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@theMarket: Fed Passes the Ball to Congress
By: Bill Schmick On: 01:03PM / Saturday August 27, 2011
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By now everyone knows the outcome of Ben Bernanke's speech at Jackson Hole on Friday. For those looking for a cure-all from the chairman of the Federal Reserve, his speech was a disappointment.

Overall, the markets were not nearly as disappointed as one might imagine. I suspect the smart money (see Thursday's column "Can the Fed Save the Markets") was not expecting much in the way of new programs. Of course, Chairman Bernanke promised to take another look at the economy on Sept. 20, when next the FOMC meets, but don't hold your breath.

Although the Fed still has some tools it could use if necessary, the Fed is not omnipotent when it comes to stimulating the economy. There is, of course, quite a bit that Congress, the Senate and the White House could do and the chairman made it clear that the ball was now in their court. He also warned those who are hell bent on cutting spending in congress to be careful what they vote for. He warned that the economy is as fragile as an egg shell right now.

To underscore that point, the second-quarter GDP was revised down again on Friday to only 1 percent from 1.3 percent just a few weeks ago. At that rate, we are teetering between a recession or sub-par growth. I still give a double-dip recession less than a 50 percent chance, in my opinion, but more ineptitude in Washington or a new, negative shock from Europe could tip us over the edge.

The stock market is at an extremely precarious level right now. The averages could go either way, but I believe there is still more downside risk than upside potential over the next few weeks. As a result I remain defensive and nothing that I have seen this week has changed my mind.

Some investors were encouraged when Warren Buffet announced he was taking a multibillion dollar stake in Bank of America. Yet investors should remember that Buffett is a long term investor and is not fazed if the prices of stocks he invests in subsequently go lower, in some cases, much lower, before finally rebounding. And in some cases, his investments do not pan out at all.

I would continue to use any rallies to reduce your most aggressive equity holdings and instead focus on dividend and income investments. Now, even the Fed is looking to our dysfunctional government leaders for new initiatives to reduce unemployment and increase economic growth and that does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

The stock market is in the middle of a bounce right now and I expect that both volatility from Europe and additional selling pressure from concerned investors will drive the averages back to their recent lows. There is a high probability that those lows will fail to hold.

As for this weekend's arrival of Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, experts are predicting that it could cost billions in damages not to mention loss of life. Hurricane Katrina was considered one of the costliest natural disasters to hit America in years. It caused $125 billion in damages and lopped 0.05 percent off the nation's GDP. Let's hope and pray that Irene does not prove to be that bad. The last thing we need is another economic catastrophe. But as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.

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.



Tags: Fed, recession, weather      
Independent Investor: Can the Fed Avert Another Selloff?
By: Bill Schmick On: 11:23PM / Thursday August 25, 2011
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The safe bet would be to write about something else because by the time you read this Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke will have already given his speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo., scheduled for Friday morning. I'm betting that whatever he says won't be enough to save the stock market from further decline.

The stock market has been climbing over the last week in anticipation that the Federal Reserve will, like last year, announce another monetary stimulus program similar to QE II. There are several problems in betting on that outcome in my opinion.

No. 1 is investor's knee-jerk expectation that the government will save the stock market every time we have a selloff of 10 percent or better. We have become conditioned to expect some sort of governmental intervention ever since the 2008-2009 financial crises. That's when the TARP Plan was passed, followed by the stimulus plan, the extension of the Bush tax cuts and the cut in payroll taxes, not to mention last year's QE II announcement almost exactly a year ago today.

The second problem is that the Fed has already done quite a bit to stimulate the economy with mixed results. Their announcement of just a few weeks ago that they will keep interest rates low until mid-2013 is actually an extension of QE II, (call it QE 2 1/2). I doubt that they will be willing to move much beyond their present efforts until the economic data clearly indicates further weakening.

There has been some talk that the Fed might change its focus from buying short-term U.S. Treasury bonds to buying long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. I am at a loss to understand why they would want to do that. Lowering long-term rates would theoretically make borrowing cheaper. An implicit assumption is that lower rates would encourage long-term investment in plant and equipment. The problem with that theory is that large corporations already have record amounts of cash to invest but are still not investing in long–term projects. They believe there is simply too much uncertainty within our political system, our regulatory environment and in the economy to warrant additional investment right now.

As for smaller corporations, those that represent the majority of America’s work force, only those businesses that don’t really need to borrow are eligible for loans. It is not the level of interest rates that prevent banks from lending. It is the uncertainty that loans to small businesses will be paid back that has created an almost complete cessation of new lending in that arena. It has already been shown (via QEII) that banks are not willing to lend no matter how low rates fall.

In any case, it is not our economy that has been driving markets lower. The financial problems in Europe are what have most investors spooked. Make no mistake, Europe's problems are serious and their leaders have yet to come up with a decisive, comprehensive plan to deal with their financial problems. The Fed's actions here won't resolve the problems on the other side of the Atlantic.

In summary, unless the Fed pulls a bull-sized rabbit out of their hat tomorrow, the markets will swoon. Let's see what happens.

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.



Tags: QEII, Fed, sell off      
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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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