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@theMarket: Markets Need a Break

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The stock market has climbed 10 percent in the last three weeks from its February lows. That is a substantial gain, over a year's worth of historical performance for the S&P 500 index. And as such, it's time for a break.

That doesn't mean a sell-off will happen, but it never hurts to prepare one's mind set for a bout of profit-taking. The worst that can happen is that I'm wrong. If it doesn't occur, you can remain relieved (and possibly pleasantly surprised) that your portfolio is recovering the losses it incurred over the first two months of the year.

About the only investors that would be disgruntled by this turn of events, would be those who disregarded my advice and sold in a panic last month. For those in that category, I'm sure you are praying that markets do correct, so that you can get back in.

You may have noticed that while I expect a pullback, I'm not advising you to sell. That's because I don't see anything more than a small decline from, say, the 2,000 level to 1,940 or so on the S&P 500 Index. That's pocket change.

The reason I am hoping for a pause here is that, in the short-term, the markets are overbought and extended. They need to consolidate in order to climb higher. Tentatively, the next upside target on the S&P is between 2,050 and 2,100; if we do achieve that, than we may actually see the markets turn positive by the end of this month.  Wouldn't that be something?

Of course, the rebound in oil has much to do with the gains in the market. The two are still bound together at the hip. My expectations that the agreement between the Saudis and Russians to freeze production would at least put a floor under oil proved accurate. It has also triggered a "short-squeeze" among global traders. A short squeeze occurs when short sellers, in this case those who correctly predicted and profited from the oil price decline over the last year by selling oil short, cover their positions and in the process bid up the price of this commodity.

The recent economic data is also contributing to the more positive mood on Wall Street.

This week's non-farm payroll number saw a jump in employment to 242,000 jobs last month versus 190,000 expected. Economic statistics across the board appear to be improving, which has put a dent in the bear's recession case. For those who follow my columns, that should come as no surprise. I do not see a recession and have discounted this concern repeatedly.

But it has been politics that has mesmerized the Street this week. We had a sizable rally on Monday, in anticipation of the Super Tuesday results. I mentioned last week that a clearer picture of who would be the front runners in both parties would reduce uncertainty and rally markets. Hillary Clinton appears to be the "anointed one" among Democrats, while the Republicans are pulling out all the stops to destroy Trump's momentum.

The travesty of the latest GOP debate is not worth a comment. Thursday's televised anti-Trump speech by Mitt Romney, the ghost of elections past, was just as pitiful. This obvious GOP/Wall Street effort to sink Trump's potential presidential nomination could backfire badly.

If primary voters perceive the establishment is ganging up on their hero there could be an even greater rush into Trump's corner. It appears the Republican Party is dead-set on blowing itself up and giving the election to the Democrats. So 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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The Independent Investor: Why Wall Street Is Worried About Trump

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Normally, Wall Street loves GOP presidential candidates. Historically, Republican presidents have been good for business, tend to cut taxes, and slow the rate of government spending. So why does Donald Trump give them the willies?

For starters, the investment community worries that Trump is an unpredictable wild card. Remember, that investors can accommodate the good or the bad, as long as the future is articulated in clear terms. For example, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is going after predatory pricing in the biotech sector. That's bad for biotech so Wall Street sells or shorts biotech stocks until that risk factor is resolved. Another politician says we need a stronger defense capability. So investors buy aerospace stocks on that policy.

What investors can't accept is uncertainty. As such, some of Donald Trump's statements have been so outrageous, politically incorrect and economically dysfunctional that Wall Street does not know which way to turn. He cannot be pigeon-holed ideologically.

At times, he appears pro-business only to contradict that assumption by slamming the financial sector on other issues. His statements tend to worry those who believe he could lead the country into a new era of isolation. Attacks on China, Mexico and all things Muslim are just some of his agenda that have given Wall Street a fit.

Trump's strong populist message seems to resonate with those who are not part of this country's one percent. It is truly remarkable that a billionaire, real estate developer who resides in the city of one percenters, could dominate among voters in cities that are economically-challenged and where incomes are the lowest. Although the two are poles apart politically, the populist appeal of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is similar.

They appeal to a silent majority of voters who have suddenly found their voice. After decades of hopelessness, declining voter participation, and almost universal disgust for both Wall Street and our government, these two men have harnessed that sullen anger and the results have been both unexpected and unpredictable.

