The Corner

“In early 1966 Robert Bleiberg (then editor and publisher of Barron’s) realized that a great deal of material that was funneling into Barron’s offices wasn’t finding its way into print fast enough. Accordingly he put staffer Alan Abelson to work on ‘Up and Down Wall Street,’ a lively informative, no-holds-barred column… Abelson collected his facts and carefully checked them for accuracy. As a result he was able to zero in on scores of frauds ‘perhaps more than the SEC has uncovered in its entire history,’ says Bleiberg.” That comes from the 1982 book entitled, “Inside the Wall Street Journal.” Abelson died Thursday, May 9 in Manhattan at the age of 87.

Abelson started his career in the newspaper business as a copy boy at the New York Journal-American. In 1956 he joined Barron’s and began writing “Up & Down Wall Street” 10 years later. “Before the advent of 24/7 everything, Alan’s column was the most important journalistic voice on the stock market,” said James Grant, editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer and who also was columnist at Barron’s under Abelson. Grant went on to say that, “Alan was happiest throwing bombs at over-priced stocks and over-inflated egos… He could have made lots of money by going to work for a brokerage house or investment bank, but he would have hated himself – really hated himself – for selling out.”

I remember when the 1980s bull market got underway, Abelson was rather bullish right from the get go. More importantly he was skeptical of the giant bull run leading to the Dotcom Bust. And in the middle of 2007 Abelson felt that compared to the Dotcom Bust the pains investors were going to feel will be a huge wake up call and reality will be “back with a vengeance.” In the end economics win and that “overleveraged, overheated, overhyped market” will come undone and “rock global bourses.” Oh was he right!

In this week’s “Up and Down Wall Street” Randall Forsyth writes, “Alan started his ‘Up & Down Wall Street’ column during the Go-Go days of 1966, and he chronicled the devastating bear market of 1973-74, the bull market of the 1980s (interrupted, however briefly, by the Crash of October 1987), the Dot-Com Mania of the 1990s, and the bubble and bust that have so far defined this young century. From this voluminous body of work of such uniformly high quality… Alan also was extraordinarily kind to a middling bond writer whom he asked to fill in for him on occasion. It has always been a privilege, albeit a daunting one, to write this column when he took a well-deserved break. It will be even more so without him.”

To many folks, Abelson’s wit was sarcastic and imposing. To those of us who are interested in Wall Street history, his skepticism was a check on reality. In an environment where folklore, myths, tips and rumors were the norm, it was nice to have someone who had no equal, was fearless and had profound knowledge and understanding of the world combined with intelligence and good judgment. He himself was a wake up call and while he had his critics, he never backed down from what he wrote. In a day and time when writers want to be liked more than revered, Abelson was a straight shooter whose insights were full of wisdom and ethics — and he didn’t care who didn’t like it. You always knew where he stood and I for one will miss his straightforwardness and skepticism — hats off to Alan Abelson!

Quote of the Week: “What Madoff’s investors lacked in numbers, they more than made up in wealth. Which proves that cupidity and stupidity are as rife among the rich as among us peons.” — Alan Abelson

Bart Ward is the chief executive officer of Ward & Co. Ltd., an Anoka-based registered investment adviser – specializing in the management of stock and bond portfolios in companies which are listed on the NYSE.

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