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@theMarket: Headlines Can Be Deceiving
By Bill Schmick On: 10:57AM / Saturday May 03, 2014
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It was a great April non-farm payrolls labor report. The headlines read that job growth in the Unites States increased at its fastest pace in over two years, while the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low.

Taking a peek beneath the headlines, however, all is not as it seems.

The report indicated that 288,000 jobs were created last month, dropping the jobless rate to 6.3 percent. That was above economists' expectation of a gain of 210,000 jobs. However, the number of workers looking for jobs declined by 806,000. Therefore, they are no longer counted in the employment statistics. Bottom line: a lot of Americans have given up hope in finding a job for good.

A breakdown of jobs was also more than a little disturbing. The most important age groups for jobs in America are those workers aged 25-54. They represent the bulk of our labor force as well as the most productive of all U.S. workers. The total number of their jobs fell from 95.36 million to 95.151 million - a drop of more than 200,000 jobs.

Employment for our younger workers also took a hit. Teenagers (16-19 years old) lost 24,000 jobs while those in the 20-24 age groups lost another 26,000. So who did gain those jobs?

Funny enough, it was workers, aged 55-69, who gained 174,000 jobs. Government was also hiring, and both construction and manufacturing saw employment gains.

Clearly, the economy stalled in the first quarter, as a result of a bad winter and had a deeper impact than first thought on unemployment. We will know exactly how bad when the government releases the next revision of first-quarter GDP growth. The last data point was growth of 0.1 percent. We might actually see negative growth for the quarter when all is said and done. However, I believe that the slowdown is behind us and that future quarters should see accelerating growth.

It is one of the reasons I believe that any pullback in the stock market will be contained over the next few months. The fundamentals of the economy will provide support for this market. Granted, we still need some kind of sell-off in the double-digit category to remove some of the excesses that have crept into overall valuations.

The markets also need time for economic growth to catch-up to market expectations. That process began in the beginning of the year. The sideways chop we have been living with since then is part of that process. A further decline that would last through most of the summer would be ideal. Who knows, maybe this century's madman, Vladimir Putin, may be the catalyst for such a fall.

I know that the majority of professionals are now expecting a sizeable pullback and being in the majority always makes me uncomfortable, but it doesn't make me wrong. I still expect the markets to grind higher, pushing stocks to record highs over the short-term. The Dow made its first record high of the year this week. The S&P 500 Index should breach 1,900 shortly. That's not saying much, since it is less than 20 points away from that level right now.

We could also see a bit of short covering once we make a new high. It could propel the S&P 500 a little further but after that, I am not expecting much. My most bullish case for the markets in the short-term is slightly higher highs with more sideways volatile action as May progresses. I am sure that on-going events in Ukraine will be supplying the volatility while day traders will continue to boost the markets higher until they don't.

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: Blood in the Streets
By Bill Schmick On: 06:41AM / Saturday April 26, 2014
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Investors began to focus on events in Ukraine this week as a continuing stalemate between Russia and the West erupted in gunfire. That bloodshed stopped the market dead in its tracks. The question is, for how long?

Up until now, the dispute over Ukrainian territory has been largely a war of words and an excuse to take the occasional profit every now and then. Investors are worried that might change. Here's what we know.

The international agreement forged in Geneva a week ago has broken down with both sides crying foul. We also know that several pro-Russian militants were shot dead at a roadside checkpoint on in an eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk on Thursday. It was result of the Kiev government’s military attempt to wrest back control of 10 cities that have been occupied by local insurgents (Russian military?).

Russia's response was to launch new military "exercises" along Ukraine's eastern border. Whether Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade the Ukraine in defense of its ethnic Russian citizenry or is simply bluffing is why the stock markets are on hold. Kiev, fearing an invasion, immediately halted its military offensive.

The fact that the U.S this week has committed hundreds of soldiers to its own military exercises in Eastern Europe simply adds to the tension. It is all well and good to pile on economic sanctions in reprisal for Russia’s new-found adventurism, but if even one of our boys takes a bullet over there, escalation would be immediate and quite dangerous.

Speaking of sanctions, it is obvious that measures levied by the West have not deterred Russia in the least. Granted, it is early days and if new sanctions are invoked, there could be some tough times ahead for the Russian economy. However, the private markets aren’t waiting. They are pummeling Russia’s financial markets in earnest.

The Russian stock market has declined 13.5 percent since the beginning of the year, while its currency, the ruble, has lost 8.8 percent of its value during the same time period. To make matters worse, Russia's economy was already slowing to only 1 percent GDP growth this year, prior to Putin's annexation of Crimea. Russia's central bank has been forced to raise interest rates twice to defend its falling currency and only today hiked them again to 7.5 percent on sovereign debt. That will compound the economy's problems.

