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The Independent Investor: Boomers' Kids Don't Want Your Stuff
By Bill Schmick On: 05:39PM / Thursday August 06, 2015

You saved all your life, acquiring all sorts of assets that you now want to leave to your children. Today, more and more Baby Boomers are finding that their kids just don't want that antique auto or that original oil painting.

Too many of us fail to recognize that the Millennial generation has grown up with an entirely different view of the world, their possessions, one's life style and even value system. This may come as a shock. It did to me. As readers may recall, my wife and I have been downsizing for three years now. During the course of this process, we have offered our thirtysomething daughter and her husband all sorts of stuff that they didn't want. From snowboards to unopened Tiffany wedding gifts, they politely and gently declined our largesse. This includes larger assets as well.

We have, for example, the luxury of owning two homes, a weekend place and another dwelling close to the office. Although my daughter loves to visit and has a real sentimental attachment to the "country" home, she really has no interest in inheriting the old homestead.

"I just couldn't afford the upkeep and maintenance," she says. "It wouldn't be feasible."

If you haven't had this discussion with your kids, maybe you should.  I have learned that there is a major difference between how my generation (and my parent's generation) spent their time, versus today's Millennials. Previous generations spent most of their lives in pursuit of stuff. We worked to acquire stuff and spent most of our time buying, collecting, storing and enjoying our possessions. Any spare time we had was devoted to maintaining and repairing these symbols of our success. Many of us prided ourselves by measuring our self-worth by how many possessions we acquired.

When asked why we needed two houses, four cars and 11 wide-screen televisions, we answered "why, to leave to the kids and the grandchildren of course." We assumed our future generations would value, maintain and accumulate even more antique rugs, dining room sets, golf clubs etc. Brother, it's time to face the truth. They don't want our junk, no matter how valuable we think it is.

For one thing, they don't have room for it. I recently wrote a column on the growing trend by Millennials towards living in smaller houses, apartments and even trailers. My daughter has no room for my teakwood bookcase full of thousands of DVDs and CDs that I have painstakingly collected through the years. She shakes her head quietly while grinning at me, wondering why in the world I still own those things when all of these media products can be easily and simply obtained on the internet and stored/streamed through the Cloud.

In addition, most of our kids value mobility, adventure and experience far more than we did. Given the choice between spending $20,000 on a new car, or a three-week African safari, most of them would choose Africa. The argument that the automobile would last years longer than that safari doesn't faze them in the least.

To them, stuff has to have a purpose. It must be a means to an end, not the end itself. If something new accomplishes a purpose more efficiently, they dump the old and embrace the new. That may sound unsentimental or even ungrateful but it isn't. It's just different.

My daughter still wants to keep certain objects that evoke memories of our past together. Usually, they are small and hardly the most valuable objects. But they are valuable to her and in the end that's what counts. As for the rest of that stuff, my advice is to sell it, give it away, or dump it and spare your children that chore.

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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@theMarket: Month-End Musings
By Bill Schmick On: 03:36PM / Saturday August 01, 2015

While the summer months are usually the slowest season on Wall Street, July has proven to be anything but. As we enter the month of August, can we expect the same?

Whether we focus on overseas markets or review our own, it is clear that volatility remained and will remain elevated. Overseas markets in Asia took it on the chin, while the United States was trapped in a trading range that will continue in the month ahead. The good news is that this range appears to have an upward bias, so we can expect some minor new highs as time passes.

For the month, the S&P 500 Index managed to stay above water with a 2.2 percent gain bringing the year's total to an unsatisfying 2.4 percent. Large cap stocks beat small cap stocks, which are down 1.7 percent (but still up 2.2 percent for the year). China, on the other hand, one of my favorite overseas investments, saw its largest monthly loss in six years with the Shanghai market down 14.3 percent. European shares (another recent recommendation) gained 4 percent for the month after plunging earlier as the Greece bailout debacle roiled those markets. The U.S. dollar rose 2 percent but most traders expect the greenback to continue to consolidate in a trading range after experiencing big gains last year.

