Barron's Roundtable: Gabelli, Zulauf Weigh In

Barron’s has tapped a number of top strategists for its annual start-of-the-year “Roundtable” feature, with gurus such as Bill Gross, Mario Gabelli, and Abby Joseph Cohen offering their takes on where the market and economy are headed in 2010. And, overall, the outlook is positive.

“Our crowd thinks the market could gain another 5% to 20% in 2010, fueled by profit growth and continued government spending,” writes Barron’s Lauren R. Rublin, “although the ride will be bumpy, particularly in the second half of the year.”

In the first part of a three-part series that will detail what the Roundtable participants had to say, Barron’s focuses on macroeconomic outlooks, and the investment picks of Gamco’s Gabelli and Zulauf Asset Management President Felix Zulauf. Here’s a summary of what Gabelli and Zulauf had to say about the big picture and investment strategy. (We’ll follow up with summaries of the next two Roundtable parts as they are published in coming days.)

Zulauf: He says 2010 will be a transitional year. He sees inventory replenishment and government stimulus as big reasons for the rally, and expects both will wane in the coming year. That will let us see what the real underlying health of the economy is, he says. Zulauf says the market has enough momentum to rise another 10% or so, but if economic growth is good in the first half of the year, the government could begin to withdraw its stimulus efforts, which he expects to lead to a market correction.

“Natural resources and emerging markets are the places to be for the rest of this rally, Zulauf says. “The market probably has 10% upside from here. Once the S&P 500 crosses 1200, move to the sell side, more or less.” He likes several exchange-traded funds in those areas, saying that investors who already own them should hold on to them, and those who don’t should wait until after the correction to buy them. “I expect a high in the spring and a low in the fall,” he says.

Zulauf also says there is ” very little risk in the next five years in defensive issues such as European energy stocks.” And he recommends shorting government bonds and buying gold if gold prices correct. “Gold will perform better than stocks in the next five years,” he says.

Gabelli: He says the market outlook depends on the “three Bs”: Beijing, Ben and Barack. “The economy will be quite strong in the first quarter, and profits will be extraordinarily good, because companies haven’t added extra workers,” he predicts. “Stocks will have a few good months, and then we’ll see what President Obama will do to prevent the Democrats from losing the midterm elections in a landslide. Will he propose another stimulus package? My sense is, he will.”

Gabelli expects an “extraordinary number” of deals made this year, “because companies want to grow”. Heineken’s purchase of Femsa underscores the beginning of this wave, he says.

Stocks should rise 5% to 10% in the first half of 2010, Gabelli says, but the market will then have a major correction, leaving investors slightly in the black for the full year. The first half of 2011 looks “challenging,” he adds, saying “interest rates at some point will top 4%, and it’s all about picking specific stocks.”

Among Gabelli’s specific stocks picks: National Fuel Gas, Federal Mogul, Legg Mason, Viacom, and Cablevision Systems.

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