At the same time, the debt credit agency Standard and Poor's, cut Russia's sovereign debt rating to its lowest investment grade, BBB-minus, just one step above "junk" status. That is sure to accelerate capital flight which, during the first quarter, topped $70 billion. But is this really a deterrent in the short-term?

Throughout history, the hunger for more political power has always trumped national economic consequences. In fact, the more misery heaped upon the Russian people, the more Vladimir Putin can blame the West. It would be similar to Hitler, who argued that it was Europe and the Jews that were responsible for Germany's post-WWI woes.

Given the reality of blood in the streets of Slovyansk, the stock market's reaction has been remarkably sedate. Many bears are just looking for an excuse to take this market lower. They argue that investors are simply not recognizing the level of risk involved in this confrontation. That may be so.

It is impressive that, instead of crumbling under this geo-political pressure, we find the S&P 500 Index is less than 30 points from its all-time high with the other averages at similar levels.

The bulls point to earnings as a reason to buy. There have been some upside surprises this week in earnings with some big name technology companies releasing surprising numbers. Of course, as is customary in the earnings game, expectations had been driven downward over the course of the last three months by Wall Street analysts, so that even the worst results managed to come in better than expected.

By now, you should be at least 30 percent cash. Clearly, the volatility in the markets is increasing. We are still in a wide trading range.  Russian risk is a concern and could generate more short-term selling. Keep your eye on gold and the yield of the U.S. 10-year Treasury note. If interest rates drop dramatically, while the gold price spikes higher, be prepared for further conflict overseas and a fast drop in the markets.

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: Easter Bunny Bounce
By Bill Schmick On: 03:55PM / Friday April 18, 2014
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This holiday-shortened week saw a relief rally that began on Monday and carried through until Thursday. The markets still have further to go in the coming week before we once again reach the top of this four month long trading range.

The question that haunts both bulls and bears is when and in what direction will the markets finally break out or break down? As readers are aware, I believe that there is a high probability that stocks will do both in the weeks ahead. We could easily see the S&P 500 Index, for example, reach a new high, possibly 1,900 or beyond.

However, at some point this spring, that index and others will rollover. The resulting decline will be nasty, scary and absolutely meaningless in terms of this 2014's full-year returns. But the trading range will be broken on the downside, as a result. How bad could it get?

Let’s say the S&P 500 Index begins to rollover at 1,900. A 10 percent decline (190 points) would put the average at 1,710. A 15 percent sell-off would equal 1,615. That would simply put us back to the levels we enjoyed in October of last year.

Readers may recall that back then the Fed was still talking about tapering, although it wouldn't be until January that the Fed would begin to cut back on stimulus. Market commentators were warning that the market was overheated and due for a big pullback. Investors earlier that month were concerned that the government would be shut down (it was) and we would default on our debt. Job gains were modest at best and the strength of the economy was a question mark. Pimco's Bill Gross was writing that all risk assets were priced artificially high.

The point of this recent history in hindsight is that dropping 15 percent would only return us to a level where investors thought the markets were too high anyway. Since then, of course, many changes have occurred and all of them positive. Employment and the economy are showing great gains. Corporate earnings have increased. The political stalemate in Washington has at least quieted down. And the Fed has begun to taper but, contrary to popular opinion, interest rates have not sky rocketed.

Times change, however, since then we have risen almost 20 percent in six months. Seasonally we are not in October, but moving instead into spring. That is usually a down period in the markets (sell in May and go away) compounded this year by the mid-term election cycle (also a bad time for markets historically). We have not had a 10 percent correction in over two years — a market anomaly. Bottom line: we are set up for a pullback, but exactly when it occurs is a question no one can answer with any accuracy.

So far, the markets are following my playbook practically page by page. Stocks bounced off their lows on Friday and started this week in rally mood. The technology-heavy NASDAQ led the charge upward with the other averages following. At its low, NASDAQ had dropped almost 10 percent.

The last two weeks of April have been pretty good for the markets historically. All the tax selling is now out of the way and investors are re-establishing positions in various stocks. Chances are that we should re-test the recent highs and do so quickly. Hold on to your hats.

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: No Spring in the Stock Market
By Bill Schmick On: 06:46AM / Saturday April 12, 2014
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As spring finally arrives throughout the country, you would think the stock market would celebrate, but not this year. The indexes were slammed again this week and we can expect more of the same in the months ahead.

