Economy is finding footing at year's end

WASHINGTON --- The economy is showing new life in the final months of the year.

Factories are busier, construction spending is up, auto sales are rising, and on Wednesday the stock market had its best day since September after a report that the private sector hired the most workers in three years.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped more than 2 percent, enough to erase nearly two weeks of losses. Analysts said investors concluded that a stronger job market would support higher stock prices.

"The economy is starting to show better overall momentum," said Brian Bethune, an economist at IHS Global Insight. "There's a steady improvement in the overall tone."

A private trade group said U.S. factory output grew for the 16th straight month in November as auto sales rebounded and businesses invested more in industrial machinery.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of manufacturing activity came in at 56.6 for November. Any reading above 50 indicates growth. The October figure was 56.9.

At the depths of the recession, it was closer to 30.

And a new survey by the Federal Reserve finds that almost all of the nation -- 10 of its 12 regions -- is growing economically. Only two regions, those around Philadelphia and St. Louis, report that business conditions are mixed.

Automakers are behind much of the growth in manufacturing. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler all reported double-digit sales increases for November. The news is particularly welcome for GM, which just returned as a public company.

The positive economic news comes on top of other signs that Americans are increasingly willing to spend their money, raising hopes for the holiday shopping season. Measures of spending, consumer confidence and personal incomes are all up.

Research firm comScore Inc. said people spent more than $1 billion online on the Monday after Thanksgiving, 16 percent more than last year and the first time so-called cyber Monday has ever hit that milestone.

The Dow closed at 11,255.78, its best finish since Sept. 1 and about 200 points shy of its highest close since the financial meltdown in the fall of 2008.

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