Can US Stocks Weather This Taper Tantrum?

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average stood below the key 15,000 level before the opening bell Thursday and U.S. stock futures pointed to a lower start following the 6.4 percent plunge overnight in the Nikkei that put the Japanese stock index in bear market territory again.

(Read More: Nikkei Plunges 6.4%; Re-Enters Bear Market)

The dollar slid to its lowest level against the Japanese yen in 10 weeks in Tokyo trading amid uncertainty about when the Federal Reserve might start scaling back its $85 billion a month bond-buying program. Fed policymakers meet next week and investors are hoping for some answers.

The Dow had another volatile session on Wednesday—up 119 points shortly after the open, but closed down triple-digits for the second-straight session and lower for the third day in a row for the first time this year.

On CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday, leading market watchers and economists gave their predictions for where the markets may go from here and the possible timing of the start of Fed tapering.

Howard Ward, chief investment officer of growth equities at Gamco Investors:

"People are overly focused on what's happening in Asia right now when the story is what's happening right here in the U.S. economy."

While the economy is in a slow quarter due to the fiscal drag of "the sequester," Ward continued, growth is going to begin to accelerate for the rest of the year.

"There are a lot of good things here in the U.S., earnings revisions just turned positive in May for the first time in 11 months; the continuing initial unemployment claims are at the lowest level they've been since 2008, … inflation is very low [and] that supports high multiples on stocks."

"The lost decade for bonds has begun. … Money needs to be continuing to move out of cash and into stocks, and out of fixed-income into stocks" for baby boomers to fund their retirement, he said.

Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae:

"We have [the Fed taper] in our forecast at the beginning of next year. Forwards are saying September, but we don't think that'll happen until probably the beginning of 2014."

"[The] biggest problem the Fed has is they've taken all the volatility … out of the market. That's got to come back in. They're going to be working hard to prevent that from happening in the very short term. … I think it's going to be a rough ride for investors in the near term."

Peter Bain, president and CEO of Old Mutual Asset Management:

"I'm reasonably bullish" that the private sector can pick up for the Fed when it starts pulling back, Bain said. "Core underlying economic growth remains stable. For me, maybe I have low standards, for me stable is 2 percent-plus. … You will see large corporate cash deploy itself into the economy to grow."

"The pullback in the emerging markets from our perspective is more rooted in a concern about, honestly, China. … I think it's pretty clear, there [will be] no hard landing in China. Ultimately, I think emerging markets therefore will stabilize from here. It would help enormously here [in the U.S.]."

Boris Schlossberg, managing director at BK Asset Management:

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's warning last Friday on "Squawk Box" that the market may force the central bank's hand "is kind of prescient," Schlossberg said.

(Read More: Greenspan: Taper Now, Even If Economy Isn't Ready)

Before Friday's 175,000 nonfarm payroll growth number, he continued, "a lot of the data was starting to wobble. For right now, from a fundamental point of view when you are looking at U.S. economic data, there is a big question mark as to how exactly strong the U.S. economy is."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.