Are we finally seeing the long-awaited virtuous circle taking hold in the U.S. economy?

I’m still sticking with my 2012 prediction of slow growth in the U.S. with lots of possible headwinds that will make things even worse.

But we’re seeing data right now that suggests there could be more upside in 2012 than some of us are predicting. We could finally be hitting the point when the economy enters the so-called virtuous circle — improving economic conditions spur become self-reinforcing and help boost other sectors, which then boost the original improving sectors even more.

Take a look at the most recent headlines at Calculated Risk, which publishes a panoply of economic data monthly without concern for whether the numbers are good or bad. In the last few days, CR has reported:

  • Increased auto sales in January (up 12.1% from a year ago)
  • Construction spending up in December (4.3% higher than a year ago)
  • The ISM Manufacturing index indicating a faster expansion than in December
  • Private employment up 170,000 in December according to ADP (not such a great number, but still more jobs)
  • The Restaurant Performance Index hitting its highest level in almost six years
  • A steep 17% decline in existing home inventory from a year ago
  • A decrease in the number of banks known to be operating under some sort of FDIC order
  • A plan to triple government support for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)

Now, there’s obviously plenty of negative news out there — and I could go on and on about it.

Viewed singly, I wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about any of this data. But, taken together, the numbers could be cause for a little genuine optimism that the recovery will quicken — or at least that we have sufficient momentum to withstand a shock from Europe or some other adverse economic news beyond our control.