The sextants of economists are the business indicators, statistical pointers that help to chart the course of the U.S. economy. They range from measures as complex as interest rates and demand-deposit turnovers to such personally felt statistics as the amount of personal income. When the U.S. economy surges forward or turns sharply back, the indicators usually agree —and so do the economists. Now. with the economy resting on the highest plateau in history, business experts are nervously indicator hopping in search of some clue to its next shift. To some, it is headed for another recession or is already...

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