The U.S. economy grew 3.9 percent at the annual rate in the third quarter, according to revised real GDP data released in late November, 2014. This was better than the 3.5 percent original estimate, and more importantly, it suggests real GDP increased at an annualized 4.2 percent over the past two quarters.

Positive elements in the economy included healthy increases in consumer and business spending, goods exports and end-of-fiscal-year government spending. The revision also included better inventory replenishment numbers than originally estimated.

Real GDP is estimated to expand by 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter 2014. Consumers remain cautious, and the global economy continues to provoke worries.

Regarding manufacturing activity, the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks reported continued expansion in both of their districts. Yet, both also noted some easing in new orders and shipments in November. In addition, new durable goods orders were relatively soft in October, particularly excluding transportation equipment sales.

However, the larger story is that manufacturing has rebounded at decent rates since earlier in the year. Along those lines, respondents to the regional Federal Reserve Bank surveys remain mostly upbeat about demand, production, employment and capital spending over the next six months. On the hiring front, the ability to attract and retain a quality workforce remains a challenge. In the Dallas report, 77.1 percent of manufacturers in the region said they were having difficulty hiring workers, up from 68.1 percent who said the same thing six months ago.