Alan Abelson, a columnist who cast a skeptical eye on U.S. financial markets and skewered targets from Alan Greenspan to Warren Buffett during more than four decades at Barron’s magazine, died May 9 of a heart attack at a New York City hospital, said his son, Justin Abelson. He was 87.
Mr. Abelson began his “Up & Down Wall Street” column in 1966, a year after being named managing editor of Barron’s. He kept writing even after his 1981 promotion to editor, which put him in charge of the weekly publication, and his resignation a dozen years later.
The column was known for its doubting attitude — or bearishness, according to Mr. Abelson’s critics — and for a writing style that showcased his wit. After billionaire investor Buffett said in Berkshire Hathaway’s 1996 annual report that the stock was “not undervalued,” Abelson wrote:
“To Warren Buffett we say, truth wounds, cynicism kills — think on what ye hath wrought and repent! There’s still time to revise that prospectus. A small phrase — ‘just kidding’ — inserted on the front page right below those caveats will do the trick.”
“Up & Down Wall Street” included coverage of smaller companies with questionable finances or prospects. While his reporting inspired lawsuits, Mr. Abelson emerged from those cases with his reputation intact.
“He was very devoted to the magazine, and he took great pride in the work his staff did and the fact that he helped the field of economic journalism,” his son said.
Alan Abelson was born on Oct. 12, 1925, in New York City. He received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and English from City College of New York in 1946 and a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop a year later.
After working as a freelance reporter and book-review writer in New York for two years, he was hired as a copy boy at the New York Journal-American, a now-defunct newspaper. He became a reporter on the city desk and then moved to the financial desk.
Mr. Abelson was the Journal-American’s stock-market columnist from 1952 to 1956. He then joined Barron’s, where he initially edited the Investment News & Views section and wrote corporate and industry features. He became managing editor in 1965 and succeeded Robert Bleiberg as editor in 1981.
In July 1982, Mr. Abelson began appearing on television and provided business commentaries for the NBC network’s “News at Sunrise” until October 1990.
He resigned as editor at the request of Dow Jones & Co., now a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., when the weekly was redesigned.
Dow Jones asked Mr. Abelson to remain as the “Up & Down Wall Street” columnist. Here’s how he described Greenspan’s performance as chairman of the Federal Reserve in light of U.S. stocks’ 1990s surge and subsequent plunge:
“Pure and simple, save for the Fed, the stock market bubble could never have reached the monstrous dimensions it did, and its bursting would never have caused such a widespread and profound misery as it has.”
Mr. Abelson’s stock-market views drew a retort from hedge-fund manager Victor Niederhoffer in his 2003 book “Practical Speculation,” co-written with Laurel Kenner.
“Though he is a clever and talented writer, by any objective standard Abelson has the distinction of being one of the worst market forecasters in history,” Niederhoffer wrote.
In 1975, a BusinessWeek article alleged that some investors found out the contents of Mr. Abelson’s column in advance. He responded with a libel suit that was dropped in exchange for a public admission by McGraw-Hill, BusinessWeek’s publisher, that it had no reason to believe he leaked information on purpose or acted unethically.
Similar accusations appeared in a 1977 lawsuit stemming from Mr. Abelson’s reporting on Technicare, a medical-equipment maker, and a 1987 case tied to the collapse of Creative Securities, a brokerage firm based in New York. Both suits were ultimately dismissed.
“Back in the 1960s, people used to threaten to punch me in the nose when I said something negative about a company,” Abelson told The Washington Post in 1977. “Now we live in different times.”
Mr. Abelson’s wife, Virginia, died in 1999. Survivors include two children and five grandchildren.