Sunday, March 29, 2015 03:31pm
North Adams, MA now: 36 °   
Send news, tips, press releases and questions to info@iBerkshires.com
The Berkshires online guide to events, news and Berkshire County community information.
SIGN IN | REGISTER NOW   

Home About Archives RSS Feed
The Independent Investor: The Grecian Drama
By Bill Schmick On: 03:24PM / Thursday February 12, 2015
Important
0
Interesting
0
Funny
0
Awesome
0
Infuriating
0
Ridiculous
0

Greece is once again on center stage as the world looks on, wondering if this time the country's finances will finally implode. It is a play we've seen before and its outcome fairly predictable.

Several weeks ago, I warned readers to expect turmoil in Greece. As expected, the anti-austerity party, Syriza, was elected in a nationwide election at the end of January. The new prime minister, Alexis Tspiras, has promised the voters that the spending cuts, tax increases and other austerity measures leveled on Greece by the "Troika" (the IMF, ECB and the EU) would come to an end.

The austerity measures were agreed to by the previous Greek administration in exchange for a three-tranche, $272 billion bailout, which runs until the end of this month. Until the elections, the Troika was insisting that Greece implement even more measures to reduce the country's debts and spur economic growth. Now both sides are seeking a compromise.

The Troika has offered to extend the bailout package for several months to give both parties time to come to a compromise. No deal, say the Greeks. Greece evidently has learned that they can cut a better deal for themselves if there is a clock ticking in the background. They are counting on the Troika caving in to at least some of their demands by the end of the month.

As it stands now, Greek banks are already in a jam, since they can no longer use their government's bonds to borrow funds from the ECB. Instead, they have to rely on their own central bank for emergency funding. Investors have dumped Greek stocks and bond yields have spiked higher as a result. Yet, the panic we've seen before under these circumstances just isn't there.

There is a growing faction within the EU, led by Germany, who believes that a Greek exit from the EU and the Euro is probably the best outcome for everyone. After all, Greece has a long history of going in and out of bankruptcy. Some argue that it was only invited into the original European Union because it was the "birthplace of European Democracy." Its economy and finances, some argue, were never strong enough to warrant a seat at the EU table.

Others say that it is the precedent that counts: if Greece exits the EU, than others may be tempted to do the same, namely countries such as Portugal, Ireland, Spain and even Italy. All of the above are suffering from their own austerity/bailout deals with the Troika. And this is where it really gets messy. If Greece gets its way, by either renegotiating its debt and the austerity program, other countries will demand the same thing.

At the moment, both sides are still talking in a marathon session that could conceivably last through the rest of this week and into next. Tspiras, who knows full well that the major stumbling block to getting what he wants is a reluctant Germany, is attempting to muddy the water. He is demanding billions of Euros in World War II reparations and unpaid debt from Germany. It certainly plays well with the populace, who have long felt that Germany has never paid its fair share for the damage the Nazis have done. The stoic Germans, pointing to two separate agreements in the 1950s and 1960s, say that issue is a red herring as far as they are concerned.

My bet is that despite all the bluster, Greece needs Europe more than Europe needs Greece. At some point in the near future, Tspiras will back off and agree to some face-saving measures that will give his country a bit more time to get its act together. That may lead to similar measures in the case of other problem countries. End of story.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments            
@theMarket: The Labor Market Is on Fire
By Bill Schmick On: 06:18PM / Saturday February 07, 2015
Important
1
Interesting
0
Funny
1
Awesome
0
Infuriating
0
Ridiculous
0

Non-farm payroll employment increased by 257,000 jobs in January and the gains for the preceding two months were revised upward as well. Even better news was hourly wages that jumped 0.5 percent in January to $24.75 after declining in December. That's the biggest gain in six years and bodes well for the economy overall.

Wall Street has been debating just how fast or slow the U.S. economy is growing for months now. The faster the growth, the more likely the Fed will raise interest rates. Why is this so important?

