Things Are Looking Up (Editorial)

As your Arkansas Business staff puts the finishing touches on next week's list of the state's largest private companies, and as we worked on this week's lists of trucking companies and private fleets, one fact is inescapable: 2009 was a terrible year for business and everyone who depends on business. About the only industry that seemed to enjoy increased revenue last year was health care, and that's hardly good news for the rest of us who are paying ever higher prices for those services.

Staring at those kinds of numbers long enough can get depressing, so it's a good time, as the old hymn says, to "count your many blessings, name them one by one."

With the exception of that wild plunge on May 6, which has yet to be convincingly explained, the stock market is looking and feeling healthy. Encouraging quarterly earnings reports have become almost routine. Investors who took a chance on Dillard's Inc. stock in early 2009 have seen it rebound tenfold from its nadir. First Federal Bancshares of Arkansas is back in the black. Acxiom Corp.'s annual profit was up 18 percent.

Housing sales were 21 percent higher statewide in March 2010 than they had been in 2009. That figure is no doubt artificially inflated by the limited-time-only offer of $6,500 to $8,000 in federal tax breaks for buyers, and we remain unconvinced of the long-term stimulus value of such gimmicks. But for the parties involved - real estate agents, mortgage lenders, moving companies, sellers who need to get out and buyers who need to get in - every one of those sales is a positive sign.

The job market is improving; in a perverse way, even the uptick in the national unemployment rate for April was good news, as it signaled that formerly discouraged job-seekers were back in the hunt. Nearly 300,000 U.S. jobs were created in April, a positive sign that jibes with an in-house economic indicator: a sudden increase in the number of announcements received for our "Movers & Shakers" column.

Another encouraging sign: A return this week to a full page of "Real Deals" real estate transactions. No, we haven't returned to the days when we had a two- or three-month backlog of deals waiting in the queue, but neither can we make them fit on a half-page, which had become all too common.