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@theMarket: Banking Crisis Still With Us
By Bill Schmick On: 05:05PM / Friday June 22, 2012
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Five of the six largest U.S. banks were downgraded on Thursday by credit agency Moody's Investors Service. In Europe, Spain said its banks will need another $78 billion in new capital while the ECB is planning to relax rules for lending to other banks in Southern Europe. Is it any wonder banks aren't willing to lend?

Altogether Moody's downgraded a dozen of the world's largest banks, those hardest hit had the largest exposure to capital markets activities. These are banks that take huge positions in stocks, bonds, derivatives and other securities. New rules implemented by Congress after the financial debacle of 2008-2009 was supposed to prevent our nation's banks from ever-again becoming embroiled in risky securities that few understand.

However, just recently one of these down-graded banks was brought before Congress to explain their mega-billion dollar loss in just such a set of derivatives. In other words, the risk that we could see a repeat of the financial melt-down is still with us. Moody's downgrade is an acknowledgement of that fact.

This banking conundrum is why the economy is still stuck in second gear after three years of Fed stimulus. The Fed pumps trillions of dollars into the banking system, which lowers interest rates and encourages lending but the banks won't do it. Yesterday I wrote in my column "Let's Twist Again" that banks continue to ration credit to those who need it most, consumers and companies with less than perfect credit ratings.

Since lending has traditionally been the bread and butter business of the banking sector, these banks have to look elsewhere for ways to make money. So they speculate in the capital markets using all the cheap money the Fed provides them. Speculation carries its own risk but they would rather risk billions in the derivatives markets than trillions in lending to their customers. Go figure!

Markets did react not well to the banking downgrade or to their disappointment in the Fed's extension of Operation Twist to the end of the year. They were looking for some grander gesture from the central bank. Both events gave investors the excuse they needed to take some profits after the hefty gains of the last two weeks.

In my opinion, this is just the kind of pullback I was hoping for when I advised readers last week to re-invest their cash. I had warned investors that the stock market could very well pull back to the 200 day moving average, which on the S&P 500 Index is at the 1,285 level. From here it is only 2-3 percent of downside while I believe the upside could easily be double or triple that.

Today in Rome leaders of the Euro-zone's big four economies — Spain, France, Germany and Italy — are meeting to hammer out further solutions to their debt crisis. These talks will set the stage for next week's European Union summit in Brussels. Investors have high hopes for some additional action by the EU and the ECB during that summit.

Time and again, however, investors have been disappointed by the results of these summits. I have warned investors that the market's timetable and that of the EU is vastly different. Markets want solutions now but EU officials have a longer time frame. Changes among their members require negotiation, consensus-building and a bit of horse-trading. Many members, especially among the stronger economies, have traditionally taken a "wait and see" attitude to events. Over the past two years that has resulted in an atmosphere of crisis management.

Bottom line: look for more of the same in the coming week, which may give investors further opportunity to get back in the market at a reasonable price.

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 e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: Risk On
By Bill Schmick On: 10:56AM / Saturday June 16, 2012
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It is time to put cash to work. This weekend, the Greek electorate goes to the polls. Anything can happen and that's why it is a good time to invest.

I would rather be in the markets going forward, despite the possibility that voters may elect the more radical, anti-austerity party. If so, the markets would probably sell-off. I would be a buyer of any further stock market declines.

On the other hand, the more moderate parties might win in Greece and markets would rally next week on the news. Either way, I am a buyer even though the markets could still experience a sell-off. Something could go wrong in the short-term and we could see the 1,250 level tested on the S&P 500 Index. I would simply buy some more if that occurs.

Why am I bullish?

Events in Europe are coming to a head. I believe that both the European Union and its central bank are going to backstop investors in the event that a crisis develops after this weekend's events. In other words, we may get a sell-off (possibly sharp, but short) before the European authorities step in and do whatever is necessary to calm the markets. I alluded to this possibility in my columns over the past few weeks.

Yesterday, Reuters and other news sources cited several unnamed EU sources who basically promised intervention if it becomes necessary. Markets jumped as investors realized that they now have a put against a financial calamity in Europe.

On this side of the pond, the Federal Reserve Bank Board meets next week. I am not looking for an announcement of another stimulus program, although if it were to be announced the markets would explode higher. There might be some disappointment if investors don't get what they want but once again, I would be a buyer of any sell-off.

You see, it is just about that time of the year (within a presidential election cycle) when investors begin to focus on November and the prospects for positive change in Washington, D.C. Now, neither you nor I really expect anything of the sort, yet, hope springs eternal in voters' hearts. I thought it would be useful to repeat what I wrote in my May 3 column "Sell in May ...":

A recent report from Ned Davis Research pointed out that the Selling May strategy doesn’t work nearly as well when it occurs in a presidential election year. They looked at every presidential election since 1900. Investors on average would have missed a hefty 4.4 percent gain as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average in those years by selling in May. If an incumbent wins, the gains are even higher (7.6 percent).

