Home About Archives RSS Feed

@theMarket: Economy Stronger, Stocks Weaker

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Investors can expect the stock market to carve out a new trading range over the next few weeks. The good news is that range will be higher than it has been all year. The bad news is that we should not expect a repeat performance of March.

March was a good month for the S&P 500 Index. Stocks gained about 3 percent, and as of today, are positive for the year. Friday, investors worked overtime as they digested a slew of data.

The day kicked off with employment data which was good: 215,000 jobs gained, while hourly wages increased by 7 cents an hour. And more Americans are looking for jobs.

The bad news was that we are still losing jobs in the manufacturing sectors, since just about all the gains were in the service economy.

Beyond that, we received more data on everything from construction spending, the PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) to domestic vehicle sales and plenty more. I won't bore you with the details. All you need know is that in total the data revealed an economy that was plugging along at a roughly 2 percent plus rate or slightly better.

In the past, I've warned readers not to hang their hat on any one economic data point.

While economists might be cheered or disappointed by one month's group of statistics, the facts are that all these numbers are revised more than once (up or down) in the weeks and months ahead. What stock market investors need to know is if any of these data points would make the Fed hike rates sooner than expected.

The answer is no. The Fed is on hold in their plans to raise short term interest rates until the economy gives definite signals that we are growing faster than the present rate. We are not.

The Fed's brief is both keeping inflation in check and insuring a healthy labor market. Given moderate growth and employment gains it appears to the Fed that the country is in a sweet spot.

As such, the dollar will continue to remain in a trading range, as will bonds, and to some extent, the stock market. Here's the thing: nothing has changed as far as the well-being of the U.S. economy over the last quarter. It is why I did not advise anyone to bail out of stocks in January or February. Just because the market was having a hissy fit at the beginning of the year, it is no reason that you should have one, too.

You might ask, why then was the stock market down on Friday in the face of good or at least in-line data points? Look to oil for a reason. Word from Saudi Arabia's oil minister this week is that the production freeze by them and others will depend on whether or not their arch-enemy Iran also agrees to a freeze.

That stance is understandable given that both countries are at loggerheads in the Middle East. At the same time, both parties know that sanctions have just been lifted on Iran's oil production by most importers of oil. That country is only now trying to make up for years of lost production and won't tolerate a freeze on that effort. As a result, oil dropped almost 4 percent on Friday.    

As I have written before, the stock market is still held hostage to the oil price. The OPEC meeting is supposed to happen this month and it is natural that investor anxiety will heighten as all parties to the negotiations stake out their opening positions. That will make for a lot of ups and downs in the oil price and will have a subsequent impact on stocks.

It is why I believe that this month we won't see much progress in financial markets. After that, we will enter the presidential convention period. That too may keep a lid on equities into the spring.

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.

Write a comment - 0 Comments            

The Independent Investor: Long-Term Care Insurance Should Be on Your Agenda

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

As Baby Boomers grow into their 60s, the possibility that at some point soon you may need long-term care becomes a real possibility. Since that kind of care can cost $250 a day or more, depending on where you live, it makes sense to at least consider buying insurance.

For those of us who are 65 or older, the odds are that at least 70 percent of us are going to need some kind of long-term care. We would all like to hope that we will be one of those lucky 30 percent who don't end up in a nursing-home; assisted-living center or needing home care but hope isn't much of a strategy.

If you crunch the numbers, most of us will realize that it won't take long to completely deplete your life savings, even if you only need that care for a "relatively" short period of time.

But like everything that has to do with investment, savings and insurance, we Boomers are notoriously ignorant of the facts.

For example, raise your hand if you think your Medicare benefits cover long-term care.  

Sorry, folks, it doesn't. Well, there is always Medicaid, right? Sure there is — once most of your assets (and your spouses) are wiped out. Medicaid does cover several types and amounts of long-term care expenses but you have to be poor to qualify.  Even then, with the pressure on legislatures to cut social spending, there is no guarantee what your state will cover or what kind of care you will receive under Medicaid.

Of course, if you have megabucks and are part of the one percent, then you might as well pay for that care yourself because you and your family will still have enough to live on no matter how long you need long-term care.  It is the remaining 99 percent of us who may have a problem in the years ahead. As readers know, few Americans have saved enough for retirement and for many of us it is too late to rectify that mistake.

"I just won't ever be able to retire," is the glib answer we get, in our effort to dismiss that savings issue. But those words won't cut it when you become physically incapacitated.  If you can't work, you can't earn a paycheck.

The critics of long-term care will argue that most people don't need more than 90 days of long-term care. Most health care policies have a 90-day deductible, which means your long-term care insurance won't kick in. Most of us are willing to play those odds, even though the statistics indicate that those who need long-term care usually need it for at least a year or two.

