Economic prospects cause for enthusiasm? Here’s hoping so

When do you suppose the last time the word “enthusiasm” was used to describe the economic outlook? No doubt well before the onset of the Great Recession and the painfully slow recovery that’s ensued.

Nonetheless, Richard Wobbekind was practically gushing about the latest results of a quarterly index tracking confidence among business leaders in Colorado.

Wobbekind oversees the research division of the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, which conducts the surveys upon which its confidence index is based. “There’s quite a bit of enthusiasm exhibited in this survey,” he stated in a news release announcing the index has jumped more than seven points to 54.7 for the first quarter of the new year.

With higher component readings for everything from capital expenditures to hiring to sales expectations, the index offers a promising start to what could be a better, if not good, year for businesses in Colorado.

Wobbekind isn’t alone in his more upbeat outlook, either. Ernie Goss, director of the Goss Institute for Economic Research in Denver, expects gross domestic product for the state to grow an inflation-adjusted 3.3 percent in 2012 even as payrolls grow 1.5 percent. Goss calculates the Business Conditions Index for Colorado, which advanced more than three points in December to 59.6, forecasting expanding economic conditions.

Still other economic indicators have advanced in recent months, including the Conference Board Leading Economic Index and Consumer Confidence Index. The National Federation of Independent Business reported that its monthly measure of optimism among small business owners has advanced four consecutive months.

But wait, there’s more. U.S. job growth accelerated with an estimated increase in nonfarms payrolls of 200,000 in December.

Here in Mesa County come signs the real estate market could be stabilizing. Total real estate transactions for 2011 topped 2010, ending a five-year downward trend. Of course, sales of government- and bank-owned properties account for far too large a proportion of overall sales — about 37 percent in 2010. But property foreclosure filings, a leading indicator of subsequent foreclosure sales, dropped more than 23 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. If that trend continues, the real estate market likely will stabilize and what’s been a decline in prices will stop.

Sales tax collections, a measure of sales, were down in the latest government reports on a monthly basis, but still well ahead in terms of year-to-date totals.

The Mesa County unemployment rate has held steady at 8.5 percent for three straight months in what’s seen as an encouraging indication of more stability in the labor market.

Just weeks into a new year, it’s impossible to predict with any certainty what will happen in 2012. Concerns persist that a European recession could derail a U.S. economy that appears on track for more robust recovery. For now, though, a number of signs point to better times ahead. And it’s difficult to react with anything but enthusiasm to that prospect.