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The Independent Investor: Obamacare Confounds Critics
By Bill Schmick On: 04:15PM / Friday April 04, 2014
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Despite a coordinated and well-financed effort to sabotage and overturn the Affordable Care Act, the open enrollment numbers this week indicate there is a groundswell of support by Americans for a universal and effective health-care coverage.

That may surprise some of you but not this columnist. Back in the day, I lived through the fear and anxiety of having no job or health-care coverage. The nightmare of how to protect my family kept me awake at nights. Fortunately I did land a job, actually a crappy position I took simply because my employer offered health-care coverage.

Right here in my neck of the woods, the North Adams Regional Hospital announced (with three days' notice) it was closing, putting 530 hospital employees (and their families) out of work. A byproduct of this layoff is an abrupt end to their medical insurance. In a different day, these families would have nowhere to turn. Fortunately, thanks to the Massachusetts health-care laws and now the Affordable Care Act (ACA) there is someplace to turn.  

Most readers understand that the legislation that is Obamacare is far from perfect. In my opinion, its passage was simply the beginning brick of a health-care system foundation whose time had come in this, the greatest nation in the world. I expected that there would be wholesale changes to the original legislation as time went by. The resulting vitriolic response to the law consisting of overblown predictions of doom, outright lies and organized sabotage both dismayed and angered me.

Granted, the Obama administration fumbled the ball right out of the gate with their less than auspicious launch of the program's primary website, HealthCare.gov. The Congressional Budget Office, you may recall, had subsequently reduced its estimate of open enrollment by this Monday's deadline to only 6 million due to the botched launch.

Some of the data extrapolations and promises of what the program could and would do for those Americans who were uninsured or underinsured were also overblown. That damaged the credibility of a sincere effort to provide what even many emerging nations offer their citizens. Obamacare was quickly labeled a "train wreck" by the majority of Republicans and was touted as the main issue of the upcoming mid-term elections. Yet, none of those mistakes warranted the effort to overturn the law, let alone shut down the government if its critics didn't get their way.

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.
So it is doubly important to recognize that with all these headwinds, the government's original estimate of 7 million enrollments in individual insurance plans was not only met but exceeded by the March 31 deadline. All those predictions that the ACA would spawn "death panels" (Sarah Palin), massive layoffs (Marco Rubio), skyrocketing health costs (most Republicans) and let's not forget Rush Limbaugh's prediction of "the total collapse of American society," were either outright lies or at best examples of monumental ignorance.

Readers note that this week there has been a deafening silence from the opposition. How very predictable.

Make no mistake; the opposition pulled out all the stops to defeat this effort.  As one small example, the response to my own columns on Obamacare was organized and orchestrated. I still receive daily and weekly comments protesting my position on the need for some kind of universal health care.

I started to dutifully publish these comments but soon realized the emails were so similar and the writing style so clearly from the same hand that it became obvious that I was a victim of a mass anti-Obamacare email campaign.  I can't prove it nor do I need to. I simply delete the innumerable computer-generated emails from "poor widows and orphans wiped out by Obama."

Bottom line, I hope these Obamacare enrollment numbers force a change in the opposition's tactics. Rather than insist on overturning a much-needed health care initiative in this country, wouldn't it be nice if they simply worked to improve it?



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@theMarket: The Faint of Heart
By Bill Schmick On: 03:26PM / Monday March 31, 2014
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It has been at best a bumpy ride for stocks this week. While events in Crimea are partially responsible, there are some underlying factors just below the surface that may have more to do with recent performance than would meet the eye.

Breadth, the number of advancing stocks versus decliners, is one variable that seems to be flashing amber to red. Most market analysts take a faltering breadth ratio as an early warning signal. Then there’s momentum. Momentum is positive when existing trends in the markets continue or accelerate. Recently, that has changed.

Take the biotech sector for example. For most of the year this sector was a darling that at its peak was up over 20 percent. Investors, believing that the area offered enormous growth based on technological innovation, (like stem cells) and new health care initiatives couldn't get enough of these stocks. This week the sector hit a brick wall. Some stocks on Monday and Tuesday were down 10-15 percent with little warnings.

Other high flyers in the technology space were also clobbered. NASDAQ, which outperformed the Dow and the S&P 500 Indexes for most of the year, also experienced a fairly steep down draft. When momentum stocks and sectors begin to falter, I pay attention.

The initial public offering (IPO) market is also an indicator that bears watching. The calendar for new offerings has been red hot. Companies are falling over themselves to go public with 10 new issues this week alone. In the recent past, these IPOs have all opened higher than their initial offering price and then went straight up from there. This week's favorite, a digital entertainment company, was crushed on its first day out of the box; not a good sign.

