If the stock market is truly a "random walk," then it's futile to make predictions for the year ahead. Still, it's irresistible. Dan Sullivan, editor of the Chartist (562-596-2385), a 33-year-old newsletter based in Seal Beach, Calif., has an exceptional record doing something that random-walkers believe can't be done: timing the market. He has been advising since February that readers keep all their money in cash, not stocks. But in the current issue, he writes, "We are confident that 2003 . . . will not go down in the record books as the fourth down year in a row." The reason: It's the year before a presidential election, and the past 15 such years have produced increases in the stock market. "Incumbents during a pre-election year will invariably pull out all the stops in an . . . effort to remain in office," he writes. One other point: This the first time since 1939-41 that the benchmark S&P 500 has dropped three years straight. In 1942, the S&P jumped 20 percent, then continued to rise at a double-digit rate for four years. The index was up a total of 147 percent from 1942 to 1945. A word to the wise, however: History doesn't always repeat itself. Life, in that case, would be far too boring.

-- James K. Glassman