Now, before you reverse course and buy everything in sight, a word of caution is appropriate. The same study did show that, on average, a correction did occur during the second quarter of presidential election years. The duration of the pull back is what differs.

Usually, a summer rally occurs after the second quarter sell off in an election year. When the incumbent party has lost the election, the summer rally fizzled out and the Dow made a new low in late October, followed by a weak year-end rally. When the incumbent won, the summer rally was stronger and the pull back in the fall was mild, followed by a strong gain into the end of the year.
 
Well, readers, everything seems to be unfolding exactly the way I thought. We had our correction, June is almost over and the summer rally should be approaching. Granted, I may be early since we still have two weeks left in the second quarter, more than enough time to decline, if that's what the markets want. For me, it is close enough to start putting that cash back into equities and that's what I'm advising you to do.

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 e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




     
@theMarket: What Were They Thinking?
By Bill Schmick On: 10:56AM / Saturday June 09, 2012
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It was one of those "scratch your head" weeks on Wall Street. Markets rallied in anticipation that both the European Central Bank and the Federal Reserve were going to announce some kind of new stimulus. Investors walked away empty-handed.

In hindsight, the market's expectations made little sense. Why would European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi, speaking earlier this week, announce a new stimulus package prior to the outcome of Greek elections on June 17? If the moderates win, and there is a 50-50 chance they will, then there may be no need for any kind of immediate stimulus.

Granted, the declining economic picture in Greece certainly helps the anti-austerity, pro-growth, radical opposition party. Unemployment is now at 21.9 percent. The economy shrank yet again in the first quarter as a result of spending cuts and taxes. GDP is now declining at a 6.5 percent annual rate. But miracles do happen and the moderates could prevail in next Sunday's elections, despite the dreadful state of the country's economy. But the ECB is certainly going to refrain from doing anything that might influence that election — including any stimulus initiatives.

Here in America, the buzz was that Chairman Ben Bernanke was going to announce another stimulus package or extend the Fed's present stimulus "Operation Twist," (which ends at the end of this month). Once again I thought this kind of speculation was coming out of left field. In his testimony on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Bernanke delivered a carefully balanced view of the economy without any new stimulus announcements. Instead, he reiterated (as he has done in every Fed statement) that the central bank stands ready to intervene if necessary.

What both Bernanke and Draghi did say was there is a strong and immediate need for politicians on both continents to step up to the plate and deliver on their policy responsibilities. Reading between the lines, we should understand that central bank intervention (without fiscal action) becomes less and less effective. Bernanke said as much to his audience in the Q&A section of his appearance before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

Obviously the markets got it wrong this week, although the hope and a prayer stimulus stories did provide the excuse to push the S&P 500 index up almost 3 percent. To those expecting a snap-back rally, like me, the point is that the markets were oversold and due for a bounce; how we got there is immaterial.

So what happens next? As I said last week, we are getting close to a bottom. A good guess would be a low somewhere around 1,250 on the S&P 500 Index over the next few weeks. I'm sorry I can't be more precise, but it is a tough market and there are a lot of moving parts that aren't easy to decipher.

For example, China cut its key interest rate this week by 0.025 percent. Investors took that as a positive sign, hoping that it signaled a round of further cuts in the months ahead. Since growth in China (or the lack thereof) is vitally important to global growth prospects, investors were bolstered by the development. However, a slew of economic numbers are being released this weekend in China. Some China watchers worry that the data will be much worse than expected. If so, investors won't take kindly to that news on Monday.

Then there is the meeting this weekend between Spanish authorities and finance ministers of the EU. News sources believe that Spain will ask the EU's help in bailing out Spain's troubled banks. Bottom line: it is all noise that will insure that markets will remain volatile over the next week. Strap on your seat belts and welcome to summertime in the stock 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 e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.





     
@theMarket: Fraught With Peril
By Bill Schmick On: 09:46AM / Saturday June 02, 2012
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We witnessed some panic on Friday. U.S. investors, already concerned with events in Europe, were seemingly stunned by the decline in the jobs data. What happens next should be interesting.

Much of Friday's downside action occurred within the first few minutes of the market opening. That is usually the case, leaving most investors no choice but to bear the brunt of the decline. The stock markets in Europe were already falling on their own set of economic woes when the Commerce Department announced that U.S. unemployment rate ticked up from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent with the economy adding the fewest jobs in over a year.

This was only the latest in a series of disappointing economic numbers that indicate our stop and start economy is slowing once again. Readers may recall that as far back as April, I warned that we could see a slowing in the already moderate growth rate of the economy for a variety of reasons. It was why I advised investors to begin taking profits and getting defensive in the face of the first quarter rally.

As of today, we have basically given back the entire gains of that rally since the beginning of the year. Those who had followed my advice have booked their hefty gains and are sitting on the sidelines. That strategy has paid off.

