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Take on the ticker
By Michael Sean Comerford | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/15/2007 11:56 PM

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Market Watch

Thomas Rowen of Bartlett is director of institutional portfolio management, Fifth Third Bank-Chicago

What moved markets last week?

"The markets were very volatile. And you had a significant downturn following the (Federal Reserve Bank) meeting. But, by in large, the markets stabilized after that … The focus of the market, right now is the recession risk and the elements that feed into that, which is the subprime (mortgage) situation and the credit concerns that are out there. The markets are very much concerned about what the Federal Reserve is going to do, or not do, to buoy up the economy and to limit the recession risk going forward."

The Fed cut interest rates again last week. What view did it take of the economy?

"When you take a look at what the Fed said and what kind of insight it gave -- (then) how that decision making was received -- is really interesting. That's because the financial markets and the traders and investment managers … are almost like children who don't want to take difficult medicine. The markets are afraid of a bottoming out of the economy and they want to see the Fed be extremely proactive, in terms of providing stimulus. They would have liked to have seen interest rates come down 50 basis points (instead of 25)."

What did you think of billionaire Sam Zell's relatively positive views on the housing market?

"Sam Zell's comments were interesting, not only about the housing market but, in general, he takes a much more sanguine view (of the economy) than all the alarmist views you get on television and you hear from the financial world. And, obviously, a man with his real estate background … he has a lot of credibility … He looks at the housing bubble, if you will, as being very regional … When you take a look at the absolute value of U.S. real estate compared, particularly, to the developed world and historical measures, housing prices are not inflated."

Are you concerned about the weak dollar?

"I, personally, am not concerned about the weak dollar. You have currency adjustments over time and as long as they are not destabilizing moves, they tend not to cause serious problems … I believe you will probably see a weak dollar for a while, but I think you are getting toward the end of that cycle."

What's a good defensive investment strategy these days?

"We at Fifth Third believe in the equity markets. We are going into next year slightly over-weighted to stocks. We very strongly recommend that investors be diversified … invest in well capitalized companies with a good balance sheets and global business. We're looking at slower growth (in the United States) but 4.8 percent growth globally. So global companies will have an easier road than companies that are strictly domestic businesses."