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@theMarket: A Sea of Red
By Bill Schmick On: 04:54AM / Saturday May 05, 2012
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Friday's unemployment rate was a real downer for the markets. Although the unemployment rate itself dropped from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, that number was deceiving. The markets immediately saw through the headline number. The resultant decline was hefty.

In April, the labor force participation rate, the employment-to-population ratio, and the number of people who said they are employed all fell in the month. The sad fact was that 350,000 people quit looking for jobs altogether. As a result, the labor force technically shrunk, which makes the overall unemployment rate look better than it actually was.

Investors ignored the fact that the number of jobs that were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics over the last three months was all revised upward. In total, during the last quarter 53,000 more jobs were gained but went unreported until now. But the market focused solely on this month's data and sold accordingly.

I think that responding to an individual data point is a mistake. Data like unemployment numbers, GDP and the like should be viewed over time. It is the trend that counts, not individual data reports, because government statistics by their nature are highly inaccurate and most of the time undergoes several revisions before a final figure is reported. Yet, the markets insist on trading off today's numbers as if they held the answer to the market's directions for days or weeks into the future.

The big drop in labor participation, however, is not a good sign for the economy or for the administration. In an election year, the GOP frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is asking voters if they are better off today than they were at the beginning of the Obama administration. Clearly those 350,000 workers who have abandoned the work force will answer with a resounding no.

And yet the total number of jobs has grown since President Obama came into office, so both sides will use the unemployment data to suit their own agendas. As the politicians blame each other for the failures and take credit for the successes, no one is really enunciating a clear and precise plan for how to increase the number of jobs in this country. It is simply a game of sound

Overseas, this weekend there are also elections in both France and Greece. It appears from the polls that Nicolai Sarkozy will lose the presidential election and French Socialist candidate Francois Hollande will take over the reins of power. This will present a problem to both Germany and the European Union since Hollande intends to renegotiate the recent austerity pact signed after much deliberation and market turmoil by EU members.

In Greece, parliamentary elections will be held in the midst of a deep recession caused by these same austerity measures. There is enormous unhappiness among Greek voters toward the European Union and its own leaders in both major political parties. Extreme and radical fringe party candidates have been gaining support. There is a chance that voters will not only reject both parties but elect new radical leaders that will want to either renegotiate all their past agreements with the EU or outright reject remaining agreements within the Eurozone altogether.

Given this background, it is not surprising that investors are selling first and waiting for the elections results later. Next week could offer investors a wild ride if things go the wrong way in Europe. Despite the sell-off this week in the markets, we are still a mere 33 points below the level of the S&P 500 Index at the beginning of April. We could easily fall further given the right circumstances. My advice is to stay defensive and remain on the sidelines until the landscape is a bit less muddy.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.





     
@theMarket: Fly Me To The Moon
By Bill Schmick On: 06:52PM / Friday April 27, 2012
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Good news is good news but bad news is even better news for the stock markets. If you doubt that, just look at recent events and how investors have reacted.

"I don't get it," said a reader on Friday morning. He was sure that the markets would crater on the back of a disappointing Gross Domestic Product number for America's first quarter. The data indicated our economy slowed from last quarter's 3 percent growth rate to 2.2 percent.

"Not only was the U.S. market up, but so was the Spanish market. That doesn't make any sense. Will you help me out here?" he asked

It is true that S&P, the credit agency, downgraded Spanish sovereign debt Thursday night by two notches from A to BBB-plus. S&P believes that Spain’s budget deficit is going to worsen based on further declines in their economy. In a different era our reader would have been correct in anticipating a downdraft in Spain’s stock market, but not in this environment.

Investors took the initial decline in their stock market as another buying opportunity. By the time the U.S. opened on Friday the Spanish market was up by almost one percent. So what makes weak economic data, whether in the U.S. or Spain such an opportunity for investors?

Investors are conditioned to believe (after two and a half quantitative easings here at home and the on-going monetary stimulus in Europe) that the weaker the data becomes the higher the probability that the governments will step in and save us. Thus, the worse the news becomes, the better it is for the future of the stock market. There is plenty of precedent to believe that.

Just look back at what has happened every time our government-influenced stop and start economy began to slow over the past few years. The cycle began with the first stimulus package combined with central bank monetary stimulus (QE I). For a short time the stock markets skyrocketed, the economy grew and unemployment began to decline. But as QE 1 waned so did the economy, and with it the stock market.

The Fed waited and hoped the slowdown was simply a blip but in the end the negative data forced the Fed to launch another program (QE II). Once again the economy and the markets reacted by moving higher. But here we are again. The economy is slowing and investors are expecting the Fed to bring a new punch bowl to the party.