The commodities markets were where the largest declines occurred in July. Oil dropped 15 percent. Precious metals also declined, led by gold, which was down 7 percent. King copper (off 9 percent) led other base metals and materials lower. The agricultural commodity sector also felt the heat with wheat dropping by 18 percent, corn by 10 percent and soybeans 9 percent.

Investors blame the commodity decline on a perceived slowing of the world's economies led by China. Although the macroeconomic evidence is murky at best, most traders would rather sell first and find out the truth later.

"Is this a buying opportunity," asked one California client recently?

 "Not yet," I answered, and here's why.

While I suspect the commodity space is experiencing the kind of wholesale massacre one looks for when the end of a cycle is in sight that does not mean it is time to buy.

To me, commodities are an asset class that experiences boom and bust periods that sometimes will last for several years or more. The latest boom was a decade long and could now be followed by declines that can last an equal amount of time, depending upon the global economy, the inflation rate and industry specific factors like new and more efficient methods of mining, growing etc. For the most part, commodity prices also tend to under and over shoot their fundamental value and that's what makes investing in them somewhat speculative.

Let's take gold as an example. Gold began its latest run back in 2002. It climbed from $279/ounce to above $1,900/ounce by 2012. That 10-year run has been followed by a decline to its present price of around $1,090 today. I have been looking for a further decline to under $1,000/ounce. Assuming that's the bottom for this precious metal, that does not necessarily mean you should buy gold or any other commodity at that point.

Many commodities will usually take several years after that to "base," once they have made a low. During that further consolidation period, any investments you might make will be dead money. Dead money means your investments go nowhere. In the case of commodities, since none of them pay dividends or interest, the opportunity cost of buying and holding them could be severe. Better to wait until the beginning of the next bull market before committing money to this asset class. That could be another two years from now. I'll let you know.

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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The Independent Investor: Supermarkets Evolve to Survive
By Bill Schmick On: 03:29PM / Friday July 31, 2015

We take our local supermarkets for granted. Like gas stations, there seems to one on almost every corner, at least in suburbia. With competition from a variety of sources, supermarkets have been forced to reinvent themselves and are doing a good job doing just that.

Historically, supermarkets are a low-margin business, barely eking out 1-2 percent profit margins annually. Even the "hot" areas of the grocery market, like natural. organic and gourmet food emporiums only command 3 percent to 6 percent margins but to the big store chains that's an attractive option.

In addition, the supermarkets industry is highly fragmented with the top 10 chains only accounting for 35 percent of the total number of grocery stores (although they account for over 68 percent of total industry sales in this country). In order to increase profitability, supermarkets are reinventing themselves and benefiting the consumer in the process.

Given that I'm the cook and grocery shopper in my family, I have some firsthand experience in shopping through this transition and so far I like what I see. Clearly your local megastore is going after the natural and organic food shopper. Most readers already know that you pay more for those items, substantially more in some cases. Have you also noticed that you are seeing more "local vegetables" right alongside those that are shipped in from elsewhere? If you are price conscious (like me) you might also notice the price difference. You could be paying as much as 50 cents more per pound for that locally grown spinach or kale but its fresh and you are supporting local farmers, right?

Supermarkets are adding other products and services where profits are far higher than that box of mac and cheese on sale every other week. Look for those "specials" to continue since middle and low-income shoppers account for 70 percent of grocery sales. Most shoppers tend to be price conscious and will switch if they feel that one chain’s prices are better than another's. In fact, super stores are marketing their weekly special flyers with renewed effort. The name of that game is to get the shopper into their stores.

Since food shopping is essentially a sensory experience, the grocery store is hoping that once in the door the consumer will be susceptible to the siren call of other more high-priced items that promise a variety of convenience, culinary and even educational experiences.

