With the stock market doing gyrations almost daily, individual investors and businesses alike appear wary.

While most actions and reactions appear conservative rather than extreme (of the "let's brace, let's wait and see, let's put off this project" variety), collectively they could have a devastating impact. In effect, we all could be talking and waiting ourselves into a recession. That seems a shame, because the underlying fundamentals of the U.S. economy remained strong right through the first stock-market plummet. The U.S. economy was, and still can be, on course to be slowing but still sound and growing for this year and next.

For electrical distributors, 1998 had been progressing steadily in terms of sales through the summer months, according to distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps I've talked to as 1998 unfolded. A slight air of wonder colored the conversations. With the nation's economy in an unusually long expansion mode, many in the electrical wholesaling industry wrote the business at hand but subconsciously waited for the other shoe to drop. The underlying strength of the economy seemed too good to believe.

Against that backdrop, by midyear electrical distributors tallied solid sales gains over the same time period in 1997, up 6.0% for the first six months, according to a survey of 3,912 electrical distributors nationwide conducted in July by Electrical Wholesaling. That pace of growth was somewhat lower, however, than has been evident at the six-month mark in recent past years.

At that same point in time, in July, before the collapse of the Russian economy and the stock market's woes, distributors looking at business ongoing and upcoming in their markets forecasted that 1998 sales would finish 7.5% ahead of 1997. Looking ahead to 1999, they were hoping for a 7.4% sales increase. Both represent solid growth rates, but show a progressive decline coming off a 9.6% increase in 1997.

In many regions, electrical distributors actually had expectations for growth in 1999 that are more bullish than in 1998. For instance, distributors in the New England, East North Central, East South Central, Mountain and Pacific regions are even more optimistic about their business fortunes in 1999 than they were in 1998.

However, the electrical distributors that operate in several regions (some larger chains and various product specialists that sell nationwide) saw a distinct drop in business for 1999, even before the stock-market-led uncertainty hit. That's an interesting point to ponder for marketers in the electrical wholesaling industry as they try to make sense of today's stock market's ups and downs and the resilience of the nation's economy.