By John S. McClenahen
Third-quarter U.S. economic growth was, at first estimate, a spectacular 7.2% annual rate. And last week's jobs reports -- unemployment claims down and jobs up -- have some people claiming that the final element in America's recovery from the 2001 recession is in place. "I, like everyone, am hopeful of a strong recovery," says W. James McNerney Jr., chairman and CEO of 3M Co., St. Paul, Minn. "But I must admit, I'm still assuming a pretty slow-growth world going forward." McNerney is not alone. "We think that the 'softer side' of the [U.S.] economy will become more apparent in the coming months," says Martin J. Mauro, a senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. For example, "wage growth is still far short of what is needed to sustain the recent pace of consumer spending," he says. "We are expecting a solid, but not gangbusters, pace of growth through the end of 2004."