As we regain our investing composure after last year's market meltdown, many of us are looking for signs of a solid recovery while we seek bargains in the market. It's definitely reassuring that the stock market has rebounded -- the S&P 500 is up a whopping 65% or so since its recent low in March. But beyond the market rally, a host of indicators can help us determine how our economy's faring -- including some you might not expect.
The usual metrics …
Our more traditional means of measuring the economy have started looking brighter. In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a loss of only 11,000 jobs, the smallest drop since the beginning of the recession. (Although the folks at Automatic Data Processing
On a smaller scale, the latest quarterly report from FedEx
… And the not-so-usual
Beyond those broad, somewhat stodgy metrics, you'll find a host of somewhat more unusual ways to take our economy's temperature. In Phoenix, for example, psychics helped economists get a reading on the depth of the recession. Business remained robust for seers of all stripes, but the composition of that clientele changed. Frequent customers cut back on readings, while new customers emerged -- those in dire financial straits, hoping for good news about the future.
On a far more visual basis, New York magazine suggested a "Hot Waitress" index, explaining that when the economy is in the dumps, restaurants favor more attractive staffers to bring in more customers.
Men's underwear can also support a variety of economic indicators. Normally, sales of briefs and boxers hold steady. But when the economy is stressed out, men put off buying these garments, thus turning Hanesbrands
Finally, behavior on game shows can provide a fascinating gauge of economic health. It seems that more contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are playing it safer and walking away earlier. They're also citing mortgage payments as the beneficiary of their winnings, instead of a new car or travel.
Whether they come from a government bureau or your underwear drawer, signs of an economic rebound are always good to see. Or, if you happen to be psychic, to foresee.