Saturday, June 7, 2003

Stock outlook getting brighter

Enquirer panel sees some hope

By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Despite stocks making solid gains in recent weeks, Greater Cincinnati investment professionals are only cautiously optimistic that Wall Street's worst is behind us.

Indeed, the bear might not be completely out of the woods yet.

"People are still scared," said Denise Ingersoll, vice president of investments, Robert W. Baird Private Investment Management Group, Dayton. "I think you could be one headline away from a big sell-off."

Ingersoll and other members of The Enquirer's Portfolio Panel met recently as major indexes were hitting their highest points since January.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index had gained 16.4 percent since its last trough in early March, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index was up a whopping 18.6 percent since that recent low.

"Some days we are clearly out of the woods, especially in technology," said Sunil Reddy, equity analyst and portfolio manager at Fifth Third Bank.

The Enquirer first brought together the panel of Greater Cincinnati investment professionals in spring 2000 to examine investment issues. After three years of quarterly meetings during the worst stock market since the Great Depression, members of the Portfolio Panel are starting to see glimmers of hope in the economy ahead.

But they stop clearly short of staying the bear market is over, despite the recent market gains.

"The thing that gives me pause about the recent rise is that some of it is speculative - it's in some of the lower-quality stocks," said Madelynn Matlock, vice president and director of international investments at Huntington National Bank.

Still, Greg Weirich, vice president at PNC Advisors, sees some good things in the U.S. economy.

"There's a lot of positive things happening under the surface," he said. "There are a lot of positive signs, and the technicals of the market are looking positive for the first time in a long time."

Dan Seiver, economics professor at Miami University, agreed: "There's plenty to push the economy forward."

Seiver was more optimistic than other panelists, saying Wall Street has hit its low. Still, like his colleagues, he's not seeing a return to late-'90s monster gains, either.

"I don't think we'll hit new lows," he said. "We could stay in a trading range for quite a while, but that's a lot better than what we've had for the last three years."


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