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FUTURE LOOKS GRISLY: BEAR MARKET IS LIKELY

"Based on current technical evidence, the odds that we're approaching a bear market for stocks are extremely high," observes InvesTech Market Analyst (2472 Birch Glen, Whitefish, Mont. 59937). "Every single stock market average is lower than it was nine months ago. And the Dow Jones Utility Average recently slid to its lowest level in over five years. If there's one ominous warning flag that more trouble lies ahead . . . that's it."

- Transamerica Special Emerging Growth Fund, which has appreciated an average 14.9 percent annually over the past five years, focuses on small companies with rapidly growing sales and earnings, little debt and significant management ownership. But it refuses to overpay for them, limiting itself to stocks whose price/earnings ratios are lower than their earnings-growth rates. Recent favorites: Best Buy, Tellabs, U.S. Robotics, Michaels Stores, Outback Steakhouse, Sybase, Sterling Software.- After several lackluster years, credit card use is growing faster than the economy again. "The best credit-card investment bets aren't big card companies, but niche players," says Executive Wealth (1101 King St., Alexandria, Va. 22314). "The following three companies have an unusual but valuable niche in today's high-priced market. Yet the stock of each is lower than its earnings growth rate: First U.S.A. (high credit risks), Advanta B (high credit risks), MBNA (large groups)."

- "Investors who want to stay in stocks through a possible downdraft should consider shifting part of their holdings to less volatile issues," observes Standard & Poor's Outlook (25 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10004). The Outlook recently recommended seven stocks that it rates five stars (highest) for financial strength and appreciation potential, and that also moved at least 25 percent less dramatically than the average stock in the Standard & Poor's 500 over the past five years: H&R Block, Englehard, IBP, Loral, Oxford Industries, Property Capital Trust, Quaker State.

- An increasing number of bond fund managers are stretching for higher yields with poor-quality issues, hoping more will succeed than fail, warns Bond Investors Newsletter (P.O. Box 4427, Miami Lakes, Fla. 33014). "The most recent example is the growing trend toward purchasing high-yield bonds with warrants. Appropriately enough, new casino ventures are frequent users of such debt packages. Many such ventures haven't made public stock offerings, so bondholders are underwriting any failure, but are only 5 percent to 10 percent participants, should the venture succeed."

- Central bank dishoarding can be disruptive to the gold market, observes The Freemarket Gold & Money Report (P.O. Box 4634, Greenwich, Conn. 06830). But it's not critical. "The potential demand for gold from people seeking to preserve their wealth and purchasing power will outweigh the impact of any dishoarding. Remember, central bank dishoarding couldn't stop the price of gold from rising in either the late '60s or the late '70s. It can't do so this time either."

- All the money that's been poured into stocks in the past few years has brought about a proliferation of new mutual funds. Should you invest in a fund with a limited track record? Only in two cases, says Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine (1729 H St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006): 1) when a well-regarded manager with an established record is at the helm; 2) when the fund fills a promising niche where alternatives are either absent or unattractive.