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@theMarket: The Same Old Song

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Investors have been waiting all year for that elusive interest rate hike promised by our central bank. September proved to be another false start. Once again, markets rallied on the news, the dollar fell, and investors were happy. So what's new?

As we have written so many times in the past, investors and markets are fixated on a Fed rate hike. Now everyone's attention is on December. Janet Yellen, the Fed chieftain, indicated that she could see at least one rate hike this year — if the data warrants it. The problem is the economic numbers are, at best, inconclusive.

Even the central bank, in this last go-around at the FOMC, lowered its forecast for the future, long-term, growth rate of the U.S. economy. Back in 2011, it forecast a 2.5 percent growth rate. Then lowered it to 2 percent in June and now sees no more than 1.8 percent. That sure doesn't sound like we are going in the right direction.

Furthermore, the Fed's inflation target, which is slightly above 2 percent, has been stuck below that number for years and it does not appear that it will climb anytime soon. You might ask if inflation is contained and economic growth is slowing, why in the world would the Fed raise rates.

The only bright stop seems to be the employment gains we have experienced in the last few years. Even in that area, there has been some dissatisfaction with the quality of jobs the economy has been generating. The number of workers who are either underemployed or have given up looking for a job altogether skew the statistics. The only reason I can see for the Fed to raise rates is to answer Wall Street's demand for a return to "normalization."

That's financial speak for getting the Fed out of the financial markets. Free marketers want the Fed to return to the days when they were not trying to support stocks, bonds, and even commodities as well as overseas markets. I truly doubt the Fed was ever that hands-off when it came to control, but they have been more heavy-handed in their approach to the markets since 2009 and with good cause.

As I have written many times before, the unprecedented lack of any kind of fiscal stimulus out of Washington has resulted in the failure of the U.S. economy to gain any momentum. The Fed knows that and the market knows that. But we all choose to blame the Fed instead.

In the meantime, we are dancing to the same old song. Fed members say "maybe" and the market swoons, followed by no rate cut and the market rallies. Equities remain the only game in town. It's simple: the S&P 500 Index is yielding 3 percent while the ten-year U.S. Treasury note is giving you less than 2 percent. Investors will go where they get the most return.

It also means that volatility will continue. It is why I am advising you to hang in there and ignore the ups and downs. A week ago (before the Fed decision), the markets were prepared for further downside. Today, we are once again approaching the highs of the year — until we hear from the next hawkish Fed member. But remember, a rate hike will be data dependent. It doesn't matter what one or another Fed member might think, so try and ignore the chatter.

Monday night we will also be treated to the first presidential debate. I am sure that will impact the markets, unless the event is a washout for both sides. Since we are approaching the final lap in that race, the polls will be monitored daily. If Clinton's lead over Trump narrows as a result, expect a tantrum from the market. And so it goes.

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: Much Ado About Nothing

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It has been a volatile week in the markets. The averages have rocketed up and down by a percent or more as traders bet for and against a Fed move on interest rates next week. Does it matter?

If you aren't tired after more than two years of reading what the Fed may or may not do, you have the patience of Job. Whether an interest rate hike happens next week during the FOMC meeting or in December should not mean much to the market. But it does.

When fully 70 percent or more of daily trading activity is now in the hands (or keyboards) of high-frequency traders (HFT), short-term moves are where they make most of their money. During the summer months, they practically starved to death while the markets did little to nothing. Now HFT is making up for lost time.

Granted, in many ways, the stock market is priced for perfection, given that the markets are only 3 percent off historical highs. There are few investments outside of stocks that can give you a decent return nowadays. The fact that interest rates are so low has a lot to do with that. Any change, no matter how small, in interest rates is meaningful at the margin.

Sure, a 25 basis point hike in the Fed Funds rate may not seem like a lot (and it isn't when it comes to the economy). But it does tilt the financial apple cart. And if one apple falls, who's to say that won't cause a chain reaction?  If enough apples are impacted, could the entire apple cart tip over?

Many traders believe that is exactly what happened last December when the Fed initially hiked rates. The stock market had a temper tantrum in January and February that resulted, at its worst, in a 13 percent decline. Of course, the markets have come back since then and gone on to new highs.

