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@theMarket: Stocks at Bottom of Trading Range

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

This week was a little more promising. At least it was better than going down almost every day, as we did last month. Is this a pause or can we expect something more?

Something more is my bet, but whether it is up or down largely depends on the direction of oil. I did notice, however, that there were days this week that the oil price was not in lockstep with the markets. There was even talk that stocks and energy prices might decouple in the weeks ahead. Whether that is wishful thinking or a possibility will take more than a day or two of evidence.

I have insisted that no one knows where the bottom is in oil. Yet, a consensus seems to be forming that $30 a barrel, (give or take a few dollars), is where traders are willing to take a punt and buy energy. That may be true and I hope it is because that would mean the downside for stocks are limited. I still expect the S&P 500 Index to re-test its low of January. That would set us up for a nice rebound into March, but so far it has not happened. Instead, it appears we have established another trading range between S&P 1,875 and 1,920. We are close to the low end of that range right now.

Investing is a game of patience. Most of us do not excel when it comes to practicing that virtue. We want the pain to go away now. It is most tempting to just get out, but the truth is that the pain is simply replaced by a high level of emotional stress. You feel an increasing level of anxiousness as you worry about when to put your money back in the markets.

In the meantime, the daily "noise" continues. There is an increasing chorus of "recessionists," who worry that the economy is rolling over and it's all the Fed's fault. The January jobs report today did nothing to dispel that gloom. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 151,000, well below expectations of  190,000 new jobs gained. The unemployment rate did drop however to 4.9 percent.

Recall that I have been closely watching the rate of increase in wages. It is an important inflation variable for the Fed in deciding when and how much to raise interest rates. Average hourly earnings increased by 12 cents or 0.05 percent. That leaves the year-on-year wage gains rate at 2.5 percent, still far below the average. I doubt the Fed will hike rates until that number goes appreciatively higher.

Investors, however, are in an irrational state of mind where bad news is bad news and good news is also bad news. And so the disappointing jobs data forced markets lower. You would think that if traders were really worried that more interest rate hikes would hurt the economy, than weak employment data should have been good for the market. It is just another instance of a technical driven market.

One thing that I will be watching this weekend is China's expected announcement of their foreign exchange reserves. Supposedly, China's currency, the yuan, has seen more than $1 trillion in outflows since summer 2014. Chinese investors, worried about their economy, have been fleeing the yuan. They have been buying other currencies, especially the dollar, which they believe is a safer haven for their money. As a result, the dollar has strengthened and that's bad for our exports and the companies that sell them.

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: Stocks Rebound

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

It had to happen at some point. The averages declined almost every day for three weeks in a row, so a relief rally should be expected. The question is will it continue?

Unfortunately, that depends on the price level of oil. The bounce in stock prices that began on Wednesday was directly related to the bounce in oil. Oil has gained over 10 percent in just two days. Traders believe we still have not seen a bottom however. No one knows when and at what price oil will finally bottom. Until it does, stocks will be held hostage to the energy market.

No one knows when and at what price oil will bottom. Until it does, stocks will be held hostage to the energy market.

In the meantime, everyone has a theory for why the global markets have had such a tumultuous three weeks of declines. Some are saying that the markets are predicting a future event, most likely a global recession. And that it is simply not showing up yet in the economic data. The problem I have with that line of thinking is that the stock market has not been an accurate indicator of recessions (predicting the last nine out of five recessions as an example).

China is another worry. Investors fear that the Chinese government will continue to devalue their currency, the Yuan, causing a currency war while somehow slowing the growth of their economy even further. No question that the Chinese economy has slowed and is presently growing at "only" 6.8 percent, but from a much larger base.

Then there are the Fed heads who are blaming the decline on our Federal Reserve Bank, as if a quarter-point rise in the Fed Funds rate could remotely impact the strength of our economy let alone that of the global marketplace.

Since none of these arguments make the least bit of economic sense, in my opinion, I have to believe that what we are going through is a technical correction. As such, there is no use in trying to come up with the reason for this sell off.  Markets, on occasion, need to pull back to a level where buyers once again appear. At some price level investors will perceive that there is real value once again and then the correction will be over. Have we reached that level?

