Twelve months ago statistics in this department looked about as bedraggled as they can get in an equity-investment space. Investor gloom permeated the very ink, and the Laffer curve was still being given credence. Each popular average was at a 27-month low. Far and away the worst of them the INC. Index on August 1, 1982, was down 38 percentage points from the year before -- over twice as much as the Dow Jones Industrials. And the sad lot of IPOs -- a measure of business and investor confidence -- could be counted on the fingers of two thumbless hands. Based on that bleak picture, even the savants at INC. had their doubts about the staying power of stocks.

This year, though, all that seems like the Dark Ages. On August 17, 1982, the Dow soared 39 points; on October 6, 37 points; and on November 3, 43 points -- the biggest daily gains in stock market history. From that explosive reversal came an extensive leg of a bull market that carried from the DJI's low of 777 in August 1982, to a high of 1,259 the following June -- a move of some 60%. (INC. writers had to eat a little crow, but to their credit, they endorsed the rally comparatively quickly.) And now in these pages are listed 57 IPOs, a record number for INC. Further, by mid-August, five of the eight IPOs of a year earlier had at least doubled; none had declined.

At that, the rally has not constituted the biggest Dow bull market ever. Less than 10 years ago, the DJI carried from 578 to 1,015, an increment of 76%. But this one may be far from over. The question is whether the malaise that set in through mid-July and August has marked the end of the move, or whether the market was merely pausing to consolidate its gains.

Such dilemmas used to be relatively easy to settle. A market analyst merely reviewed the technical statistics, weighed them on his personal scales, and read the signs like an astrologer looking to the night sky. Whatever one might think of technical analysis as a bona fide business tool, it often works: The stock market is a phenomenon made up more of collective sentiment than hard data. If you don't believe it, take the case of a recent IPO, Amgen, which was easily floated in June at $18, but which two months later was selling for $8. Said a startled company spokesman in a newspaper interview, There has not been any bad news, no one has left, no project has been terminated. There has been no single event that would justify this type of performance in stock price. . . ." What happened was simply that buyers' mass enthusiasm for new issues had become overextended, and poor Amgen was caught when the plug was pulled. In surprisingly large part, such changes in sentiment within individual issues and in overall market trends are foreseeable through technical analysis.

But the problem these days is that, thanks to the home computer and a number of sophisticated stock-market software packages that all but call up your broker, everybody is his or her own analyst. Which means that many people are reviewing at the same time what used to be the exclusive domain of an exclusive fraternity: charts of the market averages, trend lines, 10-day moving averages, the odd-lot ratio, the call/put ratio, the advance/decline line, and other, often arcane, indicators.

But that can't be. For technical analysis to work, it has to be able to take positions against the trend. And the more Apples and IBM Personal Computers that abound, the less this is possible. If intelligent investors are virtually en masse looking at the same data and interpreting it in the same way, then they are all going to act in tandem. It would be sort of like a story that once appeared in New Yorker magazine: One day, bucking the laws of probability, the entire population of Manhattan decided to go to New Jersey at the same time; of course, nobody ever got there. No investor has ever become rich by doing the same thing as everyone else. In stocks, the more "predictable" an event, the less likely it is to happen. To beat an auction market, as exchanges are in this country, requires a large degree of randomness within it. The logic is obvious: Not everyone can be a seller or a buyer at the same time.

So the challenge, at least to a technical analyst, is more and more to work in fields where the herd has yet to trample. One of these is the evaluation of the few thousand actively traded companies that are worth following on the exchanges and over-the-counter. This demands arduous eyeballing, since no computer program has as yet been devised that will take the patterns of trading that delineate stock charts and pool them into a body of data from which a conclusion can be extracted. So far, this requires human eyesight (and, along about a third of the way through, a strong pair of glasses).

Performing such an exercise in midsummer would have shown that this bull market is far from over. Although investors had been scared out of many stocks, including high-technology companies whose futures look nothing short of glowing, the consensus of daily charts did not speak "topping out." One could pretty confidently predict that, by fall, stocks would be on their way to new high ground. Perhaps an effective technical indicator can be devised that is based on the home-computing analyst, who, by circumstance, is becoming the stock market's new man-in-the-street.