More and more markets are adding pharmacies, bakeries, coffee shops as well as salad bars, chef-prepared entrees, brunch stations and gelato bars. And God forbid if you go shopping hungry. I fully acknowledge that the sushi bar or an impulse order of hot wings at the grocery store has replaced my occasional visit to a fast-food burger chain or restaurant. All of that adds meat to the supermarket's net profits.

Since I, like 92 percent of American adults, believe that eating at home is healthier (and cheaper) than eating out, my main objective in the supermarket is still shopping for fresh food. However, I'm frequently drawn to the seafood or butcher's counter where the slicing, dicing, marinating and stuffing has been done for me by the store's "sous chef."

These wily grocers are also bundling together other meal components right next to the meats and fish, which are easy to prepare and taste almost as good as my own, with a few finishing touches.  I admit that on busy weeknights, going this route makes fixing dinner for two an easier and faster affair. Granted, I'm paying up for the pork roast with cranberry stuffing but still paying less than I would going out to eat. The supermarket’s profit is much higher as a result.

I'm still not using the online applications that stores are offering. There are well over 1,000 apps offered by my iPhone right now and that number is growing exponentially each day. More and more establishments are offering lessons in everything from basic cooking to preparing for your next Super Bowl party. Healthy eating for you and the family, educational courses and advice in weight loss management, heart, diabetes, food allergies and even family mealtime management are now offered along with countess recipes and food guides.

The bottom line seems to me that we are all paying more while the supermarkets are making more as a result, but the added services and products seem to be a fair trade. That's a win-win for everyone.

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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The Independent Investor: Are You Ready for El Niņo
By Bill Schmick On: 01:51PM / Thursday July 23, 2015

It's that time again. Trade winds in the Pacific are blowing west to east, pushing warm water to the surface. In times past, those conditions created havoc with much of the world's weather creating everything from fires to floods, sometimes, in epic proportions. Some weather models predict this year's El Niño could rank among the worse.

El Niño ("boy child" in Spanish) has been around for a long time, but it was only in the early '80s that scientists realized the global impact of these events. Their potential intensity is difficult to predict because they interact with other natural climate factors, which can change the outcome.

Since predicting the strength of a potential El Niño is about as risky as predicting the direction of the stock market, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will only deal in probabilities. They predict an 85 percent chance that El Niño this year will be "strong." So far this summer the 2015 El Niño is about tied with the 1997-1998 El Niño in terms of intensity. That's a bit troublesome since the 1997-98 disturbance turned out to be a record-setting event.

The social and economic impact of an El Niño on the United States varies, depending upon where you live and the changing weather patterns. This year, we will feel the strongest impacts of El Niño in the fall and winter. Some of us could actually benefit somewhat, depending upon where you live.

In New England, one can expect a milder winter than average. Snowfall should be less and winter temperatures above average, although we could still experience a few Nor'easters, especially in the beginning and end of the season. The East Coast, overall, should see a much calmer hurricane season. That would be good news in terms of lower heating bills, storm damage, lower insurance claims and business disruption, especially in the retail sector.

Other areas of the country might not be so lucky. In general, summer agricultural crops in the U.S. and Canadian grain belts do well but winter crops not so much. Most often the weather change will bring cooler wetter winters to most southern states.  A strong El Niño often brings heavy rains to places like Texas, the Southern Plains and California.

That might not be a bad thing if it breaks the horrendous drought that has strangled the food and farming economies in these areas for the past few years. The issue will be how much is enough? Back in 1997-1998, heavy rains created terrible flooding, mudslides and death, especially in California. In February 1998, a series of storms caused $550 million in damages and killed 17 people in California.

All in all, the U.S. tends to avoid the worst effects of El Niño, while countries in Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa and Latin America bear the brunt of these weather patterns. I experienced those conditions first hand while visiting and investing in Peru, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in 1997-1998.

