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@theMarket: What Will the New Year Bring?
By Bill Schmick On: 07:21AM / Saturday January 03, 2015
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It was a good year for the stock market. The S&P 500 Index was up in excess of 12.5 percent with the other averages putting in a good performance as well. Naturally, investors are hoping for another year of stellar returns. Is that a reasonable expectation?

At the beginning of each year, people like me are expected to gaze into crystal balls or swirl the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup and pontificate on what the New Year will be like for investors. Unfortunately, I have an "Eight Ball" but no crystal ball and I drink coffee not tea. Honestly, I have as much chance of calling the market over the next 12 months as you do. However, there are some things I do know to be true.

Working from the top down, I expect the U.S. economy to continue to grow, while unemployment declines further. As jobs gain, I also expect wage growth will finally begin to accelerate. Coupled with the declining price of oil, that spells higher consumer spending than most anticipate. And since consumers drive over 67 percent of GDP growth, I’m looking for a better than expected first half in the United States.

As for Europe, I am in the minority when looking at the prospects among the members of the European Union. Although Europe is teetering on the edge of recession, the European Central Bank does not appear to have the political backing to launch a U.S.-style quantitative easing program. ECB head, Mario Draghi, continues to promise more, but delivers less and less.  Unless the ECB does implement a full QE, the prospects for the continent appear neutral to negative at best.

However, there are also risks ahead that could substantially change the playing field in Europe. The southern tier of European countries will hold elections this year. Populist movements, led by long-suffering voters in Greece, may repudiate the austerity programs that the northern, economically-stronger countries have demanded in exchange for bail-outs over the last few years. If that were to occur, all bets are off as far as investing in the European stock markets and the Euro currency as well. There are therefore too many risks that depend on politics and not economics for my liking.

Over in Asia, readers are aware that I like China. I am betting that the government there will continue easing monetary policy and stimulating an economy struggling with a transition from an export-led to a consumer-led economy. Japan, on the other hand, is in the middle of a full-fledged quantitative easing program that will hopefully pay positive economic dividends in 2015.  

That leaves me liking the three largest economies in the world: China, the United States and Japan. In addition, I believe the U.S. dollar will continue to rise in 2015 while the Japanese yen and the Euro will continue to fall. There are specific exchange-traded and mutual funds that allow investors to invest in these areas. Let me know if you are interested.

Readers must be aware that what happens economically may not translate into gains for stock markets. Remember, that most markets discount economic events six to nine months into the future. In which case, the U.S. stock market may have already discounted mush of the growth I see, especially in the first half of the year. On the other hand, most investors are so U.S.-centric that they either do not believe or ignore the prospects for China and Japan.

In my next column, I will get down to particles in what I see are the risks and rewards for the stock markets in the year ahead.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



     
@theMarket: Santa Comes to Town
By Bill Schmick On: 11:56AM / Friday December 26, 2014
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Pessimists are on vacation this week. It doesn't matter that the indexes are overbought. That markets are hitting new highs without a pause. It's Christmas and Hanukkah week. The Big Guy has come to town.

Of course, investors have had a little help from the Fed and the latest revision of U.S. third quarter GDP. It appears that the economy grew faster than economists expected. Would you believe 5 percent? That's one barn burner of a number even for me, an uber bull on the economy. It is the fastest the economy has grown in 11 years. It follows on the tail of a 4.6 percent rate in the second quarter.

Consumer spending on health care and business investment in infrastructure and computers were largely responsible for that growth. And just think, we  have yet to benefit from the continuing drop in gas prices, which are now about $2.33 a gallon on average and predicted to drop another 11 cents or so over this weekend.

Many economists think that growth will slow this, the last quarter of 2014, not a difficult bet to make, but I still think growth will continue to surprise all of us. Consumption is gaining ground and the consumer is finally starting to hit his stride. I think fourth quarter growth will be better than anyone imagines. That's why the Fed is prepared to raise interest rates next year. None of us want the economy to overheat, sparking an uptick in inflation.

My strategy so far this year has been to listen to the Fed. By hiking rates a little next year (while China, Japan and Europe lower theirs), the Federal Reserve could be in a "sweet spot." Any slowing due to our rate increase could be offset by lower rates (and higher growth) elsewhere in the world. It is one reason why I like the Chinese and Japanese markets. I would throw Europe into that mix, but I am not convinced that Europe's central bank has the green light from all the EU members to launch a U.S.-style quantitative easing.

