Home About Archives RSS Feed

The Independent Investor: Exchange-Traded Funds Catch On

Bill Schmick

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) assets have recently surpassed the $1 trillion mark as investors continue to discover these securities are a welcome alternative to both stocks and mutual funds. Adding $122 billion to this growing class of funds in 2010, investors and experts alike believe ETFs will continue to grow as markets become highly correlated in the years ahead.

Readers are aware that I have written a number of columns on ETFs over the years. But for those new to the concept, I'll quote Wikinvest's definition of an ETF:

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is an investment product — similar to a mutual fund — that trades on a stock exchange. Most ETFs track major stock indices or industry sub-sectors, which allows investors to get exposure to either the entire market or specific sectors with a single purchase. Unlike a mutual fund, an ETF's holdings — the investments it makes — are always known (its components are simply the weighted components of the index it tracks). While mutual funds often aim to 'beat' the market or the sector they track, ETFs usually aim only to track the market and match its performance, good or bad. As a result, ETFs often charge lower fees than mutual funds, and are known as inexpensive ways for investors to invest in the market as a whole or specific subsectors. ETFs also have lower-expense ratios because they are not actively managed. In most cases, this results in lower management fees and lower turnover costs.

Now given that they are cheaper, trade all day, (unlike mutual funds that trade once a day after the market close), and outperform mutual funds the majority of the time, why haven't they driven mutual funds out of business?

The answer is two-fold: commitment and self-control.

Some investors believe that they can outperform the market if they pick the right mutual fund manager. There are fund managers out there who consistently do that although the numbers are less than 25 percent of all mutual funds.

Although ETFs will generate the same returns as their underlying index, many investors are guilty of buying and selling ETFs at the wrong time. Emotions sometimes get in the way of objective investing. ETFs, given that they trade all day like stocks, are far easier to dump (or chase) when the markets suddenly turn against you while mutual funds charge a penalties for such short term trading. And unlike ETFs, they can only be purchased once a day after the stock market closes.

Nonetheless, experts expect the demand for ETFs will continue to grow. Financial giants such as Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade have begun to offer their own ETFs and are offering investors incentives to switch their buying to their house brand by offering commission-free trades and undercutting competitors in the expense ratios area.

The recent proliferation of exchange-traded notes or ETNs that invest in commodities such as gold bullion, sugar, platinum and a host of other commodities have also attracted the interest of investors. Many of us have found a cheap, viable approach to investing (or speculating) in a field long closed to all but the best-heeled professionals. But buyers beware, ETNs are taxed differently then ETFs (even in tax–deferred accounts such as IRAs).

Nonetheless, ETNs have been so successful in attracting new money that there have been several articles criticizing ETNs for artificially inflating the price of commodities such as oil, and causing spikes in consumer stables like gasoline.

Finally, the fact that most stock markets have become highly correlated makes buying individual stocks or even mutual funds less efficient. If everything is going up together an ETF enables the investor to buy into sectors, countries, regions or even world indexes quickly. They allow the little guy to truly become a global investor, although how one performs requires that same old self-control and commitment that has been around for centuries. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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 wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.

Write a comment - 1 Comments       Tags: ETF, mutual funds      

@the Market: What Will the New Year Bring?

Bill Schmick

Now that we have safely tucked away the year 2010 with the S&P 500 Index up 12.9 percent, will we enjoy a similar or better return in 2011? Clearly, the majority of investors are looking for another up year. I believe that’s a safe bet, at least for the first half of the year.

Since March of 2009, I have been forecasting an up market and have been correct in doing so. Sure, during that time period we have had our ups and downs largely based on worries of a "double dip" recession here in the U.S. and financial problems in Europe. I discounted both events but also warned investors that the markets would react negatively. I considered those sell offs a buying opportunity. In hindsight, where I have erred was in estimating the severity and duration of some of these pullbacks.

For example, I did identify an interim top in the markets back in April (at around the S&P 500 1,220) but was too bearish in estimating the index would decline to 950 before the correction would be over. Instead, the S&P 500 tested and re-tested the 1,035 level and then resumed its climb in September.

The low in the markets coincided with The Federal Reserve’s announcement that they planned to launch a second quantitative easing.  It was enough to reverse my cautious stance, admit my mistake, and turn positive on the markets. I have been bullish since the fall and have no reason to change my mind now that we are entering the New Year.

I believe the economy will hold positive surprises for us in the first half of the year. Growth will exceed most economists’ forecasts and although unemployment will remain high, we will see a steady improvement over the next several months as American corporations hire more workers. The housing market will also surprise us as well. I firmly believe 2010 saw the bottom in housing prices and sales. In 2011, we should see a small but steady improvement in all but the most bombed-out housing markets. The Fed will stay accommodative as well keeping short-term rates low and equities higher.

