One of the bigger bears on Wall Street, Merrill Lynch & Co. chief investment strategist Charles Clough, will leave the firm, the largest U.S. brokerage, at the end of the year, the company said.
Clough, 57, is departing after 12 years at Merrill Lynch to pursue other interests, a company spokesman said. While the firm declined to comment, his latter years may have been less than harmonious.
"His overall bearishness has certainly soured people in Merrill Lynch who would have favored a more bullish outlook," said Marshall B. Front, a money manager for Chicago's Front, Barnett Associates LLC, which oversees $1.7 billion.
Clough recently recommended that clients put 40 percent of their money in stocks, 55 percent in bonds and 5 percent in cash. By contrast, Abby Joseph Cohen, the investment strategist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., recently recommended that customers have 70 percent of their money in stocks.
"On the retail side they did have a problem where they have to move product and it was hard for them [to do that] with his bearish calls," Front said.
And Clough's record is mixed. He predicted at the end of 1998 that major stock indexes would be flat this year amid flat profits. Instead, earnings and stocks have been buoyant, with the Dow Jones industrial average returning 22 percent and the Nasdaq composite index gaining 26 percent.
A year earlier he also said the bull market in U.S. stocks may end, a forecast that wasn't borne out given the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index's 27 percent return in 1998.
He also recommended U.S. Treasury bonds, a better prediction. The 30-year U.S bond returned 18 percent in 1998.
Last month Clough said he expects the S&P 500 to trade "sideways." The benchmark for U.S. large companies has gained 10.8 percent this year.
He also said international stock markets, boosted by rebounding economies abroad, were likely to be more lucrative than stocks in the S&P 500 after increasing the percentage of Japanese stocks in his firm's model global portfolio to 5.5. percent from 5.2 percent in March. The Nikkei stock average is up 29 percent this year.
Still, that same month he was also saying "there really isn't a lot of earnings growth underneath the market as a whole." That was before the second quarter when S&P 500 companies reported their best quarterly earnings growth since the first quarter of 1997.
In May last year, Clough recommended decreasing holdings in Latin America while increasing holdings in Germany and the Netherlands.
The German Dax index has fallen 6.3 percent since that time, and the Amsterdam exchanges index has lost 0.4 percent when converted to U.S. dollars. The Brazil Bovespa index has slumped 34 percent in U.S. dollar terms.
"He has some tremendous strengths which have been helpful to us and others," Front said. "He made some very good calls in the mid- to late '90s on financial stocks and he did well calling the cyclical stock turn" earlier this year.