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@theMarket: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
By Bill Schmick On: 04:00PM / Friday April 05, 2013
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This week, for the first time all year the S&P 500 Index has sustained more than a 1 percent pullback. It needs to correct somewhat more, and despite the short term pain, this sell-off is a good thing.

Have you ever asked yourself why a tea kettle has a spout? It allows steam to escape so that the water within does not boil over. That's what periodic sell-offs accomplish in the stock market. Daily new highs, weeks of successive gains, chasing stocks — all of those indicators were out there. As I have written over the last month, it was just a matter of time before market discipline exerted itself. I'm hoping the decline will continue for a few more days and purge some of the excess exuberance out of the markets. So why not sell now and try to catch the bottom later?

If you can do that successfully, you're a better man than I, Gunga Din. But in the past, readers may recall, I have done just that. I have successfully told readers when to sell and when to buy back in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, so why not now? The difference this time is the extent of the decline I am looking for.

In the past, each of my sell recommendations encompassed a correction in stocks of at least 10 percent. This time I don't see that. We may experience a decline that approaches the 10 percent level but, in my opinion, a decline of that magnitude is not warranted.

You see, unlike the last few years, I don't see the kind of market risk that precipitated big declines. The EU, Greece, Washington, U.S. debt downgrades, as well as fiscal and monetary uncertainty has been replaced with what — Cypress? Bumpy unemployment numbers? North Korea sabre rattling?

None of the above has the power to crater this market. The present concern over the last few weeks' jobs numbers should be put in context. Remember that a lot of construction jobs were created by Super Storm Sandy, however, those repairs are winding down. At the same time we are starting to feel some of the ill-advised (in my opinion) sequester cuts starting to show up in the data.

Clearly those cuts will do little good for the economy but they won't sink it. As long as the Fed keeps pumping dollars ad infinitum into this economy we are all sitting pretty. On the plus side, the recent decision by the Japanese monetary authorities to follow our central bank's lead and stimulate their economy to the tune of 7.5 trillion yen is truly unprecedented.

I was talking to a 30-year veteran of Japanese investing, Michael Longthorne, a managing director of Mizuho Securities, who described the move as "strapping a rocket onto a go cart." We concluded that after over 20 years of economic stagnation, there is the potential that the world's third largest economy (after the U.S. and China) could become a real factor once again in global economic growth in the years to come.

Bottom line, markets will use just about anything as an excuse when a pullback is overdue. My advice is to ignore the jibber jabber, ignore your short-term paper losses and look forward to a good year of double digit gains in your investment accounts.

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: Gambling Could Be Your Next Download Application
By Bill Schmick On: 05:06PM / Thursday April 04, 2013
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Last month, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill allowing regulated online gambling within their state. Nevada already has such a network in place as do several other states. Many state capitals across the nation are also debating the same type of legislation. There is a real possibility that someday soon you may be able to play the roulette wheel from your living room couch.

Depending on how quickly the right to gamble via the Internet occurs, people will be able to bet on casino games from their mobile phones, laptops and other Internet hardware. That has created some concern among those who believe gambling is an addiction. However, state legislatures appear to be ignoring those issues as they forge ahead with plans to legalize this form of gambling. And given the numbers it involves, it is easy to understand why.

Globally, online gambling is worth $30 billion and is expanding at a 2-3 percent rate annually. It is estimated that 51 percent of the world's population partakes in some form of gambling.  At the same time, by the end of 2013, 39 percent of the world's population will have access to the internet. That represents 2.7 billion people.

Both vendors and state tax officials are eyeing Europe as a model for potential U.S. expansion. Europe experienced a 45 percent increase in a total online gambling yield last year largely because Europe has the highest penetration of internet access (75 percent of the population) in the world. More and more officials realize that when you combine the public's desire to gamble along with the growth and penetration of the internet the numbers become staggering.

So as the Internet expands, so do the opportunities to offer several forms of wagering, casino betting and poker. To date, Southeast Asia has been the main driver of growth, followed by Europe. America comes in a poor third, but thanks to the Federal government things are changing here.

The 2011 decision by federal courts that online gambling was not illegal gave new life and impetus to advocates of online betting nationwide. To date, seven states have moved to enact legislation. So far the plans only include casino betting but the real jackpot would be legalized sports betting over the internet.

New Jersey voters approved a ballot initiative for sports betting back in 2009 and Governor Christy signed sports betting into law, but the federal government sued to block it. The case is now being heard before the courts. No matter who wins, the case is expected to go all the way to the Supreme Court before a verdict is final. If the courts decide in favor of sports betting, a boatload of states is expected to push for passage among their own citizenship.

Opponents are afraid the proliferation of sports betting will breed corruption, addiction and tarnish the image of sports figures throughout the sports world. Advocates maintain these arguments are hypocritical at best, pointing to the fact that Americans gamble in casinos, racetracks, off-track betting parlors, and even lotto and other state lotteries but neither crime nor corruption has resulted from these endeavors.

