Weekend Update – February 24, 2013

We all engage in bouts of wishful thinking.

On an intellectual level I can easily understand why it makes sense to not be fully invested at most moments in time. There are times when just the right opportunity seems to come along, but it stops only for those that have the means to treat that opportunity as it deserves.

I also understand why it is dangerous to extend yourself with the use of margin or leverage and why it’s beneficial to resist the need to pass up that opportunity.

What I don’t understand is why those opportunities always seem to arise at times when the well has gone dry and margin is the only drink of water to be found.

Actually, I do understand. I just wish things would be different.

I rely on the continuing assignment of shares and the re-investment of cash on a weekly basis. My preference is for anywhere from 20-40% of my portfolio to be turned over on a weekly basis.

But this past week was simply terrible on many levels. Whether you want to blame things on a deterioration of the metals complex, hidden messages in the FOMC meeting or the upcoming sequester, the market was far worse than the numbers indicated, as the down volume to up volume was unlike what we have seen for quite a while.

On Wednesday the performances of Boeing (BA), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and Verizon (VZ), all members of the Dow Jones Industrials Index helped to mask the downside, as the DJIA and S&P 500 diverged for the day. Thursday was more of the same, except Wal-Mart (WMT) joined the very exclusive party. So far, this week is eerily similar to the period immediately following the beginning of 2012 climb and immediately preceding a significant month long decline of nearly 10%,beginning May 2012.

That period was also preceded by the indices sometimes moving in opposite directions or differing magnitudes and those were especially accentuated during the month long decline.

So what I’m trying to say is that with all of the apparent bargains left in the carnage of this trading shortened week, I don’t have anywhere near the money that I would typically have to plow in head first. I wish I did; but I don’t. I also wish I had that cash so that I wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to have it all invested in equities.

Although that margin account is overtly beckoning me to approach, that’s something that I’ve developed enough strength to resist. But at the same time, I’m anxious to increase my cash position, but not necessarily for immediate re-investment.

As usual the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories (see details).

Cisco (CSCO) was one of those stocks that I wanted to purchase last week, but like most in a wholly unsatisfying week, it wasn’t meant to be. With earnings out of the way and some mild losses sustained during the past week, it’s just better priced than before.

Although there have been periods of time that I’ve owned shares of both Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE), up until about $10 ago on each stock there has rarely been a time over the past 5 years that I haven’t owned at least one of them. This past week saw some retreat in their prices and they are getting closer to where I might once again be comfortable establishing ownership.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is one of those stocks that I really wished had offered weekly option premiums. Back in the days when there was no such vehicle this was one of my favorite stocks. This week it goes ex-dividend and that always gets me to give a closer look, especially after some recent price drops. Dividends, premiums and a price discount may be a good combination.

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been in my doghouse of late. That’s not any expression of its quality as a company, nor of its leadership. After all, back when the market last saw 14,000, Dow Chemical was among those companies whose shares, dividends and option premiums helped me to survive those frightening days. But after 2009 had gotten well entrenched and started heading back toward 14000, the rest of the market just left Dow behind. Then came weekly options and Dow Chemical didn’t join that party. More recently, as volatility has been low, it’s premiums have really lagged. But now, at its low point in the past two months for no real reason and badly lagging the broad market, it once again looks inviting.

Lorillard (LO) was on my radar screen about a month ago, but as so often happens when it came time to make a decision there appeared to be a better opportunity. This week Lorillard goes ex-dividend. Unfortunately, it no longer offers a weekly option, but this is one of those companies that if not assigned this month will likely be assigned soon, as tobacco companies have this knack for survival, much more so than their customers.

MetLife (MET) was on last week’s radar screen, but it was a week that very little went according to script. Maybe this week will be better, but like the tobacco companies that are sometimes the bane of insurance companies, even when paying out death benefits, somehow these companies survive well beyond the ability of their customers.

United Healthcare (UNH) simply continues the healthcare related theme. Already owning shares of Aetna (AET), I firmly believe that whatever form national healthcare will take, the insurance companies will thrive. Much as they have done since Medicaid and Medicare appeared on the national landscape and they moaned about how their business models would be destroyed. After 50 years of moaning you would think that we would all stop playing this silly game.

