Grin and Bear it

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After tumbling Friday by almost 150 points and erasing the last gains of 1997 gains, the Dow Jones industrial average closed Monday up 60.21. So is everything OK? Not quite. First, the good news: Strong first-quarter corporate earnings. Intel, GM, and Coca-Cola all posted better-than-expected figures, and analysts say that there haven't been any significant increases in the number of early warnings from businesses expecting to report weak earnings for the first three months of the year. The bad news? There's a surprising amount of agreement that long term, the markets definitely have got the blues. Although Monday's modest rise nudges the Dow back into positive territory for the year, the economy continues to grow. And that means, in May, another dose of interest-rate hikes by the Fed to slow the pace of borrowing and spending, a cure for inflation guaranteed to squeeze on the markets' collective neck. In the meantime, the prognosticators are out. For the first time in a while, they are all talking about ways to weather a slow, painful storm that could last the year. One recommends cash reserves. Another says small mutual funds. Some say it's time to find the bargains, others say stocks aren't done falling yet. Some brokerage houses are heralding the return of market timing, which was the way people used to make money in the short term, before last year, when everything went up in the short term, and the living was easy. Until the economy slows down, experts say, the markets will continue drag along. But we'll always have 7,000.