All this good news should translate into higher prices in global stock markets and in commodities. The S&P 500 could see gains of 15 percent-plus before the year is over and depending upon your investments, that gain could be substantially higher. However, we will still be subjected to corrections. Right now, for example,  as a result of this Christmas rally, all three indexes are over extended and in need of a pullback. This could occur as early as next week or later in the month. These mini-corrections are an inevitable cost of doing business in equity 

There is also a distinct possibility that later in the year the stock market will get ahead of itself. After all, markets vacillate between fear and greed. As the averages trend higher, investors tend to believe markets will go higher still. Valuations get out of whack or events occur that change the game and the markets correct. So don’t be surprised if I sound a note of caution as early as this spring. Rest assured that somewhere out there lurks another substantial pullback (greater than 10 percent). Hopefully, I will be on the job and lucky enough to identify it when it occurs.

However, for now, I see clear sailing ahead with only a few minor squalls in the stock markets. As for fixed income, clearly, interest rates have seen their lows in the U.S. Treasury and Municipal bond markets. That multi-decade Bull Run is over and investors would be well advised to steer clear of those areas. Commodities will continue to gain although this year I suspect precious metals will take a back seat to their more mundane cousins such as agricultural products, base metals and materials.

All in all, I feel as positive about the markets now as I did at this time last year. I guess the difference today is that I am expecting more people to enjoy the benefits of an economic expansion than ever before. And that is a real reason to celebrate, so happy New Year to you and yours.

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 wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.

Write a comment - 1 Comment       Tags: forecast      

The Independent Investor: Will the Municipal Bond Massacre Continue?

Bill Schmick

There was a time when municipal bonds were a staid but safe investment. Tax conscious investors, widows and orphans would plow money into these debt issues of towns, cities and state municipalities fully expecting price stability and a predicable stream of interest payments. No more.

What makes municipal bonds appealing to many investors is that interest income received by holders of municipal bonds is often exempt from federal income tax and from the income tax of the state in which they are issued. But ever since the financial crisis and the recession that had accompanied it, state and local governments have had a hard time of it and their bonds have reflected that trading in a wide range similar to stocks and other riskier investments. Vast sums have been made and more recently lost in Muni bonds as investors bet on which states and towns would go bust and which would survive. The betting continues unabated.

Over the last two months, the entire $2.8 trillion market has seen a sizable decline in value. In just one day last month, for example, these bonds were hit by more than $3 billion in redemptions. By the end of that week, bond sales totaled $15.4 billion. The average municipal bond fund suffered a 3.7 percent loss for the month. Losses overall are approaching 6 percent for the year which is a modern-day record.

Underneath those headline figures is a market in which investors are feverishly sorting out those state and local governments with strong fundamentals and even stronger prospects and those that don't.

Forty-six states experienced budget shortfalls this year and 39 of them have projected gaps next year totaling $112 billion to $140 billion. Tax revenues this year dropped 3.1 percent, although that's an improvement over 2009's decline of 8.4 percent. However, most states expect property taxes to begin to decline next year. These taxes tend to lag real estate prices by about three years since assessments trail prices. Towns and municipalities rely on these taxes for at least 25 percent of their revenues and they look to the states for at least another third of their budget in state aid.

States have no money to lend, however, because their own taxes continue to decline due to the large number of unemployed, slow economic growth and the inability to raise taxes while residents are struggling to make ends meet. In 2011, states will also have to begin paying back to the federal government the $40.9 billion they borrowed interest-free through the stimulus plan.

In a similar fashion to the debt problems within some countries in Europe (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy), here in the United States we too have our weaker states with Illinois and Nevada most often rated the states most likely to experience further economic turbulence. As in Europe, those weak sisters must pay substantially more in interest to attract investors to their bonds while states that have a better financial footing benefit by paying less.

In addition to the shaky finances and unknown risk that confronts this market in 2011 we also face the prospect of interest rate risk — the threat of higher interest rates in the government markets (see my column "Why Are Interest Rates Rising?").

Long-dated municipal bond prices and interest rates track long-term Treasury bond. Unfortunately, U.S. Treasury interest rates on the long end have spiked over the last two months and are predicted to move even higher in the New Year. For investors of both U.S. Treasury and municipal bonds that will mean further losses as bond prices decline.

If you must own municipal bonds, then switching from bond investments in weaker states and localities into bonds issued by stronger municipalities seems to me is common-sense tactic to employ right now. Secondly, stick with revenue bonds as opposed to general obligation bonds.