One school of thought says interest rate hikes are "bad" for the stock market. In times past, when rates rose the stock market has sold off, sometimes a lot, other times not so much. Since June is supposedly the target date for a rate hike, and markets usually discount such events by six months or more, we are in ground zero -- if you believe in this scenario.

Weighing in on the other side of this argument are those who believe the Fed won't raise rates for a variety of reasons. Number one, the U.S. economy is not as strong as many think it is (thus the debate over every data point). Even if growth in America does grow a bit more, it won't be enough to pull the rest of the world out of the doldrums. As proof, they point to the decline in oil prices.

In slow or potential recessionary economic climates, the demand for oil dries up as fewer goods and services are demanded. Most often the decline in the price of oil almost always heralds a slowing of the economy, not only here, but worldwide. In that kind of environment, the Fed would be crazy to hike rates. Some say they should actually restart the QE program before it is too late. No wonder the markets are as volatile as they are given these diametrically opposing views.

Which view is accurate, or are they both wrong? Clearly, the energy issue may have much more to do with the explosion of new energy sources brought on by breakthroughs in technology over the last decade. Weakening energy demand may not be the case at all. It may simply be that this new supply has overwhelmed demand in the short term and price declines are the adjustment vehicle to once again bring the oil market into equilibrium.

There is no question economic growth is slowing around the world, however, various governments are doing their utmost to stimulate their economies as the U.S. has done over the past several years. Their efforts should bear fruit if we use our own QE programs as a guide.

One might wonder that the fear of the unknown, of change, may be at the bottom of these issues. We have been in a low to non-existent interest rate environment for so long in this country that even a small uptick in rates makes us uncomfortable. All you need to do is look back in history prior to the financial crisis to understand that rising interest rates in a growing economy has actually been a good thing for stocks.

In any case, the markets this week have actually turned positive for the year. The oil price was the trigger for three straight days of one percent or more in gains. Unfortunately that means that oil is still the tail that is wagging this dog. I have no idea whether we actually have seen the "bottom" in oil prices, but if we have then we can expect markets to continue higher from here.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments            
The Independent Investor: Joint Business Is Jumping
By Bill Schmick On: 01:16PM / Friday February 06, 2015
Important
0
Interesting
0
Funny
0
Awesome
0
Infuriating
0
Ridiculous
0

Today, more than 7 million Americans are no longer limping. Instead, they are trotting around with the assistance of artificial knees, hips or both. Every year another million of us will join the crowd, and that number is expected to grow as America ages.

Arthritis is the main reason for these surgeries, followed by obesity, which adds stress to the knees and hips. Everywhere you turn, Americans are told that they must lose weight. However, in order to do that, a less than virtuous circle has evolved for many of us. We are all striving to eat healthier and eat less while exercising more. As such, wherever you look, aging amateur athletes vie with the young on the ski slopes, the treadmill, hiking trails and wherever else one finds exercise. But this cult of weekend warriorship is demanding a high price.

It is bad enough that we Baby Boomers are wearing out our joints at a stupendous rate. However, the real growth rates in joint replacement are coming from those between the ages of 45-64. Joint replacements have tripled in that age group over the last decade, with nearly half of all hip replacements now being done in people under age 65.

In the past, orthopedic surgeons were reluctant to replace a knee or hip in patients under 65 since replacement joints typically only lasted 10 to 12 years. Today, thanks to advances in medical device technologies, a typical knee or hip can last 20-25 years. As a result, more Americans than ever are opting to get the surgery now, rather than give up their mountain bike or snowboard for less active physical pursuits. I'm one of them.

Six months ago, my knee began bothering me while doing my usual cardio fitness exercises. The pain increased to the point that I visited a doctor who informed me that my right knee "was shot." Decades of running, step aerobics, snowboarding and skiing had taken its toll on my body. Although the pain was moderate at best, I opted for surgery now rather than limp along until the pain forced me into surgery. I did not want to sacrifice my athletic lifestyle.

