This week's pivotal event was Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's first press conference with the media. Judging from the price action in the stock market, Ben passed with flying colors.
The chairman provided a bit of clarity, reassuring the market that in June, when QE II expires, it will be a gradual process of monetary tightening as opposed to a sharp spike in interest rates. Clearly, he gave little comfort to the dollar bulls as the greenback continues its decline (down 8 percent year-to-date) while dashing the hopes of bears in the precious metals markets as gold and silver raced ever higher on a wave of speculative fever and inflation expectations.
Although both Bernanke and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have expressed their support of a strong dollar policy, neither are doing anything to stem its fall, nor should they, in my opinion. Two years ago I predicted that the U.S. would attempt to export its way out of recession, as would the rest of the world. Judging from the recent spate of quarterly earnings results, U.S. corporations, especially multinations, are making big bucks on the back of the weakening dollar. Profits among corporations are up 26 percent from last year. This will be the seventh quarter in a row where corporations posted double-digit earnings growth.
In Europe, Germany is also benefiting from an upsurge in exports that is helping that country reduce unemployment, propel economic growth and improve corporate profits. At the same time, traditional weak currency, high exporting emerging market countries are feeling the opposite effect as their currencies strengthen, exports slow and imports climb.
Friday's revelation that GDP only grew by 1.8 percent should not have disappointed investors since just about every economist in the nation was predicting as much. Bad weather and the high prices of energy and food were blamed for the less than stellar performance. Most consider it a blip in the forecasts and growth will improve next quarter.
Despite the on-going outrage by commentators (and everyone else who has to eat and drive) about the rising prices of those two commodities, the overall core inflation rate in this country continues to remain below the Fed's targets.
"How can they just ignore gas prices or what I'm paying for meat, milk and even cereal?" demands a client and mother of three, who commutes from South Egremont to Albany every day.
The Fed argues that it cannot control the prices of food and oil, which are set on world markets and represent the totality of demand from around the globe. The central bankers contend that the recent spike in oil, for example, is transitory and will subside over time.
They have a point. Consider food and energy prices in the summer of 2008. They were at record highs only to plummet in the second half of the year. If the Fed had tightened monetary policy (by raising interest rates) in say, June 2008 at the height of the price climb for food and energy, it would have taken six to eight months before those higher rates impacted the economy. By then we were sliding into recession. Tightening would have transformed a serious recession into another Great Depression.
As for the markets, it's steady as she goes, mate, with strong earnings propelling markets closer to my first objective, S&P 500 level of 1,400. I believe we are seeing a little sector rotation going on with consumer discretionary, semiconductors and technology sectors taking a back set this week to industrials, consumer durables and precious metals. Along the way, expect pullbacks but don't be spooked by downdrafts. Take them in stride, stay invested and prosper.
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 email@example.com. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.
Markets did little in the first week of the 2011. All three averages barely budged as investors waited for some new catalyst that might hint at the near-term direction of the market. Friday's disappointing unemployment data gave them that excuse.
Only 103,000 jobs were created in December while some economists were forecasting as many as 400,000 jobs for the month. I'm not concerned about the monthly unemployment data or about a possible pullback in the next few days or weeks. While the overall market has vacillated lately, the commodity sector has been undergoing a good old-fashioned correction. Given that commodity stocks have largely led the market higher for the last year, in my opinion, declines in that area are telegraphing a coming slide in the overall stock market.
A pullback, when stocks are overextended like they are at the moment, simply allows the overall market to prepare for further gains in the future. A 2 to 4 percent dip therefore, while painful in the short term, would be barely be a blip in the coming move higher.
For those who missed last week's column, my prediction for the S&P 500 Index for 2011 is north of 1,450-1,500. We could see gains of between 15 to 20 percent before we hit another roadblock. As a result, I would advise even the most conservative investor to take advantage of any dip to re-orient their portfolio toward equities in 2011.
Remember, however, that we are still in a secular bear market and will be for the foreseeable future. What we are experiencing (and have been since March 2009) is a rally (called a secular bull market) within this long-term downtrend. It is a period where a buy and hold strategy will only result in losses to your portfolio. We have had similar periods in stock market history, with the most recent occurring between the years of 1966 and 1982.
During that period there were several opportunities, lasting from several months to a few years, where great gains were made, with similar opportunities to lose a great deal of money.
Consider this a market of seasons where at times you plant seeds, watch your crops grow, and then harvest them before the winter arrives. Right now we're in planting season (buying stocks) because the climate (economic environment) is conducive to growth. The economy will surprise investors this year by growing a little more than we expect (possibly 3.5 percent). The Fed will continue to keep short-term rates low while supporting the stock market using this "easy money" strategy. At the same time, the Obama administration's wide range of tax cuts and benefit extensions as well as investment tax breaks for our corporations will further boost spending.
Down the road, there still are several clouds looming on the horizon that may at some point de-rail this happy scenario. Although the much-feared specter of hyperinflation is overblown, in my opinion, we could see a sharp spike in long-term interest rates later in the year. The financial problems of European banks also worry me, and their problems have not gone away.
"But everyone I talk to is bullish," protests one investor from Pittsfield, who worries that the consensus is usually wrong.
He is right that my forecasts are very much in line with The Street. Friday, for example, Goldman Sachs upgraded their S&P 500 forecast to 1,500. Sometimes, the consensus and the markets can be in sync. I believe that the economic evidence is so overwhelmingly positive that, barring a new major negative, the near-term future of the markets is fairly certain.
Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in his discussion Friday with Senate Budget Committee commented that he sees "increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery" is unfolding as well as a "moderately stronger" economy this year. I'll stick with the Fed and bet on the market.
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 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.
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