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@theMarket: It May Be That Time Again

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

For traders, the old adage to "Sell in May" is now upon us. Over the past 40-plus years this recommendation has worked over 70 percent of the time. Should you go with the statistics or ignore them?

As regular readers know, the S&P 500 Index has already reached my target of 2,100. We did so over two weeks ago and until yesterday the bulls have been trying to break over that line and get back to the historical highs around 2,134.

The perfect excuse to do so should have occurred on Wednesday when the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee announced their latest decision to keep rates where they are.

The wording of the news release was almost identical to last month's statement. Rather than roar, (as stocks usually do after dovish words like that) the markets, instead, could barely eke out a gain for the day.

"Hmmm."

Notice, too, that despite an almost 17 percent increase in the price of oil thus far in April, stocks have done nothing. What, you may ask, has happened to the stock/oil price correlation that has been with us since the beginning of the year?

Then there is the dollar, specifically dollar weakness, which has dropped below 94 on the U.S. Dollar Index. That has been a line in the sand support for the greenback against a basket of foreign currencies all year. One would think that would be good for the economy — cheaper exports, better corporate earnings — but the markets are a fickle lot. They decided this week a weaker dollar might reflect a weaker economy. The slide in the dollar really accelerated this week when the Bank of Japan disappointed investors by failing to provide even more stimulus to their economy.

"Hmmm, Hmmm."

Of course none of this seems to faze the commodity speculators who blithely bid up the price of precious metals, agricultural products, base metals, energy and the kitchen sink. What, you might ask, is driving commodity prices higher? One word — China. That's right, now that the Chinese government has made it more difficult for the multitude to speculate in their stock markets, they have turned their attention to the commodity markets.

At its peak, as an example, iron ore prices have risen 73 percent and rebar 62 percent in Shanghai since the beginning of the year. Inveterate gamblers, both retail and professional, are now doing the same thing to global commodity prices that they did in their stock market last year. China's securities regulators started cracking down on the country's commodities futures exchanges this week to prevent further speculation.

I warned readers in my column last week not to chase commodities. I repeat that warning now. Recall what happened to the Chinese stock market when regulators curbed speculation last year? Stocks fell 40 percent and took global markets down with them. Could that happen again in the commodities markets? Is the Pope Catholic?

"Hmm, Hmmm, Hmmm."

I could go on and mention how corporate earnings this quarter are really turning out as bad as people feared, although there have been some notable exceptions. Then there is the devastation that is occurring on the NASDAQ. Could that index be foretelling a pullback in the overall market?

The answer is yes but don't worry, it is not Armageddon. It is simply a much-needed correction in a stock market that has gained 13 percent in less than two months. Remember how I warned readers to examine their risk tolerance a few weeks back? Well, welcome to the new stock market, which is just chock-full of volatility and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

I think we will see an up and down market throughout the summer. Remember that we still have the presidential conventions to contend with in June and July. Don't get me started on that subject! But I digress.

This pullback could see the S&P 500 fall to 2,140 or so, as a first stop. Of course, since it is hard to make short-term predictions like this, it could fall even further to the 200-day moving average. That would put us back to 2,114 on the index. If so, that would be a healthy sign in a market that has been overbought for weeks.

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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The Independent Investor: What Do Prince, You and a Will Have in Common?

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

What do Prince, you and a will have in common? The short answer is maybe nothing, unless, like so many of us, you still have not finalized such a document. If you haven't, get on the phone with a lawyer and get it done.

The passing of Prince was a sad day, but even sadder is the fact that this week his sister just opened a probate case in Carver County, Minn., the home of the late rock star.

"I do not know of the existence of a will and have no reason to believe that the Decedent executed testamentary documents in any form," Tyka Nelson wrote in her filing.

Prince had no spouse or children but he does have several siblings and an estate valued at $300 million. There is also the supposed treasure trove of unreleased musical material, a sizable estate tax bill (if no estate planning was in place) and who knows what else. One thing is sure; there will be plenty of time, effort, controversy and expense necessary to resolve a settlement through probate court. All of which was unnecessary if Prince had lived long enough to read this column.