The Gap (GPS) reports earnings this week, along with Home Depot (HD) as opposed to most companies that I consider as potential earnings related trades, there isn’t a need to protect against a 10-20% drop. At least I don’t think there is that kind of need. But whereas the concern of holding shares of some of those very volatile companies is real, that’s not the case with these two. Even with unexpected price movements eventually ownership will be rewarded. The fact that Home Depot gained 2% following Friday’s upgrade by Oppenheimer to “outperform” always leads me to expect a reversal upon earnings release.

On the other hand, when it comes to MolyCorp (MCP) there’s definitely that kind of need to protect against a 20% price decline. Always volatile, MolyCorp got caught in last week’s metal’s meltdown, probably unnecessarily, since it really is a different entity. Yet with an SEC overhang still in its future and some investor unfriendly moves of late, MolyCorp doesn’t have much in the way of good will on its side.

Nike (NKE) goes ex-dividend this week and its option premiums have become somewhat more appealing since the stock split.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those companies that I’m really not certain what it is that they do or provide. I know enough to be aware that there is drama regarding the relationship between its CEO, Mark Benioff and Oracle’s mercurial CEO, Larry Ellison, to get people’s attention and become the basis of speculation. I just love those sort of side stories, they’re so much more bankable that technical analysis. In this case, a xx% drop in share price after earnings could still deliver a 1% ROI.

Finally, two banking pariahs are potential purchases this week. I’ve owned both Citibank (C) and Bank of America (BAC) in the past month and have lost both to assignment a few times. As quickly as their prices became to expensive to repurchase they have now become reasonably priced again.

Although Friday’s trading restored some of the temporarily beaten down stocks a bit, a number still appear to be good short term prospects. I emphasize “short term” because I am mindful of a repeat of the pattern of May 2012 and am looking for opportunities to move more funds to cash.

I don’t know if Friday’s recovery is a continuation of that 2012 pattern, but if it is, that leads to concern over the next leg of that pattern.

For that reason I may be looking at opportunities to increase cash levels as a defensive move. In the event that there are further signals pointing to a strong downside move, I would rather be out of the market and miss a continued upside move than go along for the ride downward and have to work especially hard to get back up.

I’ve done that before and don’t feel like having to do it again.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Cisco, Deere, Dow Chemical, MetLife, United Healthcare

Momentum Stocks: Citibank

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (ex-div 2/27), Lockheed Martin (ex-div 2/27), Lorillard (ex-div 2/27), Nike (ex-div 2/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Home Depot (2/26 AM), MolyCorp (2/28 PM), Salesforce.com (2/28 PM), The Gap (2/28 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.


Weekend Update – February 17, 2013

It’s all relative.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put things into perspective. Our mind wants to always compare objects to one another to help understand the significance of anything that we encounter. Having perspective, formed by collecting and remembering data and the environment that created that data helps to titrate our reaction to new events.

My dog doesn’t really have any useful perspective. He thinks that everyone is out to take what’s his and he reacts by loudly barking at everyone and everything that moves. From his perspective, the fact that the mailman always leaves after he has barked out reinforces that it was the barking that made him leave.

The stock market doesn’t really work the way human perspective is designed to work. Instead, it’s more like that of a dog. Forget about all of the talk about “rational Markets.” They really don’t exist, at least not as long as investors abandon rational thought processes.

It’s all about promises, projections and clairvoyance. Despite the superficial lip service given to quarterly comparisons no one really predicates their investing actions on the basis of what’s come and gone.

During earnings season one can see how all perspective may be lost. It’s hard to account for sudden and large price moves when there’s little new news. Although I can understand the swift reaction resulting in a 20% drop when Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) announced that it was slashing its dividend, filing for a secondary stock offering and also creating a new class of mandatory convertible shares, I can’t quite say that the same understanding exists when Generac (GNRC) drops 10% following earnings and guidance that was universally interpreted as having “waved no red flags.”

Of course, the use of perspective and especially logic based upon perspective,  can be potentially costly. For example, it’s been my perspective that Cliffs and Walter Energy (WLT) often follow a similar path.

What has been true for the past year has actually been true for the past five years. So it came as a surprise to me, at least from my perspective that the day after Cliffs Natural plunged nearly 20%, that Walter Energy, which reports earnings on February 20, 2013 would rise 6% in the absence of any news. From my perspective, that just seemed irrational.

But of course, perspective, by its nature has to be individually based. That may explain why Forbes, using its unique perspective on time, published an article on February 12, 2013, just hours before Cliffs released its earnings, that it had been named as the “Top Dividend Stock of the S&P Metals and Mining Select Industry Index”, according to Dividend Channel. In this case, Cliffs was accorded that august honor for its “strong quarterly dividend history.”

