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@theMarket: Mushy Markets in March

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
Investors took a break this week from the ongoing Trump rally, even as the pace of change in Washington seems to be accelerating. Both the financial downside and political upside should be positive for your investment portfolio overtime.
 
The minor consolidation I have been expecting in the stock market began this week. The averages have pulled back a little, but the S&P 500 Index, for example, has lost less than one percent from its all-time highs. That's not exactly the end of the world ...
 
I see a meandering two steps back, one step forward, kind of market with the downside risk somewhere between 2,300 and 2,330 on the S&P 500 Index. That would equate to about a 4 percent move. As pullbacks go, that would be minor and necessary given the stupendous gains we've seen since November. 
 
Some readers, mostly Trump-haters,(and there are a lot of them in this neck of the woods) have asked why I am so positive on the markets right now. It's simple: hope is a powerful motivator for stock market investors. So far, that hope has been justified. 
 
The repeal of Obamacare was one of the new president's major campaign pledges. This week, Congress began work on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (see yesterday's column "America's Road Toward Universal Health Care.")
 
Not bad, for a president who has only been in office for 49 days.
 
His trillion-dollar infrastructure project campaign pledge was this week's focus in the Oval Office. Work is also progressing on federal cost-cutting, while regulation after regulation is coming under scrutiny from cabinet members/businessmen who, by their very nature, hate waste and inefficiency. 
 
Bottom line, this guy is not only doing what he promised to do in the campaign, but he appears to be doing it with a single-minded purpose. So those who can be at least neutral about this president, (a hard place to be in this divided and polarized nation) he gets an "A" for effort.
 
Friday's non-farm payroll report, the first employment data that can be attributed to the Trump administration, came in much better than expected — 227,000 jobs versus an expected 175,000 gains. It appears that more than just stock market investors are hoping for a better environment. American small-business owners, who are responsible for the lion's share of U.S. employment, are among those who hope for a better business climate under Trump.
 
The question will be whether that employment number will convince the central bank to raise short-term interest rates next week. Although the headline numbers look great, the Fed usually looks at details such as whether wages also rose. They didn't. The economy, meantime, is still not growing at an accelerated pace. The Atlanta Fed actually reduced its first quarter GDP growth rate from 1.3 percent to 1.2 percent this week.
 
The Fed Funds Futures market is telling us that bond traders are nearly certain that a rate hike will occur on March 15. I believe that at least part of the reason markets have turned mushy this week is in reaction to this event. Rising interest rates, no matter how small, concern investors greatly. I believe that rising interest rates, not Trump, are the main obstacle to further gains in the stock market this year.
 
But as long as central bank policy remains moderate, with small rate hikes, spaced widely apart, the stock market can adjust and continue to climb. If, however, the Fed becomes more aggressive, for whatever the reason, then all bets are off.  
 
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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
     

@theMarket: Markets Are Priced for Perfection

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

What a week for stock investors! All the main averages and most of the minor indexes registered historic highs. No question, Donald Trump has been good for the markets. The question is when will investors begin to take profits?

Calling a top (or a bottom) in the markets is notoriously difficult. Granted, over the years I have been lucky and managed to catch a turn or two once or thrice. As readers know, once we hit 2,330 on the S&P 500 Index, I expected and still do expect some profit-taking. That doesn't mean you should panic nor do anything more than raise a little cash.

My strategy is to re-employ that cash as we pull back. The timing of such a move is always more of an art than a science. Think of it as a process. Sell a little today, a little more tomorrow, and so on. I'm not looking for a big pullback, maybe 4-5 percent. After the market declines, use the same kind of technique to buy back stock. But don't go overboard because I believe the Trump Rally still has legs.

What, you might ask, has our new president accomplished in order to justify this ongoing rally? Well, aside from a flurry of executive orders that have reversed some of the prior president's executive orders, not very much. But it is what he has promised that has investors drinking the Kool-Aid.  

The litany of tax cuts, infrastructure spending, Obamacare overhaul and an end to onerous rules and regulations has given investors hope. Analysts and pundits are fueling those feelings by drawing up all sorts of "what-if" scenarios that promise good days ahead.

Material, building, construction and defense sectors have skyrocketed in price because of promises of increased defense and infrastructure spending. Forecasters see a big jump in corporate earnings if taxes are cut. As for the impact of less regulation, that is expected to have a beneficial impact on business spending and capital investments.

