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@theMarket: Expect More Volatility Ahead
By Bill Schmick On: 09:47AM / Saturday April 14, 2012
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As we enter the second quarter, this first week is a taste of things to come. After months of enjoying a straight-up stock market, we are getting back to the new normal, so strap on your seat belts.

Monday and Tuesday were downright ugly. The next two days we climbed back up and then on Friday gave some back. It was a roller coaster and is reminiscent of the period from May through October of last year. Imagine that.

It was a down week, despite a surprise upside earnings surprise from Alcoa, which is usually the first company to report each quarter. Further good news from some big banks failed to inspire the market, however. Once again, as I wrote last week, the rain in Spain has flooded our plain.

Spanish banks borrowed twice as much from the European Central Bank in March as they did in February amounting to $419 billion. The ever-present angst among European investors has focused on Spain this month. Next month (or week) it could be Italy, Portugal or that popular whipping boy, Greece, that's back in the news.

Underlying the recent climb in Spanish sovereign bond yields is a brewing housing crisis and a faltering economy. Spanish banks are also bleeding. They are grabbling with 300 billion euros in property loans and the Spanish government has said it isn't prepared to inject any more capital into the sector. It's the same old song that will most likely end in another bailout for Spain.

I shouldn't blame Spain for all our worries. China's slowdown has also contributed to investors' worry. The annual rate for Chinese GDP growth slowed in the first quarter to 8.1 percent from 8.9 percent. I wish our growth could be even half that rate but everything is relative. And relative, in the context of Chinese economics, equates to slower growth, slower demand for materials and commodities, and a host of other goodies that the world depends on to drive their own economies. A hard landing in China coupled with a recession in Europe would not be an auspicious development for world economic growth. Right now the state of China’s economy is muddy at best.

As for our markets, the decline I have expected has begun. Pullbacks vary. If we take a look at the last nine times the markets have declined going back to mid-2010, we see that the longest correction was 22 days. The average was 15 days. Snap-back rallies can last from two days to seven days. This week's snap-back lasted two days.

What is clear is that volatility increases substantially during times like these. My advice: do not try to trade the ups and downs. You will be left with a big hole in your portfolio and end up losing far more than the market corrects. If you had decided prior to this pullback that you were going to stick with the markets, then do so, take your lumps and look to the long term.

If you followed my advice and raised cash, it is time to be patient, watch the markets gyrate but don’t let that cash burn a hole in your pocket. Patience in this kind of environment is worth its weight in gold.


     
@theMarket: Spain Rains on U.S. Parade
By Bill Schmick On: 02:19AM / Sunday April 08, 2012
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The release of the Federal Reserve's FOMC meeting notes on Tuesday was responsible for the initial sell-off in the markets this week. Then a Spanish bond auction on Wednesday was received poorly by bond investors. That spooked the U.S. stock market for a second day in a row. Things have snowballed from there.

I guess when it rains, it pours, at least when it comes to bad news in the stock markets. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi added to investor worries by expressing his concerns of future inflation and was therefore less than anxious to provide any more financial stimulus to the European crisis.

The justification for the recent European stock market rally has been investors' belief that central bankers stand ready to flood the markets with more and more money at the slightest whiff of additional problems. Draghi's remarks, coupled with the Spanish bond auction, did not play well among investors.

On this side of the pond, the Fed's meeting notes released on Tuesday afternoon indicated that unless unemployment and the economy take a sudden turn for the worse, investors should not count on further easing by our central bankers.

Oh me, oh my, lions and tigers and bears!

As I have reminded readers several times in the last month or two, this rally has been fueled by the conviction that the Fed will "soon" announce QE III. Tons of newsprint has been devoted to exactly when this will occur. The latest date pontificated by the most influential brokers is "no later than June." It is therefore mystifying that only two of the 12 FOMC board members support further easing at this time.

Those who have been following my advice have already raised cash, sold their most aggressive stock holdings and are therefore perfectly positioned to take advantage of this pull back.

"So how low can we go?"

It was the first question I received this week from readers.

The short answer is 5-8 percent. That would push the S&P 500 Index down to the 1,310-1,350 level. In the scheme of things that is not much of a drop given the 11 percent rise since the beginning of the year and 20 percent rise since October, although any loss is painful for investors. At that point, I think the market would more accurately reflect the present state of the economy and its prospects.

