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@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.




     
@theMarket: 'Play it again, Sam'
By Bill Schmick On: 04:21PM / Saturday May 12, 2012
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"Play it once, Sam, for old times' sake, play 'As Time Goes By.'" — Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)

"You played it for her, you can play it for me ... If she can stand to listen to it, I can. Play it." — Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)
"Casablanca"


Last year, the bull-market rally began to run out of steam on May 2. Over the next two months, the Dow fell 1,000 points to the 11,900 level. There was then a rally that took the averages back up to a little over 6 percent before giving up the ghost once more on July 26. It continued to decline until the beginning of October, falling all together about 20 percent.

It wasn't until the Federal Reserve Bank came to the rescue once again with a new round of monetary easing that the markets finally bottomed and began to rise on Oct. 4, 2011. Over the next six months, the S&P 500 Index rallied 30 percent until its peak this year on April 2. It waited until May 1 before beginning its present pullback.

For Wall Street traders, it was also an exhausting time in the markets during which swings of several percentage points a day became common. Much of the decline was blamed on Europe. The U.S. economic data didn't help either. Week after week, one disappointing data point followed another raising the specter of a double-dip recession. Does any of this sound familiar?

Today the circumstances in both Europe and the U.S. are eerily similar to what happened last spring. So far in May, the stock market is playing the same swan song as last year.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme," said Mark Twain well over a century ago. And that saying certainly applies to the stock market. The question is what, if anything, is different about this time around?

The short answer is, not much. Italy and Greece were the focal points of the Euro debt crisis last year. Since then there has been a massive bank bailout and an austerity pact but nothing much has been done to turn the European Unions' struggling economies around. The economic picture has actually deteriorated further, thanks to the nonsensical austerity plan engineered by Angel Merkel of Germany.

Spain is the main problem right now. As their economy nose dives, their debt explodes, while their banks wobble under mountains of bad real estate loans; the 12th largest economy in the world is fast approaching a life-support situation. Greece, after last week’s election upset, is also revisiting its off-again, on-again membership in the EU.

Once again, investors are keying off the Spanish/Greece/Italian sovereign debt yields to decide whether to buy or sell on a daily basis. So far it's been mostly selling. Remember my "She Said, He Said" columns of last summer? Investors were driven crazy by conflicting and often contradictory statements out of Europe's capitals. Today the names have changed — Hollande instead of Sarkozy in France, Draghi instead of Trichet at the ECB, and in Greece, Papandreou for someone yet to be announced — but the conflicting statements remain the same.

Over here, we have the same issues over the economy that we had last year. And in the wings, hovers the Fed. That's right, if our market, Europe's markets, the economy and employment begin to drop dramatically, the Fed will once again come to the rescue. That, my dear reader, is why this year is rhyming with last year and the year before that.

As long as governments continue to tinker with the world's stock markets, as they have done ever since the 2008 financial crisis, we will have these same issues over and over again. I have written about our stop and start economy often. As long as the Fed is the sole locomotive of growth, we can expect the economy and the stock markets to continue to boom and bust.

This has truly become the Great Recession. Readers of this column were advised at the end of March, beginning of April, to take profits and prepare for this sell-off. I am writing off this second quarter. By the end of it, I suspect the averages could be where they were at the beginning of the year, until then, stay defensive and I'll keep you posted.

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: 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.


     
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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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