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@theMarket: The Deals Begin

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

This week's ongoing controversy between Mexico and our new president over trade and the construction of "the wall” has investors concerned, confused and apprehensive. And still the markets gained ground.

I believe we are witnessing the opening gambits of President Trump's "Art of the Deal” as it applies to global economics and politics. It will take some getting used to on the part of investors and all Americans. So far the markets, at least, are going along with it.

We finally hit that elusive 20,000 mark on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. That's no big deal and has little importance to technical analysts. New record highs, on the other hand, which were achieved by all three averages this week, are important.

The S&P 500 Index is inching ever closer to my short-term target of 2,330. The high this week was only 30 points from that mark. Before you ask (because I know you will); there will most likely be a pullback once we hit my target. How much, let's say 3-5 percent.

If I know human nature, right now you are thinking; "if I am expecting a sell-off of that magnitude, why then don't I liquidate my positions, step to the sidelines and get back in at the bottom?”  Sounds easy enough but that's a fool's move for the following reasons: Number one: it might not occur. With Trump in the White House, anything can happen and probably will. We could receive some stupendous news on a new initiative that could send stocks skyrocketing.

Number two: if I sell, when do I get back in? I said a possible 3-5 percent decline. What if it is only 2 percent? Do I wait for more; do I buy back in only to see markets decline another 6 percent?  Do you see the dilemma?

I have fielded enough calls in the past by readers who sold everything because they believed the markets would go down. They were right but then stayed in cash, expecting even further downside. Instead, markets moved higher, much higher in some cases, and then the calls and e-mails began, pleading for guidance.

Do not try to be cute. This is what you must understand as stock investors: lasting declines are brought about by large fundamental changes, for example; war, skyrocketing interest rates, huge tax increases, financial crisis, unexpected declines in GDP, global trade wars, etc. Unless one of the above is in the offing, stock market declines are simply the cost of doing business in the equity market. Readers of my column should know that by now.

On a different topic, whether you want to discuss it or not, the emotionally-charged environment around Donald Trump can and will impact your investment portfolio unless you take care.

Last week, I was visiting clients in Manhattan, which explains the absence of my column. It was an interesting few days in the Big Apple, full of protests and the largest women's march in history. As you may imagine, inhabitants of New York City are not huge fans of our new president. In fact, many there fear the worst for the country and the economy over the next four years.

"Look what he is doing to Mexico," was their lament, "he is threatening a trade war and not just with them. He will ruin the economy and get us in a war with China."

As an investment adviser, I found myself in the peculiar and uncomfortable position of acting as an apologist for the new president. Donald Trump is far from perfect, but I do not believe he is the devil incarnate we all think he is, nor will his policies bring us to financial ruin. He will be a catalyst for change. Whether that change is for the good or the bad, remains to be seen. Until the facts are in, I will stay invested. In the meantime, part of my job is separating fact from fiction and emotion from investing. It is especially important when managing other people's money.

In a world where false information is treated like facts (even among the nation's leading media), where Twitter "tweets” seem to be the new lines of communication between nations and opposing parties paint extreme conclusions to every initiative, my clients (and you) need me more than ever. You may not always agree with me, and I receive mountains of hate mail to prove it, but I promise to do my best to tell you the truth as I see it, even if you don't like it.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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The Independent Investor: A Circus by Any Other Name Is Still a Circus

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

By now you may have heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are set to close in May of this year. That's the third circus in as many years to close their doors. You might say the announcement marks the end of an era stretching back for almost 150 years. I disagree.

The circus will never die. It's been around since the Romans were sticking each other with swords. It is a venue that is constantly changing that I believe will simply continue to evolve. Society has moved on from the need to see blood and guts on the sandy floor of the arena. For the last century and a half, we have been entertained instead by death-defying feats, acrobatics, wild animals and loud music. In today's digital age, where kids (and adults) would rather sit at home and watch television or play internet games, the smell of peanuts and popcorn, intermingled with elephant feces and three rings of lion tamers, human cannonballs and clowns just doesn't cut it.

Over the years, dwindling audiences, rising expenses, competition from other sources, the lack of marketing savvy by owners, and the increasing efforts by animal rights activists have contributed to the dwindling supply of old-time circuses that at one time crisscrossed the country.

The rising cost of attending the circus may have also been an issue. Middle-class families, whose numbers are also shrinking, had long been the bread-and-butter of the industry. In some cities, tickets for a Ringling show could be as high as $125. The cheapest seats, at $25, were still almost twice the price of a movie ticket. Plus everyone expects to buy food and at least one souvenir during a circus event. For a family of five, the costs have become insurmountable.

Despite rising ticket prices, circus costs were also increasing by leaps and bounds. Transportation costs, alone, have doubled over the last five years. The star-system tradition was also adding to the red ink. Year after year, those whose acts brought in the most tickets demanded to be paid accordingly. Billboard names such as Emmitt Kelly, the sad-faced clown, the Flying Wallendas and Gunter-Gabel-Williams, the fearless lion-tamer, took more and more of the profits.

