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@theMarket: Now What?
By: Bill Schmick On: 06:45PM / Friday August 05, 2011
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Unless you have been living in a vacuum, you are keenly aware of the stock market's freefall. Panic is in the air and rumors are swirling around the Street's trading floors. It is time for investors to step back and take a breath.

If you are worrying about your retirement accounts, don't. This is not 2008-2009. Much of what is going on in the markets is a result of conjecture, not facts. No one knows if we are going into another recession. No one knows if Italy is going to go bankrupt, no one knows the future. At most, we can only make educated guesses.

Let me first admit that I was definitely wrong last week when I posed the question "Buy or Sell" in my column. I advised readers to hold onto their investments. Like many others, I was expecting a rally in stocks after the successful passage of a debt-limit increase. Even though I expressed my deep concerns over the weakening of the economy, I was caught like everyone else going the wrong way when the markets dropped through the floor. That said, I believe it is too late to sell and, if I do, I will wait first for a bounce.

Selling a market already down 12 percent in 10 out of 11 days is not a smart move. We are close to, if not already in, that zone of capitulation where panic takes over and investors want out at any price. Thursday was over a 95/5 day during which 95 stocks were sold for every five purchased. The New York Stock Exchange Index is so oversold that it registers a minus-2 standard deviation (SD). These are all signs of a near-term bottom.

My friend John Roque, technical strategist over at WJP Capital Group, indicates that when stocks are this oversold, a relief rally is not far behind. In 100 percent of the cases over the last 30 years where a minus-2 SD occurred, the markets have bounced anywhere from 2 percent to over 10 percent within two weeks. Three months later, the same markets gained 3.6 percent to 34 percent. So the odds are in your favor that selling now would be a losing proposition.

"OK, I wait for a bounce," says a client from Becket, "then what?"

That depends. Many times after a relief rally (sometimes called a dead cat bounce) the markets return to, at, or near the lows before moving higher. At other times, there is a week or two of pause before markets resume an upward climb. Last year, the S&P 500 Index lost almost 18 percent and then rallied straight up with no retest. It could happen again but we will need to get the bounce first before guessing at its durability.

The reason this correction feels so different from last year's is the compressed nature of the decline. What took four months to accomplish in 2010 has taken only 11 days thus far this year. In some ways, a short sharp correction is better than a drawn out death by a thousand cuts kind of correction, although both are painful.

So here's my game plan: stay invested, wait for the bounce, when it occurs sell some of your most aggressive investments and see what happens. If we retrace, buy at or close to the bottom. If we continue to climb, the worst that can happen is you miss a few percentage points of gains. But remember, preserving principle is your No. 1 concern. Profits should come second. 

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: crash, bottom, dead cat bounce      
Independent Investor: Fear and Loathing on Wall Street
By: Bill Schmick On: 02:00PM / Thursday August 04, 2011
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It has been over a year since investors experienced the kind of sell-off that has beset the global stock markets this week. As of Thursday, most indexes have lost 10 percent or more. The jury is split on whether we are at the bottom or have more to go.

Most of the losses have occurred quickly, in around 8-9 days, which although painful, could be a blessing in disguise. Sharp, short corrections, in my opinion, are much better than corrections that drag on for months losing a little each day.

Of course, these large declines often trigger strong emotional reactions among investors but decisions based on panic rarely prove to be the right ones in hindsight. So I thought I would provide a little perspective on why the markets are selling off and whether or not you want to join the ranks of sellers.

Over the last few months, the macroeconomic data began to weaken. At first, economists explained that it was caused by bad weather, then the Japan earthquake, but as the numbers continued to come in at a less-than-expected rates investors grew increasingly nervous. Then last week, while all eyes were focused on the debt ceiling crisis, the Commerce Department announced that second quarter GDP came up short — 1.3 percent versus 1.7 percent expected. Even worse, the first quarter was revised downward to just 0.04 percent, a shockingly dismal performance.

