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@theMarket: A Roller Coaster Market

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
Investors learned a number of lessons this week. First among them was that stocks, on occasion, can go down as suddenly as they can go up. They also began to realize that it may take longer than expected before this pandemic is put to rest.
 
Over the last two weeks, I have been warning investors to shuck those rose-tinted glasses and take a more realistic view of exactly where we are in this pandemic relief world. That advise is starting to sink in. This week, the Biden administration, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, gave investors a more sobering look at the future.
 
The distribution and delivery of vaccinations, according to President Biden, was going to take longer than he expected. How much longer is still anyone's guess. At the same time, Senator Chuck Schumer admitted that the Democrats $1.9 billion relief package might not see the light of day if he waits around for Republicans to get onboard. And finally, Dr. Fauci said he was concerned about the impact of some new coronavirus mutations on the existing efficacy of the present vaccines. None of the above should have surprised investors, but in a bull market hope springs eternal, so the bulls were buffeted by the news.
 
For some reason, investors assumed that the relief package was a done deal and would be passed in a blink of the eye with bipartisan support. Schumer's comments that he sees something passed in "4-6 weeks" was definitely not part of the bull's agenda.
 
Whats more, it now appears that in order to accomplish at least half of what President Biden wants in his package, the Democrats will have to resort to passing relief measures through a special Senate process called budget reconciliation, which would not require any Republican votes for the legislation to pass.
 
That news, combined with fresh doubts and concerns over the pace of vaccinations and new coronavirus strains, created a selling frenzy on Wednesday that saw the averages lose more than 2 percent by the close of trading. Thursday, markets sprung back to recoup most of those losses, but then fell again Friday. This kind of volatility is usually a sign of a topping pattern, although not always. I believe a 3,250 on the S&P 500 Index bears watching. A meaningful close below that level would usher in another cascade of selling that could result in a 10-15 percent correction.
 
The good news is that this week's sharp sell-off did reduce some of the frothiness that has been building up among many small-cap stocks. An interesting sideshow to that trend, which has also caught media attention, was the meteoric rise in GameStop and other heavily shorted stocks.
 
This video game vendor was the subject of what is called a "short squeeze." That's when a number of sophisticated investors (usually hedge funds) borrow and then sell stock of a company (the short) betting the stock will fall in price. Usually, the pros will keep that position, and when they judge the stock has fallen far enough, will buy back their short and bank the difference.
 
However, there is a new breed of retail investor populating the stock market. This week, they decided to turn the tables on these short sellers. They discovered the power of the little guy through several social media services like Reddit, that small investors could join together and combine purchases of options that could run up the stock price of down and out companies. They targeted GameStop and successfully forced those who shorted the stock to cover at much higher prices. It worked so well that now the latest trend among these traders is to identify additional shorts that can be exploited. The hunt is on and one of today's pick happens to be silver, a much-shorted precious metal.
 
Last week, I advised investors to begin raising cash in some high-flying stocks. Many of the stocks that saw the worse declines on Wednesday were in that category. Those kinds of washouts are usually a warning sign of further weakness in the overall market.
 
Hopefully, some readers did take my advice and are happier for it today, so continue to take more profits as we enter February. There is definitely a 10-15 percent decline in the cards somewhere up ahead, in my opinion. Whether that happens at this level, or somewhat higher, is immaterial. When it happens, in a week, two weeks or three, I will be buying that dip with the cash I am slowly raising now.  
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

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 OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

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The Retired Investor: Make Way for the Retail Investor

By now, you may have realized that this is not your father's stock market, nor will it ever be again. An entirely new army of investors have arrived on the scene with different attitudes, values, and beliefs. You can either hop on this train or be left behind.
 
Back in the day, burnt by the Financial Crisis of more than a decade ago, many investors decided to forsake the stock market, embracing bonds instead. Over that time, Americans amassed a $3 trillion in savings and 94 percent of that money went into bonds. Those bond buyers have had a good run, but all good things must come to an end.
 
