"You really have to stretch to find a positive trend," he says.
Tim Biggam, market strategist at the brokerage TradingBlock in Chicago, says other world economic problems that have faded from the headlines, like the European debt crisis, could roar back.
"It's kind of a false sense of security," he says, "to have the 'fiscal cliff' put everything to the back burner."
Concerns about the U.S. government budget won't be wrapped up by a "cliff" compromise, either."Even if they come up with a near-term budget agreement, it will not be enough to solve many of the fiscal imbalances," said Mike McGarr, a Portland, Ore.-based co-manager of Becker Value Equity mutual fund. He predicts that stock market returns for 2013 could be "pretty muted." "Once you get past whatever sort of budget deal they will come up with, there will be the realization that the story is not over," he adds. "There's going to be a lot more drama." But others, including Hefty and Carmack, were more confident, pointing out that the housing market is improving, consumer confidence is rising and the unemployment rate is falling. "I'm pretty optimistic," Saut says. "Not cautiously optimistic â¿¿ I'm pretty optimistic." __ AP Business Writer Steve Rothwell contributed to this report.