If the election was about "Making America Great Again" why are overseas markets going up as well? Wasn't President Trump going to launch devastating trade wars with the rest of the world, sending us all down the drain? Others were/are sure that World War III is right around the corner, now that there is a "wild man" in the White House. Yet, global stock markets are going up as well.

One explanation may be that overseas players believe Trump's bark is nowhere near his bite. So far that has proven to be the case. Others are taking heart, hoping that his example will lead to changes in their own countries. One could argue that Brexit began a populist movement worldwide that rejected the status quo, the rule of the few over the many and a revival of capitalism. A case in point is the rise of yet another Trump-like politician in France, where Jean-Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate of the National Front, looks set to gain even more popularity.

While all of this movement may be intoxicating to market participants, we need to see a little more beef before justifying the present levels of stock prices. I have no doubt that the new administration will get much of what they want done, but it will take time. The market has just gotten a little ahead of itself right now.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

     

@theMarket: Market Stalls at Record Highs

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Stock market averages made another batch of new highs this week only to fall back in what may be buyer exhaustion. If the trend continues, investors may be looking at a 4-5 percent decline from here.

It is too early to tell, because one day does not make a trend. We could easily experience a rebound next week, but I would still consider the present levels of most indexes ripe for a fall. My column last week pointed out that we are now in a "danger zone." Sure, the markets could continue to grind higher but every additional point just sets us up for an overdue correction.

Since all eyes and ears are on Washington, progress on President Trump's agenda is dictating where the markets will trade. Every television appearance and tweet by President Trump simply adds to investor expectations. At this point, investors expect that tax cuts, a wholesale revamp of rules and regulations, plus a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan is just around the corner. It is not.

For those of us who understand the pace of reform in the nation's capital, it would be best to take a longer-term approach to Trump's agenda. It appears, for example, that health care will be the first area our legislatures will be addressing this year. That does not mean that one day soon Congress will vote on a soup-to-nuts replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, expect to see a flurry of piecemeal changes over the course of many months. Lawmakers will attempt to address the failings of the present health system without disrupting those who are already members of the Obamacare insurance scheme. That will not be an easy task.

Steve Mnuchin, the new secretary of the Treasury, tempered investors' expectations this week that tax reform would also be a done deal any day now. Instead, he promised "significant" tax reform before the congressional August recess. In my opinion, that is still a wildly optimistic deadline for something that has been talked about, but not acted upon, for many years. And yet, naïve investors were disappointed by the new time frame.

Prospects for infrastructure spending, another of the president's policy initiatives, appears to be fading into sometime next year. That is understandable, given the need to balance the desire to get Americans back to work again with the impact that spending will have on an already-bloated deficit.  

Of course, the problem with that kind of disappointing news is investors have already bid up material, commodity and building stocks to outrageous price levels over the past two months. Given that market participants today are notoriously short-term in outlook, there is a risk that speculators will dump these stocks now and revisit them later (hopefully at a lower price).

And if they do, what's to stop traders from taking down the entire market simply because there may be a time delay between investor expectations and the implementation of Trump's agenda? You can see the risk, and it is one reason that I have turned cautious in the short-term.

Do I believe, like some, that Donald Trump won't be able to pull off his program? No, I don't, but I am realistic about the time required to accomplish his goals. There may simply be a disconnect between what investors are expecting and what I believe can be accomplished in the short-term.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

     

@theMarket: Danger Zone

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

"Highway to the danger zone
Gonna take you
Right into the danger zone"


Something new is happening to the stock market, it has actually had two negative days in a row. That doesn't mean much after weeks of gains, but it just may signal a temporary halt to the Trump Rally.

My short-term target in this Trump-inspired rally was achieved this week. The benchmark index, the S&P 500, not only reached 2,330 (my target) this week, but went beyond it. The S&P 500 kept on climbing, reaching an intra-day, record-setting high of 2,351.31 on both Wednesday and Thursday. The index has subsequently fallen back but not by much.

The Dow, NASDAQ, the small-cap Russell 2000 Index, plus a slew of other averages also reached record highs. Make no mistake, that's a good thing. Hence forth, any further gains will put us on a highway to what I call the danger zone.

