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Mixed Signals From Bizball

Football season, at last.

The sport made to order for newspaper writers, even financial columnists. It offers new verbal fodder after a slow summer.

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Baseball rarely invites powerful, punchy metaphors. But with football - Ka-POW! Hard-hitting verbs that let us tackle the tough issues, go for goal posts in the field of finance.

There are rumors, in fact, that football was actually invented during a secret meeting of financial, sports, and headline writers, gathered deep in the New Hampshire woods shortly after World War II. It was called the Tri-Forward Lateralist Commission.

Football, in fact, helps explains why the stock market is so jerky.

Go back with us to last January, when the mighty Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl.

Wall Street tradition says that when a team from the American Football Conference (the Broncos) defeats a team from the National Football Conference (the usual winners), the stock market puts a loss on the scoreboard for that year (as theories go, it works as well as any).

Football also becomes relevant here, not just because of my awesome expertise on the topic, but because of Jim Tyson's story playing right guard, over there. Is the game ball deflating in the US economy?

The Big Question is whether deflation will stay on the sidelines or sack the quarterback. And right now, the best answer seems to be - let's watch the instant replay for hours on end.

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We've got mixed signals in the huddle. "McCaffrey, you go long for a pass, and I'll give 'em the knuckle ball."

Deflation has certainly clobbered parts of the US economy. Check out the David Francis story on steel. Nasty. Observe the record trade-deficit numbers on Page 10.

Deflation is real. It's here.

But consumers are still working and buying; housing is still strong; companies are profitable. We could compile a long list of reasons the economy still has the stuff to win one for the gipper.

It's on the brink, an unnerving perch, but that's not the same as falling over.

The big difference between now and 1930, which launched the last definitive US deflation, is that we have smart guys like Alan Greenspan calling in plays.

The Fed chairman surprised us recently with lower interest rates, sending more money into the game and breaking Wall Street's psychology of despair.

Last time, President Herbert Hoover yanked money out. The stock market crashed; a recession followed; and he raised taxes, triggering the Depression.

Talk about playing without a helmet. Talk about running the wrong way with the ball! A Republican, no less. They're supposed to be good with money.

Plus, this time we have John Elway.

I have seen Bronco quarterback John Elway many times on TV and feel confident that he would be a close, personal friend if we were ever to meet and he were willing to accept a sizable bribe.

And if my good friend John Elway were to offer some investment counsel, it would likely be "go long." Which is why they pay John - as he is known to his close, personal friends - the big bucks.

It's also a long way of saying, "Look at the chart on Page 10," in the Web siting.

That remarkable piece of artwork shows that investors with a long-term strategy, dollar-cost averaging, play to win even in severe bear markets.

So, enough sports talk. We've all seen what can happen to people who spend their time writing about sports. It makes 'em looney.

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