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The Independent Investor: Same-Sex Marriage Good for Business
By Bill Schmick On: 04:58PM / Thursday July 02, 2015

Last week's Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage at the federal level was greeted with a sigh of relief by most large companies. It also makes my job a lot easier as well. Here's why.

Previously, the myriad laws that allowed or disallowed gay marriage cost the private sector at least $1 billion annually. Over two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies were offering health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners in states that did not recognize their marriage. That incentive became a nightmare for human resources departments throughout the country that tried to square their practices with that of the states.

Spousal benefits for employees' same-sex partners were also more expensive, since some states and the federal government taxed those fringe benefits for gays, while heterosexual married couples were tax-deferred. That caused many same-sex employers to offer gay employees a bigger salary to compensate for these tax costs.

Companies also have had a harder time recruiting workers with same-sex partners to states where their marriage isn't recognized, where varying laws require corporations treat same-sex marriages differently depending on the state.

From my own experience, advising clients in same-sex relationships to plan for the future has been extremely difficult. In addition to the confusing and contradictory nature of state laws in regard to gay marriage, the federal government has also been a Gordian knot of confusion. Regulations and interpretations of same-sex marriage were handled differently depending on the government agency. Different bureaucracies, whether in Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor, Social Security and even the Railroad Retirement Board had all devised different interpretations of what constitutes a gay union and its benefits (or lack thereof). In addition, there are more than 1,000 federal laws and regulations that currently apply to married couples and these same laws will now need to be reviewed and re-evaluated with all couples in mind.

The Supreme Court ruling now allows our LGBT clients to simplify what had been complicated estate plans, including trusts and living wills. Since same-sex marriages will be viewed the same as other marriages, much of the estate planning can now follow a more standardized process. Spousal beneficiaries of pension plans, 401 (k) and other tax-deferred and IRA plans, as well as spousal health insurance benefits, will no longer be in question.

Some sources have guesstimated that the same-sex decision could generate as much as $2.6 billion in an economic windfall over the next three years. The $51 billion a year wedding industry should see a boost in business for sure. Others calculate that the tax savings from reporting a combined income and other cost savings by the LGBT community will result in additional consumer spending.

Economic benefits aside, last week was a great week for Americans, in my opinion. The court's upholding of Obamacare, the 5-4 decision in favor of gay marriage, and witnessing the families of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church forgive the alleged murderer of its family and congregation members were all momentous events. This week, I'm proud to be an American.

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 Market: Second Quarter Earnings on Deck
By Bill Schmick On: 07:53PM / Sunday June 28, 2015

Next week we get to do it all over again. The second quarter ends in three days and investors will begin to focus on company results once again. The first quarter was nothing to write home about and the second quarter may be more of the same.

The final revision of first quarter GDP resulted in a contraction of minus-0.02 percent, which was less than the minus-0.07 percent decline that was originally reported. The culprits: bad weather, the West Coast port disruptions, a decline in energy spending and a strong dollar. Over the second quarter some of these negatives should begin to dissipate.

Weather has taken care of itself. The ports are back to business, although the logjam that was created by the labor strike could linger on and spill over into some companies' results. Energy spending is still down with little hope for an uptick until oil prices improve. After reaching a bottom in the low $40s, oil has traded in a tight range around $60 a barrel for weeks.

The dollar has halted its ascent and has also been trading in a tight range against most other currencies over the last several months. That may have allowed multinational companies to hedge their exports at more reasonable levels. However, the dollar has not really declined much from its 12-month highs. That could mean there could still be currency related earnings declines.

Wall Street analysts had originally been predicting earnings would decline by 4.7 percent last quarter, but when all was said and done earnings actually registered a 0.30 percent growth rate while the total revenue decline was minus-2.9 percent. At the end of March, analysts were still expecting that second quarter earnings would decline by minus-2.2 percent. So far 77 companies have issued negative guidance for the quarter, while only 29 have issued positive forecasts.

The earnings season won't get into full swing until the second week of July, but given the lack of other things (except Greece) to fret about, investors may pay undue attention to the results. As I have mentioned before, I'm not looking for many upside earnings surprises this quarter. Earnings will be ho hum for the most part and as a result will continue to cap any potential gains in the stock market here in the U.S. I expect we will see much better news in the third and fourth quarters, however.

Where does that leave us — in a continued trading range that could take us into August or even September. We could see a 5-6 percent pullback at some point, especially if the Fed does decide to raise rates in the fall.  If so, I would expect any sell-off to be temporary at best and an opportunity to buy the dip. In the meantime, I still see better prospects overseas.

China is in the midst of a much-needed pullback in its A shares market. We are only 100 or so points from a full 20 percent correction in that market in just two weeks. As I have warned readers several times, Shanghai is one of those wild and wooly markets that should not be more than 5-10 percent of anyone's portfolios.

