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At The Market: Tug Of War
By Bill Schmick On: 07:32AM / Saturday January 07, 2012
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All week stock averages fluctuated, usually down in the mornings and popping up to moderate gains in the afternoon. This slow grind upward however, is largely dependent on what happens next in Europe. So far there hasn't been any thing new but that could change as Europe gets back in business after their long holiday season.

As expected, the good news coming out of the U.S. economy has encouraged investors, while higher yields on Italian sovereign debt provided a counterweight that leaves the markets in a tug of war. The lack of news out of Europe allows investors to pay more attention to American data, such as the drop in the unemployment rate to 8.5% from 9.4% this time last year.

Beginning next week, however, European players should be back from their chalets in Switzerland or Spain and the fun begins all over again. At the same time, we face another earnings season and if earnings are not up to investor expectations we could definitely see a sell off.

Alcoa, the aluminum maker, kicks off the earnings season after the close on Monday and the company has already warned that higher costs and declining prices are threatening profits. Retailers admitted that Christmas sales were not as strong as they had hoped. I had warned readers not to fall prey to the holiday season hype on how great Christmas sales would be for retailers. Those who did best were those that offered thrifty consumers massive discounts off list price.

Short term, absent any new positive developments out of Europe, we could see some profit taking in the weeks ahead. That should be no surprise to investors, given my outlook for 2012. In my column "2012 could be another up and down year" I outlined the risks and opportunities we face this year. To sum up, I expect a choppy first half with a possible 'sell in May and go away' scenario. The second half could be better, thanks to election excitement and hope for a more functional Congress and Senate.

I also warned that any number of unknown events ranging from what happens in Europe, The Fed's monetary policy, and actions (or non-action) out of Washington could make any forecasts, including my own, worthless.

Take, for example, this week's rumor (later denied by the White House) that the Obama Administration is planning a mega refinancing ($1-$3 trillion) of the American mortgage market.

Back in September, I wrote in "What the Markets Missed" that such a plan was being debated within the White House. The program would not require congressional approval and could be conducted largely through the Fed, the FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is an election year, after all, when the sitting President will do all he can to stimulate the economy before the elections. That type of left field developments has the power to dramatically alter the market's expectations.

The cross currents within the markets remain. As such, I will stay defensive with a large percentage of my portfolio sitting in bonds and dividend yielding stock funds. I will let the markets dictate my next move or when to become more aggressive. In the meantime, expect volatility.

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: Resistance
By Bill Schmick On: 04:17AM / Saturday December 31, 2011
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The dividing line that often separates bull from bear is the 200 day Moving Average (200 DMA). It is a technical term that tracks the moving average price of stocks over 200 days. All week equities have traded a little above or below that average, leaving investors uncertain of what awaits them in 2012.

"I always sell my equity positions whenever the S&P 500 Index trades below the 200 Day," says a trader friend of mine, "and I don't buy back until it rises above that level again and stays there for more than a week."

It is a rule of thumb that has worked for market timers (those who try to sell the rips and buy the dips) more times than not since 2007, but it is not foolproof. There have been times in the past when stocks fell below that level only to rebound and continue much higher. Nevertheless, many traders take the 200 DMA very seriously. As a result you should too.

Every index has a 200 DMA whether you are looking at stocks, bonds or commodities. Most investors focus on the S&P 500 as their key average when trying to read the tea leaves in the stock market. Today, the 200 DMA is trading roughly at the same level that marks a gain or a loss for the S&P for 2011. The S&P Index started the year at 1,257.64.

The 200 DMA is right now about 1,259 (although it will change since it is a moving average). Several times over the last few months bulls have attempted to break that line, but the resistance has been fierce. Each time the bears have thrown back the bulls' advance decisively. So here we are again at the resistance line, but the Santa Claus rally has been fairly weak and prices have advanced on low volume.

Clearly, there is little we can read from the closing values of the S&P Index for the year. Given the enormous volatility investors have experienced, a gain or loss of 3-4 points and a close above or slightly under the 200 DMA is meaningless. It gives no guidelines for what will happen next.

On the bright side, the U.S. has done much better than other global markets. The main markets in Europe have suffered their worst losses since 2008, thanks to the continuing financial crisis. In Asia, the once-hot Chinese market dropped 21 percent for the year while Japan had its lowest close since 1982.

Their performance reflected a year that was plagued with natural disasters from earthquakes to floods, the Arab spring, trading scandals, wild rides in commodity, the complete dissolution of political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic and a continual widening between the "haves" and "have nots" around the world.

