NEW YORK - Harvard Business School is sending 28 percent of its 2009 graduating class onto careers in finance, a mildly bullish sign for the economy, said Ray Soifer, an independent bank consultant.

But that percentage is down from 2008, when about 40 percent pursued careers in finance, according to the school's statistics.

Soifer, a 1965 Harvard Business School graduate, uses the school's career choice statistics each year as an indicator for long-term investments in U.S. equities.

When more than 30 percent pursue careers in finance, stocks tend to be a long-term sell, Soifer said. And when that number is below 10 percent, stocks tend to be a long-term buy. A figure between 10 and 30 percent represents a neutral reading.

It is more of a barometer of Wall Street firms themselves, said Soifer, who runs Soifer Consulting in Arizona. When the market is strong and money is flowing on the street, they go out of their way to hire a lot of MBAs and make them offers that they can't refuse. When times are tougher, they hire fewer people.

Soifer, who worked on Wall Street for more than 25 years, looks at the percentage of Harvard Business School graduates pursuing careers in such industries as investment banking, asset management, hedge funds, sales and trading, venture capital, or private equity. He excludes commercial banking and insurance from his tabulation.

The indicator for long-term investments in U.S. securities gave sell signals in years including 1987, 2000 to 2002, and 2005 to 2008. The last time it reached a buy level was the early 1980s, Soifer said. In 1937, the indicator reached what may have been an all-time low of about 1 percent.

(Reporting by Steve Eder; Editing Bernard Orr)