You may not have the wealth of Prince, but you do have an estate. Don't leave the courts to decide who and how much of your assets your family members will receive. If you do, you are leaving your loved ones needless expense, confusion and possibly bad feelings. That is not the kind of legacy you want to leave.

If you don't leave a will, the courts will name an executor who will oversee the settling of your estate and they charge a large fee to do so. In addition, every state has its own rules and regulations covering estates and without a will, your assets are subject to the whims of whatever state you happen to be residing in when you pass.

For the most part, many of us never drafted a will. A document like that would force us to emotionally acknowledge that someday we are going to die. What we draft in that will, after all, is final. Then there are those among us who, like Prince "thought he'd live until he was one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine years old," according to his former attorney and close friend, Londell McMillian.

Each of your parents and/or you and your spouse should draft individual wills because your spouse may have different personal desires than you. Every nitty-gritty object or item does not necessarily have to be spelled out, but rather your will should explain who receives what among your tangible property. A letter of instruction can be attached to your will outlining and identifying specific items that will go to certain individuals.

No one likes to pay lawyer's fees, but in this case I suggest you hire an attorney to help draft your will. It is imperative that the will is considered a legal document in the state where you claim residency. I would also look for a lawyer who is familiar with estate planning rather than real estate or some other area.

Not every asset you own needs to be included in the will. Life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs and other retirement plans, for example, should have had your heirs (beneficiaries) listed at the time you purchased or opened those investments. Those listed on the beneficiary statement of these investments takes precedence over anything you may direct in your will. If, for example, your insurance policy of 30 years ago lists your now-deceased parents as beneficiaries and your will states your spouse, sorry to say that your parent's estate receives the insurance money. If you haven't done it already, it would be a good idea to gather all your investment and insurance policies in one place and check that all the proper beneficiaries are in place.

In my next column, we will discuss additional tools you will need in order to pass from this world into the next without worrying about your heirs. In the meantime, take hold of your destiny today and call an estate planning attorney.

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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@theMarket: Markets Hold on to Weekly Gains

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It was a struggle, but the stock market indexes stubbornly refused to cave in despite some really horrendous earnings reports. A battle is being waged among bulls and bears right here, right now. Who will win?

Remember last week when I reported that earnings have been revised down so low that it was practically impossible for most companies to disappoint the market? Well, that proved to be not quite accurate. Not only did some really big companies in industry, technology, banking and finance fail to beat, they actually came in less than anticipated on both earnings and revenues.

Although traders punished these companies' stock prices in after-hours trading and through the next day, many of these fallen angels quickly rebounded and are trading higher than before their dismal results. How does that work, you might ask?

The bulls would tell you that quarterly earnings results are like looking into a rear-view mirror. Instead, those who expect the economy to strengthen in the months ahead, argue that any sell-off in stock prices is just like looking a gift horse in the mouth. If one believes there will be a fairly sharp uptick in the economy soon, than that explanation makes sense.

The problem is that there is no "economic evidence" that the bulls are right. But when have traders needed facts to justify their trades? A better explanation, in my opinion, is that in today's low volume markets, any group of speculators can do what they want to any individual stock with impunity. Short it down 3 percent one day; drive it up the next day and so on. It is why owning individual stocks are a much riskier business today than it has ever been.

Overall, two out of the three benchmark U.S.  Indexes managed to eke out a gain for the week. NASDAQ was the exception, losing a few points overall. The real issue for the markets is the lofty price level we have now reached. We are almost 13 percent higher from the lows reached last quarter. Readers might recall that I urged you to hold on through the downturn, fully expecting the S&P 500 Index would regain their losses. My target for the index was 2,100. The equivalent level in the Dow is around 18,000. Both hit my targets. The S&P 500 actually touched 2,111 on Wednesday, but fell back before the close. Since then prices have been churning, a natural reaction to breaking to new highs for the year.

