The Doha dilemma

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Will they or won't they freeze oil production this weekend at the OPEC meeting in Doha, Qatar? All the main oil producers will show up. The direction of oil prices (and the markets) may hinge on the outcome.

As expected, various energy players continue to make comments that have moved the price of oil this week up and down. The last remark from Russia's finance minister, Anton Siluanov, on Friday indicated that he did not expect any change in oil prices as a result of the meeting. A Russian energy spokesman, representing the world's second largest producer of oil, also dampened down trader's expectations earlier in the week. He warned investors not to expect any formal deal, but rather "a gentleman's agreement" between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Nonetheless, oil remained above $40/bbl., which is the price Siluanov predicted oil would fluctuate around for the foreseeable future. Most members of OPEC are not considering a price cut, but rather a freeze at current production levels. For most producers, those levels are at record highs. Due to the collapse in energy prices over the last year, many producers have shut down or at least postponed efforts to bring on new capacity. As a result, investors are betting that over the next six months' supply and demand of oil will reach equilibrium, which will keep the price from falling back to the lows.

Traders, however, have briefly switched focus from oil to earnings this week. As I wrote in my last column, the earnings scam continues. The nation's money center banks reported earnings "beats" for the most part. Even those who still couldn't beat Wall Street earnings estimates (that were revised down to ludicrous levels) still rallied in price. The lesson here is that the price performance of individual stocks has little to do with fundamental analysis. It is all about price manipulation by big brokers and banks that have enough money to dictate the price of any individual stock or group of stocks over the short term.

The stock market, as represented by the benchmark S&P 500 Index, is fast approaching my target of 2,100. It is a mere 20 points away from that level and I'm sure you are asking what happens when and if we reach that number. Expect a bout of profit-taking. It is what markets do. The depth of that decline will somewhat depend on what happens to oil after the Doha meeting, the dollar and the remainder of this quarter's earnings season.

April has historically been one of the stronger months of the year for stock markets and so far, this one has lived up to that fact. As such, we could possibly see the markets regain their historical highs, which would be 2,134 for the S&P 500 before the spring is over. But before that occurs, we need to consolidate the gains we have made thus far.

In the meantime, the presidential candidates remain committed to telling everyone how bad the economy is doing and how we need more jobs and less spending. Clearly, the candidates do not feel that the facts are what Americans want to hear. The economy is still growing at 2 percent or more. Job growth is at historically low levels and gaining. Only Bernie Sanders is advocating any substantial government spending among the group of presidential hopefuls.

This is in direct contradiction to the advice long-given by the country's central bank and two Fed chairpersons. Even though the Fed has single-handedly engineered this recovery, with no help from Congress or the White House, its pleas that the government needs to spend more if the nation wants more than a modest recovery continue to fall upon deaf ears. Why is that?

Part of the reason rests on a divided congress where little agreement or legislation of any kind was passed over eight years. This becomes even more remarkable when one considers that both house of congress were controlled by Republicans over the past two years and still nothing was done. Unfortunately, the attention over this new crop of presidential candidates obscures the fact that in congressional elections the same old establishment characters will be once again taking up space in Washington while doing nothing. Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative with Berkshire Money Management.


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