April 7th, 2012
04:16 PM ET

Zakaria: Assessing America's recovery

Editor's Note: Be sure to catch Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN every Sunday at 10am and 1pm ET.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

At the start of this year, I predicted, rather hopefully, that the U.S. economy would recover nicely in 2012. I'm returning to that topic with some preliminary good news. If you look around the industrialized world, the U.S. economy is the most promising of the bunch.

The American recovery is not as vigorous as one might hope, but it is remarkably broad-based. Manufacturing is up - including, for the first time in thirty years, non-technology based manufacturing. Retail sales are up; consumer confidence and spending are growing. The new employment numbers are encouraging. American businesses continue to do astonishingly well.  Corporate profitability continues to grow and the stock market reflects this.

The one area that continues to lag is housing, and it's a huge area. Traditionally, housing leads every recovery. This time it hasn't because the bursting of the housing bubble and the problems associated with mortgages and housing debt have left it struggling. But at some point that will end.

The United States, alone in the industrialized world, is demographically dynamic. It adds 3 million people to its numbers every year. At some point, kids don't want to live with their parents and that will produce demand for housing. And at that point, the recovery will gain full steam.

The new, potentially game-changing trend for the United States is the rise of shale gas. Thanks to the new process of fracking, America now has 75 years of natural gas - and most important, it is the world's low-cost producer.

The rise in gas prices has obscured this more important fact - energy costs are plummeting in America. That's why manufacturers like Dow Chemical are actually opening new factories in the United States. Asia has the advantage of lower labor costs, but now the U.S. has the advantage of lower energy costs. And this is a process that has just begun.

Add all this together, and you have the prospect of a broad-based, sustainable American recovery. Of course, there are dark clouds. Europe's woes could have an impact. China could slow down. But the event that is most likely to alter this picture is an Israeli strike on Iran, which would send oil prices sky-high and could have other spillover effects.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Be sure to catch GPS every Sunday at 10a.m. and 1p.m. EST. If you miss it, you can buy the show on iTunes.

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Topics: Economy • Energy • Fareed's Take • From Fareed • United States

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