The procedure was successful thanks to my surgeon, Dr. Mark Sprague of Berkshire Orthopedic Associates, who is a true rock star. The staff and service of Berkshire Medical Center's orthopedic unit was exemplary as well. I guess you get what you pay for.

The cost of a joint replacement varies depending on where you get it done. A study by Blue Cross Blue Shield indicates a total knee replacement procedure, on average, costs $31,124, but could be as low as $11,317 in Montgomery, Ala., to as high as $69,654 in New York City. Hip replacements, on average, go for $30,124 but can be as much as $73,987 in Boston.

But there are whole lists of other services that must be paid for. Pre-surgery appointments, diagnostic studies, lab tests, the doctor's fees, anesthesia, postoperative hospitalization plus postoperative recovery including rehabilitation and physical therapy. Since my surgery was one month ago, I have not received a final total of the all-in charges. But when I do, I'll most likely write another column, since it is my understanding that the actual manufacturing cost of an artificial hip is about $350.

Yet, by the time the hospital purchases these sterilized pieces of tooled metal, plastic or ceramics, that same hip costs them $4,500-$7,500. From there the charges escalate. By how much, I am determined to find out — so stay tuned.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments            
The Independent Investor: College Savings Accounts Are Not Risk-Free
By Bill Schmick On: 08:22PM / Thursday January 29, 2015
Important
0
Interesting
1
Funny
0
Awesome
0
Infuriating
0
Ridiculous
0

A national debate over whether to tax "529" college savings plans has turned the spotlight on these plans and how they work. Do they really help parents save the money their kids will need for college? The answer depends on how they are invested and how they are managed.

Starting in 2001, the IRS offered tax benefits to middle-class families to cope with the escalating costs of college education. Thirty-four states (and the District of Columbia) also chipped in with tax breaks of their own. These savings plans work much like a 401 (K) or a Roth IRA. The after-tax money you invest in these plans will grow (or not) without being subject to federal income tax. Any money you withdraw from the plan will be tax-free as well, as long as it is used to pay for qualified educational expenses such as room and board, tuition and books.

Since the onset of 529 plans, tuition and fees at private, nonprofit four-year colleges have risen by an average of 2.4 percent per year. Over the same period (2002-2013) the inflation rate for these same colleges averaged 5.2 percent. Today's average cost per one year at a private, nonprofit college is $39,518. A Public University's cost for in-state tuition, fees as well as room and board, averages $17,860. Given those numbers, is it any wonder that 529 plans have accumulated over $244.5 billion by 2014, with the average account size of about $20,671. For those who can afford it, these plans look like a good deal.

However, before you jump on this educational band wagon, savers should be aware of some pitfalls in this scheme. Like 401(k) and other tax-deferred plans, the responsibility to manage those savings are on your shoulders unless you want to pay a fee for someone to manage that money. If you go through a broker the average annual fee is roughly 1.17 percent/year. Some charge higher, depending on the advice they give. If you go it alone, you still pay a fee, since most states charge an annual fee of 0.69 percent.

These fees matter because in order to just keep up with inflation and college cost increases, you need to make at least 5-6 percent on your money per year just to stay even. That is no mean feat when you realize that the average return on the stock market per year over the last century or so is 6-7 percent. Given most savers' track records in investing their other tax-deferred savings accounts, the prospects are fairly low that the performance of these plans will tie, let alone, beat the market.

In 2010, nine years into these plans, most 529 plans had a negative performance record. Since then, many have at least recouped saver's initial investment amounts. Some have done even better. The point is that not all 529 plans are made the same.

For those who don't want to actively manage these funds, many plans offer target date funds that automatically shift from aggressive (mostly stocks) to conservative (mostly bonds) investments as the child approaches college age. The problem with target funds is that they do not account for market trends. Let's say your daughter is two years from college, so her target fund investment is now fairly conservative. In a rising interest rate environment, which most investors expect to begin this year, that fund, now top heavy with bonds, will do poorly just when your child can least afford losses.

