The big crystal ball at General Motors Corp. shows no U.S. recession in the near future.

Despite fears the nation is headed in that direction, the economy likely will stop short of such a sustained period of general economic decline, predicts Fritz Henderson, GM's vice chairman and chief financial officer.

“Some aspects of the economy are performing well,” a hopeful Henderson tells the Automotive Press Assn. in Detroit.

Although the financial sector has shown incredible volatility of late, Henderson sees more encouraging signs elsewhere in the economy, such as durable goods.

“The nation got through the subprime meltdown relatively quickly,” Henderson says. “The housing market slowdown is going to linger, but it is not the only part of the U.S. economy. I see slow growth, but not a recession.”

He adds: “One fundamental that hasn't changed is that the U.S. is still one of the most profitable auto markets in the world.”

Although GM nosed out Toyota Motor Corp. in global sales in 2007 to remain the world's No.1 auto maker, Henderson is looking at other benchmarking data.

“We sold 9.3 million vehicles, but I don't necessarily look at those numbers,” he says. “I'm looking at profit, cash flow and market capitalization. Regarding those, we're not the largest auto maker.”

About 16.5 million vehicles were sold in the U.S. last year, Henderson says, but he nevertheless notes that 71 million units were sold worldwide, with many countries — such as Russia, China and Thailand — showing “breathtaking growth.”

“Five years ago, we sold 5,000 units in Russia,” he says. “Last year, we sold 250,000.”