Revenue bonds repay investors from a specific source such as a highway toll rather than from a tax. General Obligation bonds, on the other hand, are secured by a state or local government's pledge to use whatever resources necessary (such as new taxes) to repay the bonds.

At the end of the day, Muni bond bulls argue correctly that if push came to shove the federal government would bail out any state that was on the verge of bankruptcy. In turn, any state would rush to the aid of a municipality within their domain that was on the verge of failure. I don't dispute that. And if it came to pass that something like that were to happen, it might be a buying opportunity to really aggressive traders but not for widows and orphans. For those who depend on these revenue streams to pay the bills, a far better approach is to simply sell the riskier securities and buy those that offer greater security.

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 wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.

Write a comment - 1 Comment       Tags: Treasuries, bonds      

@theMarket: Santa Visits Wall Street

Bill Schmick
IMG_0864_1

As markets close in this holiday-shortened week, the stock market enjoyed its annual Christmas rally with all three averages reaching new highs for the year. It was the best December for the S&P since 1991 and most forecasters believe these gains indicates an even larger move in the first half of next year.

Goldman (or should I say Government) Sachs upped its forecast for the S&P 500 Index to 1,450 for 2011. That is a 16 percent projected gain in the index and, if true, would bring us within 115 points of that average's all time high reached on Oct. 9, 2007.

Adding to the good cheer this week was the news that existing home sales gained 5.6 percent in November, which kindled hopes that the long-awaited recovery in the housing market was at hand. But in my opinion, the real Santa Claus this year came disguised as the Federal Reserve Bank and its chairman, Ben Bernanke.

Back in late August, when the first public statements from the Federal Reserve Bank surfaced on the possibility of a second quantitative easing, the stock market snapped out of its doldrums. I immediately abandoned my cautious stance and both stock and commodity prices started to move higher and have never looked back.

Most market watchers argue that QE II is a failure judging by the results in the bond market. They point to medium and long-term interest rates that have actually increased over the last two months as evidence that QE II has failed. I beg to differ. I believe the Fed's intention was focused solely on keeping short-term interest rates at a historical low level and the steepening of the yield curve (where long rates are higher than short rates) was exactly what they wanted.

In economics class, I learned that a steepening yield curve is synonymous with a growing economy, but as the economy grows so does the threat of inflation. Maybe not at first, but as time progresses, the economy grows stronger and begins to overheat. The specter of rising inflation becomes almost certain. Investors who understand this begin to demand higher yields now from the bond market, especially from those who are selling long-term bonds, say 10 to 30 years out.

Now consider those millions of risk-adverse investors who have put their money into long-term treasury bonds as the result of the recession and financial crisis. They are losing their shirt right now as their investments drop in price on almost a daily basis. Sure, they can sell and buy shorter term government maturities or CDs that promise to yield next to nothing for "an extended period of time" or they can move back into the stock market.

Most investors know that they can get a higher return in the stock market than in the bond market. But until recently, they were too frightened to risk their money in an economy and a stock market that might roll over at any moment. However, thanks to QE II, commodities (an inflation play) and stocks have been roaring back to life on the heels of progressively positive economic data that promises to just get better and better.

So with bond prices down, equity and commodity prices up, and with the Fed on record as wanting the stock market higher and you now have the ingredients guaranteed to entice even the most wary individual back into the stock market. In addition, a steeper higher yield curve is actually good for the traditional players in the bond market - pensions, endowments and insurance companies.

These entities receive constant inflows of new cash because of the nature of their businesses. Investing this money in higher long term rates makes it far easier for them to meet their future obligations. It is also great for the banks that borrow short term and lend long term. With higher long term rates, the Fed is betting that even the banks may be attracted to this higher profit spread and reconsider their present stingy policy toward lending.

So all in all, the Fed has accomplished a great deal with QE II, contrary to popular opinion. And like Santa Claus, no one actually catches the bearer of this gift even if it is sitting there, big as life, under the tree.

 

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 wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.

Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: rally, QEII, inflation      

@theMarket: Overhead Resistance Keeps Markets in Check

Bill Schmick

"I don't get it," gripes an investor who called from Chicopee, "Congress goes and passes the tax-cut extensions, which is good news, right, and still the market does nothing. What gives?"

By way of explanation, pundits argue that the passage of this event was already "baked in" to the averages, which is why the markets are trading close to the year's high. OK, I'll take that on board but there has been a lot of good news lately that should not have been discounted — higher consumer confidence, less unemployment, greater factory output — but the market appears uninterested. The much-heralded Christmas rally has stalled just below a key resistance area at 1,250 on the S&P 500 Index. So maybe we have hit the highs for this year already.

Last week, I wrote that it wouldn't surprise me if we saw a 50-75 point pullback in the S&P Index. I opinioned that the catalyst might be a congressional failure to pass the tax cut extensions. Although the extensions were passed, the markets still look like they would rather go down than up in the short term.

