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Forecasting Legend Since ’82 Not Giving One This Year

Laszlo Birinyi, former head of equities at Salomon Brothers during the eighties heyday and a member of the Wall Street Week Hall of Fame, is not giving a specific target for the S&P 500 this year because the globalization of financial markets has made it too difficult. He’s just going to pick stocks.

“For the most part, our previous outlooks and forecasts were based on historical precedents and inputs,” said Birinyi, in a special note to his research firm’s clients. “Today, however, the increasing complexity of the financial markets – affected as they are by geopolitical considerations, increased fiscal and monetary activity and scrutiny in addition to the usual fundamental and psychological factors – makes forecasting with certainty, or the illusion thereof, increasingly difficult.”

Birinyi, who founded his research firm in 1989, cited his first forecast for Salomon Brothers in 1982 where he used the price-to-earnings and market-to-book ratio to correctly back into what would be the bottom in the Dow Jones Industrial Average for that year. It was a simpler time then, he said.

“We readily admit that our historical information and other processes are not equipped to” predict German politics, Chinese fiscal policy, Greece’s politics, and the GOP agenda, wrote Birinyi, who correctly remained bullish on the equity market last year even at its lowest moments.

“At this point in his career he has become a bottom’s up investor,” said Stephen Weiss of Short Hills Capital. “It is becoming a stock picker’s market and those companies that can manage their input costs the best will perform the best. There will still be group moves – always will be – but there is a significant opportunity for alpha generation.”

In Birinyi’s latest strategy letter, he added United Technologies to his ‘conservative’ portfolio and Honeywell to his ‘growth’ portfolio.

While it still remains a requisite for the job, perhaps Wall Street strategists would serve their clients best by spending more time picking the right sector, stocks and strategies then trying to back into an S&P 500 forecast that they’ll just end up revising during the year anyway.

Plus, the power of groupthink tends to takeover. Last year, the average forecast called for an S&P 500 gain of 10 percent. This year, strategists are predicting another 10 percent increase. Wanna bet the average prediction for 2012 is 10 percent?

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