Worst of all was the cost of the animals themselves. At Ringling Brothers, one elephant alone costs $65,000 a year just to maintain. They had 40 of the big guys on the employee list. Add in the cost of other wild animals, plus the mounting lawsuits from animal activists, and you get the picture.

Some say the final straw of "greatest show on Earth" in this increasingly difficult business environment, was their decision last year to drop their elephants from the line-up. Attendance dropped even further as a result. Those who were asked said that without the elephants, a circus was just not the same. That may be true, but last year Cole, as well as the Big Apple Circus, both elephant-heavy big tops, also announced that they will be closing their tent flaps this year.

As the sun sets over the traditional animal-centric circus tent, a new group of modern-day acrobats, jugglers and dancers have taken the viewing public by storm. Led by Cirque du Soleil (the Cirque), a new industry has sprung up. Through marketing, research and innovation, these newcomers have captured the imagination and pocketbooks of an audience that numbers 150 million people in over 300 cities worldwide.

The Cirque realized through market research that what was important to circusgoers were three things: the tent, the clowns and the acrobatic acts — not animals. So they got rid of the most expensive element, the animals, kept the clowns (but swapped their slapstick humor for something more sophisticated), and glamorized the tent. As for the acrobats, they dropped the star system, added artistic flairs they borrowed from Broadway, and included special effects from other traveling acts.

Since then, plenty of imitators have followed in their footsteps. As a result, the present-day circus has evolved into something that is not quite an ordinary circus, but neither is it a classic theater production. What it is though, is successful. In less than 20 years, the Cirque has achieved a level of sales that took Ringling Brothers a century to achieve. The point is that the circus will be around much longer than me or you but like everything in life, it will just be different.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

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@theMarket: Quarterly Earnings Will Dictate Market's Direction Next Week

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Fourth-quarter earnings results for the nation's corporations kicked-off this week. Investors will focus on those numbers as they wait for the really big show at the end of next week.

Our president-to-be will be inaugurated next Friday with all the usual fanfare. Investors and the markets usually ignore these displays of pomp and ceremony, but not this time. Whether it is the mercurial nature of our new president, or the fact that a lot is riding on how successful he will be out of the gate, the stock market is hanging on every word (or tweet) he makes.

Consider his press conference this week. To many, he did not say enough about his corporate tax cutting or spending plans. Traders sold the market down in a hissy fit. The pharmaceutical and biotech sector sold off hard when Trump reiterated that drug companies would be called on the carpet for their pricing behavior.

Buyers, however, saw the market's weakness as an opportunity. As a result, the damage was contained and markets have since recovered. This, I believe, will be what we can expect from the markets in the coming week.  Trump's first hundred days, according to his transition team, are chocked full of initiatives, some, truly revolutionary. I don't see the markets taking a big fall unless it is clear that all of Trump's efforts will amount to naught.

In the meantime, earnings will drive the averages up (or down) depending on how robust the results actually are. Readers, by now, should know that the earnings game is a rigged casino where earnings estimates are deliberately low-balled so that companies can "beat" expectations. As such, the flurry of activity around results is purely trading-oriented and should be largely ignored. What most investors are expecting, however, is that after six quarters of declining earnings results, American companies are on the mend. If overall results do not buttress that belief, then the whole ‘growing economy' thesis could be in jeopardy.

In any event, bank stocks were first out of the gate and results were respectable, if not stellar. This is a case in point. The financial sector has gained almost 17% since the election. The gains were fueled by two factors: the Fed was finally going to start hiking interest rates, which is good for bank lending. Second: investors expect big changes in bank regulation, which would also help bank profits.

Although one day does not make a trend, the initial reaction to Friday's slew of banking results indicate that investors are pleased with the results, and especially with the more than rosy guidance most managers see in their company's future. I do believe that over the long-term, financial stocks are an interesting investment.

But rather than pin my hopes on any change in regulations, I believe the trend toward rising interest rates is what makes the financial sector attractive to me. Sure, I would like to see prices fall back a bit; but nonetheless, I believe that, like health care, the trend is your friend in this sector. If, at some point, Congress does alter banking regulations in a way that further benefits banks, well, that's just gravy.

We have now concluded four weeks of sideways consolidation. I consider this action part of the correction I have been writing about. We are simply digesting the gains made in November and December. Technically, 2,250 is support for the S&P 500 Index. A move below that could easily happen, but would only indicate additional downside to 2,230 or so. That is well within the range of acceptable downside, considering the gains we have made. Stay long for now.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

 

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The Independent Investor: When Your Broker Doesn't Want You Anymore

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Across the nation, various financial institutions, affected by the new "fiduciary" rules issued by the Department of Labor, are making some tough decisions. Don't be surprised if your broker informs you they can no longer manage your company's 401 (k) or other defined contribution plan.

This happened to one of our clients just this week. The couples, both self-employed, had used one of the nation's largest brokers to house and manage their money purchase plans at their companies. A money purchase plan, for those who don't know, is like a pension plan where employees make contributions based on a percentage of annual earnings. This is standard stuff along with profit-sharing plans, 401(k) s and the like. Corporations use these plans as fringe benefits to reward and encourage retirement savings for owners, managers and employees.

