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@theMarket: Rising Interest Rates Spook Markets
By Bill Schmick On: 03:24AM / Saturday June 01, 2013
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Over the last month, the interest rate on a 10-year, U.S. Treasury note has risen half a point. That may not sound like much in a market that has seen nothing but declines in Treasury yields for years, but investors fear it is simply the start of something big.

By now readers should know that we are in the ninth inning of a thirty year bull market in U.S. Treasury bonds. Everyone (including me) has been warning investors to liquidate their Treasury bond holdings. It is a case of when rates will rise (not if). No one knows exactly when that will happen, but why wait around until they do?

But many bond investors have stubbornly refused to listen. They are driven by fear. They are convinced that stock markets will retest their lows of 2009 on the back of another deep recession or worse. Clearly that has not happened yet (but “yet” for some is still the keyword).

However, as the economy continues to climb, unemployment falls and the Fed stimulates, more and more investors are re-thinking their safe-haven investments. It is the reason gold sold off so dramatically this year and, in my opinion, the same thing is beginning to happen in the Treasury market.

May's spike in interest rates, however, has more to do with misplaced investor concerns that the Fed will begin to taper off its monthly bond purchases as early as June. They fear that with less Fed buying, bond prices will decline and interest rates will rise. This month that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think any talk of tapering off is premature at best and at worse, simply an excuse to take profits in both the stock and bond markets.

I do believe, however, that at some point the Fed will gradually reduce its buy program based on two factors: a stronger economy and a lower unemployment rate. Neither factor is anywhere near a level that would prompt the Fed to withdraw its stimulus even slightly. And when they do, it will be a good thing and no reason at all to sell stocks or even certain kinds of bonds.

Corporate bonds, for example, both investment grade and high yield, do quite well in an atmosphere of rising U.S. Treasury interest rates caused by stronger economic growth.  In that environment, rising rates simply signal a more benign environment for corporations, which have less risk of bankruptcy and are better able to make their debt payments. For corporates, it is virtually the "sweet spot" for investment gains.

Many investors fail to understand that. They have been selling perfectly good, high yielding corporate bonds needlessly. So, by all means, cash in your Treasuries but keep your corporate bond investments. Sure, at some point, when interest rates rise enough, all bonds will be impacted but that time is still a year or two away.

As for the stock markets, this week was uneventful. We are entering the summer period where not much can be expected to happen. It is a period where Wall Street moves to The Hamptons or up North to the Berkshires. Hopefully, the markets will take the summer off as well. We are in need of a pause, one that will ultimately refresh this aging bull.

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.



     
@theMarket: 1995 Redux?
By Bill Schmick On: 04:30PM / Friday May 17, 2013
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By my reckoning, this leg of the stock market rally began about a week after the presidential elections. The rally overall has been going on much longer. The question everyone is asking is how long it can go on without a major correction.

If one looks back through history, the chances of the S&P 500 Index continuing to move higher without at least a 4 percent pullback is slim at best. There has been only one year in recent history, 1995, where the market continued higher throughout the year without any kind of significant pullback.

I remember that year well, and there are both similarities and difference between 1995 and today. Back then, U.S. unemployment was below 6 percent. Today it is 7.5 percent. The economy was recovering from a mild recession at that time but it was a bumpy ride. GDP fell below 1 percent for the first two quarters of the year and some worried the economy would slip back into recession.

Corporate profits were rising, whereas today, those profits are already at record highs. China's economy, like today, was slowing. Commodity prices were dropping, Europe's economy was moribund at best and this country's deficit was at a record high (as a percentage of GDP).

Investors had little confidence in their elected officials. Congress was fighting over reducing the budget and other social issues. It was so bad that congressional Republicans actually shut down the government later in the year. It would be fair to say that the stock market was climbing a wall of worry throughout 1995.

Alan Greenspan, who was running the Federal Reserve Bank at the time, had already engineered a bond market crash by raising interest rates in 1994 in order to head off an expected rebound in inflation. In the spring of 1995, he reversed those policies and began to ease at the same time that the economy was beginning to grow again.

As I have said in the past, history tends to rhyme, if not repeat itself, and the similarities between Fed policies today and those of Alan Greenspan are striking. Like 1995, the U.S. economy is also growing, registering a 2.5 percent annualized gain in the first quarter while our Fed continues to ease.

The first half of the Nineties had been turbulent and investors were shell-shocked, distrustful of Washington, the Fed, and definitely the credit and equity markets. No one, including yours truly, was prepared for good news and when it came we were skeptical at best. Does any of this sound familiar?