It also helps that neither candidate is beholden to either the traditional corridors of political influence or Wall Street money (Super PACS) that has become the basis for our political system. And what Wall Street cannot control, it abhors. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, a traditional (and predicable), slightly, left of center Democrat, Wall Street and Washington is threatened by Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist and Donald Trump, an unorthodox deal-maker with little use for ideology or the status quo.

As the election draws closer, Trump's standing in the polls and wins among GOP delegates increases, the Wall Street/Washington cabal is pulling out all the stops to prevent Trump's ascendency. Mitt Romney, the GOP's quintessential "company man" and Washington insider, has now joined the fray in earnest. In a speech on Thursday in Utah, the erstwhile Republican candidate for president called Trump a "fraud and a phony" while exhorting Republicans to vote for anyone but the Donald.

Let me be clear, I am an independent so I'm not picking sides in these primaries. As for the individual policies of the Democratic and GOP candidates, there are some things I agree with and some I don't. But what I do approve of is the populist movement that Trump and Sanders have triggered in this country. Make no mistake, you may not agree or like Trump's racist statements or Bernie's arguments for wealth distribution, but a lot of Americans do. That is clear in the polls.

And that's part of what a democracy is all about. Granted, I wish every American could be just like me, rejecting prejudice of either religion or race, advocating the end of political and Wall Street influence, addressing the income inequality gap, etc., etc. but I am realistic enough to understand that our political system has always made room for every view and opinion. In a populist election, the best and worst of us come to the forefront.

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: Odds High That markets Will Continue to Climb

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The S&P 500 Index broke through an important technical level this week. It is an encouraging sign and could mean that over the next few days that index could move even higher.

There are all sorts of technical levels that traders study. In the intermediate term, they usually look at the 50-day moving average. For the first time since the beginning of the year, we have broken up and through that level at 1,954 on the S&P. For those less inclined to worry about the charts, all you need to know is that traders are becoming bullish.

As I suggested in my last column, it was a week where markets first consolidated, and then climbed higher, supported by an oil price that refused to drop below $30 a barrel. It appears that OPEC and non-OPEC members have agreed to meet in March. Investors are hoping that a deal to freeze oil production will ultimately morph into an agreement to cut production. This is despite Saudi protests that there is no plan to cut production in the works. I guess hope springs eternal in the energy patch.

At the same time, investors are also hoping that this weekend's meeting of the G20 in Shanghai may result in a plan to spur global growth. At least that is what both the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund are hoping to accomplish. Whether their call for "bold" action by the G20 will result in anything more than statements about working together, etc., etc., are doubtful.

Economic data this week were better than expected with GDP coming in at 1 percent over the last quarter (0.7 percent expected) while personal income (0.5 percent) and spending (0.5 percent) were also higher than estimates. These numbers fly in the face of those worrying that the country is falling into a recession.

Does that mean we are destined to go straight up from here and regain all the year's losses? Well, not quite yet. It is true that as of today the S&P 500 Index is only down 5 percent for the year. That's is an improvement from two weeks ago for sure. Still, we face a great deal of uncertainity even now.

Oil is still a wild card, as is this year's presidential elections. Super Tuesday ( March 1), is when 12 states hold primaries. In all, 595 Republican delegates — about 25 percent of the total number — are at stake. Republicans need 1,237 delegates to win the party's nomination.

Democrats need 2,383 with 1,004 Democrat delegates up for grabs next week.

The outcome may be an important boost for the markets, if there are clear winners in both parties. That would remove some of the uncertainty plaguing investors, and certainty is always preferable to the markets. We could possibly see a relief rally as a result that could take us up to the 2,000 level on the S&P 500 Index. At that point, things get trickier, and what happens after that is still uncertain.

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: Social Security Update & Other Tidbits

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

Over the past few months there have been some changes to social security rules as well as an on-going effort to provide increased protection from brokers managing your IRAs. Here is an update to those topics.

Readers may recall a column I wrote as a result of last November's budget. Several changes were instituted to shut down some social security loopholes that could impact certain retirees. Prior to the new budget changes, a growing number of couples, 66 and older, could delay claiming benefits based on their own earnings record, while collecting a spousal benefit based on your spouse's earnings. This was costing the taxpayer millions and generating lifetime benefits for some retirees that amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.

These strategies called "file and suspend" and "restricted application" were altered and the final version of who can or cannot take advantage of these strategies is now official. The new rules would allow those turning 66 or older by April 29 to still file and suspend, but they must request that voluntary suspension on or before that date. Any who fail to take action (either because they are younger than 66, or miss the deadline) can still file and suspend but it won't provide the same benefits. The Social Security Administration will no longer allow relatives to submit a new claim for spousal or dependent-child benefits based on a suspended benefit.

