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@theMarket: Traders Build a Wall of Worry

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The markets are marking time. Earnings season is just about over. The lofty levels of the stock market survived those results largely because they were not quite as bad as expected. Now it is on to the next worry.

Pick your poison — uncertainty over this summer's political conventions, can oil prices sustain these price levels or how about the possibility of a Fed rate hike in June? No question, there is a wall of worry out there, but so far the markets have weathered everything the bears have thrown at them. That is quite impressive given that we have had a 13 percent gain from the lows and hovering just a percent or so below all-time highs.

We have been trading in a tight range on the S&P 500 between 2050 and 2080 for a week or two. Stocks overall are going up or down depending on that days company results. Now, we should see prices break to the downside or, more likely, to the upside unless something unexpected occurs.

For example, the dollar (also in a tight trading range) could climb higher. That would threaten oil prices as well as the recent commodity run. Usually, a stronger dollar has a negative correlation with commodities.

Then there is Trump versus Clinton with Bernie still in the race. Most clients I talk to are quite worried about the outcome of the elections. In addition, all of the candidates continue to bang the drum of unemployment and weak economy. People tend to believe what they hear on the television news, if it is repeated enough times. Although the evidence does not support these political claims, when has a politician ever worried about the facts?

Then there is the never-ending central bank production of "will they or won't they" that is playing to a sellout crowd. Never has there been so many who have worried so much over so small a rate hike. A new rumor or forecast over what the Fed will do next is always good for a 20-point move one way or the other.

Some readers have asked me if the year-long correlation between oil and stocks has been broken. That remains to be seen. As long as oil trades between $40-$45 a barrell, I think stock markets will focus on something else. However, if oil decides to move markedly lower, I am sure stocks will fall along with energy.

As I have written in the past, oil prices are notoriously hard to predict, but between now and mid-summer, demand for oil is usually stronger. So I suspect the risk of a waterfall decline in oil, if it were to occur, would likely be an August or September threat.

I am still worried, however, about a potential double-digit pullback in stocks sometime this summer. One scenario that could unfold might go something like this: the stock market climbs, surpassing the old highs. Even the bulls are surprised. That triggers a rush into the market. At that point, when most of the bears cover their shorts and talking heads are confidently predicting another 10 percent upside, we fail. The markets roll over as one of the fears outlined above comes true and down we go.

Could it happen that way? Sure it could. Stock markets can be extremely volatile during election campaigns. Add in the summer doldrums where there are fewer participants to lend sanity to the craziness of high frequency traders and you have a recipe for big market moves.

In any case, if this scenario plays out, I fully expect the stock market to recoup any losses and finish the year positive.

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: It May Be That Time Again

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

For traders, the old adage to "Sell in May" is now upon us. Over the past 40-plus years this recommendation has worked over 70 percent of the time. Should you go with the statistics or ignore them?

As regular readers know, the S&P 500 Index has already reached my target of 2,100. We did so over two weeks ago and until yesterday the bulls have been trying to break over that line and get back to the historical highs around 2,134.

The perfect excuse to do so should have occurred on Wednesday when the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee announced their latest decision to keep rates where they are.

The wording of the news release was almost identical to last month's statement. Rather than roar, (as stocks usually do after dovish words like that) the markets, instead, could barely eke out a gain for the day.

"Hmmm."

Notice, too, that despite an almost 17 percent increase in the price of oil thus far in April, stocks have done nothing. What, you may ask, has happened to the stock/oil price correlation that has been with us since the beginning of the year?

Then there is the dollar, specifically dollar weakness, which has dropped below 94 on the U.S. Dollar Index. That has been a line in the sand support for the greenback against a basket of foreign currencies all year. One would think that would be good for the economy — cheaper exports, better corporate earnings — but the markets are a fickle lot. They decided this week a weaker dollar might reflect a weaker economy. The slide in the dollar really accelerated this week when the Bank of Japan disappointed investors by failing to provide even more stimulus to their economy.

"Hmmm, Hmmm."