Will the Fed cooperate? Yes, at some point if necessary. QE III is not on the table quite yet and may never be if the economy can find legs of its own. But if the economy and unemployment begin to slow further then we can expect another save by the Fed. Of course, the devil is in the details. The key words to focus on are "if" and "further." Those words appear to represent one thing to the Fed and another to investors.

At this point, no one (including the Fed) really knows if the country is in a sustainable recovery.  Investors who expect the Fed to launch QE III because the economy declined .80 basis points in one quarter are smoking something. In each of the prior cases of Fed easing the stock markets and the economy had to stall dramatically before the next round was launched.

You might recall that in each case we had to suffer an 18-23% stock market decline before the Fed stepped in to save us. If those same investors expect the Fed to ease with the stock markets approaching the year’s highs then once again, give me some of what you’re smoking.

Yet, in my opinion, that's what the markets are betting on. If we look back at the month to date, we could argue that the markets gave us the 5 percent correction we had been looking for and are now poised to move higher. A contrarian indicator like bearish market sentiment is rising. Dips are being purchased once again and momentum seems to be on the side of the bulls for now.

I'm thinking we could run another couple of percent here on the S&P 500 Index, at least to 1,420 or maybe as high as 1,450 over the next few days or weeks. If you are nimble, you might be able to take advantage of that move. If, on the other hand, in-and-out trading is not your style than just stay where you are and enjoy the fireworks.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: Expect More Volatility Ahead
By Bill Schmick On: 09:47AM / Saturday April 14, 2012
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As we enter the second quarter, this first week is a taste of things to come. After months of enjoying a straight-up stock market, we are getting back to the new normal, so strap on your seat belts.

Monday and Tuesday were downright ugly. The next two days we climbed back up and then on Friday gave some back. It was a roller coaster and is reminiscent of the period from May through October of last year. Imagine that.

It was a down week, despite a surprise upside earnings surprise from Alcoa, which is usually the first company to report each quarter. Further good news from some big banks failed to inspire the market, however. Once again, as I wrote last week, the rain in Spain has flooded our plain.

Spanish banks borrowed twice as much from the European Central Bank in March as they did in February amounting to $419 billion. The ever-present angst among European investors has focused on Spain this month. Next month (or week) it could be Italy, Portugal or that popular whipping boy, Greece, that's back in the news.

Underlying the recent climb in Spanish sovereign bond yields is a brewing housing crisis and a faltering economy. Spanish banks are also bleeding. They are grabbling with 300 billion euros in property loans and the Spanish government has said it isn't prepared to inject any more capital into the sector. It's the same old song that will most likely end in another bailout for Spain.

I shouldn't blame Spain for all our worries. China's slowdown has also contributed to investors' worry. The annual rate for Chinese GDP growth slowed in the first quarter to 8.1 percent from 8.9 percent. I wish our growth could be even half that rate but everything is relative. And relative, in the context of Chinese economics, equates to slower growth, slower demand for materials and commodities, and a host of other goodies that the world depends on to drive their own economies. A hard landing in China coupled with a recession in Europe would not be an auspicious development for world economic growth. Right now the state of China’s economy is muddy at best.

As for our markets, the decline I have expected has begun. Pullbacks vary. If we take a look at the last nine times the markets have declined going back to mid-2010, we see that the longest correction was 22 days. The average was 15 days. Snap-back rallies can last from two days to seven days. This week's snap-back lasted two days.

What is clear is that volatility increases substantially during times like these. My advice: do not try to trade the ups and downs. You will be left with a big hole in your portfolio and end up losing far more than the market corrects. If you had decided prior to this pullback that you were going to stick with the markets, then do so, take your lumps and look to the long term.

If you followed my advice and raised cash, it is time to be patient, watch the markets gyrate but don’t let that cash burn a hole in your pocket. Patience in this kind of environment is worth its weight in gold.


     
@theMarket: Spain Rains on U.S. Parade
By Bill Schmick On: 02:19AM / Sunday April 08, 2012
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The release of the Federal Reserve's FOMC meeting notes on Tuesday was responsible for the initial sell-off in the markets this week. Then a Spanish bond auction on Wednesday was received poorly by bond investors. That spooked the U.S. stock market for a second day in a row. Things have snowballed from there.

I guess when it rains, it pours, at least when it comes to bad news in the stock markets. European Central Bank President Mario Draghi added to investor worries by expressing his concerns of future inflation and was therefore less than anxious to provide any more financial stimulus to the European crisis.

