In the US, the best leading indicator of an economic recovery has been the initial jobless claims. Instead of looking at 101 indicators and trying to track every piece of news, you can just track this single number.
The latest US initial jobless claims have fallen by over 150,000 since peaking at 674,000 for the week ending March 27, 2009. While new jobless claims of over 500,000 hardly reflects a robust economy, a peaking of jobless claims has generally preceded the official end of a recession by 2-6 months. (click on the chart to see how this works). While the US economy is weak, it is probably recovering.
In Singapore, the quarterly PPI (Property Price Index) is an excellent indicator. In all the past few recessions, the private property market had only one turning point for going into recession and one turning point for recovery.
Recent US jobless claims and Singapore Private Residential PPI both seem to indicate the economy is on the (rocky?) road to recovery. However, we are recovering slowly from a very sharp and long global recession and it will be some time before we get back to the economy of 2007. There is also enhanced risk of inflation due to the quatitative easing (printing money) by major economies[Link]. Inflation can be even more painful than recession for many people.
That is all I have for forecasting the economy. The rest of this posting talks about what is really wrong with the global economy and the real root cause of the problems we are seeing today. The root cause is not the subprime crisis or banking crisis - those precipitated a downturn in a global economy that was not sustainable anyway in the long run.
For the economy to grow long term in a sustainable fashion, something known as the productivity-wage gap has to be closed. Since Reaganomics of 80s which resulted in the decline of workers unions and globalisation, this gap has gone up. Workers became more productive making more products but their wages did not catch up. Wages are the main source of demand for these products. In order to make up for the gap, consumers in Western countries borrowed money - first using credit cards, later remortgaging their homes to consume. Debt ballooned..... Globalisation which allowed companies to move their production to where wages were the lowest resulted in a race to the bottom (remember Singapore workers were told to keep wage increases below productivity). Corporate profits rose to the highest levels as a % of GDP as income inequality rose to record levels along with household debt levels. The relationship between wages and productivity which was stable for previous 200 years, according to Ravi Batra, started to deviate and widen in the 80s . Rising debt in Western societies compensated for stagnant wages and we were on a path of unsustainable growth. The problem is with many countries like China have poor labor laws and hundreds of millions of peasants willing to work in sweatshop conditions for low wages...this gap cannot be closed until the Chinese, Vietnamese etc allow their workers better wages & benefits.
We have been told independent unions are a bad thing. They cause trouble by pushing up wages in certain industries and make our country uncompetitive. We are also told that higher wages will cause inflation (lower wages better?). Unions have caused trouble in the past by going beyond reasonable demands weakening the competitiveness of certain industries (e.g. US auto-makers?). However, the other side of the story, less frequently told is the problems caused by the disappearance of labor unions around the world. We need to get rid of ours to compete with China which under communist leaders don't even respect basic human rights let alone worker's rights. In Paul Krugman's book "Conscience of a Liberal", he looked at the how the disappearance of labor union resulted in the decimation of the middleclass in America[Link].