That number, combined with an unemployment rate above 9 percent, plus continued uncertainty within the poorer countries of the EU, was enough to tip the scales. The trading range that the markets have been locked in since the end of April was finally resolved to the downside. Since then, we have broken several technical supports and are hovering just above a big one at 1,225 on the S&P 500 Index. If it breaks down and through this level, the chances of additional losses are quite high.

Sounds like doomsday, doesn't it? Well, the same thing happened last year for the same reasons. The economy was slowing, unemployment rising, Europe was in trouble and the markets dropped 16 percent from April 2010 through August. It was then that the Federal Reserve Bank announced the possibility of QE II. The markets reversed, exploded upward and investors never looked back.

Since March 2009 we have had seven such "dips." Each pullback was considered a buying opportunity and those investors that did so have been mightily rewarded. No one knows if this will be No. 8 or if we are going to continue lower. At some level, stock prices will become just too cheap for value buyers to remain on the sidelines. Some say we are at that level now.   

My advice is to decide how much you are willing to lose and when you reach that limit sell and move to the sidelines. For some investors that can mean 5 percent (you should already be out), others will accept 10 percent, while some might be willing to sustain even more. Once your limit is reached don't hesitate. Be prepared emotionally for the possibility that the markets could turn around a day after you sell out. Accept that if it happens, and don't beat yourself up for not staying the course.

For those of you who have bond investments, keep them since bonds and gold are benefiting from the stock selloff.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: selloff, corrections      
Independent Investor: Enough Already!
By: Bill Schmick On: 12:11PM / Friday July 29, 2011
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All week the markets have hung on every word coming out of Washington. Nothing else has mattered: not earnings, not Europe's problems, not even the second coming of Christ could have distracted investors. Now that both political parties have achieved what they wanted, let's please stop the monkey business before it's too late.

Credit Suisse, a global broker/investment banker, said on Thursday that in the unlikely event that the U.S. defaults on its debt, the economy could contract by 5 percent and the stock market could lose one third of its value. Although I believe that is an extreme view, the entire mess over the debt ceiling is causing hesitation and delay among the nation's business sector.

Companies have put all sorts of decisions on hold until the crisis is resolved. That includes hiring and investment decisions that directly impact the employment rate and our economic growth. The timing couldn't be worse. The economy is just starting to recover from a soft patch caused by the slowdown in Japan's economy. In addition, our unemployment rate has recently notched up to 9.2 percent. We can't afford these shenanigans.

However, the increase in our debt ceiling is only one of an emerging two-part problem in our economy. Credit agencies are warning that unless we do something to reduce spending and the deficit, our credit rating may be reduced. Now that wouldn't be the end of the world for America, after all, Japan's credit rating was reduced early this year with little consequence. But it certainly wouldn't help the pace of our recovery nor improve the jobless rate.

As we go down to the wire, it appears that if there is to be a deal on raising the debt limit, then both parties will need to agree to disagree and postpone a big deficit-cutting plan until after Aug. 3. There is simply not enough time to hammer out a compromise in the time allotted. There will be a price to pay for a deal of that sort. The markets and the country's corporations will continue to hesitate until a deal is struck that will satisfy the credit agencies.

A compromise budget-cutting plan that cuts $2 trillion or so from the deficit over 10 years will not cut the mustard. The agencies are on record as wanting at least double that amount in order to stave off a credit reduction. The Democrats, led by President Obama, wanted a "Grand Plan" that would answer the demands of the credit agencies and put to rest the deficit politically as an election issue.

The Republicans want the opposite. They see the economy, the deficit and unemployment as the three most likely opportunities to unseat the Democrats next year. By foot dragging now, they can keep the controversy alive and hopefully capitalize on an anemic and aging recovery while continuing to ask "Where are the jobs?" If in the process either the country defaults or our credit rating is reduced they are betting Obama will be blamed for that along with the economy.

They are counting on voters to forget by election time who did what to whom in this debt controversy. I suspect their gamble will pay off.

