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The Independent Investor: Rise of the Smoothie
By Bill Schmick On: 03:20PM / Thursday March 05, 2015
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The global market for smoothies is projected to hit $9 billion this year. Driven by a new health-consciousness among consumers, today's on-the-go convenience of gulping down your vitamins and minerals is appealing to more and more of us. Expect that trend to continue.

From a niche market in America in the '90s, the industry here at home has grown to over a $4 billion market today, which makes the United States the dominat domicile of all-things smoothie. The sector is forecasted to grow 10 percent a year for the next five years, according to Research and Markets Group, an analytical business group. Food chains, service restaurants, beverage companies and consumers, not to mention the dozens of smoothie franchises, have made the fruit and/or vegetable drink as ubiquitous in America as McDonalds or Starbucks.

For many consumers worried about obesity, eating right and living longer, the convenience of gulping down your daily FDA minimum requirements of fruits and vegetables can be a strong selling point. It sure beats the pants off swigging down gallons of unhealthy soda.

Most of us consider smoothies a healthy but a sweet snack consisting of fruit and possibly yogurt or other ingredients like peanut butter or soy milk. The most convenient (and cheapest) way to make the drink is by using frozen fruit. Frozen fruit sales in the U.S. now top $1 billion a year, which is up 67 percent from five years ago, according to Nielsen. Sixty percent of that fruit went into making smoothies, which is up from just 21 percent back in 2006.

The making of smoothies goes back to the 1930s, '40s and '50s with the invention and use of both blenders and refrigerators. Smoothies became associated with the health food industry in the '60s through people like Jack Lalanne, the renowned health and fitness guru, who was one of the earliest advocates of juicing and nutrition. Today, with the trend toward organic and natural foods, smoothies have come into their own.

My own experience with smoothies is now two years old. I started with my old blender making a combination of fruit and vegetables drinks, but soon found that my tried and true blender wasn't cutting it. In search of the same consistency and flavor as a store-bought smoothie, I moved on to a popular smoothie-maker, which cost me a bundle. Still not satisfied, I stepped up once again and bought an even more expensive brand with a powerful motor. If I am an example of a typical smoothie consumer, no wonder that blender sales in America have grown 103 percent since 2009.

Today my wife and I consume at least one a day, combining both fresh vegetables and fruit. I will admit that making them can be time consuming and depending upon the ingredients, expensive. As such, you can usually find me in the bruised fruit and vegetable corner of my local supermarket. I usually make enough to last us at least two days. It gets better.

My company, thanks to my constant urging, decided to buy an almost-industrial smoothie maker. I have become the official "Smoothie King" in the office. It helps that just about all of us here are health nuts, extremely busy and concerned with our weight. As such, we are typical Americans.

As more and more commercial players move into the business, competition is emulating the differentiation that has been so successful in the coffee market. Now, we are being tempted by "Super Smoothies," made with antioxidant-rich super fruits like goji berries or super foods such as chia and flax seeds. Tropical fruit and tea-flavored concoctions are now common at most juice bars and cafes. Pre-made and bottled smoothies are also popping up at many local supermarkets.

If you haven't dipped your taste buds into the smoothie world as of yet, I suggest you do. The health and weight benefits are substantial and they taste great to boot.

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 Market: Full Steam Ahead
By Bill Schmick On: 03:53AM / Saturday February 28, 2015
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The major averages made all-time highs again this week, except the Nasdaq. It is just a matter of time before that tech-heavy index joins the party. But what happens after that?

The short answer is that we go higher, maybe not right away, but soon. January, you may recall, was a down month, which was similar to last year. This month saw a recovery followed by higher highs just like last year. If the trend versus last year continues, we should see further gains in March, possibly fueled by more demand from overseas investors.

Given that the United States is the only game in town for bond buyers, if off-shore investors want yield and safety, we should expect to see a continuation of demand for our bonds. That should keep interest rates low and stock prices up. If so, we should expect to see a broadening out of stock market participation, which is usually a bullish indicator.

I've noticed that while the S&P 500 Index, the Dow Industrial and Transport averages, the Russell 2000, the Nasdaq 100 and the Mid-cap  S&P 400 are all above the 2007 highs, one of the largest indexes around has lagged the party. I'm talking about the NYSE Composite Index of 2000 listed stocks, including REITs and ADRs (American Depositary Receipt) of foreign companies. This is a big index and about 25 percent of those stocks represent foreign companies.

It appears to me that the NYSE Composite is getting ready to play catch-up with the other averages. Although I am not sure, one reason this index may be lagging is due to the underperformance of the foreign components of the index. However, thanks to central bank quantitative easing in both Europe and Asia, a number of foreign stock markets are starting to participate in the U.S. rally.

