Still, even at 2 percent annual growth, the economy is growing too slowly to bring rapid relief to roughly 12 million out-of-work Americans. With the unemployment rate still high, steady growth of more than 3 percent is generally needed to reduce it.
Americans are buying more big-ticket items, such as cars and appliances. Auto companies reported steady sales gains last month despite losing three days of business to the storm in heavily populated areas of the Northeast.
Toyota said its sales rose nearly 16 percent for the month. Volkswagen reported a 22 percent jump. Honda's sales gained 8.8 percent. Chrysler's sales rose 10 percent, General Motors' 5 percent and Ford's less than 1 percent.
Steady consumer spending is supporting gains in U.S. factory production. That's true even though businesses in the United States and overseas have reduced their demand for high-cost manufactured goods.
The Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group, said its index of factory activity ticked up to 51.7 in October from 51.5, slightly below the average of 52.2 for the past year. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
The ISM said new orders and production rose. The increase came mainly in consumer-oriented industries such as furniture, food and beverages, and computers. Demand for machinery, chemical products, steel and other metals fell.
U.S. businesses have become more cautious in recent months. Some are concerned that Congress will not reach a budget deal before January. If lawmakers can't strike an agreement, sharp tax increases and spending cuts will take effect next year and could trigger another recession.
Many American companies are also nervous about the economic outlook overseas. Europe's financial crisis has pushed much of that region into recession and cut into U.S. exports and corporate profits.
In a rare dose of healthy news for the global economy, China's manufacturing improved in October, two business surveys showed Thursday. The world's second-largest economy may be recovering from its deepest slump since the 2008 global crisis.
Analysts expect China's growth to strengthen this quarter. But they caution that the rebound will be too weak to drive a global recovery without improvement in the United States and Europe.
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