After all, how many voters remember that the TARP Plan (just one example) was approved before Obama took office? Did you know that the huge deficit we are saddled with actually occurred during the Bush administration? Between his tax cuts and the initiation of two wars, President Bush, with the aid of today's Republican leadership, not only spent the surplus garnered under the Clinton years but wracked up $8.813 trillion in additional new debt.

The Democrats under Obama have added $1.136 trillion in the form of economic stimulus and tax cuts. Economists argue that without that spending our country would have remained in recession or possibly fallen into a depression. In addition, Obama will spend $152 billion on health-care reform and $278 billion on defense. The vast majority of the money spent on these policy initiatives won't even be spent until years in the future, if at all.

As an independent voter, I am less inclined to listen to either parties' rhetoric and instead focus on the facts. The facts are that the financial crisis, the deficit and the subsequent rise in the unemployment rate are the legacy of the Bush administration. I can applaud the GOP for belatedly realizing that they have been on a spending spree for the last decade, but don't blame others for your party's failings.

Sure, if you choose, you can blame Obama and his team for failing to generate a quick recovery, but enough already with this myth that he is the root cause of today's problems in America. As Americans, we deserve more from Washington. 

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: debt ceiling, Congress, credit ratings      
@theMarket: One Down, One to Go
By: Bill Schmick On: 01:26PM / Saturday July 23, 2011
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On Friday, the European Union announced a new $157 billion bailout plan for Greece. The scope of the plan went much further than most investors expected. It promised to finance all countries that need bailouts for as long as it takes for them to recover. There's more.

I refer to the new plan as the "Full Monty" (see my column "Europe Goes the Full Monty") because it is the first time in the 18-month long crisis that European leaders were willing to draft a comprehensive approach to the financial crisis among the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain).  The plan will be proactive in heading off any further financial contagion among its members while fencing in those that already are in trouble (Portugal, Ireland and Greece).

The deal does allow for a "selective default" in Greece, where some but not all of its debt will be written off or renegotiated at lower terms and lengthened maturities. The plan does not go as far as I might have wished but in the real world of European politics it appears the best that they could do. In my opinion, the crisis appears, if not over, to be at least contained for now.

That crisis is one of two large clouds that have been hanging over the markets for months. The other bailout issue is in our own backyard. And, as I suspected, our elected representatives are stretching out the tension as long as they can. Both sides are glorying in their extra media attention, using their 10-15 seconds of sound-bite glory to appear concerned, tough and "on your side" (while raising as much additional campaign funds as possible for next year's elections).

Here are a summary of client questions and my answers this week on this on-going travesty:

"Will the debt ceiling be raised by the August 2 deadline?”

I'm betting yes, but that still leaves 11 days of volatility in the bond and stock markets.

"What will happen after the deadline, if the ceiling isn't raised?"

As I wrote last week, the markets will decline in the short term, presenting a buying opportunity for anyone brave enough to venture into equities.

"Will the Gang of Six deficit-reduction plan be passed?"

I suspect some version of that plan will be passed but the question is when. The Republicans want to prevent any legislation that might improve the economy or reduce unemployment until after next year's elections. They hope voter frustration over the economy will propel their party's candidates into office and defeat a re-election bid by President Obama.

Unfortunately, the nation's financial credit agencies are not cooperating with the GOP timetable. They have made it clear that without a serious, comprehensive deficit–cutting plan in the ballpark of $4 trillion or more, they will cut the U.S. debt rating. I suspect we will be on "credit watch" until a deficit reduction deal is passed, which means that we will be assaulted by this back-and-forth bickering for some time to come.

"If and when the deficit plan is passed, can we go back to whatever normal is?”

That depends. I believe that cutting spending and raising taxes in an economy that is struggling to gain momentum exposes this recovery to extreme danger. Cutting spending too deeply while raising taxes too much (and shrinking the money supply) is exactly what nipped a fledgling recovery in the bud and sent the U.S. economy into a depression in the '30s. Ask yourself this question: do you feel confident that a bunch of madmen in Washington have the ability to strike just the right balance in order to grow the economy while reducing the deficit?