There is some discussion among economists, however, that the spate of good economic data we have been experiencing lately has been "front-end loaded." As a result of an abnormally warm winter and spring in two-thirds of the country, economic activity has been bunched into the early part of the year and we may see a slowdown as we enter the summer months.

I have maintained that the markets have been priced to perfection and that any bad news would have an inordinate impact. We will have to watch the economic data closely over the coming months for any clues to address those front end concerns. In the meantime, be prepared for some choppy action and potentially more downside this month in the markets.

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: S&P 500 Enjoys Best Quarter Since 2009
By Bill Schmick On: 06:56PM / Friday March 30, 2012
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It was a quarter to write home about. All three indexes made substantial gains but the S&P 500 Index had a great quarter and its best start of the year since 1998. Will it continue?

In the short term the answer is a definite maybe. If you put a gun to my head, however, I would bet that sometime in the second quarter we will have a correction. In April, if history is any guide, we usually see the peak in stock market performance. As the month progresses, investors begin to "sell in May and go away."

Monday, the markets received its latest shot of adrenaline when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured investors that the easy money we have become addicted to is still needed. That sent the S&P 500 to its best closing level in almost four years. Those gains were led by the same group of stocks that have defied gravity and have continued to make higher highs without thought to earnings, price or any other metric of valuation.

One particular darling of the market that beings with "A" (hint: one of these a day is supposed to keep the doctor away) has witnessed its market value increase by $172 billion in the last two month. That is equal to the entire value of a large, well-established health care and consumer products company with over a 100-year history. It now represents 4.4 percent of the S&P 500 Index and by itself is larger than the entire U.S. utilities industry.

"A" will have to sell $2.6 trillion of products and services over the next decade (amounting to 1.5 percent of U.S. GDP) to justify that valuation. That would mean that every person in this country would need to spend $750 a year on its products for the next 10 years. I remember a similar period in stock market history in which valuations got this high and we all know what happened to the dot-com party.

Another indicator, the number of net new 52-week highs of stocks on the S&P 500 is shrinking from 280 in the beginning of February to 63 today. That should elicit some concern since the same index moved up from 1,345 to 1,408 during that time period. Warning signs like this abound but remember that markets can remain irrational far longer than you or I can remain solvent.

My sentiment indicators are still flashing amber as bullishness remains at historically elevated levels. If one looks at psychology, as it applies to market cycles, it appears we are on the other side of euphoria which is the top of the bell curve of investor emotion. To the right of this euphoric top the markets back and fill. We are in the complacency stage right now where most investors and market pundits believe that all we need do is cool off a bit before the next rally. What's after that?

If the markets begin to decline anxiety sets in followed by denial, panic, capitulation and then anger. This week we had three down days in a row, which is about the most we have endured all year. Many traders were expecting the quarter to go out with a big bang as institutional buyers did some end of quarter "window dressing." The opposite occurred and instead we saw some profit taking in the high flyers.

Historically, bull markets have averaged 39 months in length. If you date this one as beginning in March 2009, then this bull is over three years old. That means by the end of the second quarter, you should be wary of a market top. In addition, during the last 21 election years between March 1 and Election Day, the maximum correction has been a loss of 9 percent.

None of this is new information because everyone is looking at the same data. The question is when you decide to pare back. The greater fool theory applies less and less these days. Those who hang around to the last moment often find themselves with no one willing to buy their high priced securities. Don't let that happen to you.

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 Mark Time
By Bill Schmick On: 12:03PM / Saturday March 24, 2012
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Questions concerning China and its economic future kept the market's exuberance in check this week. Given that China is key to most global growth forecasts, any hint of a slowing of the Chinese economic engine is taken seriously. This week we received a bit of bad news.

Over the last seven years, Chinese government central planners have established a stated economic growth rate for China's economy of 8 percent. This week, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao set a growth target for his nation's economy at 7.5 percent for 2012, which is half a percent lower than targeted.

At the same time, government forecasters in Australia indicated that iron ore exports may decline by as much as 8.5 percent this year. China was once again the culprit since it is a large consumer of Aussie iron ore. Iron ore is one of the main inputs in the production of steel. Also, Australian BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company, predicted that China's steel production is slowing as the country switches its focus from exports and massive building projects to the Chinese consumer and domestic consumption

Shaving one half of one percent off an economic forecast may not seem like a lot, but when the world's stock markets are priced to perfection, any ill wind that may blow quickly accelerates to gale force among market participants. The Chinese stock market nose-dived on the news. That market, which had experienced fabulous gains from 2003 through 2008, has languished and has largely been excluded from the rally in stocks that we have experienced since 2009.

