@theMarket: Quarter Ends With a Bang
The markets presented plenty of head fakes this quarter. In January, contrary to everyone's expectations, the gains of last year kept right on coming through most of the first quarter, only to hit a brick wall in March thanks to troubles in the Middle East followed by nature's one-two punch to Japan. Despite that, the indexes finished the first quarter with the best gains in over two decades.
The Dow racked up 742 points (6.4 percent), the S&P 500 Index gained 68 points (5.4 percent) while the NASDAQ closed up 128 points for a 4.8 percent gain. If we annualize those gains we could be looking at a 20 percent plus gain for the year, which puts my forecast of a 20-23 percent gain in 2011 right on target.
"It was a choppy quarter though," commented one client on Friday who lives in Dalton.
I agree. Clearly this market is exacting a price (higher stress and wear and tear on the nerves) for the gains we are making. I suspect that additional volatility is waiting for us as we continue to climb a wall of worry throughout this next quarter. Some of the concerns I believe will haunt us through the spring are the price of oil brought on by geopolitical turmoil, continued problems among European financial institutions and, of course, the end of QE II, which occurs in June.
Can the economy continue to grow without the multibillion dollar monetary stimulus that the Fed has been providing for well over a year? The economy appears to be growing and unemployment declining, but is that a function of real demand or simply a response to the Fed's easy money policies? How will the stock and bond markets react to an end to this stimulus?
Smarter people than I are expecting a rapid and disastrous response by the bond markets to the sunset of QE II. They believe that interest rates will immediately spike, disrupting what little lending is already occurring and thereby throwing the economy back into recession. I find that hard to believe.
I'm going to give our central bankers, led by Ben Bernanke, the benefit of the doubt. They read the same papers we do and are well aware of the fears of the markets. Is it really plausible that the Fed will step out of the game and simply watch from the bleachers if the doomsayers are right?
There is simply too much at stake and Ben Bernanke knows it. I believe the process of pulling out of the market will be a managed one. For those who pay attention to "Fed Speak," I maintain that process is already at work. Recently a number of Board Governors who have granted interviews advised the financial community that the Fed will be taking a more neutral policy position in regards to stimulus in the future.
That's not to say there won't be concerns and with them volatility. Skittish investors will always jump the gun, many times before they actually have the facts. In today's markets, trading on rumors is just as viable as trading on the facts. So prepare for some rough sailing; but I get ahead of myself.
As a portfolio manager, it's part of my job to fret and worry about what will be, instead of enjoying what is. And a rising market is what we can expect over the next few months. Sure, we can and will have down days, but I believe they will be short and shallow. Commodity stocks will lead, so make sure you have some exposure to those sectors, and if you haven't yet, get back into the stock market — now.
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.
|Tags: stocks, Federal Reserve|
@theMarket: Markets Are Going Higher
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's putting his faith in the market.
The above headline may be a bold statement, especially when the averages are already at levels that surpass this year's stock-market highs. But the actions and words of the Federal Reserve Bank this week convinces me that stocks have substantial upside ahead of them.
As I predicted, this week was a big one for investors and the country. The mid-term election results and the resulting legislative gridlock in Washington most pundits expect leaves the Fed as our only hope in reviving the economy and reducing unemployment. (see yesterday's column "Don't Fight the Fed.")
The $600 billion in additional quantitative easing (QE II) and Chairman Ben Bernanke's Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post makes obvious that not only is the Fed targeting stronger growth in the economy but also higher prices in the stock market.
It is the first time in my career that a Fed chairman has explicitly targeted stocks as a tool to increase consumer spending, grow the economy and reduce unemployment.
Imagine my surprise when a day later, the central bank of Japan stated the very same thing but went a step further by also targeting real estate prices in its country.
This takes government support of the economy to an entirely new level in my opinion. During the financial crisis and its aftermath, the government (the Fed, U.S. Treasury and both the Bush and Obama administrations) has on several occasions provided a back stop to the markets. They took actions to save corporations, provided support for declining securities such as mortgage-backed securities, even money markets, and promised to support or bail out the U.S. financial markets with all the power at their disposal. It was one of the main reasons back in early 2009 that I turned bullish on the stock markets. I was betting on the government because they have much deeper pockets then the private sector and if they failed to fulfill their promise we were all doomed anyway.
This week's comments from Bernanke have taken that implicit promise of "support" a big step further. If I read this right, Bernanke is saying that consumers and corporations are still worried about the economy and their own finances. Higher stocks, according to Bernanke, will restore confidence as Americans see their savings rebound. That confidence could lead to additional spending, which would mean more growth in the economy and ultimately lower unemployment. Therefore, insuring that stock prices go higher would accomplish the Fed's mandate of lower unemployment.
Now that does not mean the Fed is simply going to jack up the market in one big melt-up. There will still be corrections. The market is overdue for one right now but over the longer term, at least the next few quarters, I think the fix is in. So if you have been sitting in Treasury bonds or cash waiting for the inevitable second collapse in stocks you may have to wait several more years. In the meantime, you could miss out on a substantial rally in equities.
I also think that we will finally see a dip in the unemployment rate over the next few months. The stimulus money that was spent during the run-up to the elections has generated additional jobs and those jobs are beginning to show up in the data. In addition, I expect U.S. productivity will begin to falter as the economy perks up. So from where I sit, the next few quarters look pretty good for the stock 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.
|Tags: Bernanke, Federal Reserve, stock market|
The Independent Investor: Don't Fight the Fed
Now that QE II is in the bag, expect QE III, QE IV and maybe even a QE V, if that's what it takes to restore economic growth and reduce the unemployment rate to under 7 percent in this country. After the mid-term election results, I believe the Federal Reserve is all that stands between us and a stagnant, deflationary economy. I would not bet against them in this endeavor.