Stocks could continue to chop until the FOMC meeting next week. I don't expect anything negative to come out of that meeting, just more "dovish" talk about moderate growth, their "go-slow" policy on interest rates, etc. In the past, the markets have usually risen after the meeting. In this case, we could actually touch or break to new all-time highs if the markets determine there is just enough cheer within the Fed's comments.

On another important subject, the oil price has defied the investor community by doing what was most inconvenient for the most number of people. The failure of oil producers to arrive at a production freeze agreement in Doha last Sunday should have caused oil to decline substantially, or so Wall Street thought. Instead, after a 6 percent decline last Sunday night, oil rallied back and actually forged ahead this closing close to the years' high.

However, it was the U.S. dollar and not oil that has influenced the market this week. The greenback has been falling recently. Traders have been selling it, believing that our central bank will hold off on hiking interest rates, at least until June. Usually, a country's currency rises if traders believe interest rates in that country will rise. Now, since many assets (such as commodities and oil) are priced in dollars, lots of prices are tied to the fate of our greenback.

Commodities, for example, have risen, as have emerging markets recently, on the back of dollar weakness. Certain sectors such as energy, basic metals, agricultural goods and precious metals have been the leading sectors in the overall stock market in 2016, after languishing for years because of the dollar's strength. The problem is that if the dollar reverses on the back of an interest rate hike by the Fed (possibly in June), what will happen to all of these commodities and stocks?

It is one reason why I caution investors to temper their enthusiasm when considering these red hot areas of the market. The gains have been fun while they have lasted, but at this point most of the easy money has been made. Don't chase these sectors. You may end up holding the bag as the early buyers cash in their chips.
 

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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The Independent Investor: Leaving your Legacy

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It may not seem so sometimes, but your children value your opinion. The older they get, the more importance they place on things like your ethics, moral teachings and values. That's why it is extremely important to leave a legacy after you are gone that your children can turn to when they need it.

Leaving your legacy is an integral part of my on-going series of columns on estate planning. My last column on "passing the torch" to another generation concerned the family meeting. Hopefully, the Alpha Child (you or another sibling) has arranged the date, time and place of this momentous occasion and all the invitees (advisor, parents and adult kids) are on hand.

The room is quiet. A certain tension builds, since no one knows how this will turn out. The parents' adviser asks if anyone has any questions. If not, than I suggest the first subject to be addressed is your legacy and that of your spouse. It is a good ice breaker and normally changes the mood while developing a rapport among the family.

Whether you know it or not, you, your parents and your kids share virtues and values that have built and guided your family through the years. It is up to you to articulate those that you would like to see continued through the family's future generations. These are the things that you feel bring out the best in you and your family. They are values that you share and have shaped your individual lives. These values can also apply to such things as the environment, property and even your country.

You may have certain charities or other nonprofit organizations that have become important in your lives. You might want to include these organizations in your will. Faith and religion may also be an important element in your family life. Are there traditions, beliefs, cultural, and/or religious doctrines that you would like to perpetuate in some way?

Are there items such as that antique silver cross or menorah, for example, that your ancestors prized and carried to these shores when they immigrated? Who will be entrusted to preserve and take care of such things? Have you left any religious organizations in your will? If so, what are they and how can they be found?

Family traditions may be important to you. Your family may be big on holiday get-togethers or reunions, family trips or gatherings with friends. My son-in-law's family, for example, meets once a year. The clan gathering is so large at this point that the organizers must rent hotel space for 40-50 people or more. There is a lot of history exchanged during those weekends, where the kids learn rituals and hear stories of their relatives and ancestors.

In this Baby Boomer age of acquiring possessions — collections, memorabilia, jewelry, household items, etc. — passing them down to your kids may not be as easy as it looks. Take it from me; no one (including Goodwill) wants your brown furniture. Furthermore, what may have emotional or sentimental value to you may not be your childrens' cup of tea. That stamp, coin or baseball card collection may not have a willing taker. It is best that you know that now, rather than have it sold or auctioned off at a distressed price later.

That diamond brooch or necklace you acquired in South Africa may have several expectant daughters (or in-laws) assuming they will be the lucky beneficiaries. You need to create a designated plan on how all these items will be distributed. Don't let the kids sort it out after you go. The last thing you want to do is create fights or hard feelings among your loved ones.