Granted, 1995 was an outlier of a year and nothing says 2013 will be a repeat of that year. But I have often said that the markets will do what is most inconvenient for the most number of investors. Everyone has been warning you that the markets are due for a correction. Heck, I have been saying that off and on since January. The point is that it doesn't have to happen in May ("sell in May and go away") or June, July, August, etc. So go ahead and dream about a market that just continues to go up. It probably won't happen, but what if it did?

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.



     
@theMarket: The Goldilocks Market
By Bill Schmick On: 04:55PM / Friday May 03, 2013
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The S&P 500 Index made record highs this week. It is catching up with the Dow, which has been making new highs now for over a month. Yet many investors do not believe this rally. Some are still sitting on the sidelines waiting and praying for a pullback that has not occurred.

There is an old saying that the market will do what is most inconvenient for the greatest number of people. Right now this slow grind higher seems to be causing more irritation and angst than anyone could imagine among many investors. Those who are in and experiencing double-digit gains so far this year still worry about how high the markets have come and whether or not they should bail.

"I don't get it," complained one such client, "The data is checkered at best. The unemployment rate is too high, but the market seems to ignore all of it and just keeps climbing."

"It is a Goldilocks market," I explained. "As long as the economic data is neither too hot nor too cold, the markets will continue to rise."

It really doesn't matter that much whether earnings are good or bad or that the economic date is contradictory. It is all about the Fed and it's on-going stimulus. Weak numbers mean that the Fed will continue easing. This week's Fed announcements, following their two day policy meeting, only encouraged investors further.

Investors chose to read positive implications into the Fed's statement that they might "increase or reduce" the size of its monthly $85 billion purchase of bonds. It will depend on the rate of unemployment and inflation. Since inflation has dropped below the Fed's target of 2 percent annually, there is clearly a green light to increase bond buying if they want.

As for unemployment, not only is the rate way above its target (6 percent versus today's 7.5 percent rate), but the numbers are up one week and down the next. So given the state of both inflation and unemployment, the markets are betting that the Fed is at least going to maintain their buying. And if the numbers come in weaker than expected, there is a good chance they will increase their purchases. Thus, bad news is good news.

The good news, like Friday's unemployment numbers of 165,000 new jobs (140,000 were expected) or the greater than expected rebound in national housing prices, was tempered by negative news on other fronts. March factory orders declined by 4 percent (3 percent expected) and non-manufacturing ISM data, which measures the nation's services industry, was also a disappointment. That data presents a mixed picture at best. Taken together, the numbers hold out the hope for even more easing while at the same time remove the possibility of an end to further stimulus anytime in the near future.

Like I said, the national porridge is neither too hot nor too cold. It is just the way investors and the market like it. So where are the three bears in this story?

One bear could be that the economic data becomes so bad that investors fear even the Fed can't prevent a recession. The Fed (and I) has made it clear that "fiscal policy is restraining economic growth." That's Fed speak for the wrong-headed, ill-advised policies that our Congress insists on enacting, such as the sequester cuts. There is a possibility that our elected officials could engineer our next recession.

Another bear could appear if the economic data indicated much higher growth ahead then the Fed expects. That would force the central bank to reduce its bond buying. That seems a remote possibility given Congress' penchant for doing nothing, unless it involves increased fiscal austerity.

The third bear could be a "Black Swan" type of event. North Korea, Iran, Syria or some other geopolitical event could also cause markets to swoon. We saw how fast the stock market declined in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon massacre. Something like that could trigger a rush for the doors. That third bear is always present and one reason I advise all but the most aggressive clients to keep some of their portfolio in defensive securities.

So Goldilocks is alive and well today but unlike the fair maiden, it is always smart to remain somewhat cautious when investing in markets. After all, you never know who may be lurking under those covers in your bed.

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.



     
@theMarket: Five for Five
By Bill Schmick On: 06:38PM / Friday April 26, 2013
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It was another good week for the averages with all three indexes chalking up five days of gains in a row. Friday, however, was a mild disappointment thanks to the latest GDP data.

Economists were looking for a first quarter gain of 3 percent in GDP. Instead, the nation's gross domestic product came in at 2.5 percent, but it was still a good number compared to last quarter's 0.4 percent growth. The stock markets, however, have proven that they care less about growth and more about how much and how long the Fed's monetary easing will continue.

In this goldilocks market, good economic data is good news for stocks but also are disappointing economic numbers. I know that sounds crazy, but there is certain logic to this madness.

