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@theMarket: A Cause to Pause
By Bill Schmick On: 06:37PM / Friday January 17, 2014
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Markets usually need something to move them. Good news or bad, the markets want an excuse to go up or down. Now that the government, the debt ceiling, the budget and the Fed are temporarily out of the picture, investors are finally focusing on something meaningful — earnings.

Actually, that is a good thing. It may indicate that the financial sector is at last returning to its historical roots after years of government bail-outs, monetary control and political drama. There was a time, some of you may remember, when earnings could make or break the markets. I don't think we are there yet, but company earnings this week have given the market cause to pause.

The sampling of company data thus far in this earnings season has been lackluster at best. Companies in the financial, health care, retail and several other sectors have disappointed. The Christmas season, for example, was evidently a disappointment for many traditional, non-internet retailers. Consumer shopping behavior is clearly changing as more and more people shop the web and shun the malls.

To tell you the truth, I am one of those who have abandoned the store for the ease, convenience and competitive prices offered through my computer. Just about all of my holiday shopping was done that way, including the gift certificate I purchased for my wife at a local clothing store.

In the financial sector, banks and brokers are struggling with the new curbs on proprietary trading as well as regulations that require them to amass more capital to offset the risks they are taking in their businesses. Bond trading, which had been a big profit center for financial institutions, also did poorly thanks to rising interest rates.

Granted, it is still early days in the earnings season. I am sure that there will be some absolute gems in upside earnings surprises. The trick is to identify those companies that shine and avoid those that won't. Wow! Could we really be at that point in the recovery where the fundamentals of individual companies have once again become important to their stock price?

As readers are aware, I believe the economy is accelerating and employment rising. All is well in the world right now.  Markets over the last few years have climbed a wall of worry but it appears that those worries have faded. We have yet to replace them with new ones or maybe the new worry is that there isn’t anything to worry about it?

So what are the negatives?

We are in the second year of a four-year presidential cycle. If one looks back through the post-World War II period, we find that these "second years" have been the absolute worst performance years in the stock market. To make matters worse, stock market returns have been even lower than normal when the president has been a Democrat.

Valuation also bears watching. Markets are not yet expensive, but could become so if enough companies fail to live up to expectations. What is now simply a pause in the market's advance could become a rout, if too many companies disappoint. But what continues to bother me the most is the sentiment indicators. There are just too many bulls out there for my taste. As a contrarian, I like the markets most when no one else does. However, none of the potential negatives tempt me to bail on stocks. Stay the course.

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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Independent Investor: The Internet Will Change
By Bill Schmick On: 04:21PM / Thursday January 16, 2014
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"Net Neutrality" is the official name for an open Internet. It means that all Internet providers are to be treated the same regardless of whether you are a mom and pop company or a global behemoth. This week's federal appeals court ruling pulled the plug on that concept.

The judges ruled that the Federal Communication Commission's anti-discrimination rules were beyond the scope of its authority when it came to the Internet. Congress gave the FCC authority to regulate common carriers, such as telecommunication companies, years ago. The FCC has always ruled that telephone networks cannot discriminate against consumers.

However, back in the Bush administration, the FCC was pressured by phone and cable lobbyists to categorize Internet service providers differently. They are considered information services, which we now discover exempts them from common carrier rules. In hindsight, that was a big mistake.

For consumers the fallout could be huge. Fee-free services that we now take for granted may not work as well as before. Internet service providers could now charge fees for the privilege of "service in the fast lane" while the rest of us find we have been consigned to the tortoise lane.

If you're a company that really needs a large amount of bandwidth to provide your services to the consumer in a timely fashion, fees will be going up. Think of companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Facebook and others that may have to pay more to ISPs in order to ensure that their content remains accessible to their customers. We all know what that means — higher costs will be passed on to us in the form of higher charges for the same service.

Higher fees could also mean less innovation. Much of today's new ideas are Internet-related, simply because anyone with a good idea can try it out with little to no cost on the Internet. There will be fewer garage startups by Internet and Web-enabled entrepreneurs. Small companies will find it harder to launch new services or compete with existing players that have the resources to pay and keep new players out.

