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Al's column

by Al Wahnon

OUTLOOK: Sometimes reading, listening to or watching the news can be very depressing. When you’re in the doldrums, any ray of sunshine or sliver of light is manna from heaven. Perhaps the recession has hit bottom and is rebounding. Check these facts and figures gleaned over the past several days: A handful of economic reports indicated an improving job market with fewer layoffs and more hiring. Job growth in the service segment in May was the first upward movement in 28 months. The manufacturing sector expanded for the 10th consecutive month in May as companies restocked their inventories. And employment in that area is at its highest level since May of 2004.

THERE’S MORE: The federal government noted construction spending nationwide grew in April by the largest amount in nearly a decade. The Commerce Department figures indicate work began on more houses in April than at any time in more than a year, and wholesale prices unexpectedly decreased, showing the economy is strengthening without fueling inflation. April starts rose 41% compared with the same month last year, the biggest year-over-year gain since 1994. The cost of living in the U.S. unexpectedly dropped last month for the first time in more than a year, reinforcing forecasts that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates near zero for much of 2010.

AND FINALLY: Federal Reserve officials have a slightly rosier view of the economy than they did at the start of the year. They updated their forecast and now think the economy can grow between 3.2% and 3.7% this year, an upward revision from a growth range of 2.8% to 3.5% in their January calculation.

COUP DE GRÂCE: People are feeling better about their job prospects and no doubt put- ting confidence in the improving economy, pushing consumer confidence higher in May. The index rose to 63.3, up from April’s revised 57.7. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expect- ed 59; the increase was boost- ed by consumers’ view of the next six months, which soared to the highest level since August of 2007. So, the table is set and consumers are ready for the feast. I’m hopeful Thanksgiving will come early this year.

ROGER AND OUT: On May 31, Armstrong closed its flight operations department, a move that will save the company about $1 million a year. The department was 59 years old and had the enviable record of not a single accident in 72,880 hours of flying. Armstrong’s flight operations department was based in a leased building, with office space, shop space and a hangar at Lancaster Airport. The 30,000-square-foot building, the largest hangar complex at the airport, generates $114,000 a year in rent. The hangar houses a pair of 10- passenger Falcon 20 jets, which the company will sell. The department consisted of six pilots, five maintenance employees and one scheduler.

MAGIC CARPET: This is mind-boggling: A rare mid- 17th century Persian carpet recently sold for a record £6.2 million at Christie’s in London. That’s a whopping $9.4 million and 20 times more than expected. It was estimated at $304,000 to $456,000. That’s one rug that won’t go on the floor. The buyer? An anonymous telephone bidder. The rug was woven in the city of Kirman by master craftsmen. The carpet measures 11 ft.-1 in. by 5 ft. and beat the existing record of $5.5 million set by the famed Pearl Carpet of Baroda in March of last year. And that broke the record held by a silk Isfahan rug dating back to the 1600s, which sold for $4.45 million in New York in June 2008. I’d like to know the telephone bidder; I have an old wood floor he might like to see.