But it is almost always a good idea to buy "when the blood is running in the streets," as Baron Rothschild once said. It doesn't get any bloodier than this in Shanghai for those with a brave heart and nerves of steel. No one ever calls the bottom, but buying a little at a time as a market declines is the way I do it.

As for Europe, investors are exhausted over the wrangling between Greece and its creditors. I believe that any negative fallout from Greece has already been largely discounted by the markets.  Stay invested, stay calm and use any declines, especially overseas, as a buying opportunity.

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: Tiny Houses Gain Appeal
By Bill Schmick On: 05:01PM / Saturday June 27, 2015

In this era of tight credit, high-priced McMansions and rapid life-style changes, the American Housing Dream may no longer be defined as a three-bedroom homestead on half an acre.

For many Americans of all ages, there is a movement afoot to downsize their living space dramatically.

The typical American house is around 2,600 square feet. Until recently, builders were taking the "barbell approach" by building bigger and bigger homes at one extreme and smaller and smaller apartments on the other. This trend, I suspect, largely reflected the growing disparity toward higher income inequality in this country. The rich, builders reasoned, wanted and could afford the sprawling monstrosity with the private drive and manicured lawns, while the poor were happy to have a roof over their head.

But more and more Americans are "going tiny" for a variety of reasons. No question that buying a typical small house or even a trailer that measures 100-400 square feet is decidedly cheaper than a regular home. Most of us spend 1/3 to 1/2 of our income over a minimum of 15 years paying off the house.  In contrast, over 68 percent of those who own tiny houses have no mortgage. As a result, over half of tiny house people accumulate more savings than other Americans.

Homes also require a lot of time and effort to maintain. It is one of the main reasons that retirees are "downsizing" but that is not the only reason. Aside from the on-going expense, environmental concerns, such as fuel consumption, also play a part in that decision. More than 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions during a home's 70-year life are attributed to electricity and fuel consumption. In addition, many Americans are going through life-style changes. More and more of us Baby Boomers are embracing the fact that we can live far more comfortably in a smaller place.

And it is not just the oldsters who are joining the tiny movement. The Millennial population, which is transitioning from cozy student housing and small apartments, do not have the "bigger is better" expectations of their parents. Their preference is walkable convenience, smaller, more innovative abodes that allow for hi-tech convenience and less time and effort on the upkeep.

The younger folk want to ride or walk to work, be surrounded by shared amenities like fitness centers, a comfortable neighborhood and other amenities outside the home. It may be why only two out of every five tiny homeowners are over 50 years old. Tiny house owners are also twice as likely to have a master's degree and earn a bit more than the average American.

In addition to tiny houses, some mobile entrepreneurs and millennials are choosing trailers as a viable alternative to tiny homes. Like many retired Baby Boomers, Millennials fashion themselves as footloose and free, able to work for themselves, whether in the high-tech world or in the service industry. To them, the RV is made to be moved, aerodynamic in form, much cheaper than a house and without the building codes, insurance and other legal stuff that conflicts with their lifestyle.

One popular made-in-America brand, Airstream, is the current rage of young entrepreneurs attracted to the retro-look and feel of the aluminum trailers. The company can’t keep up with the current demand. Recently Airstream partnered with the Columbus (Ohio) College of Art and Design to create a camper with a workspace and living area marketed toward 20- to 30-year-olds whose jobs don't tie them to a specific place. Airstream is currently evaluating the design for possible new product introductions.

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: From Russia With love
By Bill Schmick On: 08:05AM / Saturday June 20, 2015

The newest wrinkle in the Greek debt crisis occurred this week when Greek officials met with Vladimir Putin to discuss a gas pipeline extension as well as the possibility of lending the cash-strapped nation additional funds.

Deliberate leaks to the press during negotiations, accusations that Europe is blackmailing Greece and constant grandstanding by Geek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has not only turned off EU, IMF and ECB negotiators, but has created a growing chorus of those who just want an end to the farce. There will be another last-ditch attempt at some sort of reconciliation on Monday, in an emergency summit of sorts in Brussels. Greece still has 12 days to make its monthly debt repayment of $1.8 billion to the IMF.

It is somewhat interesting that Tsipras, who is the leader of a nation that has been long-called "the Cradle of Western Democracy," would be embracing Putin, the antithesis of all-things democratic. To me, it is simply another bargaining chip. A desperate Tsipras, who has increasingly painted his nation into a corner, has managed to alienate and increasingly isolate himself and his nation from the rest of the European Community. Thus we see Putin enter stage left.

The Russian gambit is to peddle investment and loans for influence and political gain. The two nations are discussing a preliminary agreement to build a gas transmission extension of its Turkish Stream pipeline that will bring more Russian gas to Southern Europe over the next few years. This is a multibillion dollar project for Greece, which is starving for capital.

