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The Independent Investor: The Dollars & Sense of Losing Weight
By Bill Schmick On: 11:12AM / Wednesday July 11, 2012
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The statistics are some of the most accurate in the American medical community. Overall, 35.7 percent of the adult population and 16.9 percent of our children are obese. If you add in those Americans who are merely overweight, then two-thirds of this nation are on the road to higher health costs, a shorter life and a miserable life style.

Obesity-related illnesses cost us $179 billion annually, with obese Americans spending 42 percent more per year for medical care than the non-obese to treat everything from Type II diabetes to heart disease. Breaking that down into individual dollars and cents, it costs $4,879 for women and $2,646 for men every year in various costs associated with being overweight or obese.

It means that obese women pay nine times more and obese men pay six times more in associated costs than do individuals at a healthy wright. Besides the obvious individual health costs associated with this American epidemic, there are also work-related costs that you may not realize.

A study by Duke University concluded that it is costing business $73.1 billion annually in absenteeism, work productivity and other costs for obese, full-time employees. Lost productivity alone is costing us $12.1 billion a year, which is twice as much as the medical costs. It works out that it is costing business $16,900 per capita for females and $15,500 for men in the 100 pounds overweight category of worker.

Other non-medical costs include wage loss, higher premiums for life insurance, short-term disability and disability pension insurance, sick leave (obese men miss two more days of work than healthy men) and early mortality.

Much of the statistical data on how many of us are overweight or worse is derived from measuring the Body Mass Index, a cheap and simple formula to determine a rough estimate of body fat. You use your weight and height to compute a score. Those over a certain score are considered overweight and as your score increases so does the obesity factor.

Let's take me for example, for most of my adult life my weight fluctuated between 185-190 pounds. At six-foot, two, I smoked and worked out like a fiend (love those contradictions). Seven years ago, I quit smoking, stopped exercising, and subsequently ballooned in weight to 255 pounds. My BMI soared from 24 to 33. I avoided standing on the scale and hated getting my yearly physical for obvious reasons. What I didn’t know, won't kill me (yep, another contradiction).

In the meantime, my brother, who is three years younger than I and about the same height and weight, came down with Type II diabetes because of his weight. It was only a question of time before my added pounds was going to show up as serous health issues. I started back to the gym but continued to eat what I wanted. I gained even more. It was at that point, I realized that I had been kidding myself. I wasn't overweight, I was officially obese.

Almost 55 pounds later (and lighter), the years seem to have have fled and I feel better than I have in a decade. The point to this "true confessions" is that although I knew all the obesity statistics, I never considered myself anything but overweight. I suspect we are all the same until something happens that allows us to take a bite out of reality.

There is good news and bad news about the obesity epidemic in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that after two decades of steady increases, obesity rates in adults and children in the U.S. have remained unchanged during the last 12 years. Either we have reached the saturation level in the population where everyone that is prone to gaining weight has done so, or that the constant drum beat of public education on the dangers of obesity has made an impact. That's the good news.

The bad news is that a recent study by the New York University School of Medicine indicates that obesity in America might be far worse than we think. The culprit is the same BMI that we all use to determine obesity. Although the BMI is cheap and the starting point for measuring a weight problem is also one of the least accurate medical tests in existence. The study concluded that the number of obese Americans may actually be much higher than we think.

The researchers believe the problem with the BMI is that it estimates rather than measures body fat. The study used two other measures along with BMI — the amount of leptin, a protein which regulates the body's metabolism and Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry that tests body fat, muscle mass and bone density. Thirty-nine percent of those patients in the study who were classified as overweight were actually obese.

The bottom line is that we are killing ourselves. Our children are entering adulthood heavier than they've ever been at any time in human history. The way our food is processed, American's addiction to fast food, our increasingly sedentary life style, an aversion to pain or discipline — all have been offered as reasons for this state of the nation. It doesn't matter who or what is to blame, in my opinion. Fat is fat and until each of us understands and takes responsibility for his or her own part in this epidemic there is little anyone can do outside of food rationing. My advice is get on the scale. And take it from there.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




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@theMarket: July Begins With a Bang
By Bill Schmick On: 07:23AM / Saturday July 07, 2012
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This week global stock markets charged out of the gate with the averages making up for most of the ground lost since May. All three averages experienced two month highs until a bout of profit-taking brought prices back to earth at the end of the week. I expect this summer rally to continue for the next few months.

But no market goes straight up, so I think investors should expect a "two steps forward, one step back" kind of market. I would use any pullbacks to add to positions.

In my last column "Germany Blinks," I explained some of the reasons I expected the rally to continue. Here it is just a few days later and some of the stimulus I expected from governments around the world is already occurring. On Thursday, three major central banks announced easing measures. The Bank of England announced another 50 billion pounds of quantitative easing to spur growth in Great Britain. The European Central Bank cut interest rates for the same reason and the People's Bank of China also did an aggressive easing.