If history is any guide, and the Fed does raise rates before the end of the year, we could see the same sort of sell-off. But like the declines in January and February, they would not be a reason to sell. If anything, I would be a buyer of such a move. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

September and October are notoriously volatile months in the stock market. So far that historical trend is solidly intact. Since the Federal Open Market Committee meeting is on the 21st of September, which is next Wednesday, we should see this volatility continue until at least that date. I suspect, however, that regardless of what the Fed decides, the markets will continue to stay volatile.

Whether true or false, investors have it in their head that the Fed will raise rates, if not now, then in December.  And since markets usually discount news six to nine months out, I believe there is more downside ahead as markets adjust to an expected rate hike. Readers may recall that I have been looking for a pull-back in the single digit range and it appears that we are in that process now. Buy that does not necessarily mean a straight down market; we could even see a return to the old highs at some point before falling back.

It might be a drawn-out process that occurs between now and the election with plenty of peaks and valleys. Remember that Wall Street believes Hillary Clinton will win the election. Until recently, the polls gave her a substantial margin, confirming those expectations. As Donald Trump narrows that lead, these same investors will start to get nervous. Nervous leads to caution, caution leads to selling. There is no telling how close the election will become but the closer it is the more potential downside is in the offing.

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 Get Back to Business

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Since Labor Day marked the end of summer for Wall Street, the big guys came back to work and evidently did not like what they saw. As this week comes to a close, all three indexes suffered losses.

Friday's downturn could be attributed to North Korea, the rogue state that detonated a nuclear device on Thursday night. Those kind of one-off political events often-times unsettle markets. Stocks went down, the dollar spiked as did interest rates and that I found interesting.

Normally, U.S. Treasury bonds are a safe haven so prices go up in times of uncertainty; but not Friday. We have to therefore look under the hood to discern what is really going on with the markets. Aside from the fact that stocks are due for some turbulence, the culprit seems to be additional worries over whether or not the Fed may surprise us by raising rates on September 21.

Then again, traders were somewhat disappointed that Mario Draghi, the chief of the European Central Bank, did not add further stimulus to the already-multi-billions of Euros the ECB is already pumping into their financial markets. Like junkies in search of their next high, traders want central banks to provide more and more easy money in order to justify higher equity prices.

Draghi disappointed them. He appears to have joined his counterparts at the U.S. Federal Reserve in telling the EU membership countries that it is their turn to take up the mantle. He especially singled out Germany in discussing why additional fiscal spending is necessary to accomplish the European bloc's hope for higher economic growth.

Of course European politicians, like those in America, have been sitting back, playing it safe and letting their central bank do all the heavy lifting on the economic front. Naturally, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic like the status quo. You see, doing nothing is not unique to American politicians.

By increasing spending, cutting taxes and/or regulations in order to grow the economy, legislatures are taking a chance. What will their constituents say if the deficit ballooned as a result? T Baggers, here in America, for example, would be out for blood.  I will be curious to see what happens when the Japanese Central Bank meets later this month. Will they send the same message to Japan's parliament?

But in the meantime, our Fed officials are busy sending mixed messages (as usual) over when they plan to raise interest rates in this country. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren joined the “hawks” on the Fed in warning that rates need to rise soon.  Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said on morning television, that he would rather wait until there was more proof that inflation was rising before he pulled the trigger.

Nonetheless, their contradictory comments were enough to send the stock market reeling and hike the probability of a September rate hike to 33 percent. In my opinion, I do not believe the Central Bank will hike in September. I do believe, however, that they do not want market participants to become too complacent about when the Fed will raise rates.

The more important question one must ask is what will happen to the stock market if the Fed does raise rates; if this week is any indication, nothing good. As you know, I have been preparing you for a market pull-back. This may be the beginning, and if it is, it won't be something to worry about, but it could be painful while it occurs.

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: A Tale of Two Interest Rates

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Staff

Ahead of the Labor Day weekend, investors had little to do but bet on how strong or weak the unemployment number would be. It turned out to be weaker than expected and the markets rallied.

Yes, we are once again in a "bad news is good news environment." Weaker economic data means the chances of the Federal Reserve Bank raising interest rates at the September meeting is diminished. That means lower rates for longer, which equals higher prices for stocks, bonds, and commodities. None of the above disappointed on Friday.

Investors should take the action in the markets (both up and down) with a grain of salt. The real market moves normally begin after the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day. We will have to wait until then before identifying real trends in the markets.

