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Market Drop Leaves Pros Wary but Not Panicked

To everything -- turn, turn, turn. There is a season -- turn, turn, turn. And a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to build up, a time to break down. A time to dance, a time to mourn. A time to cast away stones. A time to gather stones together.

SAN FRANCISCO -- -- If The Byrds were to revisit that classic song (adapted from Ecclesiastes) after reviewing today's session, they might feel compelled to add another line: "A time to worry."

Profit warnings from Sun Microsystems (SUNW), RadioShack (RSH) and Sara Lee (SLE), plus negative comments on the optical networking and semiconductor sectors sparked broad-based selling today. With declining stocks well-outpacing advancers in both listed and over-the-counter trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.5%, the S&P 500 shed 1.6% and the Nasdaq Composite dumped 4.2%.

"The psychology just started to turn negative," commented one West Coast trader. "Remember, this big rally was fueled mainly by short-covering and the momentum guys jumping on. When that steam ran out, they turned off the lights and opened the trap door."

The trader, who requested anonymity, admitted his firm's institutional accounts remain divided, "but more and more are turning bearish again. They are tired of waiting for the recovery."

Divided is a good way to describe the majority of market participants I spoke with today: None are pressing the panic button (at least not yet), but they're also not adopting the "What, me worry?" credo of Alfred E. Neuman.

Sam Ginzburg, senior managing director of equity trading at Gruntal, probably best summed up the attitude: "I don't want to get into the camp that says we're going straight down or up, because once you start having opinions without discipline, you're going to lose."

Ginzburg is actually hoping for more negativity because of a belief "we're getting set up for a trade to the long side."

At around Dow 10,800 and Nasdaq 2000 he expects a "bounce-back trade" and plans to get aggressively long in "anything really down big," which today described most sectors within technology. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Semiconductor Index fell 6% today, while the Nasdaq 100 and Morgan Stanley High Tech 35 each lost more than 5%.

But the trader cautioned that the buying he's contemplating is "without a doubt, a trade," predicting the markets will be range-bound for much of the summer.

A mixed outlook also was expressed by those with longer time horizons.

"Definitely the tone is changing," said Brett Gallagher, deputy chief investment office at Julius Baer Asset Management, which manages about $3.5 billion. "There was talk of finding a bottom, that the biggest downward earning revisions were behind us, and that we were just waiting for the Fed's medicine to kick in. I don't think that's the case now. Sun Microsystems is challenging investors' confidence."

But Gallagher is sticking with a view expressed here in early May: cautious about the long term, but not aggressively bearish short term.

The fund manager remains bullish on all the stocks listed in last night's Report Card, save Teradyne (TER).

At more than $40, where it traded prior to today's 6.5% drop, Teradyne was pricing in a turn in the semiconductor cycle Gallagher does not yet see. "At $30, I'll buy as much as you want to sell me," he said, but the fund sold about 80% of its stake in Teradyne in mid-May, when the stock was trading just below $43.

Regarding the other stocks, the fund manager believes Compuware (CPWR) "can go significantly higher," ultimately north of $20, and will "outperform tech in general." Today, Compuware slid 3.4% to $9.95.

Longer term, Lyondell Chemical (LYO) remains a favorite, and Gallagher predicted it could "easily triple" in the next two years with little downside risk. Today, the stock dipped 1% to $16.50.

Julius Baer remains long the other names mentioned last night: Parametric Technology (PMTC) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

As for newer ideas, Gallagher mentioned AK Steel (AKS) and Schering-Plough (SGP).

The former has upside potential to $20 and downside risk limited to $11, he said; AK Steel rose 1.5% to $13.25 today. As for the latter, the fund manager sees merit in rumors of a Merck (MRK) takeover, and believes both the Clariton patent expiration and manufacturing woes are currently factored into Schering-Plough's stock, which slid 2.1% to $41.34 today.

Similarly, Nathaniel Paull, senior portfolio manager at New Amsterdam Partners, remains wary of most tech stocks but mainly optimistic about the rest of the market.

"There are always things to worry about, but the Fed is friendly, interest-rate cuts should start to kick in soon and the economy is still on the positive side of growth," he said, putting the odds of a recession at 25%.

New Amsterdam, which manages about $1.2 billion, remains long the three stocks mentioned last night -- Kemet (KEM), Pogo Producing (PPP), and PepsiCo (PEP).

Two additional names Paull recommends (and owns) are Quanta Services (PWR), which the fund manager believes will profit from the buildout of the nation's power infrastructure, and First Data (FDC), which he said should benefit from the increased use of electronic money transfers.

The skeptics will say the sources here are overly complacent, something all investors must remain diligent against. But most pros are at least somewhat concerned, evidenced by today's 4.5% rise in the Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index (albeit from recently depressed levels). Additionally, bullishness fell to 47.4% last week vs. 47.9% previously, Investors Intelligence reported today. Bearishness also fell to 34% vs. 35.4%, but newsletter writers expecting a correction rose to 18.6% from 16.7%.

Accountability, Continued

Continuing the update from last night's Report Card, Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners (and a contributor) remains short (AMZN) and Handspring (HAND), and long the Nasdaq 100 Trust (QQQ).

After covering short positions on IBM (IBM) and Research in Motion (RIMM), as reported March 1, Kass has subsequently taken long positions in each. The hedge fund manager currently has no positions in the other names mentioned.

Finally, the performance figures posted last night for Cablevision (CVC), a pick of Scott "Rocky" Bleier of Prime Charter, were incorrect. Including the full impact of the Rainbow Media Group (RMG) spinout, which our quote provider omitted, Cablevision was down 21.6% from Feb. 8 through May 25 and 16.1% from March 2 through May 25, not 33.4% and 28.7%, as reported.

All apologies.

Aaron L. Task writes daily for In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to Aaron L. Task.

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