Bottom line, without the tax-saving advantages of the 529 plan, there is no reason to open one. And even with the tax-deferrals, there is no guarantee that you will have the money you need by college time. That will depend on how astute an investor you are or, if you are paying a professional, how well they do on your behalf.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments            
@theMarket: More Stimuli Equal Higher Markets
By Bill Schmick On: 06:12PM / Friday January 23, 2015
Important
0
Interesting
0
Funny
0
Awesome
0
Infuriating
0
Ridiculous
0

We can thank Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, for snapping the stock market out of its monthlong lethargy. This week, the ECB launched a trillion-dollar program of monetary stimulus that gave investors worldwide a shot in the arm.

The program amounts to an injection of 60 billion Euros per month into the EU economies through the purchase of private and public debt. The quantitative easing will continue until September 2016. However, ECB spokesmen hinted that if more time is needed the program could be extended indefinitely.

Clearly, the ECB is benefiting from lessons learned over here. Our Fed created uneeded volatility over several years by launching and then shutting down a series of QE stimulus programs based on the short-term health of the economy. Finally, ex-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that our QE three program would be an open-ended commitment until employment and economic growth were on a sustainable uptrend.

The amount of the ECB program was about double the quantitative easing most investors were expecting. It lifted world markets by over one percent or more, as it should, since we now have three of the world's largest economics — China, Japan and Europe — actively stimulating economic growth.

Readers, however, must remember that it took years here in the U.S. before our central bank programs succeeded. Even today, our economy and employment rate is still not one I would call robust. True, the U.S. is doing better than most but it took four years to really turn the corner.

At the same time, our stock market, anticipating success, doubled over that time period despite the ups and downs of the economy. The same thing should happen to those economies that have only now embarked on stimulus programs.

Another reason for rising markets is the price of oil. It has at least stopped going down (for now). The death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia led traders to hope that his successor, half-brother Crown Prince Salman, would have a different view of where the price of oil should be. Saudi Arabia has refused to cut output despite the precipitous decline in oil this year. I would not hold my breath expecting the new ruler will cut production.

Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the country's most astute investors, warned that the price of oil might still not have found a bottom.  And for those who expect a sharp rebound in the price soon, Alwaleed suspected the road back to $60-$70 a barrel will neither be easy nor quick. I agree with him.

As readers may know, we are now in earnings season once again and so far the banks have been disappointing. The level of legal costs and fines that sector has had to pay out based on wrong-doing during the financial crises, coupled with poor trading results have hurt their bottom line. I am expecting companies exposed to currency risk (a rising dollar or falling Euro) will also disappoint.

There may be a counterbalance to those disappointments by companies who benefit from lower energy prices and a rising dollar but earnings overall will be somewhat checkered.

Nonetheless, I am sticking with this market on the basis of more central bank stimulus means rising stock markets. What else do you need to 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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments            
Page 3 of 76 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13 ... 76  
News Headlines
Williams Women's Tennis Beats No. 1 Emory
Lanesborough School Approves $182K Budget Cut
North County Group Lobbies for Hospital Reopening
Finance Committee, Selectmen See ACRSD Proposed Budget
Former Pittsfield Councilor Pete White Seeking at-Large Seat
Williams College Admits 1,159 Students for Class of 2019
Cheshire Water Protection Bylaws Saved; Bridge Being Closed
Lenox Library Launches 20th Annual Book Donation Drive
Scholarship Deadline Approaching for Girls Inc. Awards
Applications Accepted for Lola Greene Legacy 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.

