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Independent Investor: What To Expect After a Waterfall Decline

Bill Schmick

It's been one heck of a two weeks. One would think the world was coming to an end, given the way global markets have behaved. You may not be able to make much sense of why markets sold off so quickly, but out of the carnage we may be able to predict what comes next. Here's why.

Stock market free falls, such as the one we are presently experiencing, are called "waterfall declines," which are sudden drops of 20 percent or more compressed into a few short weeks or days. They are fairly rare events and most follow a roughly similar pattern consisting of three phases.

The first phase is the decline itself followed by a sharp bounce higher. We may be experiencing that bounce right now. Following the bounce (and possible re-test of the lows), the market should drift into a basing period that could last for one to three months.

During that time the market could move up and down in a sideways pattern similar to what we experienced in May through June of this year. Finally in the last phase there is a rally lasting six to 12 months that could move the markets higher by about 25 percent.

In reviewing 10 waterfall declines from 1929 thorough 2002, three months after the post-waterfall low, the stock market was higher in all 10 cases. Six months later, the market was higher in nine of the 10 cases with the average gain at 17 percent. A year later, the market was higher in nine out of 10 cases with the average gain equal to 24 percent. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 was in a league all by itself. The market, three months after the low of March 2009, was up 37 percent.

If we drill down even further, say to the next two weeks, one can expect a "relief rally" of as much as 10 percent. Then, if the pattern holds, we should "re-test" the bottom. In this case, if we have truly found a bottom for the S&P 500 Index at around 1,100, we should bounce again from there.

"So what happens if we break down through that 1,100 level?" asked a nervous client from Manhattan.

The short answer is 1,100 wasn't the bottom and we go lower, by as much as 10 percent, to S&P 1,000.

Waterfall declines are often recession-related. There have been exceptions to that rule, for example, in 1987 the market fell sharply for two days only to spring back. The Dot-Com boom and bust of 2002 was another waterfall decline that did not usher in a recession.

So what is the best way to navigate through a waterfall decline and its aftermath? It is obvious that one should ride out the turbulence; at least for the next few months. If we are truly entering into a recession, the economic data will confirm that fear or dispel it. If we are going into a double-dip, then I advise you to get defensive—bonds, dividend paying stocks, etc.

But it may turn out that the market was simply correcting, as it does periodically after a long and profitable run. Remember, the S&P 500 Index was up over 80 percent in over two years, so a 20 percent pullback doesn't look as serious from that perspective. 

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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Independent Investor: Fear and Loathing on Wall Street

Bill Schmick

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.

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Independent Investor: Enough Already!

Bill Schmick

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.

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Independent Investor: Europe Goes the Full Monty

Bill Schmick

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      

Independent Investor: Emerging Markets — Times Are Changing

Bill Schmick

While the investing world is distracted by the U.S. debt ceiling crisis and the on-going drama of Italy and Greece, I've noticed that a small but increasing stream of money is finding its way back into some emerging markets.  

Last year, I advised investors to lighten up on emerging markets. That proved to be the right call. The Chinese market is now below the levels last seen in late 2009. India and Brazil have lagged world markets as has Russia. But usually you want to begin to invest in these markets before their stock markets turn. Today, I think it may be the right time to start nibbling in the area. Here's why.

The increase in commodity prices was a major negative for many emerging markets, notably China, India and Brazil. Their factories are voracious users of energy, such as oil and coal and a host of base metals and agricultural food stuff. When prices of these inputs go up, combined with a fast growing economy, inflation follows quickly.

Many emerging market governments have had to contend with this problem by tightening credit and raising interest rates over the last two years. When commodity prices come down, as they have done over the past four months, it relieves some of the inflationary pressure and allows governments to loosen monetary policy a bit. That reversal of fortunes is happening at the moment.

China, the big dog of emerging markets, has raised interest rates five times this year. Last week, they raised them again but indicated that it may well be the last hike this year. The Chinese central bank has not changed its rigid stance toward fighting inflation quite yet, but it expects to see some lessening in the inflation rate this month. Investors have worried that all this the belt-tightening in China (and other countries) would lead to a "hard landing" for the economy, but the country reported steady growth for the second quarter coming in at 9.5 percent, only slightly lower than the first quarter's 9.7 percent growth rate.

But things have changed in the investing landscape among emerging markets. Gone are the days when one could simply buy a fund that is exposed to all emerging markets and hope to prosper. Brazil and other Latin countries, for example, are tied to the prices of the commodities they produce, so what may be good for China, may be bad for Brazil.

India, like China, has an inflation problem but seems to have a better handle on controlling inflation and imports more natural resources than it exports. Some other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan have their own set of economic variables, although many of them still depend on China's continued growth for their own prosperity.

Korea, on the other hand, may not even be an emerging market any longer in my opinion. Latin American countries like Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina join Brazil in combating high inflation brought on by the very thing that is responsible for their growth, natural resources.

About the best that can be said is that as emerging markets develop, each country's particular set of circumstances can provide both an opportunity and a challenge. Gone are the easy-money days of simply buying them all and watching your portfolio go up and up as it had in the period of 2002-2007. Now it takes some homework and a bit of luck.

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: emerging markets, commodities, inflation      
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