For some reason, people saying bearish things always sound smarter than those with more bullish leanings. Many of the bears are sharp guys. They often have great insights and the courage of their convictions. They write very well and much of what they say has been incontestable.
But investing based on their conclusions this year, as satisfying as they may have been on a purely cerebral level, would've kept you out - or even short - during one of the greatest face-melting rallies in history.
So how did we reconcile the factual erudition of the bears with the blatant and definitive reality of green quote screens all year? Well, we relied on a small but worthy cadre of voices who gave us the Intellectual Cover we needed to be bullish.
I give props to four of them below...
Jeff Saut, Raymond James Strategist: There's a special section in Hell reserved for chief strategists of brokerage firms, and I'm sure that Mr. Saut has made an occassional doozy of a call now and then, but overall he's been the bedrock for the bull case all along. Saut was one of the few non-hysterical, but insistent bulls last March and he has stayed bullish even when most of his peers have gotten on and off this rally. He comes to his conclusions by mixing data with a great instinct for sentiment and like a diligent grade school test-taker, he "shows his work".
Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture: There is a great deal of versatility required to be able to rip the ecocnomic and regulatory underpinnings to shreds one moment, and then be able to elucidate an even-keeled argument that "the rally is innocent until proven guilty" the next. Barry's brand of pragmatism says "yeah, it's all screwed up, but let's not let that stop us from making money." Literally, this was the perfect stance to maintain throughout the entire farce.
Bob Doll, BlackRock Chief Equity Strategist: They are the largest asset manager in the world by dollars ($3.2 trillion), so of course BlackRock's strategist is going to be bullish! But Bob Doll's work and writings are circumspect and insightful, not breathless or giddy. An ex-Merrill guy, Doll came into 2010 still bullish, tempting fate enough to make a series of predictions for 2010 that were widely circulated by both bloggers and the MSM. Oh yeah, how 'bout this: 11 out of 12 of Bob Doll's 2009 predicitions actually came true last year.
Michael Santoli, Barron's Columnist: Santoli's not a fist-pounder nor does he write lightning rod commentary for the sake of "inspiring the debate". Rather, his work is the class of the magazine - the perfect balance between his colleague Alan Abelson's Curmudgeon and Gene Epstein's Pollyanna. His recent piece on the market rally and the rationality of it reaching the Pre-Lehman crisis levels was chicken soup for the conflicted bulls in search of a reasonable map forward after so many gains.
Anyway, these are four of the guys in whose writings I've found the right balance of sagacity and sensibility. Reading their commentary has allowed me to stay both informed and opportunistic.
I am certain that there are others who've given intellectual cover to the bulls...who am I missing?
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