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Chasing Returns Amid the Return of Uncertainty

Fear, uncertainty, volatility. Investors on the sidelines have been stuck with a shaky three-legged stool. And as the first half of 2012 closes, it has certainly been a tale of two quarters — rally and rout.

Investors face somewhat similar circumstances to the late 2008-early 2009 period. A threat to the financial system and a dragging global economy. The big difference is that things aren't nearly as bad or as close to home.

Nevertheless, investors would like to move forward — and move up. Playing it safe makes for low stress, but also low returns. Cash is king in a land of poor choices.

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The long-running Treasury-market rally has defied both the odds and history. The stock market recovered then retreated; the Nasdaq, for instance, hit its highest level since the tech collapse a decade ago.

The dollar disappointed then surprised, reacquiring its seemingly lost safe-haven status.

In a world hungry for crude oil and other natural resources, commodities prices — from metalsto grains — sank.

What lies ahead may not be any less unsettling: a Greek sovereign debt default or another chapter in its aversion of same; a soft landing and ascension of a new leader in China; a disquieting standoff between Israel and Iran over the latter's nuclear energy program; a divisive U.S. presidential election and a host of policy unknowns from taxes to deficits.

As money managers and market pundits assemble in Chicago for Morningstar's annual investment conferenceJune 20-22, it's a challenging time for advisers and investors alike.

Our special report sets the table for the conference and our running blog will bring highlights, advice and analysis from the floor. Take a look and come back for more.

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