A NYSE trader in October 2008 mockingly wears hat that was distributed when Dow hit 10,000 in March 1999. (Photo: AP)

An important rule for stock prognosticators is: “Never tie the Dow to a specific date,” which author and former Washington Post columnist James Glassman once told AdvisorOne.

Stuart Freeman didn’t get the memo. Following on Harry Dent’s famous prediction during the last economic expansion that the Dow would hit 40,000, and Glassman’s own book titled Dow 36,000, Freeman, chief equity strategist with Wells Fargo Advisors, rings in with the much more modest bet that the index of large-cap industrials will double in the next decade.

Freeman looks into what happened to the S&P 500 after past bull markets turned three years old, a stage that—although it might not feel like it—is a point at which the economy presently resides. In each bull market since 1973, the average forward 10-year return from three years into five of these cyclical bulls was 147%. The median was 162%. The 10-year returns ranged from between 57% (for period from 1973 to 1983) and 194% (for the 10-year period between 1985 and 1995).

“The history of the last 40 years points toward a decade of favorable returns for stocks, even if the count starts three years into a cyclical bull market (which is where we are today),” Freeman and co-author Scott Wren write. “Long-term investors should take particular notice of this potential, particularly, given the relatively low P/E valuations today, low inflation expectations, the generally soft consumer sentiment and the investor public’s very cautious attitude toward stocks.”

He reminds readers that the 10-year returns discussed are for 10-year periods following the first three years of cyclical bulls. The current cyclical bull market began in March 2009, and he suggests that there is much evidence that “the last 40-plus years of later-cycle returns follow the first up-leg in cyclical bull markets and periods of mid-cycle meandering.”

What does it all mean?

“Investors with longer term investment time horizons of a decade should take particular notice of this pattern of equity returns given today’s relatively low P/E valuations, low inflation expectations, generally soft consumer sentiment and the investor public’s very cautious attitude toward equities.”

Freeman’s prediction is getting a boost from Russell Investments, whose latest Investment Manager Outlook, a quarterly survey of money manager sentiment, finds that 69% of managers are bullish for U.S. large-cap growth equities this quarter, up 11% from December, underscoring managers’ view on the markets as a “risk-on” opportunity.