Bond prices, especially in our U.S. Treasury markets, were one area of positive gains. Prices continued to rise, despite the downgrading of our sovereign debt. Investors, spooked by the gyrations in the stock markets, flocked to this perceived safe haven. However, thanks to the low rates of interest, yields in that market have in some cases turned negative, such as Treasury Inflation Indexed bonds (called TIPs).

Today, a 30-year Treasury bond is yielding 2.9 percent while the Consumer Price Index, the nation's inflation gauge, has been running at a rate above 3 percent. At those rates, retirees who need income to simply stay afloat are not even breaking even with inflation.

I find it impressive that, despite the gut-wrenching turmoil, the U.S. stock market has held its own and is finishing even-to-up in the case of the S&P 500 and the Dow. It appears most of the bad news of 2011 has been discounted. Who knows, we may actually break that resistance and climb above the 200 DMA on the S&P 500. That may turn out to be my "famous last words" but I remain somewhat optimistic.

Despite the unknowns, I sincerely wish all of you the same joy and happiness you have given me this year. Happy New Year!

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: Ho, Ho, Ho
By Bill Schmick On: 03:20PM / Friday December 23, 2011
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Christmas is here and the market action this week indicates the traditional end-of-the-year rally appears ready to begin. About the best one can say is at least we can count on Santa if not anyone else.

In a recent radio interview, the host complained that the bad news just keeps on coming. If it isn't Europe, it's the embarrassment of our own political leaders in Washington. If that wasn't enough, we have tensions in Iran, North Korea and Syria. Yes, I agreed, all of the above is true and yet the stock markets are essentially unchanged from where they were a year ago.

Reading and listening to the chatter that at this time of year is largely focused on what's next for investors, I find a great deal of confusion. Most strategists are caught up in the continuing gloom and doom pessimism that has pervaded the markets throughout the year. This is despite the fact that the U.S. economy is growing at a rate higher than anyone expected.

No matter where you look — technical charts, momentum, fundamentals — it appears we are heading lower in 2012. Conventional wisdom has it that Europe is heading for a steep recession, China a hard landing and the U.S. by default is dragged down with them. In which case, the stock markets go lower.

After more than a year of faulty starts and disappointments by European leaders, most investors discount any new initiatives coming out of the EU as too little, too late. The joke that we call leadership in Washington is also well known. And that's my issue with the bear case. Everyone knows how bad it is — investors, the Fed, politicians, even Main Street. When a crisis is as well known as this one, it is usually addressed.

In my opinion, it is a mistake to get sucked into this malaise. The Europeans are making progress in solving their financial crisis. Granted, we may not like their half-measures, their delays, their posturing and constant policy reversals but in the end things are getting done.

Bond yields in Spain and Italy are coming down. Banks are no longer in danger of going belly-up. The central banks of the world are on record that they will not let the EU or the Euro fail. Just this week the European Central Bank loaned $640 billion in low-interest rate loans to their banking industry. There will be more of the same in the weeks and months ahead. It may not be enough to save Europe from a recession but it could well limit the severity and subsequent damage to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Pessimism abounds wherever you look and that, my dear reader, should make you sit up and take notice. It is times like this when we have our best rallies. It is times like this that the smart money stays put and does not give in to the overwhelming gloom that is assaulting us at every turn. As a self-confessed contrarian, I remain somewhat bullish on the markets, if not hysterically so.

My strategy is to watch and wait between now and the end of the first quarter. December and January are normally the strongest months of the year. If the Santa Claus rally fails, followed by a down first quarter of 2012, then I will throw in the towel and get much more defensive. Until then I will give the markets the benefit of the doubt even if I keep my enthusiasm on a short leash.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good holiday weekend.

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: Is Santa Claus Coming to Town?
By Bill Schmick On: 03:19AM / Saturday December 17, 2011
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Most years, at about this time, investors begin to anticipate a so-called "Christmas Rally." So far investors have received nothing but coal in their stockings. I counsel patience. Most investors appear to be jumping the gun.

There are many explanations for why markets sometimes move higher between Christmas and the New Year and into January. One reason is the "January Effect." Historically (since 1925) markets have risen in the first month of the year with small caps leading the way. Investors like to get in the market before that move begins, usually during the last week of the year.

Since 1896, the Dow's average monthly return in up years has been roughly 0.5 percent but Decembers have returned 1.4 percent overall. Some believe that tax considerations drive the markets during this time. Investors, for example, who sold losers earlier in the month, now begin to replenish their portfolios with new buys. There is also the fact that many employees receive their year-end bonuses, either in December or January, and invest those proceeds into the markets. I wouldn't discount the psychological impact either. Good feelings, generated by holiday cheer, and the absence of Grinch-like pessimists, who are usually on vacation at that time, spill over into the stock markets..

