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@theMarket: Fed Gives Green Light to Stocks
By Bill Schmick On: 02:37PM / Saturday January 28, 2012
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It wasn't quite a QE III but it came close. This week, the Federal Reserve Bank extended the time period in which they would keep a lid on short-term interest rates to 2014 while at the same time pushing longer-term rates lower. Investors liked that and bought stocks on the news.

The Fed also said it would consider launching a bond-buying program and it wouldn't wait for a recession to do it. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted he would act if the economy and unemployment simply continues to recover at its present slow pace. At the same time, the Fed dropped its forecast for economic growth this year from a range of 2.5-2.9 percent to 2.2-2.7 percent. He targeted a 2 percent inflation rate for the country but also said he would be willing to see inflation a bit higher if it meant producing more jobs for Americans.

What all of this means for you and I is that the Fed is determined to do all it can to goose the economy, the stock market and the housing markets. In the past, when the Fed conveyed this kind of message to investors, the stock markets climbed higher. I expect the same thing to happen again this time.

It is not yet clear to me how telegraphing their determination to push longer-term rates lower over the next two-plus years is going to help home buyers decide on purchasing, as opposed to renting. If, for example, I was in the market for a fixed rate mortgage and I know rates might trend lower between now and 2014, I would be in no hurry to sign a contract.

The Fed's announcement is also bad news for those retirees who have fled the stock market and have their money invested in "safe" assets such as CDs and U.S. Treasury bonds. They will continue to receive next to nothing for their money while struggling to make ends meet as food, energy, medical services and other necessary living expenses continue to rise.

On the plus side, investors can be pretty sure that the economy won't get any worse and that the stock market is about the only place one can hope to achieve a reasonable rate of return on your investments. Of course, there will be the inevitable piper to pay down the road but central banks around the world have decided to worry about the inflationary consequences of trillions of dollars in stimulus when it happens. Future inflation fears is one reason that commodities led by gold and silver raced higher after the Fed meeting.

So do the Fed's actions change the bottom line of my investment strategy? Not really. I believe defensive areas of the stock markets (those stocks and sectors that pay dividends) will do just fine in this environment. High yield and investment grade bonds will also do quite well. We will still have pullbacks in the market this year and some of them might even be serious. Overall, I believe we are exactly where we should be.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.



     
@theMarket: Markets Climb a Wall of Worry
By Bill Schmick On: 12:30PM / Saturday January 21, 2012
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Problems, issues, challenges, call them what you may. Nary a day has gone by when something, somewhere continues to put investors on edge. From the Straits of Hormuz to the infidelities of Republican hopefuls, the world appears to be full of surprises. Yet, the stock markets grind higher.

Why now? Haven't these same issues been with us for months? Yet, the same news on Greek debt negotiations that in the past sent stocks into a downward spiral is now simply being ignored. The continued delays in EU progress toward a monetary and fiscal solution to their financial crisis are now greeted calmly rather than with horror.

Some of the market's response can be attributed to a "no news is good news" read on events in Europe. That leaves investors to focus on the positive data coming out of the American economy, something I have been writing about for months. The data continues to improve. We are actually hearing some analysts who now believe the fundamentals of the housing markets are improving.

There is also the recurring story, first identified by me in a September column "What the Market Missed," that the administration is planning a big mortgage refinancing operation with the Fed's assistance. Anywhere from $1-3 trillion worth of U.S. mortgage holders will be able to refinance their high-interest bearing mortgages at lower rates, injecting billions into home owners' pockets.

However, all this good news has been quickly reflected in stock averages. Financials, which have been under constant selling pressure for well over a year, have suddenly rallied big in the last three weeks. Home builders have also jumped by over 10 percent in some cases in the same time period. Technology stocks overall are on a tear, despite some lackluster earnings announcements. The benchmark S&P 500 Index is already up over 5 percent so far this year and we are only now entering the third week in January.

Most indicators are flashing amber or red warning lights indicating the markets are overbought and due for a correction. I agree, although markets can remain overbought for a long time and still plow higher. When I look at the potential downside, I am not too concerned. Sure, we could drop a good 50 points or so in quick order on the S&P but that's about the extent of the downside I see right now.

If I put that in perspective, there were days last year when that kind of decline was almost a weekly occurrence. All week trader talk focused on when the correction would occur and how much the averages would decline. Unfortunately for them, markets will typically do what is most inconvenient to the most number of players.

