures sent oil skidding below $67 a barrel.

On housing, a continuing onslaught of foreclosures prompted the Obama administration this week to fine-tune its "Making Home Affordable" program. Now people can qualify for help refinancing home loans even if the mortgage balance is as high as 125 percent of a home's value — up from 105 percent previously.

That could be good news for many homeowners, but it's also a sign of how "underwater" many still are with their mortgages.

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