Of course none of this seems to faze the commodity speculators who blithely bid up the price of precious metals, agricultural products, base metals, energy and the kitchen sink. What, you might ask, is driving commodity prices higher? One word — China. That's right, now that the Chinese government has made it more difficult for the multitude to speculate in their stock markets, they have turned their attention to the commodity markets.

At its peak, as an example, iron ore prices have risen 73 percent and rebar 62 percent in Shanghai since the beginning of the year. Inveterate gamblers, both retail and professional, are now doing the same thing to global commodity prices that they did in their stock market last year. China's securities regulators started cracking down on the country's commodities futures exchanges this week to prevent further speculation.

I warned readers in my column last week not to chase commodities. I repeat that warning now. Recall what happened to the Chinese stock market when regulators curbed speculation last year? Stocks fell 40 percent and took global markets down with them. Could that happen again in the commodities markets? Is the Pope Catholic?

"Hmm, Hmmm, Hmmm."

I could go on and mention how corporate earnings this quarter are really turning out as bad as people feared, although there have been some notable exceptions. Then there is the devastation that is occurring on the NASDAQ. Could that index be foretelling a pullback in the overall market?

The answer is yes but don't worry, it is not Armageddon. It is simply a much-needed correction in a stock market that has gained 13 percent in less than two months. Remember how I warned readers to examine their risk tolerance a few weeks back? Well, welcome to the new stock market, which is just chock-full of volatility and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

I think we will see an up and down market throughout the summer. Remember that we still have the presidential conventions to contend with in June and July. Don't get me started on that subject! But I digress.

This pullback could see the S&P 500 fall to 2,140 or so, as a first stop. Of course, since it is hard to make short-term predictions like this, it could fall even further to the 200-day moving average. That would put us back to 2,114 on the index. If so, that would be a healthy sign in a market that has been overbought for weeks.

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: Markets Hold on to Weekly Gains

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It was a struggle, but the stock market indexes stubbornly refused to cave in despite some really horrendous earnings reports. A battle is being waged among bulls and bears right here, right now. Who will win?

Remember last week when I reported that earnings have been revised down so low that it was practically impossible for most companies to disappoint the market? Well, that proved to be not quite accurate. Not only did some really big companies in industry, technology, banking and finance fail to beat, they actually came in less than anticipated on both earnings and revenues.

Although traders punished these companies' stock prices in after-hours trading and through the next day, many of these fallen angels quickly rebounded and are trading higher than before their dismal results. How does that work, you might ask?

The bulls would tell you that quarterly earnings results are like looking into a rear-view mirror. Instead, those who expect the economy to strengthen in the months ahead, argue that any sell-off in stock prices is just like looking a gift horse in the mouth. If one believes there will be a fairly sharp uptick in the economy soon, than that explanation makes sense.

The problem is that there is no "economic evidence" that the bulls are right. But when have traders needed facts to justify their trades? A better explanation, in my opinion, is that in today's low volume markets, any group of speculators can do what they want to any individual stock with impunity. Short it down 3 percent one day; drive it up the next day and so on. It is why owning individual stocks are a much riskier business today than it has ever been.

Overall, two out of the three benchmark U.S.  Indexes managed to eke out a gain for the week. NASDAQ was the exception, losing a few points overall. The real issue for the markets is the lofty price level we have now reached. We are almost 13 percent higher from the lows reached last quarter. Readers might recall that I urged you to hold on through the downturn, fully expecting the S&P 500 Index would regain their losses. My target for the index was 2,100. The equivalent level in the Dow is around 18,000. Both hit my targets. The S&P 500 actually touched 2,111 on Wednesday, but fell back before the close. Since then prices have been churning, a natural reaction to breaking to new highs for the year.

Stocks could continue to chop until the FOMC meeting next week. I don't expect anything negative to come out of that meeting, just more "dovish" talk about moderate growth, their "go-slow" policy on interest rates, etc. In the past, the markets have usually risen after the meeting. In this case, we could actually touch or break to new all-time highs if the markets determine there is just enough cheer within the Fed's comments.