If you are planning to make financial gifts to anyone in your will, they should be enumerated. I know one client who plans to leave half his estate to someone other than his family. Better the kids know it now than later.

Finally, have you documented you and your family's lives together? Are there documents that you would like to leave behind? Photo albums, electronic or otherwise, journals, diaries, scrapbooks, all of those items should be gathered and placed in a safe place where those who care can find them. You might have a family tree or genealogical studies, as well as important documents such as passports that need to be included. How about doing a series of videos where you can recount your life, lessons learned and advice to your kids and grandchildren?

That's enough to think about for now. As you now realize, these are not trivial matters. It will take some thought and discussion between you and your spouse to develop a legacy that is right for you. We will get into the nitty gritty of topics that come next in this family meeting. Such things as wills, durable power of attorney, and real estate will be explored in future columns, so stay tuned.

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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The Independent Investor: Have You Had 'The Talk' Yet?

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Whether you are a Baby Boomer or the child of one, it is about time you faced the music.

We all know that life ends, no matter how hard we try to ignore it. Having a family meeting before it is too late may save all of you needless heartache and financial turmoil.

Today, we are in the midst of an enormous transfer of wealth within America. Trillions of dollars of assets are passing from one generation to another and will continue to do so over the next couple of years. And whenever large amounts of money are involved, there is a need for knowledge, advice and estate planning. You can't do that if you or your family is in the dark when it comes to family finances.

Most experts will tell you that a family meeting is the best way to address this elephant in the room. It is a meeting where all the players come together — outside professionals (financial adviser, lawyer or accountant), parents and children. It should not be a "spur of the moment" event, nor scheduled around a traditional family get-together like Thanksgiving. The last thing you want is the grandkids or extended relatives or friends interrupting the meeting, nor do you want your parents or siblings "surprised" by an impromptu talk after Sunday dinner.

Subjects such as long-term care (see my last two columns on this subject), investments, tax-deferred savings accounts, income needs of ailing parents or children, federal and state taxes, (both now and when settling the estate), the fate of any real estate property, including the parent's home (and possibly a second home) are just some of the issues involved. As you can imagine, it is an important event where quite a bit of data may need to be located, gathered, presented and discussed. Take it seriously because done right; a huge burden will be lifted from everyone's shoulders.

My own parents were products of the Great Depression. They were taught to waste nothing, save everything and above all never, ever, confide financial information to anyone — least of all the kids. As a Baby Boomer, you may have inherited those same traits and your parents may still be alive. If so, you may need to confront those ideas and put them to bed. In fact, you may have to have two family meetings, one with your parents and a second with your adult children.

Clearly, whatever generation you represent, broaching the topic of your family's personal finances can be daunting at best but someone needs to get the ball rolling, and it might as well be you. A few years back, Allianz Life Insurance conducted a study called The American Legacies Study, which revealed that within every family existed an alpha child. That's the person who communicates the most between family members, who plans, schedules and makes sure you all attend those traditional get-togethers. It is the person the family comes to for advice. That is the person who should organize and co-facilitate the meeting.

If you are that alpha child then this responsibility is on your shoulders but if not, swallow your pride and ask a sibling who qualifies to accomplish this. Once that is settled, the next person you need to get on board is your parent's most trusted adviser or if you are talking to your kids, invite your own professional. In your case, that might be a money manager, like me, or a financial planner, but your parents may have relied on their accountant , a family lawyer or even someone they know at their local bank. In any case, ask your parents and make sure that person is not only invited to attend but will help you prepare for the meeting.

In my next column, I will explore in more depth what should actually occur during the family meeting and what items are absolutely essential to be discussed and planned for.

In the meantime, I suggest you pick up a copy of an excellent book on the topic: "Can We Talk? A Financial Guide for Baby Boomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents" by Bob Mauterstock, The author is an expert on the subject. His book is a comprehensive and practical guide in helping elderly parents gets their financial lives in order.

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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