So here we are at an extremely critical level on the S&P 500 Index. The 200 Day Moving Average has traditionally triggered a change in investment attitudes by many market participants. If the 200 DMA is broken to the downside decisively, it is usually a sell signal. If, on the other hand, the S&P moves above that level and stays there for more than a day or three, it is usually a buy signal. Today that 200 DMA is at 1,284. We are slightly below that level as I write this.

Remember that we are talking art not science, so give that theory a bit of leeway. For example, many times markets reach the 200 DMA, break down through it for a few days and then bounce back above it. So don't go out and sell everything if over the next two weeks we find market averages stay slightly below that magic line in the sand.

Since we won't find out the fate of Greece until after their second round of national elections on June 17, there can be no closure around the immediate concerns of global investors. Will Greece stay in the Euro? If not, what will happen and how will that impact the European Community overall? Yes, "fraught with peril" seems to be an apt description when discussing Europe in June.

So it seems logical that markets will find it difficult to stage any kind of meaningful rally until we know what lies in store for us. Given that markets usually discount the worst in an unknown environment, I suspect that what we are witnessing right now is that discount mechanism at work. In other words, investors are selling the rumors.

That leaves an interesting possibility for what comes after the Greek elections. If traders are selling now, then usually they will buy back on the news, no matter how dreadful it is. I have often stated that markets can deal with the facts, either good or bad. But markets can't cope with the unknown and today there are more unknowns out there than there are leaves on a tree.

We do know that Europe is trouble. We do know that economic data in China, the engine of global growth, continues to weaken and now the U.S. appears to be slowing. We also know that last year's Fed stimulus "Operation Twist" is slated to close at the end of this month.

I find myself looking at columns I wrote a year ago and they are eerily similar to what I am writing today. As such, it would be wise to remember that under these worsening set of circumstances last year, markets and economies declined until central banks both here and abroad announced another set of stimulus measures that sparked huge stock market rallies. It happened last summer as well as the summer before that.

I expect the same will happen again this year, which is why I advised readers to sell in April and reserve the cash. We are not quite ready to invest that money yet but we are getting close. Keep reading and remain patient.

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 e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.



     
@theMarket: When Cash Is King
By Bill Schmick On: 05:25AM / Saturday May 26, 2012
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Traders are afraid to hold securities, especially stocks, over the weekends. Every Friday afternoon, positions are squared and Wall Street goes home with few if any overnight positions. This three-day weekend, you can bet cash will be king.

Clearly, investors are just as skittish. They were last summer as well, and for the very same reasons. If anything, the stakes are higher today. Last May, there was some concern that Greece might go bankrupt and/or depart the European Community. This year, both Greece and other member states are actively preparing for that outcome.

Last year, there were riots in Athens. Police battled protestors angry over pension and other spending cuts. Damage was minimal and few were really injured, although it made nightly newscasts fairly dramatic. This year it's far more serious. Greek depositors are quietly but steadily pulling their money out of their banks where there are no TV cameras.

Greeks fear that when (not if) they depart the Euro, their currency (the drachma) will be worth next to nothing, wiping out their savings. Depositors in other problem countries such as Spain and Portugal are also doing the same thing, fearing the worst. Unsure of the Euro and its future, these Europeans are putting their money into the greenback. The higher the dollar goes against the Euro, the worse the situation becomes.

Have you also noticed that we are back in the "he said, she said" environment that ruled the market's direction throughout last summer? This week the averages gyrated up and down as one after another European politicians or bureaucrat pontificated over the fate of Greece or Spain. Positive comments, meant to buck up the markets, were quickly followed by retractions or other contradictory statements.

Face it readers, this situation is going to be with us until at least the middle of June, when Greece holds a second election. At that point we may achieve more clarity on the fate of the country and its membership in the Euro-zone with a corresponding move in the markets. Until then expect more of the same volatility.

Last week, I predicted a "snap-back rally." We had it but it wasn't much of one, barely moving the averages up by 2.5 percent or so. The S&P 500 Index now sits at around 1,323. I expect that both the upside and downside will be volatile over the next few weeks, based on the events in Europe.

On the downside, we could test the 200-Day Moving Average around 1,279 on the S&P 500 Index with further risk to 1,250 or so. On the upside, we probably have a celling between 1,340-1,370 on that same index. That would provide a 5-7 percent trading range for the markets. Those who follow the market day-by-day will find that stressful to say the least.

Last week's much heralded IPO, which I likened to the buildup preceding the "John Carter" movie, flopped on an epic scale. That it was a disappointment is obvious, but more importantly, it also drives yet another nail of distrust in the coffin of Wall Street. Retail investors, already wary of anything stock-related, took a flyer only to be burned once again by "da boyz" in the three-piece, pin-striped suits that took their money and left them holding the bag. Soon the only investors left in the markets to be bilked will be themselves. 

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 e-mail 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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