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Does anyone besides me wonder why so much power is placed in the hands of stock market analysts who, despite all their purported financial analysis skills, appear about as scientific at identifying market trends as you are at deciding when it's time to eat?

Is it smart that trillions of dollars of investments -- and the fortunes of our nation's companies -- are subject to the vagaries of people willing to move their clients in and out of the market based on the disclosure that a young woman has a stain on her dress allegedly produced by the president?

Does that really have any bearing on the expected stock performance of Intel Corp. or American International Group Inc.? Maybe I was sleeping the day when my 9th-grade economics class covered Stain Theory.

And then there are the gurus who say our stock market is bound to implode because of the Asian crisis. Why? I realize the fates of some companies are intertwined with Asia and the global economy, but the entire market? I doubt it.

I don't see the rationale for pulling down the entire U.S. market because a few companies may lose their customers and contracts for a couple years. I suspect it is because stock market analysts don't have the ability (or will?) to distinguish between companies that might be vulnerable to Southeast Asia's woes and those that are not. Last time I checked, I wasn't investing in any Indonesian government bonds by accident. How hard can it be?

Last week, the market took a nose dive when a Prudential Securities analyst issued a forecast on Tuesday morning that the Dow Jones Industrial Average could (not would, but could) make a major correction. Like so many lemmings, the naysayers in the market opted to be led by this dubious insight, falling over themselves in a mass move that dropped the Dow by 9%.

Thankfully, a few stubborn bulls refused to budge, pausing to question the sanity of jumping over the edge on one person's say-so. The market began to creep back up the very next day and continued moving upward for the remainder of last week. Go figure.

Even the Prudential analyst, quoted in news reports the next day, appeared befuddled that so many people had followed his lead. The analyst himself, in what I find a perverse twist of logic, said he expected the market would continue to move up several hundred points in spite of his dire pronouncements. If not even he expects his forecast to come true, then why should anyone else follow it?

While I'm grateful to the bullish analysts who rushed to assure the market that they would stand their ground, I'm not sure their reasons for staying the course are any better or more rational than those of the bears. I just happen to benefit from their gut reactions, as opposed to the other guys. Maybe the bullish analysts checked the freshness date on their bottles of Maalox more recently than the bears did?

Frankly, I'm tired of seeing my retirement savings buffeted like a paper ship in a hurricane because a few stock market insiders periodically lose their nerve as the Dow approaches the five-digit mark, only to be calmed a few days later by the opposite actions of others. I've got a while to go before I cash in those chips and sail off into the sunset. Until then, I guess I'm obligated to let my nest egg ride on the game of chance that the market has become.

I might have better luck building for the future by spreading my money around the country to form syndicates to buy Power Ball tickets, or letting it ride on the Chicago Cubs' playoff chances. Alas, the IRS (let alone my wife and my employer) won't let me.

If the gnomes who influence the stock market don't know why the overall market moves up or down and what is likely to be a solid investment vs. a shaky one, I wish they'd at least have the courtesy of keeping it to themselves. I suspect many of their decisions are based less on their much-vaunted analyses and research and more on superstition, gut instinct or the identification of questionable omens.

While I'm no wizard at picking winning stocks (I leave it to the mutual fund companies), at least I'm not moving my funds in and out of the market on a daily basis because I don't like the way the tea leaves look at the bottom of my cup.

Editor Paul D. Winston and Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre publish columns on alternate weeks.