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The Independent Investor: The Fed Turns Off the Spigot
By Bill Schmick On: 06:15PM / Thursday July 10, 2014
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The Federal Reserve Bank announced an end to their latest quantitative stimulus program on Wednesday. The markets worldwide sold off on Thursday. Was it just a coincidence?
 
It was not as if their announcement was unexpected. The Fed has been winding down its $85 billion a month purchases of bonds and mortgage-backed securities since the beginning of the year. Each month they have pared back $10 billion/month incremental purchases.
 
June's policy meeting confirmed that the last purchases would end in October.
Some investors were relieved, while others were concerned. Many believe that the longer the Fed's program continues the less impact it will have. Others disagree. That is nothing new, since, from the outset, the entire Quantitative Easing (QE) program has been mired in controversy. 
 
The initial round of QE in 2008 was intended to prevent the economy from plunging into a second Great Depression. The Fed succeeded in that desperate bid and followed the first QE with successive bouts of stimulus in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
 
Unfortunately, its goal — to jump-start the economy and return it to a healthy growth rate — has had, at best, mixed results. While unemployment has fallen from almost 10 percent to 6.1 percent in June, the economy has remained mired in a slow-growth recovery. At the same time, this unprecedented meddling in the economy has resulted in a number of distortions, some good and some not so good.
 
Keeping interest rates low was supposed to convince American investors to sell their low-yielding, safe-haven U.S. Treasury bonds and buy riskier assets such as stocks and corporate bonds. The hope was that would in turn spur an increase in lending, consumer spending and investment. Very little of that actually happened. Investors and banks alike either remained in cash or their Treasury bonds.
 
It was the stock market and rampant speculation that has been the main beneficiary of the Fed's efforts. Some argue that the gains in the stock market have only benefited a tiny portion of the population (the One Percent) and there has been precious little "Trickle Down" impact on the economy.
 
Although the unemployment rate has declined, economists argue that the numbers are deceiving. Many After years of attempting to find a job, many people have simply dropped out of the rolls thereby reducing the unemployment rate. The data also indicate that a growing number of these gains are low-paying, part-time jobs, something the Labor Department's numbers fail to account for within these trends.
 
Then there are the risks. Potential inflation heads that list. Contrary to those who have been predicting hyperinflation, the numbers do not bear that out. For the last two years inflation has been running below the Fed's target rate of 2 percent.  
 
However, that could change. If, at some point, banks begin to lend those trillions of dollars, instead of speculate with it, if corporations begin to invest in plant and equipment rather than buy back their stock or someone else's, then the story could change.
 
The multiplier effect of money begins to come into play. That is when the dollar I lend to you is used to buy a widget or two, in turn, the widget seller turns around and uses that same dollar to pay my neighbor to make more widgets and so on and so on. In that way one dollar becomes many more. That's what causes inflation. We haven’t gotten to that point yet. And the Fed says they will raise rates when and if that happens. 
 
Some say all the Fed has done is cause a gigantic bubble in financial assets. The Fed says no, markets, in their opinion, are simply fairly valued. No one, including the Fed, really knows for sure. In many ways this entire QE program has been a grand experiment and the final outcome has yet to be written.
 
So back to the stock market, if you trace the behavior of markets through these various QE programs, one thing stands out. In every instance, once investors understood that the QE program was ending, the stock market declined.  One wonders if this will happen again this time.
 
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: Should You Pay Off Mortgage Before Retiring?
By Bill Schmick On: 03:21PM / Thursday June 26, 2014
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Many retirees, concerned with no longer having a steady paycheck, have asked me for advice on whether to pay off their mortgage early. There is no definitive answer but here are some variables to consider when making a decision.

Your monthly mortgage payment in retirement may represent a significant portion of your monthly income. If you only have social security as an income stream, then chances are that a mortgage payment will significantly reduce the amount you will need to meet your monthly expenses. If so, then pay off the mortgage. However, be careful you don't significantly reduce the amount of money you have available for emergencies, general expenses and discretionary spending. You don't want to end up house-rich but cash-poor.

By paying off your mortgage now, you reduce interest rate risk, especially in a rising rate environment. Naturally, there are several factors at play here. How long and how much debt remains on your mortgage will be a crucial factor. If you have an adjustable rate mortgage and rates double over the next five years then it makes sense to pay off the loan or at least convert to a fixed-rate mortgage.

On the other hand, if you took advantage of the low interest rate environment over the last few years and re-financed, you might now have a thirty-year fixed rate mortgage with an interest rate of 3-5 percent. In that case, it may make sense to keep the mortgage. Why?

If, as many predict, interest rates do rise substantially in the years to come, your borrowing cost on that fixed mortgage will look like a very good deal.

Retirees must also understand the opportunity costs of paying a large lump sum out of your retirement savings to be free of that mortgage. While being debt-free may feel good, could there be other investments that might provide a better return?

