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@theMarket: 100 Days Does Not an Economy Make?

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
Markets by their very nature are impatient. Every day they are open, something, somewhere has to be making traders money. Applying that behavior to either Donald Trump or the overall economy would be a mistake.
 
Nonetheless, it is what it is, Friday's first quarter GDP data, which measures the pace of growth in the U.S. economy, came at a dismal 0.7 percent. That was far less than expected.  Most economists were expecting a number closer to 1 percent or more.
 
The response from Wall Street was "where's the beef," meaning that there has been little to no evidence that our new president has done anything whatsoever for the economy. But what about all the new hope corporations and investors are supposed to be feeling? Well, hope doesn't pay the bills or seemingly goose investment spending very much. Fixed investment in the nation's plants and equipment only expanded by a measly 1.6 percent.
 
To be fair, the first quarter in just about every year tends to be the weakest. Economists call it "residual seasonality." You can think of it as the after Christmas economic hangover when spending dampens down as the credit cards bill come due. Most traders know this, but hey, if there are suckers out there that are dumb enough to sell stock because of it then ... .
 
I'd rather listen to folks like Ben Bernanke, former Fed chieftain, who thinks that a combination of low inflation, low interest rates and global growth not only justifies the level of the stock market but may point to further gains ahead.  Bernanke thinks very little of the market's rise is predicated on additional U.S. fiscal policies.
 
And now that our new president is reaching the 100-day mark, the temperature on Wall Street has cooled a bit. Many traders are beginning to temper their enthusiasm for "huge tax cuts" when the reality is that just because it's tweeted does not make it so, at least anytime soon. 
 
If you were spelunking in Afghanistan or excavating mummies under pyramids in Egypt, you probably missed the administration's new tax proposals. The rest of us now know that Trump aims to reduce individual tax brackets from seven to three. He also wants to eliminate most of our tax deductions with the exception of charity gifts and home mortgage interest deduction. Tax-deferred contributions will also be spared the knife.
 
However, state and local taxes would no longer be deductible, which is a blow to those of us who live in the Northeast where taxes are high and so is income. It is also an area that was notably Trump-unfriendly during the election. But before you get your drawers in a tizzy, remember that this is only a broad proposal and the final legislation that is passed will be a lot different.
 
The stock market, however, seems to have taken all of this in stride.
 
I wrote last week that I was looking for the S&P 500 Index to breach 2,360 and remain there for a few days before I could give the market an "all clear." Thanks to the primary elections in France last Sunday night, that's exactly what happened. Since then the S&P 500 has traded above that level.
 
I believe the markets have been supported by a fairly good earnings season where the vast majority of companies are beating earnings expectations. What, to me, is even more important is that a growing number of countries are berating on the revenue number as well and giving improved forward guidance on sales. Since it is definitely more difficult to manipulate sales than it is earnings, I view this as an important development. 
 
If you took my advice, you weathered a shallow pull-back of at worst 3 percent. My expectations were for a sell-off no worse than 5-6 percent. Now I expect markets to climb higher with the S&P 500 possibly tacking on another 50 point or so in this quarter.
 
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser 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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
     

@theMarket: Uncertainty Descends Upon the Markets

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
Pick your poison — U.S.-Syrian strife, weak employment numbers, China-U.S. relations — those are just some of the issues investors had to contend with this week. Despite these potential roadblocks, the averages hung in there, losing little ground as the week closed.
 
There was even more bad news, if you include the latest minutes of the Federal Reserve Bank's FOMC meeting. There was much discussion among the members and a chorus of assent to begin the delicate task of reducing the Fed's $4.5 trillion balance sheet later this year. Recall that the Fed bought mountains of U.S. Treasury bonds over the last eight years in an effort to keep interest rates low (and stimulate the growth of the economy).
 
Now the bankers feel it may be time to start selling those bonds back into the market.
 
They reason that the economy and the gains in employment are strong enough to weather such a move. Since this effort would be in addition to the two or three rate hikes already planned for later this year, investors are worried that even higher rates could provide an obstacle to further stock-market gains.
 
I remind readers that it is the path of interest rates this year, and not the success or failure of the Trump agenda that will worry me most. And speaking of the Trump agenda, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, cautioned investors (just before taking a two week recess) that cutting taxes may take longer than expected. That did not play well on Wall Street either.
 
As the week's uncertainty continued to build, President Trump's meeting on Thursday and Friday with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had everyone biting their nails. Would there be a trade war? Would China agree to reign in their client state, North Korea? Of course, in predictable fashion, the psycho who runs that country, Kim Jong Un, chose this week to shoot missiles into the sea off the coast of Japan.
 
And just when Wall Street thought tensions could not get any higher, "The Donald" drops 59 Tomahawk missiles on top of a Syrian airbase in retaliation for the gassing of innocent people by that country's resident psycho, Bashar al-Assad. This U.S. strike took place in the middle of Trump's state dinner with Premier Xi. Talk about drama!
 