Behind this new development are those old most popular of motivators: fear and greed. A generation ago, Atlantic City, New Jersey, was the only game in town for east coast gamblers. The boardwalk properties generated enormous tax revenues, tourism and profits for the casino owners and the state.

Over the last 20 years, however, there has been an explosion of state-sponsored casinos cutting in on the action. The tax revenues generated by New Jersey and the windfall profits of the Indian Reservations of Connecticut, coupled with inflows of new tourist money was simply too lucrative to resist.

In the case of New Jersey, all this new competition has reduced the "take" on the boardwalk, driving down profitability and state tax receipts as well. Officials fear it will only get worse as new states like Maryland and Massachusetts grant licenses. Internet gambling is a way of turning that situation around.

I suspect it will give a boost to revenues for both the gambling industry and state governments in the short term. However, like the experience of New Jersey casinos, I'm sure internet gambling will reduce both attendance and profits at existing gambling hubs such as racetracks, off-track betting parlors and the like. In the end, we may simply see a shift away from physical betting to internet betting without much of a change in the dollar value of the betting.

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: An Educational IRA for Kindergarten and Above
By Bill Schmick On: 06:38PM / Thursday March 28, 2013
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Most savers are familiar with state-sponsored 529 Plans, a tax-advantaged savings plan to help put your children through college. However, there is another savings plan that could assist you in meeting the bills for school Grades 1 through 12 as well as college. It is called a Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA).

This plan is ideal for families with multiple children or who want to start saving for their children's educational needs early in their lives. In addition, if you are thinking of sending your child to an independent or private school (or prep school) prior to college then this ESA is meant for you.

You can contribute $2,000 annually to an ESA, although similar to a Roth IRA, contributions are not tax deductible. However, the earnings on contributions and distributions are tax-free as long as they are used for educational purposes. The tax-free money can apply to tuition, room and board, computers, laptops, supplies, tutoring and transportation as long as they are legitimate educational expenses. Attendance at colleges, secondary or elementary schools, as well as vocational schools and other post-secondary educational institutions (whether public, private or religious) are eligible.

Take the example of my grandson, Miles, he is 16 months old, lives in Manhattan and faces horrendous future educational costs. His mother wants to begin saving for his education now. I can't blame her. There are kindergartens in the Big Apple that will set you back $40,000, if you are so inclined. Private grammar and high schools could easily cost $100,000 plus.

Now $2,000 a year in savings doesn't sound like much if you live in Manhattan, but it will certainly help and elsewhere it could be a windfall for many lower-income families. If invested properly, five years of $2,000 contributions could generate a considerable amount of money. Money that would certainly pay for some of the expenses every child will incur through high school and beyond.

So what, you may ask, is the downside to ESAs? The $2,000 contribution per year, per student is negligible compared to the $14,000 a year you can stash away in a 529 Plan. There is also an income limit which kicks in for single taxpayers making over $110,000/year and married couples making over $220,000.

You also have to use the money before the child turns 30 years of age, otherwise the earnings (not the contributions) will be taxed and a 10 percent penalty will also be applied. You could avoid that by simply rolling over the full balance to another ESA for another family member.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act signed into law January 2nd removed any lingering uncertainty concerning the future of ESAs. They are here to stay just like 529 Plans. But unlike their bigger more popular brethren, you can manage your ESA yourself while saving hefty expenses that 529 Plans charge.

Many savers have also been disillusioned with the performance of their 529 Plans thus far. That is an important point since many hoped that the growth of these plan contributions would at least match the rate of increase of educational costs, which are about 6 to 7 percent a year.

If one can afford it, most planners recommend that families contribute to both plans. You still have time to open an ESA account and make a $2,000, 2012 ESA contribution. You can also contribute another $2,000 for 2013 if you are so inclined. The paperwork involved is no more onerous than a standard IRA application that you can obtain from most brokers or your local bank. Do your kid a favor, open an ESA today.

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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Market Watch: Looking for an Excuse
By Bill Schmick On: 04:44PM / Friday March 22, 2013
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You may be wondering how an island nation with an economy smaller than Vermont could set the world's stock markets on edge for most of the week. The short answer is the markets are looking for any excuse to take some profits.

That's not to say that I am ignoring events in Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean with a bit over a million inhabitants. The Cyprus problem is simple. Their banking system holds $176 billion in deposits — about eight times the nation's GDP — and some of these banks are in deep financial trouble. They need a bailout similar to the rescue packages given to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

For the first time since the financial crisis began back in 2008, the EU has changed the rules for a bailout. In exchange for $13 billion in funds, the Cyprus government must raise $7.5 billion on their own. To do that, the EU wanted them to tax all their country's bank accounts of 100,000 euros or more (about $130,000). What would you do if that happened here?

Two words: Bank run. As soon as Cypriots got wind of this scheme they stormed the ATMs of all their nation's banks, but they weren't working. Then the government said they would take steps to prevent any money from leaving the country. Chaos ensued. Parliament convened and it only took until Tuesday before the Cypriot government rejected the scheme out of hand. That still leaves the question of how and under what terms the country will be able to receive a bailout.