The main issue is affordability. The older you are the more expensive insurance becomes. Baby Boomers, by definition, have already passed the threshold where insurance premiums are reasonable. However, what most consumers do not realize is there are a wide range of choices which offer various degrees of security and coverage.

In my next column, I will explore some of those policies and various strategies that readers can employ to reduce long-term care premiums while protecting themselves from that worst-case scenario.

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.

Write a comment - 0 Comments            

The Independent Investor: Are Negative Interest Rates the Answer?

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

You may have heard of the newest wrinkle among central bankers. It's called "NIRP," which stands for negative interest rate policy. Several countries have already implemented this policy and are hoping their actions will stem the tide of deflation and low economic growth.

Although NIRP by its nature seems complicated, it really isn't. All you need know is that just about every bank in the world is required to keep a percentage of its customer's bank deposits in reserve in case their depositors want their money bank.  In our country, banks are required to keep 10 percent of those funds "in reserve" at the 12 Federal Reserve banks around the country. Now you know where the Fed gets its name.

Usually, banks get paid an interest rate by the Fed for keeping that money on the side rather than lending it out or speculating on pork bellies or buying derivatives on mortgages like they did back in the days of the financial crisis. In this country, the Fed pays 0.50 percent on excess reserves (the required 10 percent of deposits plus whatever other excess money the banks might have).

It might not sound like much, but when a money center bank has $100 billion to $300 billion in excess reserves, a half point interest can be worth a billion dollars a year or more.

Ever since the financial crisis, banks worldwide have chosen not to lend. Some of that reason is fear that borrowers won't pay back their loans (think housing crisis). A mountain of new regulations since the crisis has also put a crimp in the lending business, making it more difficult and costly to lend. Those who could borrow (like big, multinational corporations) are already flush with cash and don't need the money. So the banks choose to park their excess reserves at the Fed and earn easy money with no risk.

It is a phenomenon that plagues economies worldwide. In an effort to convince the banks to lend, several countries have opted to institute a negative interest rate policy. The European Central Bank was the first major institution to adopt NIRP. They are now charging banks to hold their money overnight. Presently banks are paying the ECB 0.40 percent. Japan, whose economy is still struggling despite its quantitative easing program, followed suit and implemented their own NIRP a month.

In theory, interest rates below zero should reduce borrowing costs for companies and households, driving up demand for loans. But if credit-worthy companies don't need to borrow and banks won't lend to those whose credit is questionable, this theory begins to fray.

At the same time, if banks decide to pass on this new negative interest rate cost to me their depositor, why should I keep my money in their checking account?

So the banks are caught between a rock and a hard place. They either eat the costs themselves or pass them on and take the risk that I withdraw my cash and put it under the mattress.

NIRP can also trigger a currency war. Negative rates may persuade global investors to move their cash from Europe or Japan, as an example, to the U.S. That would weaken the yen and the euro and strengthen the greenback. It would make our exports more expensive while driving down the coast of imports into America. Overseas in Europe and Japan, the exact opposite would occur. Their imports would be more expensive, while their exports would become more competitive. That's good for them but bad for us.

The "Donald," along with just about every other presidential candidate, is already threatening a trade war on this basis.

Some say NIRP is an act of desperation by central bankers who are running out of tools to prop up their economies. Our own Fed has said the idea has not been discounted and the idea is "in discussion." Clearly, Janet Yellen and the Fed members want to see if the textbook theory pans out.

Investors have already seen some baffling results of NIRP. The yen and euro have strengthened rather than weakened, which is contrary to economic expectations.  Although it is early days, banks overseas have chosen to absorb the negative interest rates rather than pass them on to consumers. That is hurting profit margins. There is no evidence to date that overseas banks are taking their excess reserves and buying more government bonds or highly rated commercial paper or lending more money out.

All of the above would spur economic growth. Until there is further evidence, I expect that the U.S. will simply watch and wait.

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.

Write a comment - 0 Comments            

@theMarket: Fed-Driven Rally Grinds Higher

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, the Federal Reserve Bank gave investors everything they wanted this week. As a result, the indexes racked up their fifth week of gains in a row. Could there be six?

A combination of events has unfolded over the last few weeks that have driven the markets higher. A potential bottom in oil and its subsequent rise to over $40 a barrel has provided support as well as fuel for stock gains. Given my belief that "where oil goes, so goes the market," it should be no surprise that the stock markets have now regained all the losses suffered in 2016. Oil, by the way, is also at around the same price it was at the beginning of the year.

This week after the Federal Open Market Committee Meeting (FOMC), the U.S. central bank announced that they would keep interest rates the same. They also lowered their guidance on the number of times they anticipated raising the Fed Funds rate this year from four to possibly twice. Traders read those comments as bullish for stocks.