In fact, so far this year some foreign markets, such as Japan and parts of Europe, have outperformed our own stock market. This could continue as the impact of monetary stimulus begins to take hold within their economies. That could set us up here at home for even further stock market gains in a virtuous circle.

Does that mean that it will be smooth sailing from now on? Not likely. Although I am confident that the Nasdaq will break its old Dot.com high of 2000, investors should then expect a bout of profit-taking. If we look at the short-term conditions of the market, I would say that almost all the averages are over bought and are due for a pullback, but that's exactly what we long-term investors want to see.

Two steps forward and one step back is a concept that my longtime readers are familiar with. In bull markets, like most of life, there are good times, followed by a little disappointment, and then more good times. That is the kind of stair-step market that I believe we are enjoying right now. There will be plenty of reasons for why the markets are too high and should be sold — slow growth, lower earnings, fear of higher interest rates, etc. — but these will be sorted out and stocks will climb higher after some profit-taking.

In my mind, the party isn't over until the fat lady sings and nobody I see is even overweight. For those of you who want a bit more beta in your portfolio, you might want to add some overseas investments, but remember risk and reward. You will be betting that despite poorer economic fundamentals, overseas markets will play catchup with our own stock market. If you are wrong, what gains you might make here could be lowered or even erased by losses overseas. As always, it is your choice.

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: New Fiduciary Rule Would Benefit All of Us
By Bill Schmick On: 03:48PM / Friday February 27, 2015
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The Department of Labor is trying again. This week, a proposed new rule, backed by the president, would force all financial advisers to adopt a "fiduciary responsibility" toward their clients when overseeing retirement plans. If passed, it could substantially reduce the fees and expenses we pay for that advice.

So exactly what is this fiduciary responsibility that President Obama is championing? The rule would require all advisers to put their client's interests above all other considerations when making investment recommendations on accounts covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. That means the bulk of middle class savings represented by all types of IRAs, 401 (k)s, 403 (B)s, pensions, et al. would finally be protected from the present practices of gouging Americans through investing them in high-priced, low-return investment vehicles.

"But I thought that was already the law," said a New York client, on hearing the news.

Actually it is not. Unless you work with a registered investment adviser, most financial advisers on Wall Street are simply required to suggest products that are "suitable" to investors. In practical terms, all that means is that a broker can't put your uninformed, 92-year-old granny into a foreign penny stock that fluctuates 10 percent or so on a daily basis. Anything else is fair game and the industry has taken advantage of that suitability rule to rake in billions over the years from you and me.

It is estimated that over the course of 25 years of saving for retirement, the average investor will pay one-third of his or her assets in fees and expenses. The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that these conflicts of interest cost the investor 1 percent, or about $17 billion, per year.

These legal (but less than moral) practices of the financial community have been a pet peeve of mine for years. In my columns, I have repeatedly written about these pitfalls and how my readers could avoid them. Back in 2010, when the Department of Labor suggested this rule, Wall Street, the GOP and the SEC successfully shot down the proposal arguing that a tougher fiduciary standard would prove so costly that small investors would not be able to afford investment advice at all.  I say, why pay for investment advice that only enriches the broker that gives it to you in the first place?

I'm not saying that everyone in the financial sector who is not a fiduciary is a bad guy, because they are not. It is the system that is at fault. The early '80s saw the end of an era of fixed commissions for Wall Street brokers. Since then the way brokers managed to earn a living was to acquire as many clients as possible, while making as much money as one legally could through fees, commissions and revenue-sharing kickbacks from other vendors like mutual funds, insurance companies and annuities.

The fiduciary rule would change that model substantially and it would be expensive to implement and oversee. One's compliance department, like my own, would need to oversee that rule and ensure that client's interests were always placed above the company and individual's interests.  It is certainly doable. My company has a fiduciary responsibility to our clients and enjoys a good bottom line while fulfilling the letter and the spirit of that rule.

Wall Street, in my opinion, could fulfill a fiduciary obligation and still make money — just not as much. The quality of personnel that interface with clients would have to improve and many lucrative relationships with their existing vendors would have to change as brokers pursued the best investments possible at the lowest costs. I, for one, believe this rule is long, long overdue. It's about time the government and the White House put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the little guy.

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: How to Make the Most Out of Social Security
By Bill Schmick On: 03:09PM / Thursday February 19, 2015
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Yes, it's complicated. Social Security benefits have been around since 1935 and, like taxes, have become increasingly complex through time. Most people are losing out because they don't understand the fine print. Starting today, you will, so read on.