The justification for the recent European stock market rally has been investors' belief that central bankers stand ready to flood the markets with more and more money at the slightest whiff of additional problems. Draghi's remarks, coupled with the Spanish bond auction, did not play well among investors.

On this side of the pond, the Fed's meeting notes released on Tuesday afternoon indicated that unless unemployment and the economy take a sudden turn for the worse, investors should not count on further easing by our central bankers.

Oh me, oh my, lions and tigers and bears!

As I have reminded readers several times in the last month or two, this rally has been fueled by the conviction that the Fed will "soon" announce QE III. Tons of newsprint has been devoted to exactly when this will occur. The latest date pontificated by the most influential brokers is "no later than June." It is therefore mystifying that only two of the 12 FOMC board members support further easing at this time.

Those who have been following my advice have already raised cash, sold their most aggressive stock holdings and are therefore perfectly positioned to take advantage of this pull back.

"So how low can we go?"

It was the first question I received this week from readers.

The short answer is 5-8 percent. That would push the S&P 500 Index down to the 1,310-1,350 level. In the scheme of things that is not much of a drop given the 11 percent rise since the beginning of the year and 20 percent rise since October, although any loss is painful for investors. At that point, I think the market would more accurately reflect the present state of the economy and its prospects.

There is some discussion among economists, however, that the spate of good economic data we have been experiencing lately has been "front-end loaded." As a result of an abnormally warm winter and spring in two-thirds of the country, economic activity has been bunched into the early part of the year and we may see a slowdown as we enter the summer months.

I have maintained that the markets have been priced to perfection and that any bad news would have an inordinate impact. We will have to watch the economic data closely over the coming months for any clues to address those front end concerns. In the meantime, be prepared for some choppy action and potentially more downside this month in the markets.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: S&P 500 Enjoys Best Quarter Since 2009
By Bill Schmick On: 06:56PM / Friday March 30, 2012
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It was a quarter to write home about. All three indexes made substantial gains but the S&P 500 Index had a great quarter and its best start of the year since 1998. Will it continue?

In the short term the answer is a definite maybe. If you put a gun to my head, however, I would bet that sometime in the second quarter we will have a correction. In April, if history is any guide, we usually see the peak in stock market performance. As the month progresses, investors begin to "sell in May and go away."

Monday, the markets received its latest shot of adrenaline when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke assured investors that the easy money we have become addicted to is still needed. That sent the S&P 500 to its best closing level in almost four years. Those gains were led by the same group of stocks that have defied gravity and have continued to make higher highs without thought to earnings, price or any other metric of valuation.

One particular darling of the market that beings with "A" (hint: one of these a day is supposed to keep the doctor away) has witnessed its market value increase by $172 billion in the last two month. That is equal to the entire value of a large, well-established health care and consumer products company with over a 100-year history. It now represents 4.4 percent of the S&P 500 Index and by itself is larger than the entire U.S. utilities industry.

"A" will have to sell $2.6 trillion of products and services over the next decade (amounting to 1.5 percent of U.S. GDP) to justify that valuation. That would mean that every person in this country would need to spend $750 a year on its products for the next 10 years. I remember a similar period in stock market history in which valuations got this high and we all know what happened to the dot-com party.

Another indicator, the number of net new 52-week highs of stocks on the S&P 500 is shrinking from 280 in the beginning of February to 63 today. That should elicit some concern since the same index moved up from 1,345 to 1,408 during that time period. Warning signs like this abound but remember that markets can remain irrational far longer than you or I can remain solvent.

My sentiment indicators are still flashing amber as bullishness remains at historically elevated levels. If one looks at psychology, as it applies to market cycles, it appears we are on the other side of euphoria which is the top of the bell curve of investor emotion. To the right of this euphoric top the markets back and fill. We are in the complacency stage right now where most investors and market pundits believe that all we need do is cool off a bit before the next rally. What's after that?

If the markets begin to decline anxiety sets in followed by denial, panic, capitulation and then anger. This week we had three down days in a row, which is about the most we have endured all year. Many traders were expecting the quarter to go out with a big bang as institutional buyers did some end of quarter "window dressing." The opposite occurred and instead we saw some profit taking in the high flyers.

Historically, bull markets have averaged 39 months in length. If you date this one as beginning in March 2009, then this bull is over three years old. That means by the end of the second quarter, you should be wary of a market top. In addition, during the last 21 election years between March 1 and Election Day, the maximum correction has been a loss of 9 percent.

None of this is new information because everyone is looking at the same data. The question is when you decide to pare back. The greater fool theory applies less and less these days. Those who hang around to the last moment often find themselves with no one willing to buy their high priced securities. Don't let that happen to you.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or email him at wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.



     
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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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