Readers may recall last week's column where I pointed out that the indexes had reached a critical level. In order to advance, the stock markets had to break through their 200 Day Moving Average. They did. The S&P 500 Index decisively moved above 2,019 and the Dow breached its 200 DMA as well. Since then stocks have methodically gained ground.

By now it should be clear to you that none of the bearish predictions that panicked investors over the first two months of the year have come true. As the markets go higher, the very same talking heads that were predicting markets would go much lower are now changing those forecasts. Most of this noise occurs within the financial media. You do yourself no favors by paying attention to it. The dribble you receive from television shows or emails from hucksters who are regularly predicting the end of the world is the worst kind of information.

Stocks will continue higher for now, although pullbacks will certainly occur with regularity. As a potential target, I would guess that we have a good shot at regaining 2,100 on the S&P 500 Index.  We may even touch the old highs (S&P 2,134) or close to it. But that does not mean that all is smooth sailing for the remainder of the year.

Do not be surprised if the averages decline again sometime this spring or summer as election fears spook investors and traders alike. In hindsight, I believe this year will be remembered as one of the most volatile in recent history. As such, you should carefully review your risk tolerance.

The last five years of positive (and outsized) gains that the stock market has delivered may have lulled you into a dangerous level of complacency. Historically, stock investing has not been for the faint of heart. This year has simply provided a reminder of that fact. In many cases, you may have fallen prey to "risk creep" or the tendency to become more and more aggressive in your investment choices as stocks climbed higher. It is time to revisit that attitude and those investments.

As I have written in the past, this is not your father's stock market. Central bank policies worldwide have created an entirely new playing field. It is a game whose rules and results are both hard to predict and may have consequences that no one imagines right now.

A brief look at today's currencies, for example, illustrates that point. Central bankers have engineered interest rates and quantitative easing in an effort to grow their economies and goose exports. But these same policies seem to have had the opposite impact. Negative interest rates in Europe and Japan have actually led to stronger currencies while our own policies appear to have softened the dollar's strength. None of this was in the game plan and yet it is happening right now.

Gold seems to be a beneficiary of these actions. Speculators, unsure of why and what will happen to currencies next, are flocking to precious metals as a way to protect their money or at least hedge their currency risk. As such, gold has proven to be one of the best performing assets thus far in 2016.

However, that does not mean it will continue outperforming. At any time, new central bank policies might cause this profitable trade to unwind. The potential for a sever downdraft in prices is high. Investors need to be able to weather 1-2 percent changes in price on a daily basis. Can you stomach that kind of volatility?

Over in the oil patch, price gyrations are even more pronounced. Sure, this week we have seen oil gain anywhere from one to 5 percent on a daily basis. Next week, if some oil minister somewhere shoots off his mouth, we could just as easily see declines of that magnitude. The point is that there is no way of knowing what happens next. Therefore, you need to own a portfolio that you can live with in this kind of environment.

We all wrestle with fear and greed. A more defensive portfolio will almost automatically guarantee you a lesser rate of return, at least on the days and months that stocks go up. It is a different story when markets go down. You need to strike a compromise, a balance per se, between what you are willing to lose in opportunity (upside) versus the costs of sustaining double-digit losses (if only on paper) for days or months on end.  I suggest you do that now and if you have questions email or call me.

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.

Write a comment - 0 Comments            

The Independent Investor: Why Free Trade Has a Bad Rep

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The Establishment — Economists, politicians of both parties, Wall Street and Corporate America — are horrified. One of the linchpins of capitalism has suddenly come under attack. The growing anger over free trade is threatening more than 30 years of trade deals with the rest of the world. It was a disaster waiting to happen and we have only ourselves to blame.

Theoretically, free trade benefits everyone. These benefits include comparative advantage, which allows companies that can produce certain goods and services cheaply and efficiently. This will provide consumers with lower priced goods, increase exports globally, allow economies of scale among industries and nations and create a greater choice of goods for everyone worldwide. So what's the problem?

If you ask proponents of free trade about these benefits, they are quick to point out while free trade creates jobs, those getting these new jobs are different from those who lose them. In addition, there will always be winners and losers in trade deals. Unfortunately, those who lose feel the loss almost immediately and the losses are quite specific. Identifying those who win, on the other hand, usually takes far longer and the benefits are diffuse and sometimes quite nebulous.  

As such, free trade is a contentious issue in just about every presidential election in the last 30 years. The passage of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in the early Nineties was controversial, to say the least. Today, older Americans in the "rust belt" (in states like Ohio and Indiana) are convinced that NAFTA decimated the working class in their region and manufacturing in general in this country.

They have a point. It is true that in 1980, for example, a full 20 percent of Americans worked in manufacturing and now that figure has shrunk to only one American in 12 holding a manufacturing job. Whether those jobs were lost by NAFTA and other trade deals or because technological innovation reduced the need for a human labor force is the subject of unending debates. I suspect that a lot of both variables were at work in our manufacturing sector.