As for the stock markets, it is clear that the Santa Claus rally has begun early. It traditionally occurs during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Explanations vary for exactly why this occurs. Some say it is end-of-year bonus money finding its way into stocks. Others argue that tax-selling ends during that week, while others just believe the "feel good" behavior of most investors during this period is responsible.

Some investors could also be getting a jump on what is called the "January Effect." The month of January is normally an up month for stocks. Given the strong economic data, lower fuel costs and anticipation of strong consumer spending during this holiday season, investors are anticipating many companies will "surprise on the upside” in the upcoming earnings season.

Be that as it may, I want to wish everyone an extremely joyous holiday season. As for me, readers should be aware that on Jan. 5 I am getting a total right knee replacement. The doctors say I should be out of a commission for a few weeks. I will endeavor to disregard their advice and continue to write as best I can. Wish me luck.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



     
@theMarket: It's All In The Way You Say It
By Bill Schmick On: 01:17PM / Saturday December 20, 2014
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"I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word."  — Emily Dickinson

The Fed ended the stock market decline this week by simply changing a sentence or two. In the space of a few hours, global markets soared, creating billions of dollars in gains for investors worldwide. Don't ever doubt the power of words.

Rumor had it that on Wednesday, the Fed was going to remove "considerable time" from its guidance on when interest rates would rise. Investors worried that thanks to the gathering strength of the economy that FOMC members were becoming hawkish and might raise rates sooner than expected. Sure enough, the Fed removed "considerable" from their statement on the time period itself, but added that the Fed would be "patient" before raising rates. That's all it took to ignite a truly breath-taking rally in stocks.

"But, but, what about Russia and the slide in oil," sputtered a California client who was sure that the declining oil price was going to be the end of us all.

"The oil price," as Janet Yellen, the Fed chairwoman, said Thursday," is a transitory event."

For longer-term investors (anyone with more than a week's time horizon in this market) the decline in oil will at some point be over. Prices will rise once again as the world economies grow and demand more energy to fuel that growth.  I wrote last week that in the meantime, lower oil prices are great for our economy and all other oil-consuming nations. Japan, if you are interested, stands out as the greatest beneficiary of declining oil prices.

Until Wednesday's Fed meeting however, traders were using the oil price as an excuse to sell off the equity markets. That short-term maneuver only works until it doesn't. The Fed meeting blew that trade right out of the water and traders, happy to be short stocks, suddenly found themselves up a certain creek without a paddle. Since then short-covering has been the name of the game. And by the way, the oil price is still sliding, despite a 500-plus point move in the Dow over the last two days.

As for all the consternation concerning Russia, investors who read last week's column "Is the Russian bear back in its cave?" were not surprised at the ruble's decline this week, nor the spike in Russian interest rates to 17 percent. I have also noticed that several publications are coming around to my view that the oil price decline could have been engineered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in order to bring Putin to his knees, at least economically.

Given the action of the markets over the past two days, I would guess that we have put in a bottom for 2014. Next week traditionally has been a good one for the markets and I don't see any evidence that this year will be different. The bears could try once again to establish a link between a declining oil price and the stock market, but usually stocks only discount a maneuver like that once.

For me, I would buy any further dips in the market. This one amounted to about 5.4 percent, which is within the range of most of the pull-backs we have experienced so far this year.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



     
@theMarket: It's All About Oil
By Bill Schmick On: 04:10PM / Friday December 12, 2014
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Just three weeks to go before the end of the year, and stock markets should be celebrating. Instead, equity markets have been down as traders become increasingly spooked by the decline in oil prices. Granted, financial markets sometimes get it wrong, but the present atmosphere of fear is one for the books.

Investors are afraid that oil prices could go even lower. The question to ask is how low is too low? Someone somewhere came up with the price of $60 a barrel as a "fair" price for oil. This week it broke that price level and markets in Europe and the U.S. sold off. What are investors thinking?

For starters, some believe the decline in oil prices is indicative of slowing world demand for energy. If true, then maybe the global economy is growing even slower than investors thought. In which case, stocks are too high, despite all the central bank stimulus.

Then there are the oil patch companies themselves. We all know the big-name global players that pay good dividends and are (were) considered salt of the earth investments. Some of these names are down 20-30 percent so far this year. Then, too, there are the drillers and junior drillers, those high-flyers that led the fracking and oil shale boom. Those stocks are getting decimated.

The hurting that these companies are experiencing right now also brings into question the health of their finances, specifically the money borrowed from banks to fund their exploration and development.  Extrapolating from the oil price, the logic becomes: oil down, stocks down (due to worries over company solvency), which then spills over to what banks could or could not be in trouble due to energy loans. And so it goes.