There is also a longer phase-out of the "restricted-application" strategy. Normally, when married couples apply for retirement benefits, they are deemed to have filed for both their own benefits as well as a spousal benefit. They receive whichever is higher. Restricted applications allow you to have a choice to get one and then switch later to the other. Only those who turned 62 before Jan. 2 of this year can still file a restricted application. The good news is that anyone already using one or the other of these retirement strategies is grandfathered. That means their benefits won't change due to the new legislation.

On another subject, the plan to curb potential conflicts of interest among brokers who dispense retirement advice is still bogged down. The SEC is obstructing the legislation while trading accusations with the labor department. Readers might remember a column I wrote last year on the subject. The Department of Labor introduced the "Fiduciary Rule," which would require brokers to act in a client's best interests when advising on their Individual Retirement Accounts.  

The DOL has been trying to push through this additional consumer safeguard for over five years, but has been stymied by the Republican Party (and some Democrats), Wall Street lobbyists representing all the brokers and banks, as well as governmental organizations like the SEC and Treasury. The Fiduciary Rule received a welcome shot in the arm when the White House and its Office of Management and Budget backed the DOL's efforts.

Clearly, I come down on the side of the consumer, who needs all the protection they can get from the financial community. The rule would require brokers to act as a fiduciary in respect to tax-deferred investment advice. It is something that I think is long overdue and would be a much-needed check and balance in this $7.3 trillion segment of the industry.

P.S. my opinion makes me extremely unpopular within my industry and that is fine with me.

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: OPEC's Poker Game

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist

The news this week that some OPEC members have at least agreed to talk, and possibly freeze production, had traders covering their oil shorts, sending crude up over 15 percent. But why should simply freezing production at multi-year levels stem oil's price decline?

Naysayers are right when they argue that holding production where it is does not solve the oversupply problem in world energy. At the present rate of production, an additional 330 million barrels of oil (or about 1 million barrels/day) of unneeded oil is flowing onto world markets.

That oversupply has been building for a year or more. It is being stored in spare oil tankers, storage tanks and wherever else suppliers can find to stockpile the stuff. And storage capacity is close to being filled, despite the winter weather in the U.S. At most, freezing production solidifies an extremely negative supply imbalance.

As usual, not all is what it seems when reading the headlines, especially when it comes to the politics of OPEC and the Middle East. Remember that up until now, OPEC's largest producer, Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia (the largest non-OPEC producer) have not even discussed global energy oversupply. The fact that they are now willing to talk and possibly freeze production could be an important first step in a possible solution to the firestorm of falling prices that has done damage to both countries and their finances.

Bears point to the fact that oil producers like Iran have no intention of freezing production. The global embargo on that country's energy exports, imposed over Iran's nuclear program, has only now been lifted. Prior to 2012, Iran's oil production amounted to about 2.5 million barrels a day. It now produces about 1.1 million a day. The country's government is dead set on regaining that lost one million barrel a day production as fast as it can. Energy experts believe it will take the country six to 12 months to achieve that goal.

It is here that the plot thickens. Let's, for the moment, believe that the big producers are serious about stopping oil's decline. Talk of freezing production might accomplish that on its own. However, boosting prices is going to require production cuts. Iran won't go for that and everyone knows that the Saudis and Iranians have larger problems than oil.

Syria has become a powder keg between these two opposing forces. Sunnis and Shiites are lining up for what could possibly be armed conflict in that country. If a deal could be worked out to both parties' satisfaction in energy, could that also be a first step in reducing tensions elsewhere?

How could this be accomplished? Since it will take Iran at least until the end of the year to rev up production, could Saudi Arabia persuade Iran to slow down its capacity drive for a few months in exchange for higher prices? The Saudi's, along with other nations, could cut production in exchange for a few, newly-found "production delays" by Iran.

For the world's energy producers a cut would only require each of the top producers to reduce their output by 100,000-200,000 barrels a day or so in order to balance global supply and demand. That could easily lift price levels to $40 or so per barrel. In that scenario, everyone wins.

Clearly, investors are praying for such a deal. The price of oil and the level of the stock market are connected at the hip, so where oil goes, so goes the stock markets. Any deal, however, is not going to happen in the short-term.

Given the extremely short time horizon of traders, I would expect that the oil price will fall again when a deal isn't announced this week. That is unrealistic, in my opinion, but if we do bounce off the lows again, I think my thesis and OPEC's poker game may have merit.

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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