Optimism is a wonderful trait, and we Americans seem to own the rights to it.  We are born with it in vast supply and our unique culture richly nourishes it.  Entrepreneurs, CEO’s, investors, and stock analysts are poster children of American optimism.  Problem is, it got out of hand in the late 90’s and we must now pay the price, as economic and company results fall relentlessly short of expectations.  In truth, the results aren’t really quite so bad as they seem; it’s our expectations that are too high. 

“It was the best of times, its was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .”  Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities

The best of times seems like a distant memory in so many ways, particularly as we focus on all the bad news out there and ignore the good that peeks through occasionally.  There’s plenty of ‘darkness’ adding to our confusion, but there are hints of light too.  On Tuesday, Cisco’s Chairman John Chambers spoke of improving business.  His comments and his company’s results sent the markets soaring, as short-sellers covered their bets against optimism and buyers bet that the pessimism might be waning.  If only for a day, optimism was openly discussed and celebrated and the negative took a brief respite. 

For years investors took comfort in the statement above.  Contemporary investors, including this one, took comfort on Tuesday when the automotive giant affirmed its third-quarter profit outlook and production for the year, four days after rival Ford Motor Co. lowered its earnings forecast.  That prediction shocked investors who had been reassured by stronger-than-expected first-half U.S. auto sales as the economy slowed.  GM’s confidence on Tuesday gave investors a glimmer of hope that the economy‘s trend might be improving.