Overnight, stock index futures took a drubbing, but regained almost all of their losses by the time the markets opened in the U.S. on Friday morning. But then, the non-farms payroll report was released. Only 98,000 jobs were added in the month of March, while economists' estimates were in the 175,000 jobs gained vicinity. That took the wind out of the bull's sails once again.
 
Yet, here we sit with only minor declines on the day once again. That tells me two things.
 
That the pullback I predicted several weeks ago is still working its way through the markets.
 
That is a good thing. We could still drop another 2-3 percent from here. All-in, I have been expecting a 5-6 percent decline. To date, we have only experienced about half of that.
 
Number two, it bolsters my belief that the market's shallow decline will be followed by more upside. The markets have had every excuse to "crater" this week, but each time they fell, buyers appeared. There has been no panic, no sell-at-any-cost price orders that might indicate a more serious decline.
 
Both the bulls and the bears are hoping for more downside right now. The bears want to be vindicated in their belief that the markets are overvalued and overdue for a correction. My sense is that even the bears only want to make a little money, close their shorts, and then "go long" stocks. The bulls simply want to add to their existing positions, preferably at a cheaper price.
 
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser 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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
     

@theMarket: New Quarter, New Market

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
As traders and institutions put to bed the first quarter, several concerns loom large in the weeks ahead. How things play out over that time period will have important implications for the averages, given that they are not far from their all-time, historical highs.
 
What will the Fed do in May? Will Washington pursue tax cuts and if so, will there be opposition?  What will first quarter earnings look like and how will markets react to all of the above? Let's look in my crystal ball, shall we?
 
Wall Street analysts expect corporate earnings to be higher by as much as 10-11 percent. That would be a big change from the recent past, where dismal guidance and feeble results have been the name of the game. If the numbers match or beat expectations, that could be good for stocks.
 
Next up, the central bank, what are its intentions between now and June? The betting is that there is little chance that the Fed will raise rates again between now and then. If so, chalk up another positive for the markets.
 
Then there is the Washington wild card where all sorts of things could go right or wrong, depending on a fractured Republican party and a mercurial administration. Last week's debacle, centered on the belly flop that was the House's attempt to "repeal and replace" Obamacare has set people thinking and worrying about the future.
 
I'm thinking that we may still need a few more days/weeks of consolidation before markets begin to climb. We have already brushed my first downside target for the S&P 500 Index at 2,323. Many times markets will re-test the lows before traders are satisfied that "the bottom is in," so don't be surprised if that occurs. As I have written before, this congestion is a good thing.
 
It's about time some sanity returned to the markets. Investors were way too optimistic about the extent and timing of Donald Trump's campaign promises. By the price action, one would have expected that all the things Trump promised would be delivered in his first 100 days. No never mind that he never said that, or event hinted that would occur.
 
Remember, however, that the short-term swings in the stock market are no longer controlled by human "thinkers and doers." While the "thinkers" appear gone forever, the "doers" are still around — in the form of superfast computers and algorithmic software programs. These robots account for over seventy percent of the daily volume spewing out thousands of buy and sell orders at the simple mention of a word or topic.
 
"Trump tweets health-care reform" or "House fails to pass" is all that is necessary to tack on (or off) a percentage or more of value in any stock, index or market, anywhere in the world. In the last quarter, an avalanche of such comments kept the robots spewing out orders, the majority of which were buys. No never mind that little in substance was accomplished during that period.
 
Part of the problem lies with the president's method of communicating with the public. Neither Wall Street nor Main Street is familiar with this sort of governance. In the past, when the leader of the largest most powerful nation on earth, said something publically, it was taken as gospel. The assumption was that mountains of research, discussions and thought crafted every word and punctuation mark of a President's words.
 
As such, we could all rely on those words as sacrosanct. It was the way policy could be telegraphed not only to American citizens but to the world at large. In the case of investors, it sometimes signaled a change in direction that could be acted upon with the surety that, good or bad, that whatever the change, it was here to stay.
 
That is not how things are done under this president. Yet, few seem to recognize this. In my opinion, President Trump's tweets should be taken for what they are: simple "High Fives," messages meant to keep us in the loop, more hopes and dreams, than signed and sealed policy statements. It will also take time for our newbie president and a Congress that hasn't been in the majority since 2007, to figure that out as well. At some point, but not necessarily at the same time, traders and investors will hopefully stop reacting to tweets and wait instead for more substantive actions before pulling the trigger. Time and patience are the key words here.
 
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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
 
     

@theMarket: Fed Rate Hike Sets Stage For More

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

This week the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates again. That's two times in as many quarters. Back in the day, the markets would have swooned. This week they did the opposite. What gives?

The short answer is investors believe both the economy and inflation are beginning to accelerate, so the Fed has every right to reduce the gas and ease its foot off the monetary pedal. There is, after all, no need to keep interest rates at historically low levels at this point.

