We don't like "mixed signals." We all learn in school to "take the good with the bad," and most adults manage to do that, but it seems that we humans prefer things to be "mostly good" or "mostly bad." Half-and-half is only for coffee.
Half-and-half, however, pretty much sums up the economy as the summer winds down. We may aspire to live in interesting times, but what we have are uncertain times, as if we're right at the tipping point.
The recent thrill rides on Wall Street apparently did little to dampen travel demand, though the number of agency transactions reported through ARC continues to lag. Airline load factors are nice and high, but so are fuel prices.
Unemployment remains high, and while the travel industry has been adding jobs all year, the pace has slowed from 30,000 jobs in June to 9,200 in July.
Interest rates remain low, but inflation is said to be lurking in the high grass, ready to strike.
For every economist who believes the recession is over, there's another to warn that it might be resuming for a double-dip.
For every Republican who claims to have the answer, there's a Democrat who disagrees.
For every positive sign, there's a "however."
To borrow one of aviation's useful metaphors, pilots can deal with tailwinds and they know how to deal with headwinds, but pilots are a bit like people on fences: They like crosswinds least of all.
We're holding out hope that these uncertainties are a reflection of the doldrums of August. In September, everybody will be back from vacation, we'll get the kids back in school, we'll put the anniversary of 9/11 behind us, and then maybe we can get off this fence.