An optimistic start to the week – “things can only get better”?

Let’s start the new week on a positive note. Is there something in the air (other than snow), which suggests that the economy, in some countries at least, may be showing some signs of life?

We’ve been consistently gloomy here, particularly about the prospects for the Euro, Greece and other debt-laden countries. Clearly that hasn’t gone away, and of course the UK passed the £1 trillion government debt level last month. Well done the UK!

But the US employment figures last week were encouraging, as Bloomberg reported.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 243,000 in January, and the unemployment rate decreased to 8.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job growth was widespread in the private sector, with large employment gains in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing. Government employment changed little over the month.

And there are a few UK straws in that freezing wind as well.  The CIPS Markit services index was up more than expected to 56 last week, showing faster growth in January for the sector. Here’s the Telegraph:

The Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to a 10-month high of 56, from 54 in December, where anything above 50 indicates expansion. The growth was underpinned by a rise in both new business and employment in the sector, which accounts for three-quarters of the UK economy.

At a personal level, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also had a small flood of people saying “do you know a good interim to do this piece of work” or “there’s an interesting CPO job going here....”

Then there are the rumours – unconfirmed as yet – that the moratorium on consultants and contractors in UK central Government has been relaxed. Not necessarily good news for the taxpayer I guess, but positive for individuals and firms in that sector if it is true. We’ll try and find out more about that.

Of course, procurement hiring activity could be a contra-indicator, with organisations looking to drive savings and prioritise procurement because of the tough times. But the Markit index suggests it is more positive than that; then there are further qualitative observations.  I know one large consulting firm who are struggling to resource projects because of the level of activity, and Mr Mansell of Trade Extensions and I were offered a 30 minute wait to get a table in a London Indian restaurant at 7pm the other night. There was also an optimistic taxi driver recently (in Lincoln) who told me that the council cutting bus services was proving a major boost to his business!

So, don’t throw away your recession contingency plans yet, but maybe, just maybe...

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