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Tickling The Technical

Ok class - pencils down, eyes forward. Time to chart new territory.

You might learn where the stock market is headed, and if you're especially diligent in reading these pages, you'll understand why.

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Over on Page B2, we run, every week, Market Monitor - a compact look at what happened in the financial markets last week. It includes an element that may puzzle at first but which offers a nifty hint of the market's future direction.

Gaze upon the chart for the Dow Jones Industrial Average; in addition to the red Dow line, there's a blue line - the 22-week moving average.

Obviously, Wall Street is creatively clueless in coming up with these terms. But beyond the gray title, this chart offers some colorful insight.

It irons out the Dow's volatility, revealing something about momentum and direction.

We plot it by averaging the last 22 weeks on the Dow. It closed Friday at 7882.58, the previous Friday at 7881.07 - and so on back another 20 weeks.

If none of that makes much sense, no worries - no quiz.

What's important is how the red line crosses the blue line. If red dips below blue, as in October, that signals a possible change in direction.

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The signal gets stronger if red spends several weeks below blue.

Here's the interesting, perhaps significant, part. It kept that position a few weeks, then, two weeks ago, turned up, bumping the blue. Last week, it continued knocking, without breaking through.

This looks like a shift in investor sentiment, from pessimism to cautious optimism. An actual break above blue would indicate someone opened the bull's paddock. That's what happened in April.

Wall-Street-speak calls this technical analysis, and it assumes that if the market, and individual stocks, have acted a certain way, repeatedly, in the past, they might act that way again in the future.

The idea is that investors sometimes move with a herd mentality; they respond to the same situations in much the same way, repeatedly.

You may not know that you act like your neighbor on financial matters, but you often do. Charts try to capture those trends before they become obvious.

The real life story to our moving average chart? If you follow these things, you might conclude that Wall Street is no longer sulking and whimpering on a bearskin rug, that all damage from the Oct. 27 plunge sits behind us.

Perhaps - hem and haw as one might about damage from the Asia meltdown - investors think they smell a red herring.

And with good reason. Stories on Pages B6 and B7 this week and last show a strong Mexico; a Brazil ready to rumba; and a Europe that attracts billions from some of the world's shrewdest business minds, those of corporate America.

Asia's problems are looking more and more like Asia's problems alone. Maybe.

Our moving-average chart is about as simple as technical analysis gets, and it can get lots more complicated.

So - how seriously to take all this?

Some people dismiss technical indicators. Others use them exclusively. Ralph Acampora, chief technical analyst at Prudential Securities, used them to call virtually every move - from the drive to 8000 to the cracks of October.

But most experts use technical signs and wonders as one more piece of information, to stir in with fundamental ideas about profits and economic growth.

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