In one week we have seen three of the largest central banks in the world pump billions into their faltering economies. Now all eyes will be on our Federal Reserve. Investors are expecting that sometime soon the Fed will join the aggressive easing party.

"I don't get it," said a client from Great Barrington on Thursday, "after all these bad economic numbers, this week's unemployment data was a big positive surprise and yet the markets sold off."

Yesterday, I addressed this issue in my column "Bad news Is Good News." In a nutshell, the worst the economic data becomes in the United States, the greater the chance that the Federal Reserve would be forced to come in and rescue our economy from recession once again. In the past, that has caused substantial gains in the stock market.

Conversely, the better the data the less likely it is that our central bank will need to intervene. So it was interesting to see the market's reactions on Thursday to the positive data on jobs and hiring. The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in two months while employers in the private sector added 176,000 new workers, according to the ADP National Employment report. Yet, the markets sold off.

Since keeping unemployment low is one of the two main briefs of the Federal Reserve Bank (the other is controlling inflation) the good jobless numbers were an excuse to take profits in a market that has seen some good gains since my buy recommendation.

From a technical point of view, the S&P 500 Index broke out of that 1,353-1,357 range and if it should fall back to that level or even below it, I would not worry too much. I warned readers last week that in the short term the markets will remain quite volatile and be prepared for some ups and downs.

I recommend that you ignore those bumps in the road and keep your eye on the fall. I am not sure who will win in the November elections, but I do expect that markets will rally this summer.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




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The Independent Investor: Bad News Is Good News
By Bill Schmick On: 11:05AM / Friday July 06, 2012
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Both here and abroad the economic data is indicating that the world's economies are contracting. Yet, global stock markets are rising. Once upon a time that would have been a contradiction, but not today.

Over the past year the financial problems of Europe have been well publicized. Starting with Greece, most of the southern tier of European Union countries have been mired in recession, high debt and declining exports. Those problems have infected the entire continent, resulting in an EU-wide recession, but that is old news.

Over in Asia the story is the same. China, the economic engine of that region, has also experienced slowing growth, reducing the prospects for all its neighbors in the process. And now these problems are coming home to roost here in the United States.

Factory orders in the U.S. declined in June for the first time since 2009. The nation's manufacturing output has been one of the drivers of our own recovery but weakening demand from overseas, coupled with declining currencies in our export markets have resulted in a slowdown in U.S. output and exports.

It is not just manufacturing, overall economic numbers coming out of most sectors of our economy have shown a gradual slowdown. Investors are not only taking this bad news in stride but are actually bidding up the stock market because of it.

Readers only have to look back over the last few years to see the same kind of phenomena occurring over and over again. It usually occurs during the summer months and has a decidedly positive impact on the stock market. The answer lies in the continued government interventions in the private sector economy we have seen since the financial crisis.

Investors are now conditioned to expect governments to intercede when economies begin to slow down. There was a time in our country (as well as overseas) when periods of economic growth, interrupted by recession, was the normal give and take of free-market economies, but no more.

Today the private and public sectors are intimately joined at the hip. The Federal Reserve here at home and central banks abroad have made it their responsibility to keep their countries' economies afloat with every means at their disposal. After several such interventions, stock market investors are conditioned to view bad news as good news when it comes to the economy.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.


Market participants fully expect the Fed will save them once again this summer. The economy only needs to slow enough to threaten a recession, investors believe, before the Fed will take action. Like crack addicts, we have all become addicted to these moves by the Fed. Unfortunately, their efforts, while probably keeping the economy out of recession, have done little to grow the economy.

What it has done is shift the seat of financial power to Washington and makes irrelevant the traditional tools for analyzing companies and markets. And along the way it has transformed the stock market into one of those roller-coaster rides usually seen only in amusement parks.


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@theMarket: Germany Blinks
By Bill Schmick On: 11:20AM / Sunday July 01, 2012
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Those readers who have been following my advice were rewarded on Friday by a nice 1.5 percent-plus rally in the stock market averages on the last day of the quarter. You can thank Germany for the gains.

Italy and Spain decided to play hardball at the European Summit on Thursday. They threatened to block every initiative the EU officials tabled unless Germany and other Eurozone countries agreed to their demands for immediate help — without additional austerity measures. In response, the EU agreed to another $100 billion euro bailout for Spanish banks and a pledge to begin purchases of Italian sovereign bonds using more EU bailout money.

Investors bid markets higher in both Europe and the U.S. on the news. The question is whether the markets will continue higher from here or fall back to re-test the June lows. I believe markets will continue to trade up and down quite sharply in the short term but in the medium term the trend is up.