But let me worry about that. It will take weeks, if not months, for such a compromise to be worked out. In the meantime, this last storm cloud appears to be moving to the edge of the horizon for now. I expect some real progress on a compromise next week.

The economy may be inching along, but corporate profits are booming. This earnings season so far is seeing the vast majority of companies beat earnings and increase guidance. This debt crisis is repressing what should be a buoyant stock market. Like a coiled spring, stocks are just waiting to bounce higher. If and when the debt ceiling is passed, that will happen.

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: Greece, PIGS, bailout, Europe, deb ceiling      
Independent Investor: Europe Goes the Full Monty
By: Bill Schmick On: 11:24PM / Thursday July 21, 2011
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Full Monty: "everything which is necessary, appropriate, or possible; 'the works.'"    

— Oxford English Dictionary

A new rescue plan for Greece is being hammered out in Brussels today, Thursday. Although the details are yet to be released, it appears that the European Community is finally going for an overall plan that will do more than just Band-Aid over the debt crisis of southern Europe.

Greece, of course, is the bad boy of that continent but Ireland, Portugal and even larger economies like Spain and Italy are being added to the list of troubled nations. Up until now, the EU has grudgingly provided bailout money in exchange for economic austerity measures that have only driven these countries into deeper recessions and increased social discontent.

The new aid package to be announced will be a departure from this bankrupt strategy. Instead, the EU will tackle the root cause of the issue and reduce the overwhelming debt burdens of Greece, Portugal and Ireland. It will allow the EU's rescue fund, called the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), not only to buy that debt but also reissue new debt (loans) at much lower interest rates. It could also extend the maturities on new loans to these countries from an average of 7.5 years to 15 years or more.

The EFSF will also be able to aid troubled banks by lending money to various euro-zone governments (who will then bail out their banks) pre-emptively. No longer will governments have to wait for the crisis to hit before doing something about it. The EFSF will also be able to buy and sell sovereign debt of any of these countries on the open market in cooperation with the European Central Bank. That should discourage rampant speculation in these instruments, which has exasperated the crisis.

These moves, which were all rejected by Germany up until now, will form the basis of the equivalent of a Marshal Plan for Europe. I believe it is the best plan yet to address the financial contagion that has been pulling down one country after another within the EU. By reducing existing debt to manageable proportions and giving the beleaguered nations breathing room to repay it over many more years, the burden becomes more manageable. No longer will Greece, Portugal and Ireland have to slash spending and raise taxes while scrambling to find a way to pay back the loans and grow their economies all at the same time.

I had maintained that it was impossible to accomplish that feat. Readers may recall that over the last year I have been writing (and hoping) that the EU would see the light. This program, while not exactly the route I would have taken, is far more comprehensive than their past plans of simply kicking the can down the road.

An important change, and one that the European Central Bank had been resisting, is the possibility of allowing a "selective" default occur in Greek government debt. How that would happen is still not clear but it might include a bond-exchange program, a write-down of some of the debt or a buy back by the EFSF of a portion, say 20 percent, of heavily discounted Greek bonds.

The markets have been wrestling with just how such a default would impact Europe's banks, which hold billions of Euros in the sovereign debt obligations of the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain). Will a "selective" default of some Greek debt trigger the credit agencies to move toward a more negative stance on EU banks? If today’s prices of European bank stocks are any indication, the markets believe that there is a plan to avoid the credit agency's wrath.

All we know at this time is that private institutions in the financial sector will be given a number of alternative methods on how to assist in financing Greece's debt now and in the future. Some of the ways this can be accomplished are debt exchanges, roll overs and/or buy backs of existing debt.

I am sure that the details will need to be ironed out and, as usually happens with a plan this large, it will be a work in progress with lots of trial and error. What is important is that Europe's leaders have finally come to understand that the theatre we have been watching for almost two years needed drastic changes. The solution to the Greek financial crisis demanded that the actors revisit the stage with a new act. This week they have responded with an economic Fully Monty. I say, Bravo!  

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.



Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: Greece, PIGS, bailout, Europe      
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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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