The last thing the U.S. wants to see from a geopolitical point of view is a growing alliance between Greece and Russia. That could present a strategic nightmare for the U.S. and NATO. A decisive shift in Greece's allegiances from the West to Russia could roll up NATO's eastern flank. At the same time, it would most likely end any chance of maintaining a united front with Europe in the context of continued economic sanctions against the Russians.

All of this posturing is keeping traders on edge going into the weekend. Rumors that Greek banks won’t open on Monday, that a deal is in the works between the ECB and Greece and any number of other stories are flying around Wall Street on an hourly basis. Readers, there is no way you can position yourself for what is to come. The outcome and the reaction of global markets are impossible to call.

What I can say is that if the worst happens and Greece gets booted out of the Euro, it will only have a short-term impact on markets. It would be (in my mind) a buying opportunity and not a reason to sell.

As for the rest of the world, China (as I warned readers last week), is correcting with the Shanghai "A" shares market down over 10 percent since early June. What's the potential downside from here? I'm guessing a total 20 percent correction at worst, which would leave the "A" share market at the 4,000 level (versus 4,478 today). Given Shanghai’s 100 percent plus gain over the last 12 months, that’s not something I’m too worried about.

The U.S. market once again dropped to the bottom end of the trading range. Pundits predicted even worst to come but stocks did a U-turn instead gaining 3.5 percent in three days. Once again, the Fed's FOMC meeting was the catalyst for this most recent spike higher. No never mind that neither Chairwoman Janet Yellen nor the Fed said anything new. My advice: kick back, stay invested and watch the fireworks next week. It should be amusing.

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: Robo-Advisers Have Landed
By Bill Schmick On: 04:00PM / Friday June 19, 2015

Skynet, move over. The dawn of intelligent portfolio services is rising across the globe. Depending upon your individual circumstances, this trend could be an answer to many investors' problems.

Exactly what is robo-investing?  The dozen or so firms offering this service use computer algorithms, rather than humans, to manage your investments. They do so at a considerable cost savings to you, the retail investor. They offer a substantial discount in the fees they charge, compared to more traditional financial service advisers.

Until recently, many investors had two choices when deciding how to manage your retirement savings such as an IRA or inheritance, for example. You could do-it-yourself (DIY). Pick some mutual funds, stocks or exchange traded funds your cousin or your fishing buddy suggests and invest for the "long-term." That works fairly well as long as markets continue to gain year after year, but fails miserably when the markets turn, as they did during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Most individuals (and professional investors) held on throughout that decline only to sell at the bottom. Twenty-five years or more of savings were wiped out in 18 months. Many retail investors have stayed in cash ever since, missing a 100 percent-plus gain. Those who held on have made up most, if not all of, their losses, but it has taken over five years to do so.

The other option is to hire a financial adviser. Unfortunately, they normally have a minimum asset requirement of $250,000-$500,000 or larger. These advisers will charge you 1-2 percent annually and many also make additional fees through commission arrangements or "revenue sharing" deals with mutual fund managers.

The problem with the DIY approach is that most individuals are not able to invest their own savings, nor should they. They may excel at their chosen career but those skills do not normally transfer to money management. As for hiring an adviser, many investors can't make the minimums; especially younger people, who are just starting to save.

Robo-advisers, on the other hand, normally set their minimums somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. For that initial investment, they will manage your money via computer, charge you half of what a real-live adviser will charge (or less), and some even give you access to investment professionals, who will answer questions about the investments.

Some advisers such as Charles Schwab, the discount broker, charge no fees or commissions in essence, free money management, but readers should be aware that nothing is free. The robo-adviser may insist that 10 percent of your portfolio always remain in cash. That money can be used by the broker in any number of ways that can generate them a good return while making nothing for you.

Robo-advisers can also make money on the investments they select for you. They could, for example, invest you in higher-fee, exchange traded funds or their own brand of ETFs, if they choose. The point is that these robo-advisers are in this to make money, and they do. The fact that they do should not deter you from investigating this further.

Clearly, there is nothing new in how they invest you. There is no "HAL" out there whose artificial intelligence is going to make you brilliant investment choices and returns. All of these firms base their investment guidance using Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH) and an analysis of your risk tolerance profile. These are all standard tools of any money manager. They simply down-load this into a computer and invest you accordingly.

If your investment skills are zero to none, robo-investing may be exactly what you need. Your returns may not be spectacular but at least you will have returns. For those of us who have sought the poor man's answer to proper investing, this may well be 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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The Independent Investor: Same-Sex Marriage Good for Business
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The Independent Investor: Tiny Houses Gain Appeal
@theMarket: From Russia With love
The Independent Investor: Robo-Advisers Have Landed


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