Challenged to explain his (so far) unfulfilled prediction that stocks would rise in 1985, an analyst on a television talk show retorted, "Well, they haven't gone down." After what seemed to be the start of a rally had run out of energy in July, that logic had to suffice as the averages trickled back to their starting points. A significant fraction of professionals still felt that the market would push higher, but exactly when, few dared answer: The traditional technical signs that tell when to act weren't cooperating.

One explanation of the unexpected fizzle is that packaged computer programs are now signaling to the entire Western World when to buy or sell, and all the overnight experts phone their brokers in concert. But the popular software package hasn't been written that addresses one of investing's fundamental tenets: The stock market never cooperates with a consensus. Why that is so, science hasn't discovered yet, but sure enough, not even blue chips could get rolling.

Perhaps because investors were bemused by the Big Board, they boosted the INC. Index to a gain while the monthly competition declined. The fact that such downtrodden issues were still alive speaks well of the underlying soundness of equities. Indeed, that may prove a signal in itself, since no do-it-yourself software has yet incorporated INC.'s colorful misfits as bellwethers.