Let's go back to the retiree who refinanced and now has a 30-year fixed at 5 percent. If interest rates do rise from here sometime down the road, that retiree has the opportunity of taking advantage of those higher rates. Theoretically, he could invest that lump sum money into a safe U.S. Treasury bond yielding 6 or 7 percent, maybe more.

While he waits for rates to rise, there is always the stock market. Stocks have averaged a 7 percent return historically for well over the past 100 years. He could invest the money in a group of dividend stocks, which would not only generate him income but also price appreciation. In long-term bull markets like today's, the average return on equities has been much, much more.

Of course, each individual's situation is different. Paying off the last $100,000 of a mortgage out of a retirement nest egg of $1 million is much different from someone who only has saved $300,000. As always, the mortgage interest rate you are paying is critical to the equation. There are also alternatives. If there is no prepayment penalty, you can always pay down the principal faster or simply double your overall monthly payment.

But numbers aren't everything. For some people debt is, and always will be, a dirty word.

The peace of mind they receive from being debt-free may trump whatever opportunity they may have elsewhere. My only advice is to weigh all your options carefully before making that decision.

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: Retirement should be a part-time job
By Bill Schmick On: 11:14AM / Friday June 20, 2014
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Only 40 percent of those who retire find that their quality of life improved. That’s because the majority of Americans, especially men, fail to understand that retirement can have a sudden and stressful impact on their lives and especially their marriage. Don’t let this happen to you.

Remember that throughout history, most people worked until they died or were physically or mentally unable to hold down a job. It is only recently that people had the luxury of choosing to retire. For many, it comes down to the dollar and cents ability to have saved enough money to live on through their remaining years. But just because you have the money doesn’t mean that you should.

In my experience, anecdotal evidence indicates that those of my clients who are happiest in retirement are actually those who hold down part-time jobs, created new jobs or have developed interests and hobbies that keep them busy and out of the house for the good part of every day.

On several occasions when my clients have expressed an interest in retiring over the next year or two, I have urged them to spend that time trying out new roles and identities. In many cases, I have urged my clients to think outside the box and pursue interests that seemed outside their grasp up until now. One client loved to swim and already taught classes part-time. Another had organized a mountain-biking club and in his spare time taught newcomers the sport. One loved to bake, another to ball-room dance. Some considered opening a business, others started or joined charities or social groups.

For those management types who loved a good business plan, I recommended building a business plan for retirement. I urged them to develop and share this plan with their spouse, which brings us to the topic of marriage and retirement.

Retirement is the fastest way to discover the holes in your marriage. Think about it. For years an unhappy marriage could exist by avoiding each other by simply going to work. Retirement will change that. Now, you are together with your spouse 24/7, which will mean adjustments, big adjustments if that marriage is going to survive. Issues that you should have resolved years ago will demand immediate solutions. No wonder the divorce rate among retirees is increasing.

How do you begin, or if you are in a pretty good relationship, how do you adjust to retirement? Well, first you have to sit down and talk about it (preferably before and not after). First on the agenda is establishing a retirement lifestyle that you can both enjoy and one that meets the needs of both partners.  That may mean sharing the household chores, something most men have avoided their entire lives. There may be personal habits that have to go and it most certainly will require teaching old dogs new tricks. Private time for both is also going to be important. The point is that becoming a couch potato, keeping your feelings to yourself and continuing old behaviors are not the answers.

For most couples, retirement will be a process. At first most couples experience a short-term honeymoon period where everything works. You can sleep later, go out to eat more often, watch television together and visit the kids in California. However, after a few weeks or months, reality hits. Senior citizenry no longer has the cache you thought it had and you come to realize how “bossy” that person who shares your life really is.  

To survive retirement together your first rule of thumb is that communication is essential. For many men that is an earth change in behavior. Men have to get out of the house and find part-time work, paid or non-profit, social or otherwise. I call it work because men are usually not comfortable in new social settings. They rely instead on their wives to do that for them. No more.

Remember too that being retired does not mean you have to spend every waking moment with your spouse. No matter how likable you think you are, you’re not. You both need the confidence and sell-esteem to take care of yourself and have time alone.

The best way to look at retirement is as simply as a job change. You may work fewer hours at something new or different. You may get paid less or nothing at all. Like any new job, there will be a learning curve, failures and successes along the way and lots and lots of changes. If that bothers you, don’t retire.  But if you do retire, embrace the change and treat it with the respect and planning it demands and serves.

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: Unhappily Ever After
By Bill Schmick On: 02:44PM / Friday June 13, 2014
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Over the next decade roughly 75 million Americans will retire. While most of us are well-aware of the need to plan, save and invest for that momentous moment, very few of us are actually prepared for the non-financial challenges of retirement itself.