Most fixed income investors are scrapping the bottom of the barrel if they are hoping for further increases in bond prices. Interest rates are less than one percent, and there isn't much room to fall further. Dividend-paying stocks are yielding more than most bond investments. Plus, the chances for price appreciation appeared to be much greater in the equity than in the bond market. The retail investor is waking up to this fact.
 
Last year, while Main Street suffered under the black hand of the coronavirus, the stock market roared higher, after a big correction in March 2020. That pullback was just the excuse many investors needed to dip their toes back into equities. After all, what better way was there for the unemployed worker or small business owner to supplement their income than in a market that was suddenly 30 percent cheaper than it had been at the beginning of the year?
 
Americans of all ages, spurred on by the pandemic-induced, stay-at-home trend, took a new interest in the financial markets. The government's stimulus checks provided the capital they needed to get involved.  For those working remotely, there was also a lot more time to trade with no boss watching over their shoulder. The commission-free trading and ease of execution also helped. The rest is history.
 
It would be too easy for old timers like me who have witnessed doubles and then triples in stocks of fledgling companies in mere days to warn of the excesses that this is causing in the market. It may be, but the fact that Google or Apple have done the same thing is perfectly acceptable because that happened over a longer period. Who is to say that what has happened in the past must happen in the future?
 
Others might scoff at these newbies who know so little about markets, earnings, and the trends that make a difference. The mantra I hear most is that this will end badly, so just wait for it. Talk of bubbles abound.
 
In the meantime, these new traders continue to invest in areas where they see a future. Electric vehicles, solar power, ESG investing, the Cloud and more. While seasoned investors point to the fact that many of these companies earn nothing and won't for years and years, Robin Hood traders ignore them. They are buying what they know, and so far, they have been right. If price talks then these new traders are walking the walk, in my opinion.
 
Check out what has happened to Bitcoin (or "digital gold" as investors are calling it). A year ago, high-paid strategists and analysts were still writing off crypto currencies as a fad with no future, while retail buyers ignored them. And well, they should, because they were already using Bitcoin to make purchases and pay their bills.
 
But what of the excesses, surely there will be a time when some of these traders will hit a brick wall? I am sure there will be a reckoning of some sort.  For example, this week's craze is to buy stocks with heavy short interest, bidding up prices and forcing the "Big Guys" to cover their shorts. Thousands of retail buyers converged on this week's phenomena, GameStop, a console and video game maker, to do just that. The price of the stock has been climbing by almost 100 percent per day and where it will end no one knows. In the meantime, other heavily shorted stocks are rising in sympathy. It won't last forever.
 
The point is that the markets are changing. And like with all change, there is good and bad. I have no doubt that the excesses will be dealt with in due course. Some traders will get burnt, but many more will continue to profit. I for one, encourage these young bloods to experiment. Their participation helps me in my own investing and has taught this old dog a whole bag of new tricks; so I say keep it coming.
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

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 OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

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@theMarket: Equities Register New Highs, Until They Don't

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist

New highs are getting so common that investors are disappointed when markets fail to achieve them at least weekly. That should tell you something about the future direction of stocks, at least in the short term.

As investors piled into stocks again this week in anticipation of unending spending by the federal government, it might be time to take a few profits. Don't take that statement the wrong way. I am not calling for an end to this run-up in stocks. I think we could actually kiss the 4,000 level on the S&P 500 Index before we face a really big correction.

But that is only about a 3.5 percent move higher from here, something we could do between now and February if we get more good news out of Washington. That would be a good time to get a bit more defensive. Unfortunately, most investors will wait until markets go down before thinking of selling. It is all about that tussle between fear and greed.

Do you want to go with the flow, or do you want to make money? A gradual cashing in on some of those gains you have made will do two things. Number one, you get to book profits. No one ever went bankrupt booking profits. Possibly even more important, you start to build a little cash on your books, which you can then use to buy back stocks at cheaper prices. It also gives you the opportunity to adjust your portfolios. You may be overweight in large caps, for example, and want to have more exposure to small caps, or you may want to add to some investments that might outperform under a new White House administration.