All of the above are tax-deferred savings plans and as such fall under the Department of Labor's new rule (starting in April of this year). The rule requires financial professionals who give advice on retirement accounts to act as fiduciaries for their clients. This means they must act in their client's best interests ahead of their own financial gain and that of their company's. They will be required to disclose their compensation and any conflicts of interests as well.

In our case, since we are already fiduciaries, we were able to swiftly transfer both the husband and wife's accounts (worth over $1 million each) to our care and expertise without skipping a beat. We expect that as more brokers and insurance companies come to grips with these new responsibilities toward their client base, we will receive more calls like this.

As you might imagine, most financial services firms are not going to be advertising their decisions to dump you and your corporate accounts. Some, however, are upfront about these changes. For example, State Farm Insurance, which has sold investment products through their 12,000 agents since the early 2000s, will no longer use that model. Instead, they will have a self-directed call center that will make information and other resources available to customers, but they will have to make their own decisions regarding investments.

Mega-broker Edward Jones announced that they will limit access to mutual funds for retirement savers in commission accounts as well as reduce investment minimums to comply with the new rules. I have the feeling that more of these kinds of announcements, as well as letters and phone calls to clients, will happen with increasing frequency as the deadline approaches.

For corporate accounts, this couldn't happen at a better time. More and more disgruntled employees, unhappy with the performance and fees of their company's retirement plan, have pursued litigation to recover what they claim are exorbitant fees and poor performing investments. The DOL fiduciary rule gives the corporate manager or owner the opportunity to transfer their tax-deferred retirement accounts to companies that are already fiduciaries and have thrived under the responsibility of putting their client's interests first. That way, they and their employees can be sure that the investments and fees that are charged are always in their best interests.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.

 

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@theMarket: Markets in Good Shape for Now

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

As the equity markets continue to consolidate around record highs, investors wait for the presidential hand-off on Jan. 20. This could turn out to be the best thing that could happen for the bulls.

Remember readers, there are two kinds of corrections; the kind we have been experiencing for the last three weeks, and the nasty kind that no one really wants to go through. The longer we back and fill, the greater the chances that the next move will be higher.

The caveat, of course, is that investors' expectations will be satisfied, once Donald Trump and Congress get down to work. That could be a big if. So far the only thing the press, the politicians and Donald Trump appear to be engaged in is a discussion on whether or not the Russians tried to hack the DNC and/or RNC. No one has said they got away with it.

Come on people, why are we wasting time on this subject? Ask yourselves how many times the United States government has actively or surreptitiously interfered with another country's election results? My God, American legislatures and presidents have actively condoned all sorts of black ops, bribery and election rigging in other countries for as long as I have been alive. In return, every other country does the same thing with varying success. It is what countries do.

The repeal of Obamacare was the other, more substantial, topic of conversation this week. Note, I use the word conversation, as opposed to any action or concrete proposal, from those who want to trash the Affordable Care Act. As I have written in the past, I expect some of the good parts of that bill to remain in effect. Early indications are that GOP legislators feel the same way.

The initial legislation was never meant to be the end-all or the final version of America's stab at universal health care. The problem was no one in Congress, after the first two years of the Obama reign, was willing to do anything to improve the original legislation. Now, the Republicans are willing to do something. I say it is about time.

Do I really care what name they call it, or if it is done via the public or private sectors?  As long as the GOP makes health insurance more affordable for Americans, I say go for it. Protect our kids and oldsters, while including more and more people into a safety net of health coverage and I'm fine with it. From an investing point of view, the health care sector is one area that I see value right now.

Big Pharma and biotech have been sold off by investors fearing the worst from politicians. Both Clinton and Trump promised to somehow get a handle on drug prices if they were elected. And now, thanks to the attack on Obamacare, the whole health care system could be up for grabs. No wonder investors have shunned those areas. They may be right. But I'm willing to take a chance that, regardless of outcomes, our health care sector will flourish in the future.

This is coming from a 68-year-old investor who has seen the inside of hospitals four times in two years. My knee replacements alone cost upwards of $100,000 and I'm only one patient in a booming business.  Anyone want to bet on how many more times I will be visiting doctors, nurses, or taking prescription meds before I join those ghost riders in the sky? Demographics dictate that more and more Americans will be accessing health care in the years ahead. Bet on it, because the trend is your friend, regardless of whatever tinkering the politicians may do.  

I am starting out this year as a buyer of stocks, especially on dips. It is too early to say whether my bullishness is going to last longer than, say, the first half of the year. There are just too many headwinds--interest rate hikes, stronger dollar, Trump and the Congress--for me to predict anything more than a comic book ending to 2017. All or any of the above could squash the market like a bug, but those issues will take time to work out. In the meantime, there is hope, and an investor base that so far views the cup as half-full. Let's ride that sentiment.

Note: Several weeks of Mr. Schmick's columns in January & February disappeared into the ether on their way to iBerkshires. They are being back posted to the dates on which they should have appeared.

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. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquiries 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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