It's hard to say. I have written that we have been overdue for a 20 percent correction. The last one was in 2011. If we measure this pullback from the highs of last December, we have declined about 13 percent on the S&P 500 Index. On Wednesday, for a brief moment, that index touched 1812. That was eight points below the support I talked about in my last column. It rallied from that level and we are still climbing as of this writing.

However, neither the NASDAQ nor the Dow Jones has yet to hit their August/September lows. That can be taken two ways. Either there is more downside to come or the bulls will argue that the other averages have not confirmed the lows of the S&P 500 (a positive divergence). My opinion is that we most likely have more downside before all is said and done, but from what level?

That depends on oil as well as stocks. The S&P 500 Index should at least reclaim the 1,900 level, if not higher. After that, depending on the data, I am guessing we re-test the lows of this week before I can sound an all clear in both markets. I am guessing we re-test the lows of this week. Don't even consider selling anything at this level. This is a time to be buying not selling because I fully expect markets to recoup all of their losses in the months ahead.

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: Nowhere Land

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Most of the stock market went nowhere this year. With the exception of the NASDAQ, the rest of the market returned investors less than the average yield of a yearly CD.

It was a disappointing year, to put it mildly. Recall the months of tension as the markets gyrated between up 3 percent and down by about the same amount. Then August hit and the markets declined precipitously, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average collapsing 1,000 points in a matter of minutes. Sure, the markets recovered, but if you had tried to trade that downdraft, you would have lost even more money, because the markets turned on a dime in October with no warning and recouped all of its losses.

What's worse is that all the culprits that generated negative returns for stocks are still with us. The declining price of oil continues to ravage investors. You may wonder why declining energy prices should be such a negative for the stock market. Conventional wisdom says that if prices continue to decline, the chances of bankruptcies in the energy patch escalate and that is negative for stocks.

I may disagree, but at the same time you don't argue with the markets when they get obsessed over something. No matter how crazy or irrational, you have to go with the flow until the flow changes. Then there is investors' angst that the central bank will raise rates again and again despite the anemic 2.2 percent growth of the economy. If they do raise rates 3 or 4 times in 2016, investors fear that it will crater the economy.

Finally, global growth continues to be anemic with China's growth the main concern. As China's economy (the second largest in the world) struggles to find its footing, the country's demand for natural resources also slows. This has caused the price of all kinds of commodities to go into free fall. But we know all this.

As we look ahead, one more uncertainty will gradually increase in importance in 2016.

The U.S. presidential elections will become a larger influence on the market as November approaches. At this point, most investors have no idea what candidates will ultimately face off in the fall.

In a presidential election year, there is normally a down draft in the stock markets sometime before November. How deep the sell-off and how long it lasts depends on a great many variables. Not least of which is investor's perceptions of who will win and what they will do differently from the old administration. The more unorthodox or radical the political platforms of the candidates, the more concern (and volatility) will be generated in the stock markets.

So for this coming year, investors should expect more of the same: volatility, angst, crazy swings in commodity prices, daily interest rate predictions from the Fed Heads and volumes of meaningless noise from the financial media. The days when you could just sit back and clip coupons or just assume a steady climb in stocks are over. You need to manage your investments now or find someone who can, and by the way, have a Happy New Year.

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: Santa Comes to Town

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

He certainly took his own sweet time getting here. Investors had just about giving up hope that the traditional Santa Claus Rally would occur this year. But despite gyrating energy prices, worries over the economy and the looming next earnings season, stocks are on the upswing.

Of course, I am writing this on the Wednesday before Christmas because even the most devoted columnists take off on the holidays. We could still fall back tomorrow, but the markets are only open for a half the day so I'm guessing we maintain this week's gains.

It would be nice if the market continued higher into next week. If so, my forecast of a single-digit gain this year might actually unfold. Let's stay optimistic, shall we and hope for the best. In the meantime, investors, Wall Street strategists and assorted pundits are becoming increasingly downcast concerning the prospects for next year.  

