NEW YORK -- Europe appears on the brink of another recession. Islamic militants have seized Iraqi territory. Russian troops have massed on the Ukraine border, and the resulting sanctions are disrupting trade. An Ebola outbreak in Africa and Israel’s war in Gaza are contributing to the gloom.
It’s been a grim summer in much of the world. U.S. stocks sagged Friday on reports that Ukrainian troops attacked Russian military vehicles that had crossed the border. But investors in the United States have been shrugging off most of the bad news -- so far at least.
A big reason is that five years after the Great Recession officially ended, the U.S. economy is showing a strength and durability that other major nations can only envy. Thanks in part to the Federal Reserve’s ultra-low interest rates, employers have ramped up hiring, factories have boosted production and businesses have been making money.
All of this has cushioned the U.S. economy from the economic damage being suffered abroad. And investors have responded by keeping U.S. stocks near all-time highs.
"We’re in a much better place psychologically," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. "And it’s allowing us to weather the geopolitical threats much more gracefully."
Still, the global turmoil comes at a delicate time.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy, is struggling to contain the fallout from a runaway lending and investment boom that’s powered its growth since before the 2008 financial crisis.
It might not take much -- an oil-price spike, a prolonged recession in Europe, a plunge in business or consumer confidence -- to derail the global economy.
Here’s a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S economy and others, and why the calm in markets may or may not last:
n More jobs: Hiring in the United States has surged in the first seven months of this year.
Monthly job gains are averaging a solid and steady 230,000, based on government figures. That’s roughly an average of 35,000 more jobs each month compared with last year.
n Record profits: Earnings at companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 index are on track to jump 10 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to S&P Capital IQ, a research firm. That would be the biggest quarterly gain in nearly three years.
n Help from central banks: The Fed has been paring its pace of bond purchases and will end them altogether this fall. The purchases have been intended to hold down longer-term rates and prod consumers and businesses to borrow and spend. But the Fed has stressed that it will keep short-term rates at low levels even if unemployment reaches a level usually linked to rising inflation.
n Foreign exposure: Though the U.S. economy has managed so far to withstand the economic and geopolitical turmoil abroad, it isn’t immune to it.
And the bad news kept coming this past week.
The 18-country eurozone, a key region that emerged from recession last year and accounts for nearly a fifth of global output, failed to grow at all in the second quarter of the year. "The European recovery is faltering," says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank.
n Where are the shoppers?: Retail sales stalled in the United States last month. Wage growth has failed to surpass inflation, leaving many consumers unwilling or unable to spend more. Sales at auto dealers and department stores fell in July.
n Oil spike: Will fighting in Iraq and Ukraine upend global energy markets, and raise the cost of filling your gas tank and heating your home?