As the overall economy loafs in the doldrums, a few sectors are actually growing--some at impressive paces. Here are 10, ranging from nationwide to niche, that offer more opportunity than most.
- Services: This sector, which makes up more than half the total U.S. economy, is on the rise, as indicated by the increase in the ISM Nonmanufacturing Index from November's all-time low of 37.6 percent to December's 40.3 percent.
- Discount stores: Low prices are leading to higher sales for the nation's discounters. Shares in the likes of Family Dollar and Wal-Mart have risen about as fast as the rest of the stock market has fallen over the past year, reflecting increased earnings and better-than-average prospects.
- Fast food: Quick-service restaurants such as McDonald's--where monthly sales rose nearly 8 percent in November--are looking better and better to cash-strapped consumers choosing them over pricier casual eateries.
- Secondhand goods: Pre-owned is fine to consumers looking for a deal, as shown by a 19 percent earnings increase for Winmark Corp. in last year's otherwise dreary third quarter for retailers.
- Medical office buildings: A growing market in real estate? You bet, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which sees an aging population's health-care needs fueling demand for medical office buildings, especially out West.
- Netbooks: Ten million of these tiny notebook computers, priced between $300 and $500, were sold last year, up from hundreds of thousands in 2007. New models that boot faster and run longer on batteries could boost sales further.
- Social networking: Just four months after enrolling its 100 millionth user, Facebook reached 150 million users in January. At that rate, it could top 200 million as you read this.
- 3-D: Once derided as a goofy gimmick, 3-D pictures are technologically much improved, and content is expanding rapidly. This year's BCS Championship football game was broadcast in 3-D--a first.
- Savings: U.S. personal savings as a percent of disposable income rose from 0 percent in early 2008 to 2.8 percent by year-end. Sales of related goods, from home safes to piggy banks, are also up.
—By Mark Henricks.
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