The phone has been ringing off the hook all week. It appears my last column on the markets triggered some concern. I wrote that the mid-term election cycle could usher in a period of turmoil and possibly a 10 percent or more decline in the stock market. Given my bullish stance on the stock market for well over a year, my forecast upset several readers.

Let me be clear. I am still bullish on the stock market over the intermediate and long-term. I just see some digestion problems between now and the end of the summer. Any paper losses readers may suffer during that time period will be regained by the end of the year. Occasional pullbacks like the one I am expecting is a necessary and expected condition of investing in the stock market. As I have said before, if you can't stomach these occasional declines, you do not belong in the stock market.

The exact timing on when and how long such a possible sell-off would occur is problematic. Some pundits are arguing it has already begun. I doubt it. We will probably rally again up to the recent highs or even beyond before stalling out again. We may well have another month or so before the markets truly roll over so there is plenty of time to adjust your portfolios in the event you want to take some defensive action.

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: Do Women Have a Choice?
By Bill Schmick On: 03:05PM / Friday March 28, 2014
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Income inequality between the sexes in this country has always been a problem and it does not appear to be getting any better. Critics argue that much of the blame lies in the choices many women make in pursuing their education and career goals. I beg to differ.

In my last column on the subject two weeks ago, I observed that the pay differential between men and women had finally caught the attention of national politics. The National Budget Office, for example, pointed out the biggest beneficiary of a minimum-wage increase would be women.  It is true but the real core of this issue lies elsewhere.

As most readers are aware, American society has changed. As a result of the overall income inequality in this country over the last 30-plus years, most couples are required to work full time in order to make ends meet.  Women have also spent decades fighting for that right to work on equal footing with men. Why is it, therefore, that when two people get married, pursue equal professional careers, and decide to raise children, it is the wife who is expected to sacrifice her career, take time away from the workforce and forgo income and advancement?

Who says this is the way it should be?

For me, this is the main obstacle that women face in this country. This expectation that women are required to be the primary caregivers in our society is the root cause of gender income inequality. It is an expectation so prevalent among us that only the strongest of 21st century women even question its fairness.

When a woman is expected to quit her job and raise children, several things occur. Her professional career is interrupted, sometimes for many years. Think of the "Good Wife's" Alicia Florrick, for example. This fictional lawyer dropped out of her legal profession for 13 years to raise children. In the meantime, her philandering husband cheats on her and then goes to prison. In order to support her family, she had to beg and plead simply to be offered a paralegal position at a Chicago law firm.

During those child-raising years, she did not contribute to Social Security a 401(k) plan or IRA, failed to keep up with her competition (mostly male lawyers), and when she did get a job it was at a salary far below what she should have been making if she, instead of her husband, had raised the children. What's more, from her employer's point of view, why pay her more since who's to say she doesn't take another leave of absence if she gets pregnant again?

Unfortunately in America, there is more fact than fiction in this television tale. The divorce rates in the U.S. are 40 percent to 50 percent and guess who ends up with the kids the majority of time? So not only have women given up a career, income and economic advancement, but a vast number of them now are required to support the kids while the ex goes off to prison or to enjoy his professional success with someone younger.

But let's say you are one of the lucky ones with a happy marriage. Whether you like it or not, with the kids grown, you probably still need to go back to work to make ends meet in this economy. But the chances of getting more than the minimum wage job are slim at best. It explains why women represent more than 62 percent of minimum wage workers.

Many of these women are divorced, have children to support or, just as important, they are widowed. You might find it surprising to discover that more than 75 percent of women in this country are widowed at an average age of 56. One in four of these women are broke within two months of being widowed, according to the National Center for Women and Retirement Research. More often than not, their only avenue of support is low-paying jobs with no future.

We haven't even examined the other side of women's role as caregivers to aging parents. It is the woman, once again, who is expected to provide economic and social support for aging parents at the expense of saving for retirement, Social Security benefits and income generation.

So it appears that blaming women for the choices they make as an explanation for gender income inequality would be laughable if the present state of inequity were not so serious. The solution to this injustice goes far beyond raising the minimum wage, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.

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's Wrong With This Flight Plan?
By Bill Schmick On: 10:14AM / Friday March 21, 2014
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The next time you board a regional airplane remember this. The co-pilots responsible for your safety are making the minimum wage. That means they are earning about as much as the guy hauling trashcans outside your local supermarket or flipping fast-food burgers and working a heck of a lot longer hours as well.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has mystified the world. It has also brought the issue of flight safety on the front-burner again. The investigation has now centered on the possibility that someone on the flight crew tampered with or re-directed the flight path of the plane carrying 227 passengers. To me, it simply drives home the point that whether you are on an international flight or a regional puddle-jumper, your pilot is crucial to your survival.

