Business: Tantalizing Figures

Among the measurements of economic outlook anxiously awaited by U.S. businessmen are the inventory and sales figures of U.S. manufacturers. Last week the Commerce Department issued the latest figures—and set off a spate of speculation about their meaning.

At first glance, Wall Street concluded that the figures were bearish. Manufacturers' new orders, which had risen in December, declined 3% in January from December, though they were still 4% above a year ago. Since new orders usually tell what businessmen think is going to happen, this seemed to say that business could not be as good as expected. Adding to the bearish impression...

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