Recently, as a result of one local company’s early retirement incentive plan, as well as the bankruptcy of a local hospital, I have had some firsthand experience in dealing with the expectations of retiring clients in this area. What I have found is that the majority of men are ill-prepared for retirement, more so than women. At the same time, their spouses are extremely worried — with good reason.

Studies show that men have a much harder time adjusting to retirement than do women and are far more naive in understanding what retirement does to one’s quality of life. Those who retire unexpectedly due to sickness, job loss, those who have become accustomed to working long hours or who bring their work home with them have the most difficulty in retirement.

It seems that most men tend to define themselves and their self-worth on the basis of their careers and the money they make. After 30 or 40 years of polishing their identities as providers, senior workers and/or producers, they find themselves at a loss when that ends. Many men are suddenly faced with an identity crisis they have not confronted since they were teenagers. The more of a workaholic they are, the less likely they will have developed other outside interests that could help define and transition them to a new identity and role.

Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to have several roles — worker, mother-caregiver, community activists, etc. — throughout their life, all of which aid in a transition to retirement. Women are much more likely to have had their working careers interrupted by child-rearing or by taking care of elderly parents than men.

I know my own wife, Barbara, the COO of our company, also maintains a successful career as a photographer, has a large network of friends and acquaintances and is a member of several community organizations and social groups. In general, I believe women tend to be more engaged with others and more connected to their communities in terms of social support and networking. Retirement, to them, may be just another change in a life that is full of changes.

Seventy-five percent of workers believed that their quality of life would improve once they retired, but only 40 percent of retirees found that it actually did. So if you are planning to retire, forget about your dreams of being perfectly happy walking on the beach every day or playing golf or minding the grandkids. None of that is guaranteed to fulfill you, or even hold your interest beyond the first couple of months. There is no free lunch in retirement.

The only sure thing in retirement is that at some point you will die. Your problems do not disappear, they just change in nature and many times, your problems actually grow in size and importance (since you have little to distract you).  Sure, you may live longer by retiring from a stressful job that was either physically or mentally taxing, but that doesn’t mean you will live healthier.  Your chances of becoming addicted to alcohol, narcotics or prescription pills actually increase.

Finally, the most important truth of all is that you will never be able to save enough money to retire happily ever after because money and happiness have nothing to do with each other. In my next column, I will give you some pointers on how to become one of those 40% of retirees who actually enjoy retired life. I’ll leave you with a big hint — it starts with your spouse.

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: June Swoon
By Bill Schmick On: 02:37PM / Friday June 13, 2014
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This week the stock market was actually down three days in a row. It caught many investors off guard, but by the end of the week, traders were expecting the dip buyers to arrive. They did not disappoint.

As we approach the first days of summer, the stock market appears to be becoming more, rather than less, volatile.  The VIX, the volatility index, actually jumped a bit from its record lows as turmoil in Iraq and a subsequent spike in oil prices spooked the markets.

Earlier in the week, the World Bank also cut their economic forecast for 2014 global growth from 3.2% to 2.8%. And here in America, the election defeat of Eric Cantor in the Virginia Republican Primaries provided additional uncertainty for investors. Given the news, who could blame traders for taking a little off the table, especially at these record-high index levels?

So can we expect the markets to regain the losses suffered this week? It looks like we could see the S&P 500 Index hit the 1,950 level before all is said and done. Some think that could be the top but calling an end to this bull market has been a fool’s game. I would suggest there are better things to do.

On the economic front, there is plenty to be happy about. The deficit is improving dramatically, bank lending among the smaller, regional banks is surging and we are even seeing some improved lending from the larger banks as well.  

On the negative side, the rate of national debt is still growing, although at a reduced rate. So far, thanks to the extremely low interest on that debt, the servicing costs remain low but that will change as interest rates rise. It is a problem and one that needs to be addressed fairly soon.

Corporations are still hoarding cash. The money they do spend is being used to pay dividends or buy back their stock or someone else’s. As a result, merger and acquisition activity is at record highs. As this rate, it will soon become cheaper to build rather than buy additional capacity. And that will be a good thing for the nation’s health. Our stock of nonresidential equipment in this country is getting older and there is a widening gap between that stock and its rate of replacement.

When and if corporations decide that the future economic picture looks strong enough to risk building new plant and equipment, employment will rise and so will wages. That day is coming. We have recently witnessed the rise of a number of activist’s hedge fund managers who are urging corporate managements to either increase their capital expenditures or sell out to someone that will.  

So overall, the picture is brightening. If I look out over the longer term, I see more positives than negatives for the economy. All we need do is get through the next few months of uncertainty and stock market volatility. This month may be the beginning of that pullback I’ve been looking for. If it occurs, it shouldn’t last more than a month or two. All it requires is a little patience.

That’s not so bad, is it?

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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