That's good news, after buoying both the economy and the financial markets through several years of anemic growth and worries over deflation. It is one explanation for why the stock market has climbed to record highs. Another would be that with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans a majority in Congress, most investors believe only good things are ahead of us on the economic front.

So tell me something I didn't know. Well, for starters these interest rate rises (with more to come) signal a new economic era in this country and possibly the world. After a race to the bottom in bond yields worldwide, our central bank has now reversed course. It is only a matter of time, I believe, before the rest of the world's central bankers follow suit.

Historically, rising interest rates have provided headwinds for the stock markets. Looking back, about the best that can be said was that stocks do OK for the first two years in a rising rate environment, as long as interest rates rise gradually and each rise is moderate. Call it the "goldilocks" version of the economy where higher rates are offset by greater growth and moderate inflation.

Over time, even that scenario usually comes unglued as economies begin to overheat; inflation climbs and bankers need to become even more hawkish to subdue these animal spirits. Normally, the result of this rate rising is a recession, sometimes mild, sometimes not, depending on how well a central bank can predict the economic future.

At this point, you may realize that managing an economy as large as ours (no never mind managing all the world's economies) is definitely an art and not a science. In times past, central bankers have gotten it very wrong (and sometimes right), but not without a lot of luck thrown in for good measure.

Why the lesson on rising rates? Because from here on out the main risk to the economy and the stock market is not Donald Trump. It is interest rates. Thanks to the Fed, we avoided another Great Depression eight years ago. Since then, with no help from the Federal government, they have single-handedly steered the economy back to a recovery. There is no reason to doubt their abilities.

But Janet Yellen would be the first to admit that she and her board of governors are not infallible. They are feeling their way through this process of normalization. That's financial-speak for disengaging from an overly heavy hand on the economic throttle. It is a process of turning over some of the responsibilities for economic growth to both the free markets and, hopefully, a more responsive government.

So far the markets approve of the way the Fed has handled the first two rate hikes. But it is early days. We have at least two more such hikes waiting in the wings this year. The risk is that there may be more, or that the size of each hike grows. Let's hope that they get it right.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
     

@theMarket: Mushy Markets in March

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
Investors took a break this week from the ongoing Trump rally, even as the pace of change in Washington seems to be accelerating. Both the financial downside and political upside should be positive for your investment portfolio overtime.
 
The minor consolidation I have been expecting in the stock market began this week. The averages have pulled back a little, but the S&P 500 Index, for example, has lost less than one percent from its all-time highs. That's not exactly the end of the world ...
 
I see a meandering two steps back, one step forward, kind of market with the downside risk somewhere between 2,300 and 2,330 on the S&P 500 Index. That would equate to about a 4 percent move. As pullbacks go, that would be minor and necessary given the stupendous gains we've seen since November. 
 
Some readers, mostly Trump-haters,(and there are a lot of them in this neck of the woods) have asked why I am so positive on the markets right now. It's simple: hope is a powerful motivator for stock market investors. So far, that hope has been justified. 
 
The repeal of Obamacare was one of the new president's major campaign pledges. This week, Congress began work on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (see yesterday's column "America's Road Toward Universal Health Care.")
 
Not bad, for a president who has only been in office for 49 days.
 
His trillion-dollar infrastructure project campaign pledge was this week's focus in the Oval Office. Work is also progressing on federal cost-cutting, while regulation after regulation is coming under scrutiny from cabinet members/businessmen who, by their very nature, hate waste and inefficiency. 
 
Bottom line, this guy is not only doing what he promised to do in the campaign, but he appears to be doing it with a single-minded purpose. So those who can be at least neutral about this president, (a hard place to be in this divided and polarized nation) he gets an "A" for effort.
 
Friday's non-farm payroll report, the first employment data that can be attributed to the Trump administration, came in much better than expected — 227,000 jobs versus an expected 175,000 gains. It appears that more than just stock market investors are hoping for a better environment. American small-business owners, who are responsible for the lion's share of U.S. employment, are among those who hope for a better business climate under Trump.
 
The question will be whether that employment number will convince the central bank to raise short-term interest rates next week. Although the headline numbers look great, the Fed usually looks at details such as whether wages also rose. They didn't. The economy, meantime, is still not growing at an accelerated pace. The Atlanta Fed actually reduced its first quarter GDP growth rate from 1.3 percent to 1.2 percent this week.
 
The Fed Funds Futures market is telling us that bond traders are nearly certain that a rate hike will occur on March 15. I believe that at least part of the reason markets have turned mushy this week is in reaction to this event. Rising interest rates, no matter how small, concern investors greatly. I believe that rising interest rates, not Trump, are the main obstacle to further gains in the stock market this year.
 
But as long as central bank policy remains moderate, with small rate hikes, spaced widely apart, the stock market can adjust and continue to climb. If, however, the Fed becomes more aggressive, for whatever the reason, then all bets are off.  
 
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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries 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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