Clearly, over three million manufacturing jobs were lost to China, thanks to China's inclusion into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Their membership required the U.S. to lower tariffs on Chinese goods and manufacturing in America has never been the same. Is it any wonder, therefore, that both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in their opposition to trade agreements of the past are seen as champions of the people?

Jobs, wages, and economic insecurity, amid the highest income inequality in the nation since its founding, are issues that have been brewing in this country for years. Voters simply need a rallying cry and someone to voice it. Trump, Sanders and free trade were accidents waiting to happen.

For years, politicians of both parties promised help but delivered the opposite. Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton promised eight years ago to withdraw from NAFTA in order to force Mexico to renegotiate the agreement. Clinton also promised a "time-out" on any new trade agreements. Yet, Obama went on to not only break his promise on NAFTA, but then pushed to win approval of three Bush-era free trade deals. He then negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in American history.

Clinton, as President Obama's secretary of state, conveniently forgot her NAFTA pledge as well while supporting the administration's TPP deal — up until recently. Thanks to Sanders' and Trump's opposition to past free trade deals, Clinton has made an about face as she tries to convince Rust-Belt voters that she too is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Republicans, for their part, have initiated the majority of free trade deals in modern history and have ideologically used free trade as one of the pillars of GOP-style capitalism.

Unfortunately, for the Establishment candidates, the electorate has wised up to their "promise them anything, but deliver them nothing" approach to politics. The voters are intimately aware that free trade deals have benefited Corporate America (with fatter profit margins and lower wages), Wall Street (by investing in these same companies) and Capitol Hill, which benefits even more from the hefty contributions to campaign chests and jobs by grateful constituents once they leave office.

Labor and small business have suffered the most. This is not surprising, given the demise of labor unions in this country. Labor has never been offered a seat at the table in these trade deals, nor will they, as long as the Establishment holds power. Is it any wonder that labor in this country casts a jaundiced eye toward free trade? Why should they believe those who promise future benefits that after three decades of trade deals have still not materialized for these victims of "free trade?"

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.

Write a comment - 0 Comments            
Page 6 of 98 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11 ... 98  
News Headlines
Swistak Helps Lead Cages Baseball Club to Victory
Price Is Right for SteepleCats in Blowout Win
Local Theater Group Brings the Arctic to the Berkshires
Lanesborough's Overtures to Superintendent Irks School Committee
Williamstown Physical Therapy Earns OT Win in Giorgi League
Lazits, Eurquhart Lead Pittsfield 13s to Babe Ruth Regional Win
Adams Approves Crosswalk Safety Light
Berkshire Reps: Unity Strong at Democratic Convention
SteepleCats Win Third Straight
Adams-Cheshire's New Leader Gives First Impressions

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.

 

 

 



Categories:
@theMarket (207)
Independent Investor (286)
Archives:
July 2016 (7)
July 2015 (1)
June 2016 (7)
May 2016 (5)
April 2016 (7)
March 2016 (8)
February 2016 (5)
January 2016 (5)
December 2015 (6)
November 2015 (6)
October 2015 (9)
September 2015 (7)
August 2015 (7)
Tags:
Rally Interest Rates Currency Retirement Oil Congress Commodities Pullback Europe Stocks Energy Crisis Fiscal Cliff Stimulus Europe Banks Election Markets Jobs Metals Recession Federal Reserve Economy Euro Deficit Housing Debt Ceiling Japan Wall Street Greece Debt Stock Market Taxes Bailout Selloff
Popular Entries:
The Independent Investor: Don't Fight the Fed
The Independent Investor: Understanding the Foreclosure Scandal
@theMarket: QE II Supports the Markets
The Independent Investor: Does Cash Mean Currencies?
@theMarket: Markets Are Going Higher
The Independent Investor: General Motors — Back to the Future
The Independent Investor: Will the Municipal Bond Massacre Continue?
@theMarket: Economy Sputters, Stocks Stutter
The Independent Investor: Why Are Interest Rates Rising?
The Independent Investor: How Will Wall Street II Play on Main Street?
Recent Entries:
@theMarket: Markets Need to Digest Recent Gains
The Independent Investor: Candidates & the Economy
@theMarket: Markets Make Hay
The Independent Investor: Tax Breaks For College Savings
@theMarket: Historical Low-Interest Rates Prop Up Equities
@theMarket: Fourth of July Started Early for Markets
The Independent Investor: Clicks vs Bricks — Who Will Win the Retail War?
@theMarket: Who Is Next?
The Independent Investor: Pet Insurance & Why You Should Have It
@theMarket: It's Still a Coin Toss