Yet, not all years have produced Christmas rallies and many Decembers have actually lost money for investors. Given the steady stream of bad news coming out of Europe one would expect that any rally we may have will be somewhat subdued.

For most of this week the markets have tried to rally, largely on good news generated by the U.S. economy. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning's stocks were bid up by one percent or more only to flounder when comments out of Europe cut the gains to just above breakeven. As expected, the sniping began on Monday, almost as soon the EU agreed to expand and police a new fiscal austerity effort among its members. The naysayers were eager to explain why the agreement would be difficult to implement or just plain won't work.

Rumors all week that the credit agencies were preparing to downgrade sovereign French debt to ‘AA’ from "AAA" has also kept a lid on our markets. On Friday, Credit agency Fitch actually downgraded its outlook on France to "negative" but kept their "AAA" rating. It also put Italy, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia and Cyprus on negative watch.

Traders have been watching the Euro, selling stocks as the Euro-Zone currency declines and the dollar moves up and then reversing the trade on any strength in the Euro. They argue that the Euro's decline signals worse trouble ahead for the EU and therefore for America and the rest of the world. No one seems to recognize that the Euro's decline actually helps the economies of Europe (making the goods they sell cheaper to overseas buyers), especially in places like Italy and Spain, where exports are a big part of their overall economies.

One wonders when investors are going to decouple from their manic focus on Europe and concentrate instead on the U.S. market where stocks are cheap, unemployment is declining, and the economy growing. It is my hope that it will finally dawn on the markets that there's no place like home, especially for the holidays. In which case, there may be more under the tree than most investors expected.

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: The Case of the Crying Wolf
By Bill Schmick On: 06:05PM / Friday December 09, 2011
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How many times in the past year have we been faced with binary events that were either "do or die" moments for the markets? Some turned out to be "dos" but others definitely failed to meet investors' expectations. Yet, armageddon did not occur.

Despite these weekly doom and gloom predictions, the markets have weathered the storm. Consider these "end of the world" moments: the U.S. debt ceiling, the budget debate, the lowering of our credit rating; while in Europe there have been dozens of do-or-die deadlines from Greek default to this weeks' EU summit. How long must the wolf cry before we become inured to its call?

The truth is that the media and many of its guests see things in such simplistic terms that either/or is about all they have time for. Real life, as we know, is much more convoluted and complex than that.

Sure, there may come a time when once again (like in 2008-2009), the problems that besiege much of the world's economies will come home to roost. But, if human nature holds true, it won't happen until we least expect it. Since, if we expect something terrible to happen, we will do all we can to avoid or fix it. That process, my dear reader, is what is occurring right now throughout the world.

So if you were thinking that European leaders have finally resolved their financial crisis, think again. Friday's EU agreement moves them another step closer, but we still have a long way to go.

Twenty-six European nations agreed to forge a new treaty in order to establish an even closer fiscal union, one that will force members to get their fiscal house in order or "else." Presumably, "else" would mean that members who fail to toe the line will be booted out of the union. Great Britain, which rejected the Euro in favor of its own currency, the British pound, in the original treaty, was the only member country that refused to join the agreement.

Drafting that agreement, ironing out the fine details, and ultimately passing it should be a guaranteed source of additional volatility as the debate continues. Although the fiscal integrity of several European nations was the source of the financial crisis, this fiscal initiative does little to solve the symptoms of the crisis. Those symptoms - huge debt loads, escalating sovereign interest rates, high unemployment, slowing economies and concern over the Euro — are still of immediate concern.

These worries will be with us for the foreseeable future and, left unaddressed, could sink the markets. But remember, just two weeks ago, several of the world's largest central banks announced their intention to establish a floor under this crisis in the form of massive monetary intervention when necessary.

Over here in America we have our own issues. On the fiscal front, our do-nothing Congress and Senate guarantees there will be no additional economic stimulus unless President Obama can pull something out of his hat that does not need congressional approval. Monetary policy is on hold as the Fed waits for further clues on the economic health of the U.S.

This particular wall of worry is indeed quite formidable. Some investors have decided to just move to the sidelines until this volatile period subsides, and I don't blame them. If concern over your investments is keeping you up at night, you are too aggressively invested, in which case change your allocation.

As I warned in my last column, we saw a lot of volatility in the markets this week. Expect more of the same in the weeks to come. That said, I believe we will move higher between now and the New Year.

Next year, however, may be a different story entirely.

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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