The litany of worries is growing. I already mentioned earnings, which begin shortly after the New Year. Forecasts are somewhat dismal with the usual cast of culprits responsible for the expected disappoint results. Oil, the strength of the U.S. dollar, forecasts for further interest rate hikes, growing default risk in the energy patch, weakness of world economies, led by China, these concerns are nothing new to us. They have kept a lid on stock market performance all year and it looks like they will continue to weight on the market in 2016.

About the best you can say is that these issues are well known and, for the most part, already discounted by the markets. That leaves some room for upside surprises. There is a good chance that Chinese officials will announce further stimulus measures to turnaround their economy early next month. Some companies are going to report better than expected results in January and many will do better than analysts predict. They always do.

Most Fed Heads do not expect another rate hike by the Fed before at least the end of March, if then. Oil prices still remain a wild card and while I do not think energy prices have bottomed, there is at least a 50-50 chance that we could get a "dead cat bounce" before energy resumes its slide. That too would cheer the market, at least in the short term.

It could explain this week's market come-back, which has been led by a rise in energy prices. Beaten down material stocks have also been in favor although there has been no triggering event that would justify such moves. Unfortunately, that calls into question the durability of this rally.

Nonetheless, let's all be grateful for any gains at all. Next week could see a continuation of this up move, in which case, the year could end in positive territory for all three averages.

Given that it is an optimistic time of year, I'm betting for more gains. In the meantime, put the markets on hold for the rest of the week and have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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: Where Oil Goes, So Goes the Market

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Stocks had a tough week. All averages are now negative for the year once again and will continue to go lower until oil finds a bottom or the market disconnects from energy prices. The problem with that scenario is that no one knows if and when that will occur.

The price of crude is down 14 percent since December 1 and 35 percent since May. Controversy rages over whether the precipitous decline in oil over the last year from $114 a barrel to $36 a barrel is a supply or demand imbalance. New technology in the form of hydraulic fracking has unearthed a huge new supply of natural gas and oil worldwide. So much so that consuming these new sources of energy will require decades. At the same time, slow economic growth worldwide, especially in emerging market economies, has dampened demand for energy.

Whether the cause of the decline is one or both, the results are the same. Since May, the world has been experiencing a 2 million barrel/day gap of oversupply. What is interesting is that gap remains the same to this day. It hasn't worsened, although the oil price has declined double-digit in the last eleven days. Why the discrepancy between the fundamental facts and the price level?

Blame it on Wall Street. Financial manipulation in the futures markets seems to be responsible for the 36 percent decline in prices we have experienced since May. Traders have been shorting energy futures contracts hand over fist at the Commodity Markets Future Exchange and that practice accelerated after last Friday's disappointing OPEC meeting.

One can debate the logic of selling stocks simply because oil has declined. Bears will argue that as the oil prices go lower, the chances go up that energy companies will not only suffer earnings declines and cut dividends, but "many" may actually go bankrupt. That could also impact the corporate bond market. No question that could happen.

We have already experienced disappointing earnings from the group and just recently some energy master limited partnerships have cut their dividends. More are expected.  But one must ask how much does the energy sector represent within the stock market? If we look at the benchmark index, the S&P 500, the energy weighting is currently 8 percent and yet its troubles have taken the whole market down in excess of 3 percent just this week.

This is clearly a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Yet, no matter how irrational the market's behavior, what you don't want to do is get in the path of a speeding train. I'm not advocating selling right here, but I also don't want to be buying anything until I see how this energy free-fall plays out. I can't tell whether the clearing price for oil is around this level or at $30 a barrel or even lower. Until that becomes clearer, remain on the sidelines.

In the coming week, we also have the final Federal Open Market Committee meeting of the year. The bond market is giving an interest rate hike at the meeting an 87 percent probability.

Although I believe the market has already discounted that event, the coming rate hike is not helping matters. Still, I think all these worries are short-term in nature.

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the market ignores the fundamentals and instead focuses on the animal spirits that sometimes run rampant in the markets. This is one of those times.

At some point in time, when an oil-Armageddon does not materialize, the market may simply focus on something else. If I were a betting man, I would say that we rally after next week's FOMC meeting into the New Year. At these levels, however, all we will gain back is a single digit gain for the year. I'll take it.

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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