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The Independent Investor: The Marijuana Market

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Only four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use so far. Another 23 have given the nod for using cannabis for medical usage. Today it is a $2.7 billion industry that is set to grow substantially in the years ahead if more states jump on the band wagon.

Whether legalization is a fad or a trend in this country will have to wait until the next election cycle in 2016. Legalizing the drug will most likely be on the ballot in several more states. Researchers from California-based The ArcView Group, a cannabis investment and research firm, predicts that 14 more states will legalize marijuana while two more will legalize medical marijuana next year. In addition, at least 10 more states are "considering" legalization, according to them.

Since the latest polls by Gallup indicate that only a slim majority (51 percent) of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, those projections may prove to be overly-optimistic. If they did materialize, that would place legal marijuana as the fastest growing industry in the United States. To date, only four states — Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon — have developed a retail trade in legalized marijuana. D.C. has also legalized the drug, but sales are currently banned. Congressional Republicans have blocked the new law.

Remember, too, that the federal government still considers marijuana a dangerous drug (a Schedule 1 controlled substance like heroin or LSD). And clearly, there are a number of legislators that are bound and determined to keep it that way. As a result, if you are thinking of entering this business you should be aware of the drawbacks and political risks before ripping up the tomatoes and re-planting your back-yard with pot plants.

Since banks are federally regulated, very few of them are willing to loan newly minted pot entrepreneurs the seed money for a start-up (no pun intended). You can also forget credit card transactions as well. This is a purely cash business. Not only will you need your own startup capital, but without access to banking, you are going to need to pay your staff, your suppliers and even your taxes in cash.

There may be some longtime growers and users of marijuana out there that think they have an edge once pot is legal. That may prove to be an erroneous assumption. Legalization, like the end of Prohibition for alcohol, creates two opposing changes in growing and selling marijuana. It provides downward pressure on pot prices. The same ounce that sold for $300, may now only command $200. Second, the supply of marijuana suddenly expands considerably as new growers jump in.

In that kind of environment, quality of product becomes one of the critical factors in the sale and profitability of production. Competition is fierce. Those with the resources to grow their crop scientifically, using the best and latest bioscience, fertilizers and equipment will end up on top. All of that costs money and a lot of it.

In addition, you will need to brand, market and distribute your product. Handing off the "dime baggie" at your local park won't cut it. After all, you are trying to get on the ground floor of what you hope might be the next Wholefoods in the marijuana business. To do so, and do it profitably, is going to take a lot of business knowledge, retailing know-how and luck. Do you have what it takes?

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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@theMarket: Markets Are Supposed to Pullback

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It was a sea of red for stocks this week. Global markets broke a seven-month trading range and the rest is history. Consider this week's decline a positive development. Here's why.

Over the last seven months, the S&P 500 Index has traded in a narrow range between a gain of 3.5 percent and a loss of minus-3.2 percent. That hasn't happened in almost 50 years. As markets go, this was a highly abnormal development. Something had to give and I have been writing for months that at some point we could expect a larger, more "normal" sell-off in the market. Well, now we are returning to normalcy. It isn't pleasant, because losses make us feel worse than gains make us feel good, but it is necessary if we want the market to move higher.

So why, you might ask, if I felt so sure that a decline was in the cards, didn't I recommend that you get out of the market? I might have done so, if I believed that we were facing some calamitous event that would send us down an additional 20 percent or so. I don't see that at all.

Instead, we are facing a long overdue decline that is more psychological than fundamentals. Since traders need an excuse to justify why they sold (when they should have been buying), the media trots out the most popular causes of decline. We have a short list that includes a tiny U.S. interest rate hike (that may or may not happen), falling oil prices (a boon to consumer spending), and a slowing global economy (something that we have known for months).

But before you panic, consider this: year-to-date the Dow is down 4.4 percent. NASDAQ is still up 3 percent and the S&P 500 is off by a paltry 1.13 percent. Readers might recall that there were many days back in 2011-2012 when the averages were off that much in one trading session. So why do you feel so uncomfortable right now?

It could be because the last seven months of watching the market go up and down in such a narrow range has frayed your nerves, like watching a tight-rope act, waiting and holding your breath to see if the acrobat will fall to his death. Yesterday he fell off the tightrope. Your mind may be telling you not to worry, while your emotions are making you feel that this sell-off is the beginning of the end. It is not.

