EDVARD PETTERSSON

Staff Reporter

Good times pervaded Los Angeles during the first half of 1999, and while the national picture may be getting a little murky, the local outlook for the rest of the year is expected to keep getting better.

Chief among the factors likely to drive local growth are nascent signs of recovery in Asia and an acceleration of new capital flowing into L.A.-area start-ups. In addition, local unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in years and inflation is seemingly under control.

"There's no question that this is a good time to be in Los Angeles," said Joseph Magaddino, chairman of the economics department at Cal State Long Beach. "In the near term, we will grow faster than the rest of the country."

And much of that growth, as is the case nationwide, has been driven by consumer spending.

"If you look at the monthly sales reports, consumer confidence, low unemployment and interest rates, you've got to be upbeat about the next six months," said Richard Giss, partner in the retail services group at Deloitte & Touche LLP. "You couldn't ask for a better business environment."

Forecasting the economy, of course, has been a frequent source of frustration, what with the national expansion now in its eighth year the second longest since the end of World War II. L.A.'s economy began expanding several years later (one reason why many analysts believe that the area will keep doing well even after other regions of the country peak out). Quarter after quarter, economic forecasts projecting a downturn or at least a slowdown have been quietly revised upward.

All of which is resulting in significant attitudinal changes among consumers, investors and business people alike. It's not just that the good times are here; it's that, to many, the good times will never end.

With the stock market showing little sign of slowing down, with technology playing an increasing role in worker productivity, and with globalization helping reshape how companies do business, some even suggest that the traditional business cycle expansion followed by recession is a thing of the past. Most economists discount that notion, although in the face of such robust activity, it's hard to quarrel with success.

Here's how the local economic indicators look and what they suggest for the months ahead.

? Unemployment. Falling to 5.5 percent in May, joblessness in the L.A. area is at its lowest point in nine years and down a full percentage point from January.

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