The forgettable first half of 2008 is stumbling to a close. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that American employers axed 49,000 jobs in May, the fifth straight month of job losses--an event that signals a recession sure as the glittery ball dropping on Times Square augurs a New Year. The report, which inspired a 394-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Friday, was the latest in a run of bad news. Auto sales, the largest retailing sector in the U.S., were off 10.7 percent in May from the year before. And housing? Ugh. Nationwide, according to the Case-Shiller Index, home prices in the first quarter fell 14 percent.
Yet hope springs eternal that the second half will be better than the first. Economists polled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in May believe the economy will grow at an annual rate of 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, tells NEWSWEEK that "home sales and prices in most of the country will improve during the second half of 2008." (Yun is the Little Orphan Annie of forecasters. He's always sure the sun will come out tomorrow.) Last month, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, "We expect to see a faster pace of economic growth before the end of the year."