A frightful economy? Top 5 Halloween indicators.

A look at our Top 5 Halloween indicators for the economy.

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    Costumed spectators Victoria Ochoa (second from right) and Melissa Valencia watched New York's Village Halloween Parade on Oct. 31.
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You can learn a lot from Halloween: whether consumers are cheery, how sales are going at local stores, even whether to buy stocks or commodities. So here's our list of leading Halloween indicators – and what they might be signaling about the future.

5. The Halloween stock indicator. Since 1950, stocks have tended to perform better in the six months immediately following Halloween (up 7.9 percent) than they do in the six months preceding it (up 2.5 percent) – and not just in the United States. But this past year, the trend flip-flopped, with the S&P actually losing 9.9 percent in the "strong" period then gaining 18.7 percent in the just-ended "weak" one. Outlook: Murky.

4. Sugar trading. Oct. 31 is the midway point for a traditionally sweet trade. Through 2007, buying sugar prices during their seasonable bottom in late August or early September and holding on through November brought profits in 27 of the last 36 years, according to the 2009 Commodity Trader's Almanac. Unfortunately, the trade didn't work well in 2008 or 2009. Outlook: Topsy-turvy.

Recommended: Halloween Costumes: 5 DIY materials that won't break the budget

3. Candy sales. Halloween is the biggest holiday for the sweet stuff and this year sales were expected to grow 1.8 percent, according to the National Confectioners Association. That's up from just 0.3 percent last year, which was the worst since 2002, when the United States was coming out of a much milder recession and candy sales fell slightly. Outlook: Sweet, but candymakers seem to grow recession or not.

2. Costume count. The National Costumers Association doesn't yet know how its members did. "They're all up to their ears in laundry right now," explains one staffer. Still anecdotes and news reports suggest that store activity was flat to down. DeWayne Messer of Rose Costumes in Denton, Texas, saw a very slight decrease over 2008. Lorraine Brown of Fabian's Upstairs Closet in Fair Haven, Vt., sold very little but thinks she rented twice as many costumes as last year. "Halloween itself wasn't as good in our case in the careful (conservative!) Midwest," writes Janie Westendorf of Westendorf Costumes in Keota, Iowa. "People are just being cautious – not sure what's ahead!" Outlook: Unexciting.

1. Trick-or-treat crowds. Since tracking the Oct. 31 forays of the 10-and-younger crowd would exhaust even the Census Bureau, we turned instead to searching Twitter. Those who saw more kids this year were about evenly matched with those who saw fewer, but the first group included tweets from Canada and Sweden(!). In the US, the Mount Dora Historic Inn in Mount Dora, Fla., handed out 140 candies, nearly triple last year's amount. But Rich Rosa in Haverhill, Mass., and Maryam Webster in San Francisco definitely saw less traffic. Outlook: Americans economic funk continues.

"No trick-or-treaters, but I turned the porch light off. Candy is pricey – like throwing $ out the door. Boo! Humbug!" writes Carmen Sisson, a freelance writer in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who contributes to the Monitor.

"We didn't have trick/treaters & didn't go trick/treating," writes Katie Kemple of Arlington, Va. "Wonder if people didn't feel festive this year? Economy scary enough."

The normal rules certainly didn't apply this Halloween. Stocks and commodities didn't follow the usual path. Many expected hard times would send more children in search of free candy, but that didn't happen in any noticeable nationwide way. Americans aren't feeling the apparent recovery – or if they are, they're not celebrating it.

Diverging from the expected makes people uneasy. Halloween 2009 wasn't scary, but it was unsettling.
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