As stocks continue to head lower, many investors are wondering when the market will hit bottom and how soon they should get back in.
In interviews on CNBC Monday morning, several investment strategists concluded that with more bad news to come, the bottom's not yet in sight. Yet they differed on what investors should do about it.
"Even statistically, we're knocking on the door of a bear market," Putnam's Jeff Knight said. "I think that's probably the right frame of mind, frankly, to approach portfolio strategy for the near term."
"We're in a bear market, you bet, because the credit markets are in disarray, and until the credit markets get some smblance of normalcy, I don't see how the stock market can have any kind of sustained rally," Rich Bern of Performance Trust Capital said.
"My biggest fear is that credit is not going to be available to worthy borrowers," Scott Wren of A.G. Edwards told CNBC.
James Paulsen of Wells Capital Management is already looking past the near term.
"I just think the downside from here is getting more and more limited," he said. "We've had a lot of discounting already in the price of the stock market."
He encouraged investors to look ahead 12 to 18 months.
Berg indicated that's not a popular view, especially among the experts.
"The major risk takers don't want to take risks," he said. "You can throw all your rational market strategy out the window right now."
Wren doesn't expect to have to wait a year or a year and a half.
"We're expecting some easing in the tightness of this credit over the next four to six months," he said. "We're expecting the market to anticipate growth in the second half and a better `09. The market's going to turn higher long before this slowdown...is over, and I think you're going to see the results of that in a pretty big way by the end of 2008."
He urged investors to change their portfolios to a more cyclical orientation over the next few months.
Knight doesn't even see conditions right for investors to go "bottom fishing."
"There's a lot of capitulation to go," he said.
He encouraged investors to be diversified, even if it means "defying the normal cyclical playbook."
"In the really big picture, we've had wealth in terms of real estate and financial markets outpace GDP for a long time, and I think those things are coming together," Knight said. "It's not necessarily `buy the dips,' it's more `construct a wealth-building strategy around the broadest array of asset classes, including active strategy as well as market exposure."
And in the midst of all the bearishness, Barry James of James Advantage Funds sees the prospect of a rally.
"Within every bear market, there are rallies," he said. "They kind of come out of the blue."
He said his research is "4-to-1 positive" for the short term, but he warned that it's not a time to be loading a portfolio with stocks.
"Within that phase, it probably will be pretty smart for folks to start cutting back on equities," he advised.