By John S. McClenahen After 10 years of economic expansion and then a dramatically lower rate of growth in recent months, the U.S. continues to possess the world's most competitive economy. So says the year 2001 edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook, a widely respected ranking compiled by IMD, the International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne, Switzerland. Rounding out the top five on the 49-entry competitiveness list are Singapore, again No. 2; Finland, up from No. 4 in 2000 to No. 3 in 2001; Luxembourg, up to No. 4 from No. 6 last year; and the Netherlands, down to No. 5 from No. 3 in 2000. Notably, Japan, once the competitiveness model of Asia, ranks only No. 26, well below the Hong Kong special administrative area of China (No. 6) and Taiwan (No. 18). Six European countries -- Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Ireland (No. 7), Sweden (No. 8), and Switzerland (No. 10) -- make the roster of the world's 10 most competitive economies. Farther down are such familiar names as Germany (No. 12), the UK (No. 19), Spain (No. 23), France (No. 25), and Italy (No. 32). The most competitive economies in Latin America are Brazil (No. 31) and Mexico (No. 36), says IMD, which considers 286 factors from GDP to the availability of competent managers in determining the rankings. Separately, consumers around the world vary greatly in the degree of confidence they currently place in their national economies. Within Europe, for example, 93% of Swiss and Dutch consumers recently polled by Ipsos-Reid Corp. feel good or very good about their respective economies. In contrast only 32% of Italians feel the same way about their economy. A surprisingly robust 67% of Americans feel good about the slowing U.S. economy, according to the survey, which was conducted between Feb. 9 and Mar. 25. Worth noting: Just 10% of Americans feel very good about the economy, a 22 percentage point drop from the results of a similar poll during 1998's final three months. Still, Americans are positively bullish compared with the Japanese. In a figure virtually unchanged since 1998, only 4% of Japan's consumers are confident about their nation's economy.