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Utah's economy is the best ever and the prosperity the state's residents are experiencing should continue through the first half of next year.

Kelly K. Matthews, executive vice president and economist for Wells Fargo Bank, said Thursday he is anticipating the state's unemployment rate will remain low at 3 percent during the first half of 2008.

Also, he is projecting there will be more than 48,000 jobs created in the first six months of next year, for a 3.9 percent increase over the number of new jobs that emerged during the first half of 2007.

Pointing to September's job growth figures, Matthews said Utah was the top state with a 4.4 percent increase.

"We were way above everyone in the country," he said, noting that Wyoming and Montana came in second and third with 3.3 percent increases while Arizona was fourth with a 2.6 percent jump in the number of new jobs created.

Even the prospect that the price of gasoline might remain above $3 a gallon in Utah and that the pace of home construction will continue to slacken, doesn't significantly diminish Utah's economic outlook for next year, he said.

"If you look at total construction employment [commercial and residential] in September we were still nearly 12 percent ahead of a year ago," Matthews said. "Total construction employment [in Utah] should remain pretty solid."

So too will consumer spending although rising fuel costs and uncertainties in the housing market might dampen it a bit from 2007.

Still, Matthews said, with 3.9 percent job growth and a 5.5 percent increase in hourly wages, the increase in consumer spending during the first half of 2008 easily could top a respectable 7.5 percent.

Mark Knold, senior economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said while there may be subtle changes in Utah's economy during the first half of 2008, overall the state will experience strong growth, a tight labor market and low unemployment.

"On the micro level we may see some subtle weakening - maybe slightly fewer construction jobs," he said. "But any jobs that might be lost will be more than made up for in other areas. After all, we still have new buildings and offices going up and those will have to be filled [with employees]."

There also is good news for Utah investors.

Sterling Jenson, senior managing director of Wells Fargo Capital Management in Salt Lake City, said while there may be long term volatility the nation's stock markets likely will hit a bottom within the next three months.

"The stock market should then continue its upward movement to substantially higher levels," he said.

He supported that view by pointing out the shares of the companies that make up the Standard & Poor's 500 now are trading at an average of 15 times earnings, or well below the 19 times to 22 times earnings typical during the past 36 years.

And that means there could be room for the S&P 500, which now is trading around 1,500, to advance another 13 percent or more.