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FEAR OF RISING INTEREST RATES ISN’T STOPPING SOME INVESTORS

SHARE FEAR OF RISING INTEREST RATES ISN’T STOPPING SOME INVESTORS

In the eyes of quite a few skeptics on Wall Street, investors who are buying stocks right now are playing a dangerous game: fighting the Federal Reserve.

As long as the Fed is tightening credit the way it has over the past six months, these analysts say, the stock market faces an uphill climb."Rising interest rates are never bullish for stocks," declares Charles LaLoggia, a Rochester, N.Y. investment adviser.

"Rising rates are anathema to bull markets, a fact clearly in evidence this year," says Norman Fosback, editor of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Market Logic letter.

With two increases of late in the discount rate, Fosback notes, the Fed has come close to invoking the "three steps and a stumble" rule formulated decades ago by legendary market analyst Edson Gould.

This precept states that whenever the central bank raises the rate on loans to private financial institutions three times in succession, stocks are due for a decline.

But the prospect hasn't deterred large numbers of optimists in the financial world, who assert that times, and the Fed's way of doing things, have changed.

"In the past Fed policy has been reactive rather than proactive," says John Cleland, chief market strategist at the Security Benefit Group in Topeka, Kan.

"As much as anything, the Fed is trying to dampen inflationary psychology. If I'm right and the economy is slowing, there will soon be no more need for the Fed to tighten.

"I think we're only in the early stages of a long bull market. The next stage, driven by earnings rather than liquidity, could carry the market for the next several years."

Many bulls base their enthusiasm on hopes that the Fed will be successful in its pre-emptive strike against inflation, staving off upward pressure on prices before it gets out of hand.

If that happens, they say, bonds, with their hypersensitivity to changes in inflationary expectations, could rally, pushing long-term interest rates lower even if short-term rates have moved up.

Most observers, however, concede there are risks to the Fed's strategy as well. "The real question, it seems to me, is whether this ratcheting up of short-term interest rates has been too much," Cleland says.

Adds Erich Heinemann, chief economist at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. in New York, "The Fed's squeeze won't put a dent in the economy now, but it will add to the recession risk in 1996."

Many analysts have turned out studies this summer of past stock action in periods when the Fed was tightening credit. Depending on the method and the benchmarks used, these studies have produced widely varying conclusions, from darkly gloomy to mildly optimistic.

Before people slavishly follow the three-steps-and-a-stumble doctrine, the bulls say, they should consider the last sequence of three discount rate increases, which came in 1987, '88 and '89.

Stock prices crashed shortly after the first increase but were well on their way toward a strong recovery by the time the third occurred. It was 16 months from the third increase before stocks reached their next peak.