For most of us, who haven't saved a great deal during a lifetime, Social Security benefits are about all we can depend on once we retire. In 2013, almost 58 million Americans received these benefits. Retirees and their dependents accounted for 70 percent of benefits paid, 19 percent went to disabled workers and dependents while survivors of deceased workers accounted for 11 percent of the total.  Although benefits have increased numerous times since its creation and those benefits are inflation-indexed, the total doesn't come to much, so wringing every last penny out of the program is essential.

In past columns, I have explained that if you can, waiting until you are 70 years of age is your best bet as far as receiving the most money from Social Security. If you defer filing at age 62 (your earliest allowable retirement dates) until age 70, the difference is over $100,000 per person. That's a nice piece of change for retirees. Of course, the downside is that if you die at age 71, then retiring early would have been a better bet. The healthier you are, the more sense it makes to retire later.

There is also an opportunity for married couples to enhance their combined benefits. It is called "file and suspend." It works best if one spouse is making significantly more than the other. The bigger the income gap, the bigger the payoff. Hypothetically, let's say my wife and I are now 66 and debating on whether to tap Social Security since we are both at full retirement age (FRA). Assume my wife, Barbara, as president of the company, has been the real bread-winner and has earned more than me over the years. She can expect to receive $2,000 per month in benefits, while I get $900 a month.

If Barbara files for benefits under her earnings record, I could claim one-half of her benefits ($1,000). At the same time, I could let my benefits continue to increase (by as much as 32 percent if I wait until I am seventy) before claiming them. That's a great deal for me since I make $100 more a month and let my benefits ride. But what happens to Barbara's benefits under this scenario?

As soon as I claim my spousal benefit, Barbara can turn around and immediately suspend receipt of her own benefits of $2,000/month. By doing so, we can now both accumulate the 32 percent increase in benefits until age 70. In dollars and cents, Barbara's benefits will grow to $2,640 a month and mine will top out at $1,188. But in the meantime, as the claiming spouse, I still receive $1,000 a month until age 70.

If we both live to say, 95, the file and suspend strategy would result in more than $200,000 in extra benefits between us. Not a bad return to simply spend an hour or two of additional form filing. There is an added benefit as well; since it would allow me to take a survivor benefit on Barbara's increased monthly amount should she die unexpectedly after age 70. Complicated? Yes, but well worth the time and effort.

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: A Race to the Bottom
By Bill Schmick On: 07:19PM / Friday February 13, 2015
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Faced with slowing economies and sluggish employment, more and more countries throughout the world are devaluing their currencies, slashing interest rates and stimulating growth wherever they can. That should be a recipe for further global growth in the years to come.

These days wherever you look — China, Canada, Denmark, Sweden — central banks are announcing surprise interest rate cuts on a weekly basis. Last month's announcement by the ECB of their own additional quantitative easing efforts evidently triggered a rush of responses by other banks across the world.  So far this year 26 out of 34 major central banks are establishing or maintaining monetary easing policies.

This has had the effect of lowering the exchange rate of their currencies, which will, over time, allow their exports to grow and thus their economies. In a sense, this amounts to a price war, where those who can sell their goods at the lowest price (exchange rate) benefit the most. In times past, this kind of action would elicit howls of protests from organizations such as the G-20 group of nations. However, this time around, in their last meeting two weeks ago, the membership actually condoned this global trend.

"But isn't all this money printing inflationary?" one client asked.

Actually, under different circumstances it would be, but right now, most nations, including our own, have the opposite problem. The central bankers are worried about deflation today as economies stumble toward recession and the price of commodities and other products decline further.

Clearly, there is a lot of uncertainty in the world. Investors are skeptical that all this stimulus will have the desired effect. Yet, look at what happened in this country. Despite a gaggle of naysayers, after four years of QE stimulus, our economy is growing at a 2.8-3.0 percent clip and unemployment is gaining. If it worked here, it will work overseas, in my opinion.

Notice what is happening to the stock market, despite this wall of worry. The averages are making new highs. NASDAQ reached its highest closing level since the dot-com boom and bust of 15 years ago. Only this time, these gains are backed up by solid earnings and a strong future outlook.

The participation within the market is broadening as well, which is always a sign of strength. The market's advance is becoming less dependent on megacap stocks (last year's favorites) and leadership is becoming more democratic. Usually, this indicates the likelihood of longevity, or market staying power.

In a stock market like this, one actually hopes for pullbacks. What you want to see is a gain followed by a pullback that makes a higher low, and then a higher high. There are plenty of triggers in the world for these kind of movements — Greece, ISIS, oil prices, the Ukraine. Don't let any potential sell-off spook you. Stay the course.

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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