Like the movie, "Top Gun," we can cruise into the danger zone (where most accidents occur), but as Goose and Maverick discovered, one wrong move can send us into a tailspin. Let me make something clear, however, when (not if) this tailspin occurs, your portfolio will come out of this intact and reach even higher highs over the coming months. That is the reason I have been counseling readers to expect a decline — but not try to play it.

In this Teflon market, little can dent theses gains. There were rumors, for example, that a $4 billion hedge fund was in trouble. The markets barely moved. Then there was Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen's annual Humphrey Hawkins testimony before Congress. In the past, investors and traders would hang on to every word for clues of what the Fed would do next in the interest rate environment. Today, the Fed's spotlight has been stolen by the actions of our new president.

And speaking of our Top Gun, this week we witnessed some really crazy action coming out of Washington. True to form, "The Donald" in a press conference on Thursday performed another media-bashing episode that sent top network journalists screaming that the president has lost his mind. I found it amusing. Some of Trump's top cabinet choices backed out, another resigned, while the Democrats continued to erect as many barriers to progress that they can. Welcome to Washington.

On the foreign front, President Trump bashed Venezuela's leaders for facilitating drug running, met with Canada's and Israel's leaders, while telling Russians to give back Crimea to its people. None of these events moved the markets. Even the presence of a Russian spy ship, the SSV-175 Viktor Lenov, off our coast could do no more than produce a yawn from the high-frequency traders.

For the markets, it is all about waiting to see what "phenomenal" tax, economic and regulatory reforms will be forthcoming from the White House. To be fair, the Federal Reserve Bank still has a role to play in investors' psyches.  Bond traders are keeping a watchful eye on exactly when the Fed plans to raise interest rates again. Right now, March is off the table and June seems the month of highest probability for another quarter point rise in the Fed Funds rate.

I expect markets to do little until further economic news is released from Trump's team. The response from Congress will also be important. At any time, we could see a pullback because now we are in the danger zone.  But as I have written, it would be a dip that should be bought not sold. Stay invested.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

     

@theMarket: Stock Markets at Historical Highs

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The bears headed for cover this week as all three U.S. indexes made new, all-time highs. That's a good sign and augers well for even more upside ahead.

Credit goes to President Trump and his tweets once again. This time, his promises to address tax reform within the next few weeks had the Algos (algorithmic computer software traders) hitting the "buy" buttons on their machines.

Investors (if there is still such a thing) had been worried that Trump and the GOP would get bogged down in Obamacare repeal and immigration issues. If so, that would be a major distraction and might mean that tax reform and fiscal spending would be pushed back to next year or even later. The tweet seemed to put that story to bed, and the rest was history.

Good quarterly earnings have been supporting the over-all market.  Expectations have been for a 6 percent increase in corporate earnings, but that number proved low. Companies have been reporting better than that (7 percent-plus), but forward guidance has been better than expected. Whether it is Trump or the gathering strength of the economy, business executives are more optimistic about the U.S. economy and their fortunes than they have been in years.

Technically speaking, the Dow and the S&P 500 Indexes have established a new trading floor at 20,000 and 2,300. Readers may recall that I am looking at 2,330 as a short-term top in the S&P 500 Index, with the other indexes following suit. The downside, if it occurs, could be in the 5-7 percent range.

Be aware that tagging a short-term top or bottom is notoriously difficult, especially in today's topsy-turvey markets. There have been plenty of warning signs signaling a top, from high levels of positive investor sentiment, to the narrowing of breath within the markets. The problem with all indicators is that things can get even more extreme before a crack appears in the bull's camp.

I would not advise long-term investors to do anything if the markets do decline. It would be just too difficult to game the downside, especially when we have a tweet-happy president who is not above lobbing a bear-killing message tweet in the midst of a market decline. There just seems to be too much risk in not remaining invested.

Over the weekend, President Tump will be golfing in Florida with Prime Minster Shinzo Abe of Japan (after first meeting Abe in Washington, D.C. for talks). The Japanese market was up almost 2.5 percent on Friday in anticipation of the two leaders' first meeting.

There is a lot riding on what happens between the two men, since Japan provides the lion's share of manufacturing jobs within the U.S. and is America's fourth largest trading partner. Aside from the historical relationships between the two countries, everything from mutual defense to currency will be discussed. Let's hope there are no surprises, but anything can happen in this new age of Trump-O-Nomics.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries 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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