What readers should immediately notice is that, with the exception of a declining oil price, none of the above has happened and there is less than a slight chance that it will. Why?

Energy's share of the business sector of GDP in the U.S. is 5.9 percent. Not much, and certainly not enough to take GDP down with it. Especially when consumer spending is 67 percent of GDP and declining oil boosts that kind of spending.

In the stock market, energy has less than a 10 percent weighting in the S&P 500 Index. Right now the sector is taking the entire index down with it, but the numbers tell you that it is an over-reaction. What about those big mega-cap companies with solid dividends? Exxon's CEO said his company would be okay with $40 oil. As for the supply/demand equation, I believe the new technology-driven increase in the supply of various forms of energy, especially in the U.S., is what is driving the price of oil lower, not decreasing demand.

I'm not disputing that if energy prices continue to slide, and they could, that some companies in that sector, especially the small aggressive kind, will have financial trouble. But that has been true since wildcatters have been wildcatters. It doesn't mean that the whole market should be carried down with them.

If we step back and look at the markets from a dispassionate point of view, we simply see that from the October sell-off, stocks have gone straight up with hardly a pause. What we are seeing today is simply a much-needed pull back from the highs. In my opinion, this decline has pretty much run its course.

Over time, the benefits of cheaper oil worldwide will have a beneficial impact on all energy-consuming companies and their financial markets. Wall Street would like to see those benefits show up immediately, but that is not the way of the world. It takes time to derive the benefits of this kind of price decline and it won't happen overnight. For those with a longer term view, this decline is a great opportunity.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



     
@theMarket: Markets Are in Half Time
By Bill Schmick On: 09:49AM / Saturday November 15, 2014
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Stocks have had a wonderful run since mid-October's swoon. The S&P 500 Index is now up over 10 percent from its bottom. As we approach another record high, expect some backing and filling before moving higher. I wish I could say the same about the price of oil.

The price of oil is the main topic of conversation among traders and investors. Typically, as the price declines further, Wall Street energy bears vie for headlines by predicting even worse times ahead for energy. Technicians are now considering $40 a barrel as a real possibility and others are jumping on the band wagon as oil broke $75 a barrel on the downside this week.

Methinks the selling is overdone at least over the short-term. We are only a week away from the OPEC meeting and I expect some traders will cover their shorts until after the meeting. What we do know is that Saudi Arabia needs $85 barrel oil to balance their budget. But that Middle East nation is both wealthy and autocratic. It can afford to watch oil drop lower if they choose to. Besides, there may be other reasons in the wind for allowing oil to slide lower.

Excuse my penchant for Machiavellian plots, but it has occurred to me that the nation that is hurting the most from this price decline is Mother Russia. Globally, Russia is the No. 1 producer, followed by Saudi Arabia, while the U.S., at 9 million barrels a day in production, ranks third.  

Readers may have noticed that now that the weather has grown colder, surprise, surprise, events are heating up once again in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, in my opinion, plans to annex even more territory in the east of that nation. If Europe protests or threatens to increase economic sanctions as a result, Putin could threaten both Ukraine and/or Europe with a cutback or even a cessation of energy exports. He has done it before and there is no reason to believe he won't do it again.

If I know that then surely others do as well. If I were the U.S. (and its ally, Saudi Arabia), lower oil prices would be a far more effective tool to slow or even stymie Putin's land-grabbing schemes than sanctions. At the same time it would give a real shot in the arm to American consumers, airlines, farmers, shippers and the transportation sector.

At some point, declining oil prices, coupled with the existing economic sanctions, could truly devastate the Russian economy and bring Russia to its knees. Right now, the Russian people love Putin and his misguided efforts to restore the Soviet empire. Will that adoration persist in the face of a deep recession or even a depression?

We blame Saudi Arabia for not acting to support energy prices. Pundits (including me) have claimed that it is their intent to slow U.S. shale and gas production, thereby hurting America's efforts in becoming energy-independent. Maybe so, but at the same time, it is hurting Russia far more than the U.S. and that's my point.

As for the markets, this last week has been largely a period of consolidation or sideways movement. Markets are overbought and need to work off the excesses, which is exactly what is happening. Remember, markets can adjust by either declining or sideways movement. All year long, we have seen a pattern of sideways rather than down so expect more of the same. Stay invested and enjoy the coming rally into the New Year.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



     
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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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