Let's take the bear case first. The risk to the downside from here, in my opinion, is quite high if your time horizon is over the next few days or weeks. A re-test of the S&P 500 Index's 200 day moving average (DMA) is still a strong possibility. The 200 DMA sits at about 1,295 while the market today is 60 points higher, equating to roughly 4.5 percent of downside risk.

On the plus side, over the medium-term, say between now and November, the markets could rally another 5-10 % or so. I think the risk/reward ratio is definitely on the bull’s side over the next six months.

Technically, the S&P 500 Index is now at a critical level. The average is bumping up against the next serious level of resistance right here at 1,353-1,357. Although the spike up in the markets felt good, much of the gains came from traders who were short the market that covered (bought back) stocks before the end of the quarter.

"Why are you so bullish between now and the fall?" demanded one reader.

The answer lies in events that have transpired over the last few weeks. It began with the Greek elections. The pro-euro party received the majority of votes, which lessened the risk of continental contagion. Over the past few weeks, European governments, led by the new leadership in France, have begun to realize that their strict adherence to fiscal austerity was a mistake. I have argued that fiscal austerity would simply exasperate the length and depth of recession among EU members. That view seems to have gained ascendency among EU members.

I was also looking for a commitment from either the EU or the European Central Bank to support bank recapitalization efforts in Southern Europe. That condition was also fulfilled this week, although Thursday's actions do not solve the EU crisis. It has simply relieved some of the immediate risk to the continent.

Finally, the risk of an economic hard landing in China has been reduced. Earlier this month the Chinese authorities cut domestic interest rates and signaled that they are now willing to reduce rates further if necessary in order to spur their economy. Over the next few months, these developments should bolster the markets but in the short-term there are still many unanswered questions that could keep investors on edge and result in volatile market moves in both directions.

The best way to navigate these markets is to buy on dips, if you have the cash. If you are already fully invested, turn off the television, ignore the news and enjoy your summer. By the time September rolls around you should be seeing some additional gains in your portfolio.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.




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The Independent Investor: What's Libor To You?
By Bill Schmick On: 02:41PM / Friday June 29, 2012
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You may want to pay attention to the unfolding scandal swirling around one of the world's oldest and most important financial benchmarks. It's called the London Interbank Offered Rate and its level can directly impact the interest rate you pay on an adjustable rate mortgage and other consumer loans.

The London Interbank Offered Rate (commonly known as Libor) is supposed to be the collective best guesses of 18 of the world's largest global banks. They determine the interest that borrowers should be charged on any given day for short-term loans. Libor is set daily in London by the British Bankers Association (BBA), which eliminates the highest and lowest rates supplied by the member banks and then calculates an average from the remainder.

Since Libor is a benchmark rate, other loans are calculated on the basis of that rate. Most of the multitrillion dollar derivatives markets, for example, are based on Libor as are various commercial mortgages, commercial loans and consumer loans, including adjustable rate mortgages.

Some time ago I made readers aware that there was an ongoing, global investigation into the setting of interest rates by regulators in the U.S., Europe and Asia. This global governmental task force has been examining the complex trades throughout the financial capitals of the world for more than a five-year period.

This week the U.K. Financial Services Authority, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission levied a $451 million fine on one of Britain's most prestigious banks for falsifying interbank rate submissions to the BBA. These alleged deliberate bogus submissions were intended to help the bank's derivative department traders make illegal profits over an extended period of time. Regulators stressed that this was only the first of several findings that will involve some of the biggest banks overseas and in our country as well.

Some may wonder if justice is truly served by fining one bank $451 million. Although it is a lot of money, is it anywhere close to the true cost of this alleged manipulation of trillions of dollars in loans benchmarked to this all important rate? It is my understanding that many of the same characters that were responsible for the global financial crisis are also involved in this scandal.

If so, how many times will these financial thugs escape justice by simply shelling out our money to avoid the consequences of their actions? Let's face it, in the end; these fines are being paid by taxpayer money. It is the world's governments, through the central banks, that have been pumping billions into these banks' coffers. These same banks have used the money to speculate in derivatives and other markets. Now we are told they were rigging the markets as well in order to make even more profits. So, do they really care that they are fined a billion or two of those profits if they get caught in a scandal like this?

Hell no! If these allegations prove true, and the authorities haul in more of the same perps that brought us the financial crisis and its on-going consequences, I, for one, expect criminal charges be brought against these banksters and their henchman. We should all demand nothing less.

Bill Schmick is an independent investor with Berkshire Money Management. (See "About" for more information.) None of the information presented in any of these articles 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 (toll free) or e-mail him at wschmick@fairpoint.net . Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.





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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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