Pinpointing that crucial tipping-point between recession and recovery is at best a fine art, and at worst a mug's game.

After the UK confounded expectations that it would exit recession last week, a similarly confused picture of optimism tempered by caution is emerging across the Atlantic.

So VF Corporation CEO Eric C Wiseman can at one moment appear bullish, telling analysts: "Our third quarter results clearly signal that the worst effects of the recession may be behind us" - and then retreat into ursine mode by adding: "We do not believe that the global economy is out of the woods just yet."

The facts suggest that the boss of the owner of brands including Lee, Wrangler, Vans and The North Face should be accentuating the positive a little bit more.

Yes, the company's third quarter profit decline of 6.8% missed market expectations, but only fractionally - and the prognosis for the crucial fourth quarter is far brighter.

The VF template is one that other US companies might envy. Strong headline brands, a diverse business mix and a spread of geographical market risk tick all the right boxes.

So, while European retail remains gloomy, Asia shows strong growth; and while high unemployment has hit the company's imagewear revenues, sportswear, contemporary brands and direct sales are all moving in the right direction.

In the circumstances, it comes as some surprise that VF did not raise the upper end of its full-year profit outlook, with CFO Bob Shearer favouring caution in the face of continued uncertainty on consumer spending and unemployment.

But even if there are pleasant surprises in store for the US retail sector this holiday time, trends in Europe remain difficult, with stability the best that most companies can hope for. So maybe we're not quite at that tipping-point just yet…