After a miserable winter in most of the nation, spring is finally here. It can't come soon enough.
Over the next few months, we are going to discover whether some signs of a nascent recovery will translate into a sustainable rebound. Until now, indicators of improving business conditions have been confined to a few areas like exports and equity prices.
Unfortunately, that's just a tepid start. But other developments point to another anemic recovery, much like the ones from the recessions in 1991 and 2001.
Consumers are starting to come out of hibernation, as evidenced by retail sales figures that look surprisingly strong when weather is factored into the equation. Those numbers reflect pent-up demand, but nobody is expecting consumer spending to lead the way anytime soon.
So the question becomes: What sector of the economy will emerge as the engine of a recovery with legs?
Let's round up the usual suspects. Technology obviously is a driving force. Its benefits already are surfacing in soaring productivity rates.
Other suspects are less positive-and sustainable. Take government spending. Whether or not you think the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus was necessary, the vexing question for policy makers around the globe is how to wean the patient off its current mega-dosage levels of medicine. The answer won't be clear until sometime in 2011.
Exports provide a far more rewarding source of future growth, particularly in America, which lived beyond its means for the better part of the last three decades. When I met with perspicacious FPA helmsman Robert Rodriguez about 12 months ago, he cited sales of U.S. goods abroad as the only path out of the mess we're in.
But there is another potential source of growth that will come into play at some point. Right now, it's driving advisors' businesses to recover faster than many others.
That, of course, is the savings rate. Right now, scarred savers understandably are piling into bank CDs and bond funds or simply paying off their debts.
Eventually, the ultimate question will be whether that money remains mired in those safe, unproductive vehicles, as it has in Europe and Japan, or whether Americans will regain the optimism to invest in new concepts that can re-energize the economy so it can compete in the 21st century.
This nation has always risen to the occasion in the past. Let's see if it can in the future. Because emerging countries are going to level the playing field.