As such, it is hard for me to accept that pilots, who are required to have a college education and countless hours of flight certification, can make as low as $22,000 a year or less and work 240-300 hours a month for that privilege.

Unlike most professions, pilots only get paid from the time the airplane leaves the gate until it arrives at its destination. So the typical pilot is only on the clock for 21.5 hours a week. That translates for a first-year co-pilot as no more than a gross weekly pay of $495. A pilot with a decade of experience might average around $1,312.

Why then does anyone want to be an airline pilot?

Many simply have a passion for it and will do anything to fly. In addition, regional airlines are considered a stepping stone to a much more lucrative job at one of the major airlines. The senior-most pilots who fly 747s or 777s can earn $200,000 or more a year. It may have required 35 years or so of poor pay and long hours to attain that level but, unfortunately, there are few such openings available given the overall number of working pilots.

The pilots of the missing Malaysian airplane are being investigated now as part of the government probe. Authorities believe that whoever disabled the plane's communication systems and then flew the jet according to a different flight path had to have a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience. It illustrates how much control one individual can have over a great many people.

Although the amount of money you make does not necessarily reflect an individual's competence or sense of responsibility. I believe the airlines, in compensating their pilots, have sunk to new lows in their multiyear industry task of cost-cutting at the passenger's expense.

Like you, I have accepted most of these management changes with a modicum of grumbling. I have said nothing when, without warning or explanation, they cancel my flights (and the next one) simply because there are not enough passengers available to pack in like sardines in a can.

Although miffed, I also shelled out the extra money I'm charged to carry luggage on my trips. I had no choice. The fact that I now have to pay for seat selection as well as their lousy food and surly service, is the new normal in aviation.

But I draw the line at paying our pilots a minimum wage. After all, this is my life we are talking about. I don't like to entrust it to a young man or woman who is overworked, underpaid and probably less than motivated on a bad day. It is a wonder that we don't have more pilot safety issues already, but to their credit, these pilots, despite their slave labor, have consistently given their utmost to ferry their passengers to safety time and again in every kind of weather and obstacle.

If there was ever a reason to raise the minimum wage, this is one.

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: Hanging In There
By Bill Schmick On: 06:17PM / Friday March 14, 2014
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Russia's attempted annexation of the Ukraine, China's internal economic woes, the less than auspicious enrollment numbers in Obama's health care initiative are just a few of the difficulties that the stock market has had to overcome this week. Given the news, stocks are hanging in there.

There's hardly a day goes by that someone, somewhere isn't calling a top to this market. The bears are doing their utmost to get a good old-fashioned rout going but investors by and large are ignoring their overtures. On down days, the volume dries up because most investors resist the temptation to sell. Only day traders appear willing to sell the market and even they are right back in again at the first sign of an uptick.

The market's momentum is clearly higher. That does not mean we are immune from bouts of profit-taking. This week, for example, the markets hit a three week low but it appears that these declines simply set us up for another move higher.

Those who are already invested are willing to sit through this consolidation phase. Those who are not yet in stocks are increasingly willing to buy on any dips, no matter how shallow. As one client recently said, "there is no place else to go, if you want to earn a decent return."

At this point in this bull market, it is not unusual to see the big gains of last year taper off to a slow grind higher, interspersed with fits of moderate selling. Sure, some individual stocks are still accumulating big gains or losses but the indexes are for the most part trading sideways.

Given the overseas background noise, the U.S. market's ability to absorb bad news is even more impressive. Events in the Ukraine this weekend will further test the market's staying power. Russia has engineered a sham voter referendum in the Crimea on Sunday. It is widely expected that the rigged results will give Vladimir Putin an excuse to annex that region.  There is little the West can do to stop it outside of military intervention, which is not on the table.

Economic sanctions by the U.S. and Europe, on the other hand, might hurt a bit but can go only so far before Russia retaliates by shutting off Western Europe's gas shipments. I can’t help but compare Putin's actions with those of Adolph Hitler prior to World War II when he annexed Austria and several other nation states unopposed.

At the same time, investors are concerned that China, once the economic locomotive of world growth is gradually turning into at best a weak caboose. As most readers know, speculation is rampant in China and has been for years. The real estate, financial and commodities markets have reached bubblelike proportions and the government is endeavoring to deflate the excesses without puncturing the balloon. How and to what extent they are successful have implications for markets worldwide.

As for you, my readers, I advise you do nothing during these short-term tempests, regardless of whether the teapot is in this country or somewhere overseas. The issues I see on these foreign fronts simply argue for remaining here in the U.S. market, which increasingly looks like a safe haven.

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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