But this is not only about the cost of your next viewing of "House of Cards" or "Orange is the New Black." The Internet has become society's great equalizer. Anyone, regardless of background, income, or race can access the Web for any number of reasons from education to entertainment. As ISPs begin to resemble cable companies, those who can pay will receive a far different level of service from those that can’t.

Society in general will suffer as yet another great divide will be created. Those who can pay will have access and those who don't will see further stratification of society based on incomes and demographics. From the great equalizer, the Internet could become the great divider over time.

There is still hope, however. Net neutrality could still survive. There is nothing in the court's ruling that prevents the FCC from reversing their Bush-era decision. They could simply change the definition and treat the Internet providers as part of the telecommunications industry. Of course, that would put them at logger heads with a very powerful lobbying army and a number of politicians who are being paid to represent the interest of the ISPs.

That's where you come in. You could always call your elected official and express your opinion.

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: Statistically Speaking
By Bill Schmick On: 11:47AM / Sunday January 05, 2014
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Wall Street is awash with statistics on any given day. Some are useful while others simply add to the level of noise, but on occasion we do get some hints of where the markets are going by looking at past data.

Take the month of January for example, historically it has been a good month for stocks.

It is a time when new money supposedly floods into the stock market, pushing the averages up. That gets investors excited. They begin to anticipate a big up year. Some say that if the Dow Jones Industrial Average is higher after the first five days in January, then the month will be positive. Others argue that if the month finishes on an up note so will the year.

The S&P 500 Index has been up 13 of the last 20 Januarys, so statistically the odds are in our favor but not by that much. What may add weight to those probabilities is the market's performance in 2013. The S&P 500 Index was up 30 percent last year (not counting dividends).

Whenever that has occurred in the past (75 percent of the time since 1928), the next year's January gained on average 2.4 percent. There have been four years since 1995 that the S&P 500 closed with over 20 percent gains and all four years saw average gains of 2.5 percent.

As for the market's predicted performance in 2014, there is more good news ahead thanks to the gains of last year. Since 1950, there have been 17 instances when the S&P 500 was up more than 20 percent in a year. The same index finished positive the following year 14 times (82 percent probability). There have been four years since 1995 that the S&P 500 closed with over 20 percent gains and in all four years the average gain was 2.5 percent.

There is little to worry about on the domestic or on the global front right now.

Washington politicians are playing nice for now. This year's elections will short circuit any tendencies by the tea party to create another crisis in the first quarter. The economic numbers in the U.S., Europe and Japan are encouraging. Those are the three markets that investors should be focused on. Europe is lagging our own recovery by a year or two. Japan represents enormous upside in the years ahead and we here at home have entered a secular bull market.

So far the jury is out on January. Thursday was a down day and Friday we recouped some of those losses. I am betting that next week sees some further upside. However, somewhere out there a pullback is lurking. I expected it to happen in December but at its worst, the market was down less than 2 percent.

Interest rates continue to rise with the 10-year U.S. Treasury now over 3 percent. I believe rates are heading much higher. Part of the reason that the stock market continues to gain is that bond holders are finally getting religion. They are selling bonds and buying back into equities.

It is too hard to call the movements of the market in the short term but history seems to indicate that we should expect to see a few more days, if not weeks, of gains before this rally comes to a close. In any case, my advice remains the same for readers — stay invested.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.



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The Independent Investor: Make a Financial Resolution This Year
By Bill Schmick On: 10:23AM / Friday January 03, 2014
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As most of us resolve to lose weight, quit smoking or in some other way change our lives this year, don't forget to re-evaluate where you stand financially. There are some simple steps you can take that will reshape your fortunes for years to come.

Most people don't know where they stand financially. Many can't tell you how much they spend or make, what their tax bracket is or how much they have saved. My advice is to create a budget as well as a statement of net worth.

It is not that complicated. Just track your spending for a month, separating essential from non-essential expenses. Next keep track of whatever income comes in. Subtract one from the other and you now have a cash flow. Now you can figure out what you spend and what you make a year simply by multiplying by 12 months.