As in past corrections, the markets have dropped swiftly. It is the escalator-up, elevator-down syndrome so prevalent in declining markets. The S&P 500 is presently a bit above the 2,000 level. We have a long, long way to go (1,921) before the decline in the S&P 500 would qualify as a correction. We would have to drop to 1,708 before I would say we were in a bear market.

This weekend, expect the headlines to be even more negative than usual. Ignore it. I'm expecting the S&P index will find support around 1,980, which is less than 30 points lower from here. That could happen as early as mid-week. Do you think you can live with that?

If you have new money to invest in this market, now would be the time to start buying. I know I am. If, on the other hand, you still had money in government bonds, it would be a great opportunity to sell them and move the proceeds into equity. Relax, stay invested and remember that these kind of textbook declines are the cost of doing business in the stock market, nothing more, nothing less.

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: Not All Bonds Are the Same

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Bondholders are holding their breath as they wait for the Federal Reserve Bank to begin hiking short-term interest rates. Most investors are expecting all bonds to take a hit at the outset of the country's first rate hike in nine years. What happens after that may surprise you.

Prior to the financial crisis and the stimulus policies instituted by the Fed to solve it, bond investors could count on a fairly predictable pattern of behavior among bond categories as interest rates rose. Historically, the Fed would begin to raise rates when they perceived the economy was growing too quickly. Why?

Because normally, unbridled economic growth will result in higher inflation, which is something no one wants. Higher rates would force the cost of borrowing to go up. That, in turn, would slow investment, spending and ultimately economic growth. The trick is to raise rates just enough to head off inflation while allowing the economy to continue to grow.  

In that kind of environment some bonds do better than others. To understand why, you need to know something about risk. To make it simple, there are two kinds of risk. Interest rate risk occurs when rates rise. That risk affects all bonds. Then there is the risk of bankruptcy.

Generally, U.S. government entities (Federal, state and local) are perceived to have little or no bankruptcy risk. Therefore, the fear of bankruptcy does not enter into the bond investor's calculations. Corporate bonds, on the other hand, do have this additional risk factor.

It is one reason why corporate debt, whether investment grade, convertible bond or high-yield (known as junk bonds), almost always offers a higher rate of interest than government bonds. Since the fortunes of most corporations are tied to the fate of the economy, when the country is doing poorly, the risk of corporate bankruptcy rises. Corporate bond prices fall and the interest rate they offer goes up. The opposite occurs when the economy is growing.

In today's growing economy, the most likely outcome of a moderate rise in interest rates (interest rate risk) on corporate bonds would be neutral to positive. Better prospects for companies in a growing economy would lessen bankruptcy risk. That will hopefully negate some or all of the losses incurred by rising rates overall.  

Corporate bonds of all kinds have performed well over the last few years, maybe too well. It may be why bonds overall will have a knee-jerk negative first reaction to the end of an era of easy money. But corporate debt should continue to do well at least until the Fed hikes interest rates to a level that tips the economy into recession. That could be years from now.

Various Fed spokesmen have reiterated over and over again that the pace of interest rate increases in the future will be slow and moderate.   

The moral of this tale is that in the future corporate bonds should do better than government bonds. My advice to investors who continue to insist on keeping the majority of their money in the bond market is to switch from governments to corporates at your earliest opportunity.

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: The Risk of Rising Rates

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Conservative investors are becoming increasingly concerned that their bond holdings may be at risk. If and when the Federal Reserve Bank hikes interest rates this year, will bond holders be caught holding the bag?

It depends. The short answer would be that when interest rates rise, bond prices fall, if all else remains equal. That's because bonds have two sources of returns: changes in price and interest payments that move in opposite directions. If you hold your bond investment until the date it matures (whether that is a few months or as long as thirty years), you receive all the interest payments the bond pays out plus your original investment money back  at maturity providing you purchased it at par (the price it was initially offered).

For those of you who plan to hold your bonds to maturity and are happy with your present rate of interest, then there is nothing to worry about. Rates can rise all they want but why should you care?

