Wall Street, Main Street

IF you have the feeling that the Dow Jones industrial average has been hitting a record high just about every time you tune into the news, you're almost right.

The Dow has hit record highs 33 times this year, two of them on two consecutive days just last week. Thursday's record of 4,472.75 came the day after a big rally of 86.46 points.

Often a big surge like that is followed by a sort of timeout while investors catch their breath. And, indeed, the Dow slid 28.36 points on Friday to close at 4,444.39 - still up 75.39 points for the week.

But as Wall Street soars, Main Street is concerned about the proverbial soft landing. Recent statistics on the economy as a whole have been disappointing. The consensus view is that the United States is in for a slowdown but not quite a recession.

True, figures released Friday showed May unemployment easing by a hair - dropping from 5.8 percent in April to 5.7 percent last month. But nonfarm payrolls, another measure of the labor market, fell by 101,000. An increase of 166,000 had been expected.

Moreover, the manufacturing sector shrank in May after more than a year and a half of expansion; the Commerce Department reported factory orders experienced the sharpest drop in nine months. Consumer incomes and spending have slowed sharply, too.

Not long ago, the Federal Reserve was acting to forestall inflation that nobody had actually seen. Nowadays, though, the Fed is playing hands off. Fed officials are speaking of "inventory corrections" likely to be "only temporary," and of "underlying strengths" within the economy to which the statistics aren't doing justice.

Is the glass half empty, or half full? Wall Street is bullish, but Main Street has its share of economic potholes.

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