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NEW YORK (AP) – Along with the tailings and other debris of the recent stock market debacle, some bright specks of pay dirt are filtering into the news of late. Not many, but enough to excite prospectors.

Prospectors, to be sure, are optimists who see gold in lead, so those who listen to them may do so with condescension. It was, after all, the prospector mentality that led investors astray over the past two years.

But this is what they see: A rosier consumer outlook, a pickup in manufacturing, a decline in business inventories, a few reports of higher corporate earnings, and even some positive stock recommendations.

The prospectors have been bored by inaction. And so, as the analysts at Standard & Poor’s weekly, “The Outlook,” put it: “The market doesn’t need a lot of good news at this stage, just relief from the pervasive gloom and doom of recent months.”

But the danger, then, might be in reading too much into the evidence.

While The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose for a second straight month in June, the director of its Consumer Research Center cautioned about expecting consumers to go on a shopping binge.

While manufacturing activity has almost leveled off after a steep slide to its lowest point in nearly three decades, the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI warned that a rebound, at least for now, isn’t a certainty.

While there have been some healthy earnings increases, they stand out in rarity, not strength. Some companies have beaten their lowered forecasts. And some have surprised by losing less than anticipated. But there are few indications of a quick end to the tech-company slump.

As they say, much depends on how you look at the evidence. These are special times. What once would have caused barely a lifted eyebrow is now treasured for its sparkle and is seen as auguring better times.

The latest small-business economic report from the National Federation of Independent Business is an example.

It shows hiring plans at the lowest reading since 1994, and capital spending expectations declining. Sales were the poorest in survey history. The frequency of profit declines was the most pervasive since 1990.

But Prof. William Dunkelberg, an experienced economist who has seen worse, points out that “compared to last year, it’s not a party, but historically, it’s not so bad.”

The key to understanding the prospector mind is the word “comparison.” Americans had become accustomed to strong economies and rising stocks year after year. Today, anything less is jolting. It can’t be true.

Dunkelberg admits “The road ahead looks pretty flat – no serious dips, but no elevation either.” But looking at the brighter side of things, he points out that “a recession is not in our forecast.”

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