 

 

 



Categories:
@theMarket (164)
Independent Investor (221)
Archives:
March 2015 (6)
March 2014 (1)
February 2015 (7)
January 2015 (9)
December 2014 (7)
November 2014 (4)
October 2014 (9)
September 2014 (5)
August 2014 (7)
July 2014 (2)
June 2014 (6)
May 2014 (9)
April 2014 (8)
Tags:
Deficit Stimulus Europe Markets Jobs Fiscal Cliff Stocks Euro Debt Pullback Crisis Congress Metals Commodities Selloff Fed Housing Greece Bailout Rally Stock Market Interest Rates Oil Recession Retirement Europe Banks Taxes Energy Federal Reserve Election Japan Economy Debt Ceiling Currency
Popular Entries:
The Independent Investor: Don't Fight the Fed
The Independent Investor: Understanding the Foreclosure Scandal
@theMarket: QE II Supports the Markets
The Independent Investor: Does Cash Mean Currencies?
@theMarket: Markets Are Going Higher
The Independent Investor: General Motors — Back to the Future
The Independent Investor: Will the Municipal Bond Massacre Continue?
The Independent Investor: How Will Wall Street II Play on Main Street?
@theMarket: Economy Sputters, Stocks Stutter
The Independent Investor: Why Are Interest Rates Rising?
Recent Entries:
@theMarket: The Fed Does It Again
The Independent Investor: Financial Challenges Facing Single Parents
@theMarket: Pay Attention to Diverging Markets
The Independent Investor: Kids & Money
@theMarket: Home on the Range
The Independent Investor: Rise of the Smoothie
@The Market: Full Steam Ahead
The Independent Investor: New Fiduciary Rule Would Benefit All of Us
The Independent Investor: How to Make the Most Out of Social Security
@theMarket: A Race to the Bottom


View All
Spark Event @ Sohn Gallery
Sohn Fine Art in Lenox hosts a Berkshire Creative Spark...
Hoosac Valley Does 'Grease'
The Hoosac Valley High School drama team is producing the...
North Adams Chamber @River...
The North Adams Chamber of Commerce held its monthly mixer...
Birds of Prey
Julie Anne Collier of
Berkshire Chamber Nite @ UP
The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce held its monthly...
Pitt House Series at Dottie's
The first in the Pitt House Concert Series was a sold out...
Berkshire Awards 2015
Lila Berle, Churchill Cotton and Mary Rentz were honored on...
BYP Networking at AIER
The Berkshire Young Professionals gathered at the American...
Berkshire Art Fellowship Show
The 12 Berkshire Art Association College Fellows for 2015...
Hoosac Boys Lose to Old...
The Bulldogs scored the next six points and later used a...
Hoosac Girls Drop State Final...
The Hoosac Valley girls basketball team ended its season...
Massachusetts Region I High...
Near 80 students from throughout the region met in the...
Mt. Greylock SEE Fund
Williamstown's community access television station,...
2OT, Sends Hoosac to State...
Jameson Coughlan scored on a baseline inbounds play from...
HV Win State Semi-Final
Last season, with 1 min., 30 sec. to go Bellingham was down...
Hoosac Girls to Western Mass...
On Saturday afternoon, it had a chance to hang one more...
Spark Event @ Sohn Gallery
Sohn Fine Art in Lenox hosts a Berkshire Creative Spark...
Hoosac Valley Does 'Grease'
The Hoosac Valley High School drama team is producing the...
North Adams Chamber @River...
The North Adams Chamber of Commerce held its monthly mixer...
Birds of Prey
Julie Anne Collier of
Berkshire Chamber Nite @ UP
The Berkshire Chamber of Commerce held its monthly...
| Home | A & E | Business | Community News | Dining | Real Estate | Schools | Sports & Outdoors | Berkshires Weather | Weddings
Advertise | Recommend This Page | Help Contact Us | Privacy Policy| User Agreement
iBerkshires.com is owned and operated by: Boxcar Media 102 Main Street, North Adams, MA 01247 -- T. 413-663-3384 F.413-664-4251
© 2000 Boxcar Media LLC - All rights reserved