And that's what happened this week. As traders positioned for a sell off, they were continually disappointed, the pullbacks were shallow and the markets grinded relentlessly higher, despite the worries.

Make no mistake, the good times will end but the trend over the next three months in the markets is up. So enjoy the ride short-term and don't worry too much about the inevitable pullbacks, at least for now.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: Europe Downgrades Hit Markets
By Bill Schmick On: 07:41PM / Friday January 13, 2012
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After a week of slowly grinding higher on exceptionally low volume, the markets swooned on Friday. Europe, once again, was responsible.

It was almost comical to watch the talking heads this week as they tried to make a case that the U.S. markets were decoupling from the troubles in Europe. They highlighted the increasingly positive economic data, the possibility of quarterly earnings surprises and the hope that the Fed was preparing for another round of quantitative easing.

My take is that Europe has a longer holiday season than we do. Their movers and shakers just got back to work this week. We haven't decoupled. There was simply an absence of market making news until this week.

All of that decoupling talk disappeared on Friday as a rumor surfaced that credit rating agency Standard & Poor's was ready to downgrade a slew of European countries this weekend. At the same time, JPMorgan's revenues disappointed the market in their earnings announcement, sending the entire financial sector into a tailspin. Retail sales for December (as I predicted) also disappointed the markets. The holiday season failed to live up to retailers' expectations triggering fears that future economic growth was in jeopardy.

My advice to readers is to ignore all these one-off events. The simple truth is that we have benefited from A) The Santa Claus Rally and B) the January Effect. In my last few columns, I explained both and predicted the markets would rally as a result. Both A and B came off like clockwork and are now about over, leaving the markets vulnerable to a pullback.

I'm not looking for anything disastrous to develop, outside of a normal two-steps-forward, one-step-back kind of decline. There are too many positive developments for me to become overly bearish.

Both Italy and Spain managed to sell 17 billion worth of sovereign debt ($21.5 billion) this week without too much trouble. That was a vast improvement over last month when few players were willing to even look at buying bonds from these countries. The European Central Bank left rates unchanged, leaving the door open for possible rate cuts in the future. Even Greece, the bad boy of Europe, is stumbling towards a debt deal in their typical on-again, off-again fashion.

There is also a lot of talk about the possibility that the Fed will launch QE 3 sometime in the next few months. This is partially a result of some dovish-sounding speeches from several Fed members lately. I have my doubts. As long as U.S. economic data continues to improve, I don't think the Fed sees the need for additional monetary stimulus right now.

Of course, we are in an election year and sitting presidents in the past have been known to "lean" on the chairman of the Federal Reserve to goose the economy as November approaches. I think it is still too soon for that kind of monetary monkey business before the elections. But it does help buoy the mood of investors so we will put that in the plus column.

In summary, the markets will pull back and then go higher. That will be a trend I expect will continue for the next several months. I'm not looking for big gains, just a general trending higher by the indexes, interrupted by pullbacks on a periodic basis. The upside could lift the S&P 500 Index to the 1,350 level but from here that's no more than a 5 percent gain from here. As such, we will keep one foot in dividend paying stocks and the other in the fixed income market. In other words stay defensive.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.



     
At The Market: Tug Of War
By Bill Schmick On: 07:32AM / Saturday January 07, 2012
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All week stock averages fluctuated, usually down in the mornings and popping up to moderate gains in the afternoon. This slow grind upward however, is largely dependent on what happens next in Europe. So far there hasn't been any thing new but that could change as Europe gets back in business after their long holiday season.

As expected, the good news coming out of the U.S. economy has encouraged investors, while higher yields on Italian sovereign debt provided a counterweight that leaves the markets in a tug of war. The lack of news out of Europe allows investors to pay more attention to American data, such as the drop in the unemployment rate to 8.5% from 9.4% this time last year.

Beginning next week, however, European players should be back from their chalets in Switzerland or Spain and the fun begins all over again. At the same time, we face another earnings season and if earnings are not up to investor expectations we could definitely see a sell off.

Alcoa, the aluminum maker, kicks off the earnings season after the close on Monday and the company has already warned that higher costs and declining prices are threatening profits. Retailers admitted that Christmas sales were not as strong as they had hoped. I had warned readers not to fall prey to the holiday season hype on how great Christmas sales would be for retailers. Those who did best were those that offered thrifty consumers massive discounts off list price.

