Bill Carter, who was perhaps the least gloomy of the group of advisors interviewed in April 2008, is again the most sanguine now. "I'm in new neutral now," says Carter, whose Dallas firm manages about $800 million. "There are certainly signs that we're coming out of recession."

As second-quarter corporate earnings were beginning to be reported, Carter was buoyed by reports of larger than expected profits from Intel, and he predicted corporate earnings could surprise many people by being more on the positive side. "That could very quickly change consumer sentiment," he says.

Carter says corporate balance sheets are as strong as they've been in many years, but companies remain fearful about spending. "If corporate America feels some confidence, it will restart spending and hiring," he says. "But the administration must articulate a clear plan for growth, and I don't know if we're going to see that."

While saying he is "non-political," Carter believes that if the Obama administration does not provide a clear growth strategy, Republicans will gain seats in Congress in November. This, in turn, will block any plans for further government spending and give people more confidence that we are on a path toward growth.

Carter says that he's always been rewarded in the past for staying invested in stocks even through the most difficult periods. So while he has diversified toward alternative investments, Treasury Inflation Protection bonds and international bonds, his client portfolios have not eliminated stocks. "In March 2009, when the stock market was hitting its lows after the financial crisis, who would have thought that stocks would end up having an excellent year," asks Carter, explaining why he remains invested in equities. "It seems to me that we may very well be at the very beginning of another bull market now-although it is too early for me to say that with any conviction."

Still, Carter says he remains nervous because of the fragility of the recovery. "Interest rates are as low as they can go and the budget deficit is sky high, so there are not many cures left if something bad happens," he says. "I don't see any negative events on the horizon, but if one comes up it could have a very negative impact."

Robert Levitt is unique among independent wealth managers in that he moves around the world in search of investment ideas. (Though Levitt Capital Management is headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., Levitt himself is based in France.) In recent months, he has been through Jordan, Israel and Sweden. In 2009, he spent several months in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and he is planning on spending the final three months of 2010 in Indonesia before heading to Africa early next year. But his worldview currently is bleak for America and the West.

"It's a risky time to commit money to a long-term buy-and-hold strategy," says Levitt, "and I expect it to stay the same for the next few years."

He says the U.S. and Europe are trapped in a high-risk environment in trying to deleverage. Another stimulus package might not be possible politically. But even if stimulus was politically tenable and would bolster growth in the short term, it could cause investors to lose faith in currencies backed by government promises. Stimulus risks a worsening debt crisis.

Arguments for austerity, meanwhile, are also fraught with risk. Imposing austerity in a balance sheet recession softens consumption and growth and could thrust the already slowing economies of the developed world into a full-blown recession. "So we are staying out of the game," says Levitt. "We are sitting out this hand."

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