Analysts who predicted that the Dow Jones industrial average would hit 10,000 before the end of the century were considered wildly optimistic as recently as last year.

But Sterling K. Jenson, president of First Security Investment Management, said Tuesday that he thinks Dow 10,000 is a "slam dunk," and it may happen in 1998."What can I say? It just keeps going up," Jenson said of the average, which tracks the stock of several companies on the New York Stock Exchange.

"There's no other place that makes near as much sense as investing in U.S. stocks."

However, Jenson said, almost every investor he meets today is nervous. The rapid rise of the Dow Jones industrial average from about 6,500 in January 1997 to about 9,100 now has people wondering when the next crash will oc-cur.

"In the near term, no one really knows what this market is going to do," he said.

Jenson said he has heard predictions that the Dow Jones industrial average could go as high as 16,000 or 22,000 before another fall. That could happen, and most people know they should remain invested in stocks for the long-term, he said.

But they also want short-term pro-tec-tion.

Those who are seeking such assurance may want to first look at their exposure to common stocks, he said. As their stocks' values have risen, so has the percentage of their total portfolio that is held in stocks.

People may choose to rebalance their portfolios by taking some money out of stocks and putting it into more conservative investments, Jenson said. But as long as they have some money tied up in equities, they will be exposed to a possible downturn in the market.

Even those who draw back from their stock risk may save little if a correction comes, he said. For example, an investor who had $100,000 in stocks, then moved $20,000 to more conservative investments, would only save $4,000 on a 20 percent drop in the stock market.

But that person may have short-term bragging rights around the water cooler, Jenson said, because she could claim she saw the downturn coming.