Investor sentiment is wildly bullish. As such, there is no question in my mind that the stock markets have hit the exuberance stage, at least in the short-term. The anticipation of mega-trillions of dollars of additional stimulus spending, which is "right around the corner" will do that to you.  

Despite all the good cheer, it would be a mistake to believe that the Biden administration has the ability to right every wrong and to do so in record time. I do believe there is an urgency in passing a relief bill, followed by a stimulus bill, but Congress may feel otherwise. Several Republican senators are already digging in their heels over the expected price tag of Biden's package.

Much has been said about President Joe Biden's experience and relationships, especially in the U.S. Senate. I believe he will need that and more to forge compromises with his Republican counterparts while keeping the progressive wing of the Democratic party in line. Yes, Biden can be applauded for getting right to work in taking executive actions in a number of areas that needed addressing, but that is not why the market keeps making record highs. Investors expect a quick passage of a $1.9 trillion relief package. As such, it is vulnerable to any cracks in that narrative.

My own expectations are that the final price tag will be lower than $1.9 trillion. It may also require more time than investors expect so that a final passage could take until the end of February. The president's infrastructure bill, assumed to be equal to or higher than his relief bill, might take even more time to affect a compromise if it comes to fruition at all.

I know all of this might sound like a big downer, so color me a skeptic. By all means, continue to celebrate and profit from the market's advances. But as you do, why not peel off a few investments along the way, just in case.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

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 OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

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The Retired Investor: The Reflation Trade

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist

Over the past six months, an increasing number of investors have come to believe that a rise in the inflation rate is inevitable. That appears to be a sound bet from where I sit, even though the present data doesn't support that wager.

The argument for increased inflation centers around money. The world is awash in the stuff. Central banks have been printing money for years to stimulate their economies. Last year's pandemic only opened the monetary flood gates even further. And the trend is not over.

During the next few months, here in the U.S., the Biden Administration is proposing another $1.9 trillion in federal spending, which will then be followed by yet another multitrillion-dollar spending program for infrastructure. Wherever you look — China, Europe, Japan — it is the same story. And while governments spend, central banks print money.

Why, then, you might ask, is the inflation rate so tame? If you look at our Consumer Price Index (CPI), over the last twelve months the increase was just 1.4 percent. That is and has been, far below the Federal Reserve Bank's target of 2 percent. It is so far below their inflation target that the Fed has said they would be willing and happy to see inflation rise above that rate for some time into the future.

And yet, wherever you look on the commodity front, we see accelerating prices in soft, as well as hard commodities. Corn, soybeans, wheat, sugar, copper, lumber, oil, precious metals, and most other material prices have climbed well above the 1.4 percent year-to-year increase in the CPI. How can that be?

Because the CPI and many other inflation measures like the Producer Price Index (PPI) are heavily weighted in such things as services and rents. Inflation by mundane variables, like commodities, are usually not much of a concern. That is largely because commodity prices fluctuate, and (over the last decade or so) were in downtrends.

However, that period appears to be coming to an end. Some economists argue that the declining dollar after years of strength may have something to do with it. Since most commodities are priced in dollars, for foreigners, commodities have become cheaper to purchase in their currencies, sparking additional demand.

At the same time, after years of lower prices, mining and exploration companies reduced their spending budgets. Why produce more of something worthless and less? As a result, a large number of commodities are in short supply. We have to go back 10 years to the spring of 2011, to witness the kind of price increases we are seeing in at least 35 different commodities.

All of this has been occurring while most of the world's economies are struggling to remain above water, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But now we are in the midst of a worldwide vaccination program. If successful, we can expect a turnaround in economic growth. What will happen to commodity prices once global economies begin to grow again?

Demand will increase quickly, while supply will take much longer to revive. That is a recipe for rising prices. Inflation, therefore, is all about expectations. If buyers of copper, for example, expect prices to increase in the future, they will gladly pay the going rate today to avoid higher prices in the future. I believe we are experiencing just such a change in sentiment when it comes to future inflation.

