WASHINGTON -- A flurry of data issued Thursday sketched a brightening view of the U.S. economy in the final days before a presidential election that will pivot on the strength of the recovery.
Cheaper gas, rising home prices and lower unemployment have given consumers the confidence to spend more. And retailers, auto dealers and manufacturers are benefiting.
At the same time, many employers remain anxious about the economy, which is why only modest hiring gains are forecast for Friday's jobs report for October. It will be the last major report on the economy before Election Day.
Meanwhile, most major automakers reported sales increases in October despite losing at least three days of business to the punishing rain and wind from Superstorm Sandy.
Toyota said its sales rose almost 16 percent for the month, while Volkswagen reported another strong month with sales up 22 percent.
Honda sales slowed from double-digit growth earlier in the year to 8.8 percent, while Chrysler sales rose 10 percent.
General Motors was up 5 percent and Ford rose slightly.
Of major automakers, only Nissan reported a decrease, 3.2 percent, as Sandy pounded the Northeast, the company's top-performing region.