Today Brings Us Three Rays of Economic Sunshine

| Wed Sep. 4, 2013 12:11 AM EDT

Would you like some good news? Well, here you go. Manufacturing orders are way up:

The Institute for Supply Management’s survey of manufacturers showed its new orders index increased to 63.2 in August from 58.3 in July. It was the third consecutive monthly gain in demand and the highest reading since April 2011.

Auto sales are near record highs:

With numbers due out Wednesday, analysts have predicted that August will prove to be the best month for auto sales since before the recession....Automakers are ramping up production and hiring workers to keep pace with demand, which analysts project will result in as many as 16 million new-vehicle sales in 2013 — not far off the record 17 million sales achieved before the downturn.

And the housing market is coming back:

Private residential construction spending rose 0.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $334.58 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday....A rebounding housing market has boosted the economy–making homeowners feel more confident, driving spending on building materials and creating construction jobs.

The bad news is that this is all good news, but not great news. What's more, thanks to the drag of federal spending cuts, broader economic measures remain stuck in the OK range, not in the "catching up from a horrible recession" range. Still, it's all modestly promising stuff. And the car story includes this:

Boosted by the robust sales and healthy profits, automakers are planning to move long-discussed innovation from the test track to the road. General Motors has said it will develop a car by the end of the decade that will be able to drive itself in most circumstances. Nissan, meanwhile, has said it will introduce a driverless car by 2020.

Really? I'm usually the most rah-rah guy in the room when it comes to advances in AI, but even I wouldn't have guessed that truly autonomous cars would be ready before 2025 or so. I wonder just how autonomous these Nissan and GM cars will be by 2020? Really, truly able to accept a destination and just drive you there with no help? Or kinda sorta autonomous in most situations, but they still can't navigate in parking lots or in the fog? I guess we'll all find out in seven years.

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