On another important subject, the oil price has defied the investor community by doing what was most inconvenient for the most number of people. The failure of oil producers to arrive at a production freeze agreement in Doha last Sunday should have caused oil to decline substantially, or so Wall Street thought. Instead, after a 6 percent decline last Sunday night, oil rallied back and actually forged ahead this closing close to the years' high.

However, it was the U.S. dollar and not oil that has influenced the market this week. The greenback has been falling recently. Traders have been selling it, believing that our central bank will hold off on hiking interest rates, at least until June. Usually, a country's currency rises if traders believe interest rates in that country will rise. Now, since many assets (such as commodities and oil) are priced in dollars, lots of prices are tied to the fate of our greenback.

Commodities, for example, have risen, as have emerging markets recently, on the back of dollar weakness. Certain sectors such as energy, basic metals, agricultural goods and precious metals have been the leading sectors in the overall stock market in 2016, after languishing for years because of the dollar's strength. The problem is that if the dollar reverses on the back of an interest rate hike by the Fed (possibly in June), what will happen to all of these commodities and stocks?

It is one reason why I caution investors to temper their enthusiasm when considering these red hot areas of the market. The gains have been fun while they have lasted, but at this point most of the easy money has been made. Don't chase these sectors. You may end up holding the bag as the early buyers cash in their chips.
 

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: Economy Stronger, Stocks Weaker

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Investors can expect the stock market to carve out a new trading range over the next few weeks. The good news is that range will be higher than it has been all year. The bad news is that we should not expect a repeat performance of March.

March was a good month for the S&P 500 Index. Stocks gained about 3 percent, and as of today, are positive for the year. Friday, investors worked overtime as they digested a slew of data.

The day kicked off with employment data which was good: 215,000 jobs gained, while hourly wages increased by 7 cents an hour. And more Americans are looking for jobs.

The bad news was that we are still losing jobs in the manufacturing sectors, since just about all the gains were in the service economy.

Beyond that, we received more data on everything from construction spending, the PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) to domestic vehicle sales and plenty more. I won't bore you with the details. All you need know is that in total the data revealed an economy that was plugging along at a roughly 2 percent plus rate or slightly better.

In the past, I've warned readers not to hang their hat on any one economic data point.

While economists might be cheered or disappointed by one month's group of statistics, the facts are that all these numbers are revised more than once (up or down) in the weeks and months ahead. What stock market investors need to know is if any of these data points would make the Fed hike rates sooner than expected.

The answer is no. The Fed is on hold in their plans to raise short term interest rates until the economy gives definite signals that we are growing faster than the present rate. We are not.

The Fed's brief is both keeping inflation in check and insuring a healthy labor market. Given moderate growth and employment gains it appears to the Fed that the country is in a sweet spot.

As such, the dollar will continue to remain in a trading range, as will bonds, and to some extent, the stock market. Here's the thing: nothing has changed as far as the well-being of the U.S. economy over the last quarter. It is why I did not advise anyone to bail out of stocks in January or February. Just because the market was having a hissy fit at the beginning of the year, it is no reason that you should have one, too.

You might ask, why then was the stock market down on Friday in the face of good or at least in-line data points? Look to oil for a reason. Word from Saudi Arabia's oil minister this week is that the production freeze by them and others will depend on whether or not their arch-enemy Iran also agrees to a freeze.

That stance is understandable given that both countries are at loggerheads in the Middle East. At the same time, both parties know that sanctions have just been lifted on Iran's oil production by most importers of oil. That country is only now trying to make up for years of lost production and won't tolerate a freeze on that effort. As a result, oil dropped almost 4 percent on Friday.    

As I have written before, the stock market is still held hostage to the oil price. The OPEC meeting is supposed to happen this month and it is natural that investor anxiety will heighten as all parties to the negotiations stake out their opening positions. That will make for a lot of ups and downs in the oil price and will have a subsequent impact on stocks.

It is why I believe that this month we won't see much progress in financial markets. After that, we will enter the presidential convention period. That too may keep a lid on equities into the spring.