To its credit, the U.S. stock market weathered the news quite well. It simply stalled the equity rally for this week. Although somewhat muted, sentiment is still at or close to highs that have traditionally signaled market corrections. In addition, The Chicago Board of Trade's Market Volatility Index, called the VIX, has hit lows that have not been seen in years. Volatility has been the watch word of the markets over the last two years. The price of the VIX today would indicate that investors are expecting smooth sailing into the future with no clouds upon the horizon.

The S&P 500 and NASDAQ Indexes are having their best quarters since the second and third quarters of 2009. Europe’s problems also appear to be behind us although lingering concerns over the financial shape of Portugal contributed to this week's nervousness. European exchanges had their worst week of the year with a decline of 4 percent overall. We will see if the U.S. market can decouple from the kind of profit-taking that is occurring across the Atlantic.

The recurring theme among everyone I talk to is when a pullback will occur. It was the topic of an entire evening's dinner conversation on a recent trip to Manhattan. Various members of the financial community gave their forecast. None present expected the markets to continue higher. That, my dear reader, is an important contrary indicator. I suspect that there are still a lot of investors, both retail and institutional, who are underinvested in equities and are just looking for a chance to put more money into the market.

Since there will always be those who will jump the gun, any minor decline continues to be met with a wave of buying from those still sitting on the sidelines. I expect that absence any more bad news, the markets will continue to experience shallow pullbacks followed by a slow grind higher. I feel fairly confident that somewhere out there a sell off is coming but exactly when is simply too hard to predict.

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: Patience Is A Virtue
By Bill Schmick On: 08:10AM / Saturday March 10, 2012
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"So was that the pullback you were looking for?"

"Let's say it was the beginning of one," I answered.

"So how much longer am I supposed to wait? I've got tons of cash and it's not earning me anything."

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to do nothing. This appears to be one of those times. Yes, we did pull back over 1 percent earlier in the week in all three averages but the downside was short lived and the markets regained all they had lost by the end of the week. We can thank world governments for that performance.

The EU and its central bank successfully concluded the renegotiation of Greek debt. Just over 80 percent of Greek bond holders "volunteered" to exchange their old bonds for new ones that are worth less than half the value. For all intents and purposes this amounts to a massive bond default by the Greek government, but that's not how it is playing out.

When governments are involved, what normally would have become a default becomes something else. In this case it becomes a "restructuring" and not an embarrassing default. The markets rallied, bidding up European stock markets at the news. They ignored comments from the head of the European Central bank who said that further interest rate cuts and other stimulus measures are at an end. At the same time, the fact that Europe is also entering a recession seemed to be unimportant. 

In the U.S., the Federal Reserve added to the cheer by planting a story in The Wall Street Journal. The gist of the article was that the Fed is considering a new kind of bond purchase that would boost the economy further but would be designed to reduce the inflationary impact of such purchases. The economic term for this is "sterilization" and just the mention of additional easing had investors buying back stocks. As I explained last week, the entire move up in the markets since October has been based on central banks flooding world markets with more and more money. This is like offering investors a huge punchbowl with all you can drink right now. Nothing else matters right now and like those who indulge too often and too much there will be a price to be paid down the road.

As I pointed out to a client this week, the markets did recover on all this good news but are still at about the same level they were when I suggested lightening up on your most aggressive equity holdings. Actually, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was around 13,000 at the time and it is now trading lower than that.

The S&P 500 Index and NASDAQ are where they were on March 1. Gold and silver have been losing trades for the last few weeks as well. But don't get me wrong; I'm not bearish, just cautious in the short term. I expect a choppy market at best and in that kind of environment it pays to wait it out.

Many investors believe the sidelines are an unacceptable position in today's markets. Granted, sitting in cash at money market rates yielding next to nothing is akin to watching grass grow in the middle of winter. The point I would make is that sitting in cash is not about making money. It is about not losing money and that can be a smart move sometimes.

I have no crystal ball that tells me this period of caution will only last a week or two or drag on for a longer period of time. I'm guessing it will be shorter than longer so I'm willing to keep the cash and forego investing it in bonds or something else that provides a greater yield. Part of that decision is based on tax considerations and trading costs. However, those may not be important considerations to you. I can only council patience; the rest is up to you.

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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