By now, if you have been following my advice, you have already raised some cash by selling your most aggressive equity holdings. How much cash you hold is up to you. However, before you sell more, remember, that this sell-off is only a temporary state of affairs. By the fall, you want to be fully invested once again.

In the meantime, don't expect the stock market to simply drop like a stone. What I expect is a series of lower highs and lower lows. That process is beginning to unfold right now. So far this week, we have about a 3 percent decline in the S&P 500 Index. The tech-heavy NASDAQ has had a far greater decline, dropping that much in a day.

Momentum and biotech stocks have been the name of the game since the beginning of the year. While the overall markets simply vacillated up and down over the last three months, those stocks were winners with some names gaining 30-50 percent. Most of those companies are traded on the NASDAQ. Now that the markets are pulling back, it is those same stocks which are leading us lower.

When I first warned investors of a coming sell-off, I mentioned the over-heated initial public offering market (IPO) as one clear early-warning sign that the markets had risk. I noticed that this week, which was billed as the busiest public offering week since 2007, actually flopped.

Only three out of seven new companies actually made it to market, while the others postponed due to market conditions.

By now, most of my readers (and clients) have become accustomed to volatile markets.

Many of you lived through the devastating declines in 2008-2009. We endured together several major declines together since then. We suffered through periods when the markets were going up and down 1 percent or more per day, so what we face this spring and summer should be small potatoes to you.

Those trials and tribulations have seasoned you. As veteran investors, you can live through this decline. You realize that this too shall pass. The key in the months ahead is to maintain your composure, resist making emotional decisions and, if you still have not raised some cash, I want you to do so as the market once again climbs to (and possibly breaks) the old highs.

My suggestions would be to sell small or mid-cap stocks or funds. Large cap growth funds are also a good idea, but resist the urge to just sell everything. Markets can be a quirky lot. The past has taught us that stocks can turn on a dime and if you don’t have skin in the game when they turn, you stand to lose quite a bit.

Sure, I'm looking for a 10-15 percent  decline, but what if stocks reverse and go higher before that? In October  2011, the stock market gained 9 percent in just seven business days. By the time some investors got the courage to get back in the markets had erased almost half their decline.

That's why you play the percentages when investing.

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: A Crowded Trade
By Bill Schmick On: 04:37AM / Saturday April 05, 2014
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Just about everyone on Wall Street has jumped aboard the bandwagon by now. Sure there are some that still think the market can go higher but the vast majority of investors are now expecting a major pullback. Welcome to what's called a crowded trade.

Pundits are elbowing their way into the limelight on a daily basis sounding warnings of the imminent demise of the stock market. Traders are short and investors are selling as everyone eyes the exits. It appears all we need is someone to shout "fire" for the panic to begin. I wish it were that easy.

It has been over a month since I first warned that this quarter could be problematic for stocks. I was deliberately vague on exactly when this pullback would occur because a "topping out" process takes months to unfold. By the time many equity indexes react and the general public begins to register this process, many individual company stocks could be down 20-30 or even 50 percent.

Over the past few weeks I have brought your attention to several ominous signs that this process is occurring. Usually, small caps decline first and then mid-cap stocks with large cap names the last to feel the brunt. This week I also noticed that the major decline in "momentum" stocks are starting to spread further afield. Some big names in the financial, industrial and healthcare sectors, among others, are getting hit hard.

However, remember that this is a process. All the doom and gloom-sayers of last week, who were convinced that the correction had begun, backpedaled this week. They were flummoxed when the S&P 500 index hit another record high. The NASDAQ turned on a dime and raced higher, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average came within two points of breaking its historic high. No sooner had they wiped the egg from their face when all three averages plummeted again on Friday.

Folks, this is part of the process. It is not popular or pleasant, but it is extremely volatile. As such, I would not be surprised if sometime next week, after a further decline, markets do a one-eighty and reclaim the highs. Clearly, we need this consolidation process. After all, the S&P 500 index is up 179 percent from its 2009 lows. Small cap stocks, as represented by the Russell 2000 equity index, have become more expensive than at any time since 1995.

So let's get down to the nuts and bolts. What should you do? You can sit back, ignore the drama, suffer some paper losses and come out even by sometime in the fourth quarter. Or you can raise some cash by selling some of your most aggressive investments. Wait for a reasonable decline, say 10-15 percent, and re-invest the money. Finally, if you think you are good enough: go to cash and buy back in at the lows. Good luck with that last bit of advice.

Sure, I will endeavor to tell you when that will occur but honestly, how can I accurately pick a bottom when I can't pick a top? No one can and if someone claims they can, well, read their column or invest your money with 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.



     
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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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