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: Fed-Driven Rally Grinds Higher

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, the Federal Reserve Bank gave investors everything they wanted this week. As a result, the indexes racked up their fifth week of gains in a row. Could there be six?

A combination of events has unfolded over the last few weeks that have driven the markets higher. A potential bottom in oil and its subsequent rise to over $40 a barrel has provided support as well as fuel for stock gains. Given my belief that "where oil goes, so goes the market," it should be no surprise that the stock markets have now regained all the losses suffered in 2016. Oil, by the way, is also at around the same price it was at the beginning of the year.

This week after the Federal Open Market Committee Meeting (FOMC), the U.S. central bank announced that they would keep interest rates the same. They also lowered their guidance on the number of times they anticipated raising the Fed Funds rate this year from four to possibly twice. Traders read those comments as bullish for stocks.

Readers may recall last week's column where I pointed out that the indexes had reached a critical level. In order to advance, the stock markets had to break through their 200 Day Moving Average. They did. The S&P 500 Index decisively moved above 2,019 and the Dow breached its 200 DMA as well. Since then stocks have methodically gained ground.

By now it should be clear to you that none of the bearish predictions that panicked investors over the first two months of the year have come true. As the markets go higher, the very same talking heads that were predicting markets would go much lower are now changing those forecasts. Most of this noise occurs within the financial media. You do yourself no favors by paying attention to it. The dribble you receive from television shows or emails from hucksters who are regularly predicting the end of the world is the worst kind of information.

Stocks will continue higher for now, although pullbacks will certainly occur with regularity. As a potential target, I would guess that we have a good shot at regaining 2,100 on the S&P 500 Index.  We may even touch the old highs (S&P 2,134) or close to it. But that does not mean that all is smooth sailing for the remainder of the year.

Do not be surprised if the averages decline again sometime this spring or summer as election fears spook investors and traders alike. In hindsight, I believe this year will be remembered as one of the most volatile in recent history. As such, you should carefully review your risk tolerance.

The last five years of positive (and outsized) gains that the stock market has delivered may have lulled you into a dangerous level of complacency. Historically, stock investing has not been for the faint of heart. This year has simply provided a reminder of that fact. In many cases, you may have fallen prey to "risk creep" or the tendency to become more and more aggressive in your investment choices as stocks climbed higher. It is time to revisit that attitude and those investments.

As I have written in the past, this is not your father's stock market. Central bank policies worldwide have created an entirely new playing field. It is a game whose rules and results are both hard to predict and may have consequences that no one imagines right now.

A brief look at today's currencies, for example, illustrates that point. Central bankers have engineered interest rates and quantitative easing in an effort to grow their economies and goose exports. But these same policies seem to have had the opposite impact. Negative interest rates in Europe and Japan have actually led to stronger currencies while our own policies appear to have softened the dollar's strength. None of this was in the game plan and yet it is happening right now.

Gold seems to be a beneficiary of these actions. Speculators, unsure of why and what will happen to currencies next, are flocking to precious metals as a way to protect their money or at least hedge their currency risk. As such, gold has proven to be one of the best performing assets thus far in 2016.

However, that does not mean it will continue outperforming. At any time, new central bank policies might cause this profitable trade to unwind. The potential for a sever downdraft in prices is high. Investors need to be able to weather 1-2 percent changes in price on a daily basis. Can you stomach that kind of volatility?

Over in the oil patch, price gyrations are even more pronounced. Sure, this week we have seen oil gain anywhere from one to 5 percent on a daily basis. Next week, if some oil minister somewhere shoots off his mouth, we could just as easily see declines of that magnitude. The point is that there is no way of knowing what happens next. Therefore, you need to own a portfolio that you can live with in this kind of environment.

We all wrestle with fear and greed. A more defensive portfolio will almost automatically guarantee you a lesser rate of return, at least on the days and months that stocks go up. It is a different story when markets go down. You need to strike a compromise, a balance per se, between what you are willing to lose in opportunity (upside) versus the costs of sustaining double-digit losses (if only on paper) for days or months on end.  I suggest you do that now and if you have questions email or call me.

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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