Most of Wall Street is expecting fiscal gridlock in Washington now that the GOP has re-taken the House but is still the minority in the Senate. That will mean little if any new initiatives to either grow the economy or drive down unemployment have much chance of passing. One exception may be a compromise on the Bush tax cuts.
If both sides can muster enough cooperation to cut a deal in extending the tax cuts before the end of the year (when they are set to expire) then we may escape an economic knockout punch of monumental proportions. Outside of that, there is not much that we should expect from the government over the next two years.
That means that only the Federal Reserve Bank, led by Chairman Ben Bernanke and his band of 12 governors, are left to wage the good fight against the forces arrayed against our economy. Their mandate, to promote low, stable inflation and a high level of employment, gives them enough latitude to do just about whatever they feel necessary to jump start the economy. It appears they are doing just that.
QE II not only says the Fed is serious about that mission but signals an intention, in my opinion, that if this one doesn't work, another one will already be in the pipeline, followed by another, and another. That is entirely believable since the Fed can and will continue to print money (U.S. dollars) until the cows come home in an effort to grow the economy, which is the only way they can reduce unemployment.
In an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post on Thursday, Bernanke defended the Fed's second quantitative easing and stated several things that you should read as Gospel:
"... the heavy costs of unemployment include intense strains on family finances, more foreclosures and loss of job skills."
"... inflation is running somewhat below 2 percent."
"... higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending.”
"... Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion."
Bernanke said next to nothing about the dollar since he did not want to give the impression that the U.S. was deliberately driving the dollar lower (although that is exactly what QE II will do). If you don't believe that just take a peek at the decline in the greenback lately. As I have said in the past, the dollar will continue to weaken as the Fed prints more and more money. A lower dollar will boost commodity prices such as gold, silver, energy, materials and agricultural food items. So ignore the naysayers who say commodity prices have run their course.
As far as the Fed is concerned, pumping more money into the economy is OK, at least for now, since the inflation rate is "a bit lower than the rate most Fed policymakers see as being consistent with healthy economic growth in the long run."
But the most important message investors should take away from his Op-Ed is his extraordinary comment concerning higher stock prices. Evidently the Fed believes higher stock prices should be part and parcel of its attempt to grow the economy. The reasoning makes sense when you consider that consumers are the linchpin of this economy. Given that our two main pillars of wealth, our tax-differed retirement savings and our homes, have taken a huge hit since 2008, any improvement in one or both of these assets should help improve our confidence and therefore our spending. That message is clear in the bullet points above.
The Fed is clearly telegraphing to investors that they want a higher stock market, and like unemployment and the economy, they will do what it takes to accomplish that goal. This message is behind the jump in the stock market this week. My advice to you is don't fight the Fed. Buy stocks.
|Tags: Federal Reserve, Bernanke, economy, stocks|
@theMarket: QE II Supports the Markets
No, QE II is not the name of a cruise ship; although it might as well be, given the upward ride it is providing the stock market. The Federal Reserve is expected to launch another quantitative stimulus effort in early November and the markets are rising in anticipation of that event.
On Friday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated that the central bank is ready to move if necessary to stimulate the economy. Investors are assuming it's a question of "when" and not "if" the Fed will move to buy additional U.S. Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities and whatever else they decide will provide additional impetus to a slow-growth economy.
In an election year, where the continuing high rate of unemployment and the ongoing housing mess is being blamed on the Democrats, the pressure on the Fed for a QE II must be enormous. Remember, at the end of the day, Bernanke is a political appointee, as are the members of the Fed's governing board. Sure, we would like to think that the Fed is an independent body focused solely on the economic health of America and it is most of the time.
On the other hand, if the president's wishes dovetail with what the Fed perceives to be necessary in helping the economy so much the better.
In my last few market columns, I explained that QE II was a game changer. The Fed, by promising additional stimulus, is providing investors with a "put" on the economy and therefore on the stock market. If the economy continues to grow on its own, the markets will go higher. If the economy falters, the Fed will intervene to fix it and the markets will go higher. What's not to like about that?
The arguments on whether we really do need another stimulus, will QE II really work, and will it add to the potential for more inflation down the road are consuming a forest of newsprint. In the meantime, investors are dumping the dollar (see my latest column "The Coming Currency Wars"), the markets forge steadily higher and commodities of all kinds are on fire.
As readers recall, only a month ago I raised my price target for gold to $1,350 per ounce. We have already surpassed that level and it looks like the yellow metal will hit $1,400 per ounce very soon. I'm going to have to raise my price target again but first I would like to see gold and other commodities pull back.
The dollar is key to any commodity correction. There is an inverse relationship between the dollar and commodities. The dollar may bounce over the next few weeks and if it does, that should cause commodities in general to pull back. Remember too that in the commodity arena, corrections are extremely sharp where prices can drop dramatically in a very short time.
As the S&P 500 Index flirts with the 1,180 level, I would expect a bit of resistance before the bulls make a dash toward the year's highs. The ongoing questions over housing foreclosures that have embroiled most of the banking sector this week has kept a lid on the averages. The next Fed meeting won't be until early November so any potential QEII is still weeks away. The main market moving catalyst we face is this quarter's earnings announcements. So far, company results have been a mixed bag. My advice is to let the markets pull back a bit before committing any more money to this party.
|Tags: Federal Reserve, Bernanke, stimulus|