After a particularly biting response to a recent column, I decided to take what may be the coward's way out by seeking personal refuge in a Dale Carnegie quote: "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, and most fools do."
The biting response came from a HuffPost reader in Dallas who e-mailed me: "Where do you find such crackpots? Who wants to hear from the living dead? You only hurt your credibility and raise questions about your lack of judgment. Doesn't your man know we're in a major new bull market? The poor guy is going to get slaughtered. I can't believe anyone is crazy enough to invest with him and that he lives in the same city as I do."
This was undoubtedly the harshest personal response I received in reaction to a recent interview with Dallas portfolio manager John Del Vecchio, who runs the AdvisorsShares Active Bear fund. And he wasn't alone in his criticism.
In brief, the question was essentially raised as to why was I giving editorial sunlight to someone so out of tune with conventional thinking, basically a pro who expects a double-dip recession to kick off in the second half and the Dow to drop to 9,000 before year end, about a 25% drop from current levels.
Del Vecchio, an obvious contrarian, brushes off the criticism, telling me: "It's a good contrary indicator. The more nasty e-mails, the more I know the masses are wrong." His bearish view is largely centered on the belief the U.S. economic comeback will be sluggish, that QE2 is not creating jobs, that the debt problems in U.S municipalities and Europe will worsen, that the Mideast turmoil could easily erupt into something grave and there's too much investor exuberance and complacency.
San Francisco manager Gary Wollin, who runs a tad above $100 million in assets under the banner Gary Wollin & Co., and has made a series of timely, on-the-money bullish and bearish market calls in recent years, heartily disagrees. Wollin, who turned bullish right around the market's low in March of 2009 with the Dow around 6,500 and has basically maintained that stance ever since, argues that the worries cited by Del Vecchio are already well known and priced into the market. Taking note of perkier retail sales, rising credit card debt and more inventory building--all signs, he says, of "little by little economic improvement"--he sees these trends continuing for the balance of the year as the consumer becomes more positive and less worried.
Wollin views the recent outburst of strong stock purchases as evidence "we're in the beginning of the second leg up," triggered, he believes, by a public shift from safety to risk, rising interest rates, which is causing a flight from bonds into stocks, a slew of earnings reports that are coming in above Wall Street expectations and a peppier market for initial public offerings.
By the same token, Wollin is not oblivious to the dangers, among them possible new Middle East strife, the likelihood that both interest rates and inflation are headed higher, at least another two years of real estate woes, spurred by a giant overhang of foreclosures and new sales from the banks, the probability of more bond weakness since the cyclical decline in interest rates is probably over and a continuing inability to create sufficient jobs to accommodate the unemployed and new workers entering the labor force.
Still, as he sees it, the bullish arguments far outweigh the bearish ones. Add in the fact, he says, that "the pendulum is swinging from fear to greed," and it leads him to conclude the Dow (now at around 12,270) will hit 13,000 before year end.
A blue chip addict, that's where Wollin sees the most market mileage over the next year. His top picks, stocks he believes could generate 15%-20% gains over the next 12 months, are Exxon Mobil, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Triple M, IBM and Berkshire Hathaway.
One of Wall Street's top technical strategists, Oppenheimer & Co.'s Carter Worth, shares Wollin's market enthusiasm. "Bullish momentum remains intact," he says, "and as long as it does stocks will continue to break out to new highs." He rates six socks in particular as buys, namely American Express, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Wal-mart, Berkshire Hathaway and Triple M.
Bob Doll, the chief investment strategist of Black Rock, a global investment manager with more than $1 trillion in assets, is yet another bull. Acknowledging that a short-term correction could take place at any time, he nonetheless insistS "stocks are relatively inexpensive and the bull market should continue."
Why so? Because the economy is transitioning from a recovery phase to an expansion phase, Doll says, citing a rise in business confidence measures to multi-year highs, climbing sales levels, improving profits and ongoing robust business investment.
It all raises an obvious question: Is our diehard Dallas bear about to be gored?
What do you think? E-mail at Dandordan@aol.com
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