The problem for many elderly, fixed income investors is that they are not sure they can wait the five, 10, 20 (and certainly not 30 years) necessary to cash in their bonds at par. Secondly, most retired investors acknowledge that at the present rate of interest income received, they can't make ends meet. So rising interest rates for them is a double-edged sword. It means that in the future the stream in interest income from bonds will improve, but bonds they hold now will go down in price at the same time.

If we focus on individual bonds in the short-term, when interest rates move up, basic bond math indicates that prices generally will decline. Price history also indicates that the longer the maturity of your bond, the steeper the decline. Therefore long-dated, low-interest individual bonds are the most risky investments you can hold in a rising rate environment.

On the other hand, bond funds usually decline less (but they still decline). Bond funds have a wide array of short, medium and long-term bond holdings that mature during different times with different rates of interest. That lessens the impact of interest rate increases over time.

Remember, too, that despite rising rates (or even because of them), governments and corporations must continue to raise money in the debt markets. Plants still need to be built, roads paved, and government programs financed but now the cost of borrowing is higher. There is usually a ready market for these higher yielding bonds depending on the quality of the issuer.  

As interest rates rise, bond buyers, including bond fund managers, are always buying and selling lower yielding bonds for higher yielding bonds. That tends to lessen the price depreciation they suffer over time. As long as interest rates do not rise too fast, most managers can stay ahead of the curve. They can offset price declines in their portfolio of bonds by buying bonds with higher interest payments over a longer period of time.

In summary, individual bonds are riskier than bond funds generally speaking. In our next column we will discuss the risks of different types of bonds and strategies to reduce that risk going forward.

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: Boomers' Kids Don't Want Your Stuff

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

You saved all your life, acquiring all sorts of assets that you now want to leave to your children. Today, more and more Baby Boomers are finding that their kids just don't want that antique auto or that original oil painting.

Too many of us fail to recognize that the Millennial generation has grown up with an entirely different view of the world, their possessions, one's life style and even value system. This may come as a shock. It did to me. As readers may recall, my wife and I have been downsizing for three years now. During the course of this process, we have offered our thirtysomething daughter and her husband all sorts of stuff that they didn't want. From snowboards to unopened Tiffany wedding gifts, they politely and gently declined our largesse. This includes larger assets as well.

We have, for example, the luxury of owning two homes, a weekend place and another dwelling close to the office. Although my daughter loves to visit and has a real sentimental attachment to the "country" home, she really has no interest in inheriting the old homestead.

"I just couldn't afford the upkeep and maintenance," she says. "It wouldn't be feasible."

If you haven't had this discussion with your kids, maybe you should.  I have learned that there is a major difference between how my generation (and my parent's generation) spent their time, versus today's Millennials. Previous generations spent most of their lives in pursuit of stuff. We worked to acquire stuff and spent most of our time buying, collecting, storing and enjoying our possessions. Any spare time we had was devoted to maintaining and repairing these symbols of our success. Many of us prided ourselves by measuring our self-worth by how many possessions we acquired.

When asked why we needed two houses, four cars and 11 wide-screen televisions, we answered "why, to leave to the kids and the grandchildren of course." We assumed our future generations would value, maintain and accumulate even more antique rugs, dining room sets, golf clubs etc. Brother, it's time to face the truth. They don't want our junk, no matter how valuable we think it is.

For one thing, they don't have room for it. I recently wrote a column on the growing trend by Millennials towards living in smaller houses, apartments and even trailers. My daughter has no room for my teakwood bookcase full of thousands of DVDs and CDs that I have painstakingly collected through the years. She shakes her head quietly while grinning at me, wondering why in the world I still own those things when all of these media products can be easily and simply obtained on the internet and stored/streamed through the Cloud.

In addition, most of our kids value mobility, adventure and experience far more than we did. Given the choice between spending $20,000 on a new car, or a three-week African safari, most of them would choose Africa. The argument that the automobile would last years longer than that safari doesn't faze them in the least.

To them, stuff has to have a purpose. It must be a means to an end, not the end itself. If something new accomplishes a purpose more efficiently, they dump the old and embrace the new. That may sound unsentimental or even ungrateful but it isn't. It's just different.

My daughter still wants to keep certain objects that evoke memories of our past together. Usually, they are small and hardly the most valuable objects. But they are valuable to her and in the end that's what counts. As for the rest of that stuff, my advice is to sell it, give it away, or dump it and spare your children that chore.

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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