%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan offered his most optimistic assessment of the U.S. economy in more than a year Wednesday, telling Congress that the country is now recovering from its first recession in a decade.

Greenspan's testimony to the Senate Banking Committee was more upbeat than his outlook just a week ago.

``The recent evidence increasingly suggests that an economic expansion is already under way,'' Greenspan said. That assessment was not part of his testimony to the House Financial Services Committee last week.

Since Greenspan's last appearance on Capitol Hill, a batch of encouraging economic news has been released providing strong evidence that the country is on the mend from the recession, which began in March 2001.

For the first time in 18 months, a key gauge of manufacturing activity flashed a growth signal in February. Consumers, the lifeblood of the economy, spent more freely in January. And, the economy bounced back with a 1.4 percent growth rate in the fourth quarter of 2001, after shrinking at a 1.3 percent rate following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

MORE