By the time this trend shows up in the CPI or the PPI, which could take many more months, inflation will be marching higher along with economic growth, so be prepared. If I were you, I would think seriously about putting some money to work in this area.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

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 OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

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The Retired Investor: Asia: The Investment Case

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist

Investment managers have spent the last decade buying and selling U.S. equities largely to the exclusion of the rest of the world. That made a lot of sense, since the S&P 500 was the best performing index in the world during that period. But times are changing.

While our U.S. stock averages did well again in 2020, Asian stocks did equally as well, and in some cases, they did better. Some of that performance can be attributed to the declining dollar. A weaker dollar benefits U.S. holders of foreign equities, and most analysts expect the greenback to weaken further this year.
 
However, that is not the only reason for investing in Asia. Overall, valuations are cheaper, much cheaper, than the lofty prices of many of America's stock market darlings. I know that many investors believe that valuations don't matter in this environment. They argue that as long as the Fed has our back, and the economy re-opens, company earnings will grow into these sky-high valuations.
 
I say they don't matter, until they do. Buying Asian equities at a reasonable price in 2021 removes much of that valuation risk, in my opinion. But valuation is only part of the story. I agree with Credit Suisse that says Asian stocks are entering an "earnings super-cycle" that could last for 3-5 years. They expect Asia's economies to come roaring back from the demise of the pandemic this year, thanks to several life-saving vaccines.   
 
While America wrestles with a winter surge of cases, deaths, and shutdowns, most of Asia is already rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic. Their economies have suffered less than the U.S., thanks to more enlightened governments and populations that have worked and sacrificed together.
 
Another big change is the importance of China to the region. China has replaced the U.S. as the principal engine of growth in Asia. While a Trumpian America has turned inward, eschewing regional trade agreements and erecting barriers to free trade, Asia has done the opposite. I have already written about some of their cooperative trade agreements such as the Asian Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECEP), which includes China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and others.
 
There are also some interesting trends in countries like Korea, China, and Japan that offer lucrative opportunities for the astute investor. Progress in clean, renewable energy, something lacking in our own country over the last four years, is making leaps and bounds overseas. Asian countries, backed by governments that are fully on board with the concept, continue to invest in solar and wind energy, various environmental initiatives, as well as in areas such as electric vehicles (Evs).
 
It is one of the reasons that Tesla, the number one player in EVs, is building an enormous new facility in China.
 
These changes will have enormous benefits for the Asian auto industry. Japan, for example, is planning to phase out gas guzzlers over the next ten years, which will revolutionize their massive auto export industry. China, not to be outdone, is already fostering several start-ups in the EV business as well.
 
Over the past three months, the trend toward "value investing" has caught fire, as a way to play the re-opening of the U.S. economy. Investors are buying up bank, consumer discretionary, natural resource, and industrial/materials stocks. I would rather look in the Asia Pacific region, and in India, where just about every investment is a value play.
 
You want mines and metals, look no further than Australia. Banks and real estate, try Singapore. Consumer stocks, what about investing in companies that sell to the billions of consumers in China?
 
Also, remember that technology is just as big in countries like Korea (DRAM chips) and Taiwan as it is here. Big foreign semiconductors, digital data centers, and internet companies are listed and readily available for purchase on our own stock exchanges. In fact, just about every country in Southeast Asia, India, and Indonesia are easily available through the purchase of exchange traded funds (ETFs).
 
One big criticism on investing overseas has always been the questionable accounting of overseas companies, along with the risk that various governments often have a track record of meddling with individual companies for political purposes. We can point to companies, such as Luckin Coffee in China, as a dishonest accounting case in point. However, today, recognizing this investment pitfall, most countries are cracking down hard on inaccurate company reporting and those executives at the helm. This week China sentenced to death a banker convicted of taking bribes.
 
As for government meddling, over the last several years, the U.S. government has done as much as China or any other country to influence and alter the fortunes of public companies. Just think about the Congressional hearings and White House meddling in companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon (to name a few).
 
In any case, the combination of a declining, dollar, reasonable valuations, and higher growth prospects makes Southeast Asia, including Japan, a much more attractive bet, in my opinion, than just sticking with the U.S.A. 
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

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 OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

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