The presumptive reprieve from accounting concerns didn't last very long, did it? The (cyber) ink was barely dry on last night's column when Nortel ( NT) announced its CFO had resigned because of revelations that he'd made some improper trades in his personal account. While not accounting-related, the announcement renewed concerns about the trustworthiness of corporate executives and the companies they represent, which is what the Enron fallout is really about -- a point that bullish strategists seem reluctant to take into account. Nortel, which Tuesday morning warned yet again that weak customer demand would make it difficult to meet prior revenue guidance, was down 7.6% at midday. Predictably, Nortel's double-whammy, plus the FBI's warning about another potential terrorist attack, pressured major averages early today, although each was trading well above the morning's lows at midday. Just as predictably, the majority of Wall Street strategists continue to profess that the myriad concerns amount to little more than one big buying opportunity. For example, Joseph Battipaglia, chairman of investment policy at Gruntal, yesterday raised his recommended equity allocation to 80% from 70%. Today, Stuart Schweitzer, global investment strategist at J.P. Morgan Fleming, which has more than $600 billion under management, said "investment opportunity is often greatest when investors are the most terrified." Schweitzer acknowledged that U.S. stocks "are not cheap," and that "investor confidence will remain fragile for the balance of the year," but warned that those focused on past problems "run the risk of failing to see the road ahead" because they are looking in the rearview mirror. "Current equity market volatility is likely creating meaningful investment opportunities for the patient, rigorous investor," Schweitzer said, projecting the market will produce positive returns of 5% to 10% this year. Still, he also conceded that the market is likely to remain volatile and "may head lower before head ing higher" again. That suggests the "patient, rigorous investor" he's recommending should buy stocks now might be better served actually being patient and rigorous.
Renewed concerns about corporate fidelity, earnings and terrorism were giving a lift this morning to that hot-button sector, gold and related stocks. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Gold and Silver Index was up 2.1% at midday. As was the case after last Wednesday's reversal, gold's drop yesterday had the skeptics crawling out of the woodwork. Few things, it seems, get people's emotions running faster than the yellow metal, which is one reason investors ought to be cautious about wading into the fray. Conversely, RealMoney.com contributor Dan Fitzpatrick made some excellent and -- more importantly -- cold-hearted and rational points in his column this morning. Essentially, he said the "easy money" had been made in gold stocks and those who've been participating were likely to be booking some profits near term. Fitzpatrick's prediction came to fruition this morning when Alan Newman, editor of HD Brous' CrossCurrents, issued an email saying he was selling half of his positions in Meridian Gold ( MDG) and Goldcorp ( GG). Notably, Newman issued buy calls on those stocks in September, so it's not as if he has only recently climbed aboard the gold bandwagon. Also, note that he's selling only half of the position, which suggests gold's advocates may be taking trading profits but aren't necessarily ready to abandon ship.