Outlook: Markets await return of the pros

TRICKY THINGS, bear markets, and particularly this one. Just as you thought equities were heading for oblivion, they bounce back. And just as it appears safe to dip a toe back in the water, down they go again.

They were see-sawing all over the place yesterday. The backdrop is Russia and the Far East, but the cue comes from Wall Street. As the Dow opened, the story was that Alan Greenspan would be riding to the rescue, all the way from Jackson Hole in the Rockies where he was chairing the Fed's yearly meeting of central bankers, academics and financial pundits.

Why anyone thought something positive might come out of this annual talking shop is a bit of a mystery, but there was a coordinated cut in interest rates around the world to deal with the 1987 crash, so why not this time round, too? Fat chance.

Mr Greenspan wittered on about "disciplined monetary policies", stable prices and sustainable growth as if oblivious to the carnage around him. He thought Wall Street too high when it was worth a quarter less than it is now, so why should he want to act anyway?

If things carry on the way they are, the prophecy of a US interest rate cut may yet become self fulfilling, despite Mr Greenspan's reluctance. But nobody is going to judge this a fully fledged bear market until the fund managers return from holiday next week. The most curious thing about the present downswing is that it has been against the backdrop of very little selling. While the boss has been away, the number twos have been under strict instructions to do nothing precipitous.

The pros will be back next week to survey the damage and, as likely as not, they'll take the view that it's too late to sell now. More difficult to call is whether they'll start buying again. With incendiary devices popping up unexpectedly all over the developing world, it's a brave man who does. Most will wait for the waters to clear.