What spooked investors was the possibility that what happens in Cyprus could happen in other parts of Europe. Was the EU signaling a new and potentially damaging approach to Europe's financial problems? Would bank depositors in Spain, Italy or elsewhere be next? This is serious stuff, since the only thing keeping a depositor's money in any particular bank is the belief and trust that their money is safe. If there was even a possibility that some government in financial distress might swoop in and "tax" 10 percent of your money, what would you do?

So the specter of a potential bank run throughout Europe was one of the "what if" scenarios making the rounds of Wall Street this week. It seems to me that every governmental financial institution around the world has gone to extreme lengths to convince depositors that their banks are safe. I can't see what anyone would have to gain by changing that policy.

It may simply be that since the lion's share of high net worth depositors in Cyprus happens to be Russian moguls, the EU may be trying to scare the Russian government into becoming a part of a Cyprus bailout plan. Who knows?

As for the U.S. market, you know my opinion. I'm bullish, but expecting a pull back. Investors used this obvious piece of negative fluff as an excuse to sell a little stock. If one looks hard enough, you can and will find something to worry about. This week it was Cyprus. Next week there will be something else. Stay invested.

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: Will Beer Become an Acquired Taste?
By Bill Schmick On: 05:18PM / Thursday March 21, 2013
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Twenty-five years ago, American beer had more in common with spring water than with one of the oldest beverages of the human race. Today, thanks to a return to the methods of the past, microbreweries and craft beer brewers are hoping to create a renaissance among beer drinkers in America.

Overall, beer consumption in America has seen a steady decline for the past 20 years as consumers abandoned the practically tasteless, calorie-loaded brews in favor of new product offerings in the wine and spirits industries. In hindsight, the launch of Lite beers only made the matter worse. Beer experts debate whether the consolidation among American brewers using mass production techniques accelerated that downtrend or was simply a survival response in the face of disappearing profits and plummeting sales.

It doesn't matter, since the end result was the same. Today, two megacompanies (Anheuser-Busch InBev and Miller Coors) control 90 percent of the American market. That amounts to roughly $200 billion in sales, or 2.787 billion cases last year, a 1.3 percent decline from the prior year. The two big companies now have so many brands that your local bar can offer eight different brands of beer on tap and, unknown to you, all of them are made by the same company using roughly the same brewing procedures and priced carefully to create an illusion of real choice.

However, there is a burgeoning niche market of craft beers with names like "Flying Dog," "Green Pig" and "Sierra Nevada" that have wrestled a 6 percent market share from the big guys largely built on a return to producing beer in smaller batches with the highest quality ingredients. These mini-breweries have been embraced by as many as 50 million Americans. The segment grew 15 percent in volume and 17 percent in dollars last year, equating to about $10.2 billion in sales. There are 2,347 craft breweries operating in this country as of last year, comprising 1,132 brewpubs and 97 regional craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association. Most beer industry analysts expect that the craft-beer market share will continue to climb as more consumers are willing to pay up for tastier brews with hints of dark molasses, cherries and other exotic flavors.

The blossoming renaissance in demand for beer produced by small, independent brewers can be traced back to Boston Beer Co., the brewer of Samuel Adams beer, almost 30 years ago. Since then the market and the microbreweries have expanded to the point where the market is becoming even more segmented.

For example, a distinction is growing between microbreweries, especially regionals such as Sam Adams and Yuengling, which now account for as much as 1 percent of the overall beer market, and those breweries that produce no more than 6 million barrels of beer annually. They can usually be found within 10 miles of their customers.

Craft brewers, according to the criteria, should be independent, with less than 25 percent of their brewery owned or controlled by another alcoholic beverage industry member. Brewers should have at least 50 percent of its volume composed of all malt beers, which uses adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. Craft brewers, like great chefs, take the basic ingredients of beer—water, yeast, malt and hops — and produce wonderful and unusual flavors through innovation and education.

Recently, the two big brewers have been muscling their way into the micro and mini-markets producing their own brands disguised as craft beers. The attraction of higher profitability and additional growth, given that craft beers can cost twice the price (if not more) of a mass-produced domestic beer, makes that market irresistible.

The competition within the beer sector has always been fierce. There are now more breweries in this country than before Prohibition. It will be interesting to see whether once again the big guys, through money and clout, force the crafters off the shelf and out of the bars.  In the end, I believe, it will come down to whether America's consumers are willing to pay up for a sip, rather than a gulp, and acquire a taste for truly exceptional beer.

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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MCLA Athletic Training Major Wins EATA Scholarship
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Senator Downing Hosts Town Hall Forum on Wednesday
2015 Pittsfield 4th of July Parade Theme Announced
Goodwill Offers Soft Skills, Custodial Workshops
Cultural Pittsfield This Week: Jan. 30-Feb. 5
Berkshire County Arc Accepting Applications for 2015 Scholarships

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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