Now comes the important part. If you spend more than you earn, as most of us do, you will at least know how much debt you are accumulating each year. There is no way anyone can get out from under a heavy debt burden unless they know how much debt they have in the first place. A first step in reducing that debt would be to cut back on those non-essential spending items.

On the other hand, some of us may find that we earn more than we spend each month but somehow the money just disappears. Usually, it is found among those same non-essential items that you don’t need but buy anyway. This is money that you should be saving toward retirement. You should be saving 10-15 percent of your pre-tax income each year, starting in your 20s, and add 10 percent more for every decade you don't.

Personal net worth is also a good thing to know. Once again, sit down and add up everything you own and how much it is worth. Next, figure out what you owe: mortgages, car payments, medical bills, school loans, etc. Subtract one from the other and you now have your net worth.

Armed with this new budget and net worth information, you can now create some goals and objectives. Are you spending too much? If so, create a spending reduction goal each month through the end of the year. Establish a debt-reduction goal for the year and make sure you are on track each month to achieve it.

If you can save, establish a goal for how much you will put away this year, and keep to it. At first it may only be an emergency fund, which in a pinch; would cover 3-6 months of expenses. After that, you might want to think about saving toward retirement through one of the many tax-deferred savings plans available.

These are simple steps that cost nothing but time and effort. The trick is to stick with the process. So often, New Year's resolutions last about as long as it takes to write them down. This year don't let that happen to you.

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: Tea Leaves and Crystal Balls
By Bill Schmick On: 04:27PM / Friday December 27, 2013
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Given that the New Year is just around the corner, brace yourself for a barrage of Wall Street predictions. Investors love to read them, despite the fact that the vast majority of forecasts will be proven wrong. Last year, I was lucky and spot on with my bullish forecast, but 2014 could be different.

 First, the good news, the economy and employment will continue to grow. Despite the naysayers, the quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve Bank over the past several years was, in my opinion, a success. In 2013, we began to see the fruits of their labors. I believe the strength of the stock market this year was fueled by the gathering strength of the economy and not by what the Fed would or would not do.

Unemployment will continue to fall and will drop to below 6.5 percent by the end of 2014. The strength of the economy will mean an increase in hiring by the nation’s businesses and corporations. Wages will begin to climb for workers and profits will expand among employers.

As a result, the stock market will continue to make gains, although not at the pace of 2013. Declines this year were short and shallow. Every time the markets dipped, buyers took that opportunity to add to their holdings. The S&P 500 Index made it through the year without once experiencing a 10 percent decline. The dazzling strength of the stock market disappointed those who were waiting for a serious pullback before entering the market.

It won't happen like that in 2014.

I suspect that somewhere at the end of the first quarter or into the second quarter, we will see a substantial stock market decline of the 15-20 percent variety. Now, folks, this will not be the end of the world nor should you treat it as such. It will simply be a much-needed correction within a bull market.

The second year in an election cycle has always been a bad one for stocks, and there is a lot riding on elections in 2014. At the same time, if markets continue to advance, valuations will become stretched and the chances of a big sell-off will grow higher and higher.

Interest rates will also continue to climb in 2014. This year was the turning point for bond investors. The thirty year bull market in bonds is over and the next several years will see declining values in bond portfolios and higher and higher interest rates. It may well be that as the Fed begins to taper in earnest next year; interest rates could climb high enough to spook the stock market, causing the sharp selloff.

The good news is that I expect all the potential losses that stock investors would incur under my 2014 scenario could well be made up by the end of next year. It may well be that the market's 2014 gains could be around the historical norm, about 7 percent, when all is said and done.  

As most of my readers and clients know, I will not sit idly by in the face of such a selloff, if it should occur. Unlike this year, where my strategy was to buy and hold, next year will require a certain amount of adeptness in first selling and then buying back equities for some of you. For those longer-term players who are willing to do nothing, you can expect, at worst, some paper losses that will be made up by year-end.

Remember too, that we are in a secular bull market. As such, next year's decline, if it occurs, would be merely a speed bump in the grand scheme of things. I fully expect the stock market to continue to make gains beyond 2014, possibly as high as another 60-80 percent. So the best New Year's resolution you could make in 2014 is to stay with stocks for the foreseeable future.

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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