Phil Dow, a gentleman of the investment trade and a stock market strategist for the last 25 years, is calling it a career at RBC Wealth Management.

Dow, 66, who also spent 11 years at Piper Jaffray, has long espoused that the best way to make money is to own good companies with leading market shares and a track record of increasing dividends.

That hasn't worked out too well since 2000, a period dominated by tech bubbles, financial fraud, blowups and bailouts, political gridlock and high-frequency trading that has increased market volatility and done nothing for long-term appreciation.

"You and I are just as likely to occupy Wall Street as anyone," quipped Dow. "And people, particularly when they are nervous or frustrated, tend to buy what makes them feel better -- and that's been bonds and cash.

"The whole thought of stock ownership has been less respected only once before in my career, during the despair of 1973-74. I watched investors flee the stock market for what proved to be years. Many of us just can't get past the torrent of near-term uncertainty to envision a better, more functional future."

Warren Kelly, a top financial adviser at Piper and RBC during the Dow years, said Dow always showed up at dawn, before the brokerage force, to prepare a prescient digest of recent events and a calmly delivered analysis.

"The unwavering focus for Phil was to help us help our clients make good investment decisions," Kelly said. "In the Jim Cramer world of 19 ideas in a 30-minute show, Phil always reminded us that we were buying companies, businesses for the long term as owners, not just stocks to be traded. He's not been right on every idea, but he's been consistent in his approach."

Although buy-and-hold stock ownership is less in vogue lately, you would have made money listening to Dow and his "Prime Opportunity List Investment Committee" at RBC since 1995. Their December picks, distributed to the advisers, include Abbott Laboratories, Costco, General Mills, Home Depot, Hormel, Microsoft, General Electric, Valspar and other dividend-payers. The prime portfolio was up by 14 percent over the 12-month period ended Nov. 30, and 288 percent since inception in March 1995.

Returns have been leaner in recent years, but Dow remains optimistic that the "emerging market middle-class" around the globe will get their energy, technology, health, nutrition and other needs met partly by innovative U.S. companies.

The S&P 500, undervalued today by historical measures, next year could top 1,400 for the first time since 2007, Dow said.

"I was buy-and-hold all the time. And I've got the gray to prove it,'' he said. "If stocks ever get really profitable again, I'll take 20 or 30 percent off the table."

A CRIME TO VISIT FACEBOOK?

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a criminal law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, argued a potentially significant appeal last week on behalf of a worker charged under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for misuse of his former company's computer.

Sampsell-Jones and his co-counsel argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the federal government's interpretation of the statute is overly broad and has national implications.

According to Sampsell-Jones, the government's use of the statute could make it a federal crime to visit Facebook or send a personal e-mail if that was against company policy. To that extreme, he said, it would be a crime if someone lied about their weight or age on match.com.

"The government is trying to take a hacking statute and convert it into a general computer misuse statute. And that would make tens of millions of citizens criminals," said Sampsell-Jones.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was passed in the 1980s as an anti-computer-hacking law.

An Appeals Court ruling isn't likely for several months, and the matter could still end up before the Supreme Court.

DAVID PHELPS

ECKERLINE REASSIGNED AT MERRILL

In a move that's caused a buzz in the trade, Mark Eckerline, a veteran Merrill Lynch manager, has stepped down as head of the Twin Cities brokerage business.

Jodi Rolland, the new chief of Merrill's "Heartland Region," named a Merrill outsider, Jimmy Tighe, as director of the Twin Cities region. Eckerline became head of the less-prestigious outstate markets, including Bloomington, Duluth, Rochester and Fargo.

Eckerline, once Piper Jaffray's Wayzata manager, moved from Piper to Merrill with the rest of Piper's Wayzata office when UBS bought Piper's retail wealth-management business in 2006. Eckerline, a 30-year Piper-Merrill veteran, was a popular guy with the troops. His brother, Peter, is one of Merrill's top producers in the region. Local brokers say some Merrill professionals are getting calls from competitors.

Merrill brokers didn't move much in the old days, partly because much of their long-term compensation and wealth was tied to Merrill stock. That means less in the wake of the 2008 shotgun marriage between taxpayer-aided Bank of America and Merrill Lynch, which was weakened by its mortgage investments.

Bank of America's value fell from about $50 per share to $5 per share over the last four years.