Insights & Advice

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The Dog that wags the tail

It is becoming clearer by the day that the U.S. is no longer the Big Dog in financial markets. Ten years ago what happened overseas would have little if any impact on U.S. markets. Today most traders won’t make a move without first checking overseas markets.

Last week I warned that we were in for at least a 5% correction and so far we’ve pulled back 4.4% on the S&P 500 Index. I expect continued choppiness through the holiday shortened week with a bias to the downside. There is a possibility that the markets could overshoot and register as much as 6-7% drop. I would buy that dip if it occurs.

This correction is a great example of how things have changed. It was countries such as China, Korea and Ireland, not America, which have dictated the turns in our markets.

Over the last two weeks (coinciding with the downturn in U.S. markets) the Chinese government had announced new efforts to slow their nation’s growth. China fears that their economy is overheating. Inflation is already running at 10% and its citizens are actually hoarding all kinds of stuff from foods to gold to lumps of coal. Their real estate market is also out of control and continues to rise each month despite the government’s best efforts to slow its ascent. The government has threatened to raise interest rates, tighten monetary policy and take even more draconian methods such as selling commodities on the open market by the shiploads if necessary.

South Korea raised rates twice in two weeks for the same reason. Since April, (when we experienced a serious market pullback) a number of other foreign countries from Australia to Thailand have done the same thing in an effort to reign in their economies.

Markets here have declined in response to these moves because we have now become dependent on these countries for everything from supporting our deficit spending (by buying U.S. Treasury bonds) to the toilet seats in our bathrooms. Many Americans worry that we have traded our economic future for the short-term comforts of cheaper goods, living beyond our means and the “not in my backyard” attitude towards industrial expansion.

“The U.S. is rapidly becoming just another third world power,” laments a ninety-year-old retired investor who I make a practice of calling every month or so.

No, he’s not a client, but I find his perspective refreshing and his comments pregnant with wisdom and experience. Normally, you don’t hear that kind of comment from someone whose family practically built Pittsfield; who was a hero of WWII, and who came home to become one of the county’s pillars of industry.
He enumerated all the obvious failings: corrupt politicians, the disappearance of industry, the stratification of classes, our failure to compete educationally and the rampant greed among our captains of industry.

“Take a company I won’t name that left this area, shipped off jobs and industry to places like Mexico just to get their share price up,” he explained. “It practically wiped out this place, and for what? The price is lower now than when they left.”

Hopefully, my friend is proven wrong and this turns out to be just a rough patch that we here in America are going through. I for one have been hoping that the financial crisis of the last two years would be a wake-up call for all of us from the White House on down. So far the jury is out, but Thanksgiving is coming and despite all of our issues, we here in this country have a lot to be thankful for.

Speaking of which, if you know of any families around the county who might need a helping hand during this holiday season, we here at Berkshire Money Management, 392 Merrill Road, Pittsfield, will be giving away 150 turkeys and $20 gift certificates to Wohrle’s Foods beginning Monday, November 22, between noon and 4 P.M. (as long a supplies last). It’s our way of giving back to a community that makes us feel welcome and wanted.

Posted in A Few Dollars More, At the Market