In Peru, entire towns were wiped away in terrible landslides. Mountains literally tumbled into the Pacific Ocean, burying everything in their path. Fires in Indonesia were so bad that the entire region was blanketed by haze and smog that left your clothes and skin black with ash. These uncontrolled fires decimated crop production in one country after another causing poverty, starvation and ultimately social unrest.

The decline in food production by so many nations had a beneficial impact on our own farming exports but at the expense of so many others. Hopefully, this time around, if El Niño is as bad as some predict, governments in those potential danger areas will be more prepared. But how much they can do, aside from controlling the customary slash and burn style of agriculture, is questionable.

There is no guarantee that this El Niño will develop into another record-breaking event. But temperatures to date this year are already far above average around the planet and many weather models are predicting that 2015 will be the warmest year on record. That simply increases the odds that this boy child of a weather pattern could evolve into a real temper tantrum of nature.

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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@theMarket: O Ye of Little Faith
By Bill Schmick On: 09:28AM / Saturday July 18, 2015

What a difference two weeks make. Back then, if one took the warnings/advice of the media and much of Wall Street, we were facing financial Armageddon. Today, the markets are flirting with new highs. What lessons can we learn from that?

Number one: the media's first and foremost objective is to sell advertising, if that means scaring its target markets into staying tuned (or reading the next page) then so be it. And I'm not just talking about the fringe elements. Greece, China and Puerto Rico led the list of doomsday stories that littered the headlines of some of the top news organizations both here and abroad.

That's where Wall Street comes in. Reporters need sources and like politicians, many financial soothsayers thrive on publicity. They are more than happy to pontificate on "what ifs," which somehow become facts when translated into news stories.

Despite the fact that Greece represents less than 2 percent of Europe's GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the "Herd" intimated, hinted, or predicted (depending on who you were listening to) that the contagion effect of leaving the Euro would drag us all down into Hades. Greek Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party was counting on just such a reaction from financial markets when he engineered his "No" referendum two weekends ago.

When the end of the world did not materialize, Greece did an abrupt about face and rushed back to the negotiation table. Since then, Greece has passed an austerity program and is now in the process of receiving much-needed bailout money. Greek banks and financial markets are planning to re-open this coming week.

In my last column, I advised readers that any fallout from the Greek debacle either here or abroad should be viewed as a buying opportunity. It was. World markets experienced a sharp but brief pullback. Since then various European markets have risen almost 10 percent, not counting the currency movements.

On our side of the pond, the financial mishaps in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, also spooked investors. Even the doomsayers had a hard time linking events in Greece to what was happening in Puerto Rico, but they tried. Some would have had us believe that what was happening in P.R. "might" happen in other municipalities like Chicago. Since then Puerto Rico has come up with a plan to restructure its debt, but that news never reached page one.

Finally, we have the Chinese stock market. Readers might recall that I was expecting a 20 percent decline or more in that market given its spectacular performance over the last 12 months. That prediction turned out to be more than accurate, since at its low the mainland Chinese markets were down over 30 percent.

Predictions that this market, which is relatively closed to foreign investment, would somehow provide a Black Swan event that would engulf our market and send the world into a financial meltdown was ludicrous. But, in an atmosphere of fear and worry, it was taken at face value by a panicked investing public. That decline was and is also a buying opportunity, although I suspect few have taken advantage of it.

Where does that leave us? The U.S. markets are at, in the case of NASDAQ, or nearing historical highs. So far this quarter's earnings have come in better than expected (surprise, surprise). The Fed is still making noises about hiking interest rates an infinitesimal amount before the end of the year. Greece has averted another calamity but the drama is far from over. I expect more Chinese government support to bolster their stock market.

We can expect 2-3 pullbacks or more in the stock market of between 3-9 percent every year. We just had one. As I have advised readers all year —stay invested and ignore the background noise.

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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The Independent Investor: Boomers' Kids Don't Want Your Stuff
@theMarket: Month-End Musings
The Independent Investor: Supermarkets Evolve to Survive
The Independent Investor: Are You Ready for El Niņo
@theMarket: O Ye of Little Faith


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