That is surprising since my friend in Chicopee is right. The latest government initiative could add somewhere between 0.50 percent to 1 percent to 2011 GDP. That is nothing to sneeze at so maybe fundamental analysis is not the place to look for an answer.

Technically most stocks, sectors and commodities are overextended. In order to correct that condition, the averages need to back and fill for a period of time or a market pullback is in order.

In addition, whenever markets approach a big technical area of resistance like 1,250, there is usually a battle of wills between the bulls and the bears. So why is 1,250 such an important number?

Readers may recall that by September 2008, Bear Sterns had already collapsed as had Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, our two quasi-governmental mortgage giants. The House of Lehman Brothers was about to fall and that's when the S&P first broke 1,250 (on Sept. 3). It traded back and forth with a great deal of volatility around that level until Sept. 23 when it finally gave up the ghost and plummeted 48 points. Suffice it to say that the 1,250 level was not easily conceded by the bulls and what had once served as strong support for the markets, once broken, now also serves as an important resistance point in the index's attempt to move higher.

The process of testing that resistance level is what is occurring right now. My guess is that the bulls will ultimately win that struggle but not without a fight. I do not believe we will see the massive percentage point swings that we suffered through in 2008 but a milder, less dramatic give and take that could last for another week or so.

Whether the ongoing problems within the European financial sector will furnish the excuse the bears will need for a pullback remains to be seen. Higher interest rates over in the government bond market or a big move in the dollar could also spook investors. Regardless of the reason, I would be adding equity to my portfolio on any dip.

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 wschmick@fairpoint.net. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.

Write a comment - 0 Comments       Tags: market, swings, bulls      
Page 159 of 165... 154  155  156  157  158  159  160  161  162  163  164 ... 165  

Support Local News

We show up at hurricanes, budget meetings, high school games, accidents, fires and community events. We show up at celebrations and tragedies and everything in between. We show up so our readers can learn about pivotal events that affect their communities and their lives.

How important is local news to you? You can support independent, unbiased journalism and help iBerkshires grow for as a little as the cost of a cup of coffee a week.

News Headlines
Anheuser-Busch, Girardi Distributors Donate Water to Clarksburg Firefighters
Community Recreation Association To Hold Food Drive
Williamstown Housing Trust Looks to Spread Word About Rental Assistance Program
Berkshires Could See Mix of Rain/Snow Overnight
Central Berkshire Regional School District To Remain Remote
Pittsfield Police Investigating Discharged Weapon Incident
North Adams Man Sentenced to 60 Years for Child Pornography
Adams Health Officer Blasts Parks Board Over Little League Allegations
Third Generation D’Amour Family Appointments at Big Y
Berkshires Beat: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service
 
 


Categories:
@theMarket (354)
Independent Investor (450)
Retired Investor (26)
Archives:
January 2021 (1)
January 2020 (6)
December 2020 (6)
November 2020 (8)
October 2020 (7)
September 2020 (6)
August 2020 (6)
July 2020 (10)
June 2020 (7)
May 2020 (9)
April 2020 (9)
March 2020 (5)
February 2020 (7)
Tags:
Europe Commodities Stimulus Metals Economy Debt Ceiling Markets Pullback Stocks Greece Crisis Banks Currency Election Fiscal Cliff Oil Debt Jobs Federal Reserve Interest Rates Housing Retirement Euro Bailout Recession Congress Selloff Japan Wall Street Energy Stock Market Europe Rally Deficit Taxes
Popular Entries:
The Independent Investor: Don't Fight the Fed
@theMarket: QE II Supports the Markets
The Independent Investor: Understanding the Foreclosure Scandal
The Independent Investor: Does Cash Mean Currencies?
@theMarket: Markets Are Going Higher
The Independent Investor: General Motors — Back to the Future
The Independent Investor: How Will Wall Street II Play on Main Street?
@theMarket: Economy Sputters, Stocks Stutter
The Independent Investor: Why Are Interest Rates Rising?
The Independent Investor: Will the Municipal Bond Massacre Continue?
Recent Entries:
The Retired Investor: Asia: The Investment Case
The Retired Investor: Where Have All the Christmas Trees Gone?
The Retired Investor: Oil's Comeback
@theMarket: Same Old Stimulus Song
The Retired Investor: Markets Ignore China Sanctions
@theMarket: Markets Bet on Stimulus Sweepstakes
The Retired Investor: Bitcoin Is Back
@theMarket: Market Cyclicals Take the Lead
The Retired Investor: Pandemic Has Been Good to Pet Industry
@theMarket: Markets Are in a Tug of War