Short term, absent any new positive developments out of Europe, we could see some profit taking in the weeks ahead. That should be no surprise to investors, given my outlook for 2012. In my column "2012 could be another up and down year" I outlined the risks and opportunities we face this year. To sum up, I expect a choppy first half with a possible 'sell in May and go away' scenario. The second half could be better, thanks to election excitement and hope for a more functional Congress and Senate.

I also warned that any number of unknown events ranging from what happens in Europe, The Fed's monetary policy, and actions (or non-action) out of Washington could make any forecasts, including my own, worthless.

Take, for example, this week's rumor (later denied by the White House) that the Obama Administration is planning a mega refinancing ($1-$3 trillion) of the American mortgage market.

Back in September, I wrote in "What the Markets Missed" that such a plan was being debated within the White House. The program would not require congressional approval and could be conducted largely through the Fed, the FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is an election year, after all, when the sitting President will do all he can to stimulate the economy before the elections. That type of left field developments has the power to dramatically alter the market's expectations.

The cross currents within the markets remain. As such, I will stay defensive with a large percentage of my portfolio sitting in bonds and dividend yielding stock funds. I will let the markets dictate my next move or when to become more aggressive. In the meantime, expect volatility.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: Resistance
By Bill Schmick On: 04:17AM / Saturday December 31, 2011
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The dividing line that often separates bull from bear is the 200 day Moving Average (200 DMA). It is a technical term that tracks the moving average price of stocks over 200 days. All week equities have traded a little above or below that average, leaving investors uncertain of what awaits them in 2012.

"I always sell my equity positions whenever the S&P 500 Index trades below the 200 Day," says a trader friend of mine, "and I don't buy back until it rises above that level again and stays there for more than a week."

It is a rule of thumb that has worked for market timers (those who try to sell the rips and buy the dips) more times than not since 2007, but it is not foolproof. There have been times in the past when stocks fell below that level only to rebound and continue much higher. Nevertheless, many traders take the 200 DMA very seriously. As a result you should too.

Every index has a 200 DMA whether you are looking at stocks, bonds or commodities. Most investors focus on the S&P 500 as their key average when trying to read the tea leaves in the stock market. Today, the 200 DMA is trading roughly at the same level that marks a gain or a loss for the S&P for 2011. The S&P Index started the year at 1,257.64.

The 200 DMA is right now about 1,259 (although it will change since it is a moving average). Several times over the last few months bulls have attempted to break that line, but the resistance has been fierce. Each time the bears have thrown back the bulls' advance decisively. So here we are again at the resistance line, but the Santa Claus rally has been fairly weak and prices have advanced on low volume.

Clearly, there is little we can read from the closing values of the S&P Index for the year. Given the enormous volatility investors have experienced, a gain or loss of 3-4 points and a close above or slightly under the 200 DMA is meaningless. It gives no guidelines for what will happen next.

On the bright side, the U.S. has done much better than other global markets. The main markets in Europe have suffered their worst losses since 2008, thanks to the continuing financial crisis. In Asia, the once-hot Chinese market dropped 21 percent for the year while Japan had its lowest close since 1982.

Their performance reflected a year that was plagued with natural disasters from earthquakes to floods, the Arab spring, trading scandals, wild rides in commodity, the complete dissolution of political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic and a continual widening between the "haves" and "have nots" around the world.

Bond prices, especially in our U.S. Treasury markets, were one area of positive gains. Prices continued to rise, despite the downgrading of our sovereign debt. Investors, spooked by the gyrations in the stock markets, flocked to this perceived safe haven. However, thanks to the low rates of interest, yields in that market have in some cases turned negative, such as Treasury Inflation Indexed bonds (called TIPs).

Today, a 30-year Treasury bond is yielding 2.9 percent while the Consumer Price Index, the nation's inflation gauge, has been running at a rate above 3 percent. At those rates, retirees who need income to simply stay afloat are not even breaking even with inflation.

I find it impressive that, despite the gut-wrenching turmoil, the U.S. stock market has held its own and is finishing even-to-up in the case of the S&P 500 and the Dow. It appears most of the bad news of 2011 has been discounted. Who knows, we may actually break that resistance and climb above the 200 DMA on the S&P 500. That may turn out to be my "famous last words" but I remain somewhat optimistic.

Despite the unknowns, I sincerely wish all of you the same joy and happiness you have given me this year. Happy New Year!

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
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Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management (BMM), managing over $200 million for investors in the Berkshires. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of BMM. None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill’s insights.

 

 

 



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