By now it has become clear that there is no oil shortage and that inflation really isn't a factor in today's economy. We are still in the midst of an economic slowdown, but the inflation-fearing Federal Reserve is finally facing up to it and should lower interest rates soon.

Add a lower dollar to the easing of credit and the stage is set for economic growth. When the dollar is down, our factories become more competitive with the rest of the world and our exports soar."The lower dollar and other nations' rising labor costs are turning the tables in our favor," said Paul Suhadolc, president of New Jersey-based Crown Castings. His 43-year-old firm began exporting only a year ago. Already Crown is expecting 15 percent of its 1991 business to be from overseas and fully a third in 1992.

"Over the next year we will be selling goods all over the world, including Europe, Australia and Africa. Asia, and specifically Japan, are being targeted for 1992," said Suhadolc.

Early reports also indicate that November's sales at some major national retailers (who also are known for good management) already are ahead of the same time last year.

"Yes, we are ahead of last year and sales are improving, but it's still tough. You have to work for every sale," said a Midwest toy wholesaler. "The retailers are experiencing gains, but their concern is that it won't last and that they will be stuck with large inventories."

There are some significant industrial plant closings, but generally they're obsolete plants that have already been replaced by modern ones that are making the United States more competitive abroad.

"GM's recently opened Saturn plant is a masterpiece of efficiency and high-tech robotics. It is the most modern auto plant anywhere in the world. They can build anything there and build it well," said Rick Weil, vice president of Illinois-based Apollo Steel, a major supplier to the auto industry. "GM's recent factory closings are part of a plan to replace obsolete plants with ones that can compete in the next century."

"America's major industrial players are finally taking a long-term view and are planning and investing for business in the years 2000, 2010 and beyond. They never did that before," said Weil. "It's what is needed and its being done."

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

We are at the bottom of the economic slowdown. Be on the lookout for positive signs that are just beginning.

The producer price index (PPI) rose by 1.7 percent in October with just about all the increase directly attributable to food or energy prices. Excluding food and energy, the PPI was unchanged for the month and up a moderate 3.4 percent for the year.

Industrial production increased 0.3 percent in September, reflecting strength in the automotive industry, where production of motor vehicles and parts was up 7.5 percent. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, the industrial production index declined by 0.3 percent.

Capacity utilization in September held steady at 83.6 percent, the third highest level for the past 12 months. Gains in energy, food and chemicals offset declines in steel and non-electrical machinery.

INTEREST RATES

Treasury yields continued to plunge this week, indicating that the Federal Reserve is in fact easing interest rates. The 30-year T-bond descended to 8.32 percent, while the 10-year fell to 8.37 percent and the 7-year to 8.25 percent. T-notes also went down, with the 5-year at 7.96 percent, the 3-year at 7.69 percent and the 2-year at 7.58 percent.

Reader questions will be answered and may appear in this column, when mailed to Gary S. Meyers at 308 W. Erie, Suite 300, Chicago, IL 60610