Earnings conference calls are great because you really get a feel for what is going on in the economy more so than macro announcements and economist opinions, market expectations and things like that.
Of course, there are companies that are always upbeat so are totally useless in gauging the economy; Starbucks, Yum Brands, Cisco and some others who always seem to be pounding the table calling for incredible growth (overuse of superlatives in their calls sounding more like cheerleaders than CEOs).
Buffett said recently that all of his businesses (with the exception of housing related) are doing well and will post new highs in profits/revenues, so he sees no signs of a double dip. Buffett is certainly not a macro forecaster, but he has so many businesses reporting to him that he has a good feel of what is going on. He said the economy was in a recession long before economists acknowledged it; he knew because he can take the pulse of the economy in a very specific way (on a daily or weekly basis), not by waiting for GDP figures to be announced, revised and then re-revised (and unemployment reports etc...).
Banks are also announcing loan growth, and things are sounding a lot different than 2008.
Also, I recently ran into a salaryman that works for a major Japanese chemical manufacturer and he said that volume is not down at all in Europe. He is on a business trip around the world and he was in Europe last week. He was surprised to hear that order trends are firm, volumes are holding up and there is no sign of any slowdown despite the headlines.
I talked to the same guy back in 2008 and there was a drastic drop in order volumes and business almost stopped to a frightening degree.
This time, he said despite all the negative headlines and market reactions, the underlying economies seem to be going well.
This is very interesting. If Europe can get it's act together and prevent a complete meltdown (which is possible with forceful, TARP-like action), things may turn out OK even in Europe.
Anyway, I don't want to empasize these anecdotal things too much nor do I care to try to predict what will happen in the economy, but sometimes when the press and markets are leaning so hard one way, it's nice to hear what the guys on the ground are actually experiencing.