It has been almost 40 days since the stock indexes have experienced a one percent move. That hasn't happened since 2007.  The pros are expecting a big move one way or another. The markets are coiled but the problem is which way will they move? But don't look at stocks for the key. It is in the bond market where we may find clues to the next move.

What is the bond market saying about the chances of a rate hike in September? Traders are giving a hike less than 50 percent. So unless that changes, it remains a plus for a stock market advance. But is a rate hike really what is driving the bond market?

Sure, the central bank can raise the level of interest rates on short-term bonds, but they have little control over what really matters to the economy and that is long-term interest rates.

Ten- and 30-year U.S. Treasury interest rates are controlled by the market, not the Fed. If long rates stay down, it is good for the economy and good for the stock market. If they rise, then the reverse is true. And it is here that the plot thickens.

The fate and direction of our long-term bonds are highly dependent on what happens in the global fixed income markets. All investors seek higher yield (along with safety). The country that provides the best deal gets the lion-share of demand for fixed income investments. Because our two main competitors in that market (Japan and the European Union) are offering negative rates of interest, demand for U. S. bonds have been highly popular among global investors.

What's not to like. You get to own the safest bonds in the world and get 2.9 percent (in the case of 30-year treasuries) while other countries are giving you zippo for their bonds. How long can that continue? Until the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan decide to change their monetary policies.

The European Central Bank will meet on Sept. 8 and the Bank of Japan on Sept. 21. All indications are that neither central bank has any plans on changing their stimulus policies any time soon. In the case of Japan, they may actually increase their stimulus. If that is the case, we can look to the U.S. markets as a place you want to be invested between now and at least the end of the year.

Now that does not mean that we are immune to market declines. In fact, we are overdue for one, but it will be a passing event and nothing to get worried about if and when it comes. Have a great Labor Day!

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: Three in One

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

On Thursday, all three U.S. benchmark averages — the S&P 500, NASDAQ and the Dow Jones Industrial Average—registered historical new highs on the same day. You don't want to know what happened the last time this happened.

That was in 1999. The year after ushered in the Dotcom boom and bust where some averages lost 20-30 percent and sent the markets on a roller coaster that did not end until 2003. Am I saying that will happen again? No, but I am expecting a pull-back soon in all three averages.

It is not something that most investors need to worry about. As I mentioned in my last few columns, stocks are overbought and valuations are being stretched higher and higher. That is a typical occurrence in financial markets. Rarely do markets trade on par with what we call a "fair valuation." Securities, for the most part, trade above or below their fair value all the time.

It is what causes rallies and followed by sell-offs, which is the very nature of the market.

So far this year, we have had two sharp declines: in January and then again in February, followed by a rally that has now taken us up to new highs (without a significant decline). OK, you might argue and say that the two-day, panic sell-off after Brexit qualified as a third. I won't quibble with that, but it does not negate another decline sometime this month or possibly in September.

The point is that when it occurs (notice I did not say if), I would simply ride it out. We are in an election year and if history is any guide, no matter how sharp or severe the decline, chances are that by the end of the year the markets will still be positive. Remember, too, that my own expectations were for a mid-single digit return from stocks in 2016. As of today, we have already reached my target.

There is nothing to say that the markets won't go higher from here, because just about everyone is looking for a correction in August. That is understandable, given what happened on Aug. 19 of last year. Remember the Dow down 1,000 points before the opening that day last summer? How soon we forget.

But a sell-off now would be too easy. Markets usually do what is most inconvenient for the most number of investors. A more likely scenario is that we continue to grind higher. The S&P 500 Index breaks 2,200 on the upside. Stock chasers rush in to buy and push the averages up by another 20-30 points and then wham!

Could it happen that way? Possibly, but how it happens and when should matter little to you. Whatever downside we have will simply be a passing storm. The clouds will lift as the election approaches. If Clinton continues to maintain her lead in the polls, or widen it, then Wall Street will take heart and continue to support stocks. On the other hand, if Trump should regain momentum or even move back to even with Clinton, then we can expect more volatility all the way up to Election Day.

So those who want Trump in the White House could pay for that support via damage to their investment portfolios. Nonetheless, I expect that whoever wins what damage may occur to our investments will be short-lived. Americans are forever optimistic and within weeks, if not days after the election, we will see the markets rally on renewed hope of better days 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.

     
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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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