The Federal Reserve has promised to continue stimulating the economy until the unemployment rate drops by another percentage point or two. In order to achieve that target, the economy must continue to grow and grow at an increasing rate. So, according to the typical investor's logic, disappointing data simply means that the Fed will need to keep pumping money into the economy, which is good for stocks. Of course, if the numbers turn really sour and GDP drops precipitously then all bets are off. But 2.5 percent growth is not too hot or too cold and just enough to insure that the money keeps flowing into the stock markets.

All week Europe has rallied as well. There is a building consensus over there that economies both big and small need further stimulus and possibly an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank. "Austerity," both here and abroad, appears to be becoming a bad word for all but a few die-hard right-wing economists and their followers who we will call "Austerians."

Clearly austerity has not worked in Europe, has not worked in this country, and has not worked in Japan. As a result, what we are seeing is across-the-board movement toward further easing. I, among others, have been arguing for this since 2009.

Of course, those opposed have insisted that unless governments reduced their deficits and restored confidence, simply spending more would only increase debt loads (which are already at record highs). And once countries crossed a theoretical debt-to-GDP threshold, (thought to be 90 percent) they would experience a permanent slowdown in growth as well as hyperinflation.

This argument has raged on for five years with the austerity gang here in America gaining the upper hand this year. Thanks to the Sequester, we are now experiencing the impact of across-the-board cuts at a time when our economy needs spending, not cuts. Oh, and by the way, that theoretical line in the sand that the Austerians insist would sink the economy (based on an academic paper on the subject), was found to contain a mathematical error. Once the error was corrected, the 90 percent debt-to-GDP statistic went up in smoke.

Now, simply because the facts do not square with the Austerians' argument does not mean that they will cease and desist. There is too much at stake to quit now. After all, an entire wing of the Republican Party has been born again (and elected) under this theme. They will stubbornly insist on being right in the face of economic reality until we stop listening to them. In the meantime, despite our debt load and free-spending ways the stock market continues to go higher and higher. Imagine that.

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.



     
@theMarket: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
By Bill Schmick On: 04:00PM / Friday April 05, 2013
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This week, for the first time all year the S&P 500 Index has sustained more than a 1 percent pullback. It needs to correct somewhat more, and despite the short term pain, this sell-off is a good thing.

Have you ever asked yourself why a tea kettle has a spout? It allows steam to escape so that the water within does not boil over. That's what periodic sell-offs accomplish in the stock market. Daily new highs, weeks of successive gains, chasing stocks — all of those indicators were out there. As I have written over the last month, it was just a matter of time before market discipline exerted itself. I'm hoping the decline will continue for a few more days and purge some of the excess exuberance out of the markets. So why not sell now and try to catch the bottom later?

If you can do that successfully, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. But in the past, readers may recall, I have done just that. I have successfully told readers when to sell and when to buy back in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, so why not now? The difference this time is the extent of the decline I am looking for.

In the past, each of my sell recommendations encompassed a correction in stocks of at least 10 percent. This time I don't see that. We may experience a decline that approaches the 10 percent level but, in my opinion, a decline of that magnitude is not warranted.

You see, unlike the last few years, I don't see the kind of market risk that precipitated big declines. The EU, Greece, Washington, U.S. debt downgrades, as well as fiscal and monetary uncertainty has been replaced with what — Cypress? Bumpy unemployment numbers? North Korea sabre rattling?

None of the above has the power to crater this market. The present concern over the last few weeks' jobs numbers should be put in context. Remember that a lot of construction jobs were created by Super Storm Sandy, however, those repairs are winding down. At the same time we are starting to feel some of the ill-advised (in my opinion) sequester cuts starting to show up in the data.

Clearly those cuts will do little good for the economy but they won't sink it. As long as the Fed keeps pumping dollars ad infinitum into this economy we are all sitting pretty. On the plus side, the recent decision by the Japanese monetary authorities to follow our central bank's lead and stimulate their economy to the tune of 7.5 trillion yen is truly unprecedented.

I was talking to a 30-year veteran of Japanese investing, Michael Longthorne, a managing director of Mizuho Securities, who described the move as "strapping a rocket onto a go cart." We concluded that after over 20 years of economic stagnation, there is the potential that the world's third largest economy (after the U.S. and China) could become a real factor once again in global economic growth in the years to come.

Bottom line, markets will use just about anything as an excuse when a pullback is overdue. My advice is to ignore the jibber jabber, ignore your short-term paper losses and look forward to a good year of double digit gains in your investment accounts.

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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