How's this for provocative, no-hedge stock market prediction?

By year-end, the Dow Jones Industrials will be about 200 points high than right now.

The market should experience very little significant weakness from current levels.

Any way you look at it, that's pretty bold talk -- considering a recession, fears of a severe credit crunch and flareups in the Mideast. Anyone making such a forecast could easily end up having egg on his face.

But then, Howard (pete) Colhoun, the 45-year-old pipe-smoking chairman of the $330 million Rowe Price New Era Fund, is no hedger.

"The cheap stock prices pretty much discount the negative," says Colhoun, who figures the DJI will shoot up to around 970 by year-end.

"Look down the road and you see the market has a lot going for it," he said. "Interest rates should be coming down, the recession should be over its worst days and the administration will perform every trick in the book to show positive economic numbers before election time."

In addition, Colhoun points to the "cheapness" of the market. He notes that stocks, by and large, are selling at around 80 percent of their book values. And that's the same level they were in 1974 when the DJI hit a low of 570.

Accordingly, Colhoun thinks now is the time for investers to begin getting back into the market. His advice: Put 20 percent of your investment funds into stocks and if the market drops, fatten your holdings.

It's anybody's guess whether our man is right in his timing, but based on his performance -- which is way above average -- he clearly merits a respectful hearing.

Over the past decade, the New Era Fund, which invests chiefly in natural resouce companies, was one of the few in its field to outpace inflation. Its 10-year showing: a lusty gain of 135 percent, vs. a 155.4 percent rise in the consumer price index. In the same period, the pro's best-regarded yardstick -- the Standad & Poor's index of 500 stocks -- rose 65 percent.

Over the past five years, it was more of the same. The fund, part of the family of Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Associates, an $8 billion money management organization, was up 153 percent, roughly 50 percent better than the S&P index. And last year, a phenomenal one for the fund, it jumped nearly 60 percent, vs. a rise of just under 19 percent of the S&P group.

When I caught up with Colhoun during a recent trip to Baltimore, he was in pain; he had a pinched nerve and he had to wear a collar. That wasn't the only pain he was experiencing. The New Era Fund, reflecting the big selloff in energy and metals and mining stocks, is trailing the general market in 1980; first-quarter results show a 7.4 percent drop, vs. a 4.2 percent decline in the S&P index.

More importantly, some market analysts suggest that the majority of energy-related stocks -- considering the current oil glut and their big 1979 run -- could be lackluster performers.

Colhoun disagrees. He believes inflation will continue to run at around a 10 percent rate over the next four years. And in such an environment, he expects natural resources (including gas, oil, gold, silver, real estate, coal, diamonds and molybedenum) to continue to appreciate.

Another plus for the natural resource sector, according to Colhoun, is the increasing recognition of these companies as "asset plays," rather than "earnings plays." Heretofore, it's been the earnings momentum rather than the true worth of the natural resources that have dominated investor thinking.