Apparently, history doesn’t extend back to 2009, when the dividend was cut by 55%, but it’s all in your perspective of things. I’m not certain where Cliffs stands in the ratings 24 hours later.

What actually caught my attention the most this past week is how performance can take a back seat to  perspectives on liability, especially in the case of Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG). On Thursday, it was announced that a Federal judge approved a mere $400 million criminal settlement against it for its seminal part in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That’s in addition to the already $1 Billion in fines it has been assessed. In return, Transocean climbed nearly 4%, while it’s frenemy Halliburton, on no news of its own climbed 6%. Poor British Petroleum (BP) which has already doled out over $20 Billion and is still on the line for more, could only muster an erasure of its early 2% decline. For Transocean, at least, the perception was that the amount wasn’t so onerous and that the end of liability was nearing.

From one perspective reckless environmental action may be a good strategy to ensure a reasonably healthy stock performance. At least that’s worked for Halliburton, which has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 24, 2010, the date of the accident.

I usually have one or more of the “Evil Troika” in my portfolio, but at the moment, only British Petroleum is there, at its lagged its mates considerably over the past weeks. Sadly, Transocean will no longer be offering weekly options, so I’m less likely to dabble in its shares, even as Carl Icahn revels in the prospects of re-instating its dividend.

Perhaps the day will come when stocks are again measured on the basis
of real fundamentals, like the net remaining after revenues and expenses, rather than distortions of performance and promises of future performance, but I doubt that will be the case in my lifetime.

In fact, the very next day on Friday, both Transocean and Walter Energy significantly reversed course. On Friday, the excuse for Transocean’s 5% drop was the same as given for Thursday’s 4% climb. Walter Energy was a bit more nebulous, as again, there was no news to account for the 3% loss.

So what’s your perspective on why the individual investor may be concerned?

As always, this week’s potential stock selections are classified as being either in the Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories (see data).

Technology stocks haven’t been blazing the way recently, as conventional wisdom would dictate as a basic building block for a burgeoning bull market. My biggest under-performing positions are in technology at the moment, patiently sitting on shares of both Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Despite Tuesday’s ex-dividend date for Microsoft, I couldn’t bear to think of adding shares. However, despite a pretty strong run-up on price between earnings reports, Cisco (CSCO) looks mildly attractive after a muted response to its most recent earnings report. Even if its shares do not move, the prospect of another quiet week yet generating reasonable income on the investment for a week is always appealing.

Although I was put shares of Riverbed Technology (RVBD) this week, which is not my favorite way of coming to own shares, it’s a welcome addition and I may want to add more shares. That’s especially true now that Cisco, Oracle (ORCL) and Juniper (JNPR) have either already reported or won’t be reporting their own earnings during the coming option cycle. With those potential surprises removed from the equation there aren’t too many potential sources of bad news on the horizon. The healing from Riverbed’s own fall following earnings can now begin.

MetLife (MET) is, to me a metaphor for the stock market itself. Instead of ups and downs, it’s births and deaths. Like other primordial forms of matter, such as cockroaches, life insurance will survive nuclear holocaust. That’s an unusual perspective with which to base an investing decision, but shares seem to have found a comfortable trading range from which to milk premiums.

Aetna (AET) on the other hand, may just be a good example of the ability to evolve to meet changing environments. Regardless of what form or shape health care reform takes, most people in the health care industry would agree that the health care insurers will thrive. Although Aetna is trading near its yearly high, with flu season coming to an end, it’s time to start amassing those profits.

It’s not easy to make a recommendation to buy shares of JC Penney (JCP). It seems that each day there is a new reason to question its continued survival, or at least the survival of its CEO, Ron Johnson, who may be as good proof as you can find that the product you’re tasked with selling is what makes you a “retailing genius.” But somehow, despite all of the extraneous stories, including rumored onslaughts by those seeking to drive the company into bankruptcy and speculation that Bill Ackman will have to lighten up on his shares as the battle over Herbalife (HLF) heats up, the share price just keeps chugging along. I think there’s some opportunity to squeeze some money out of ownership by selling some in the money options and hopefully being assigned before earnings are reported the following week.

The Limited (LTD) is about as steady of a retailer as you can find. I frequently like to have shares as it is about to go ex-dividend, as it is this coming week. With only monthly options available, this is one company that I don’t mind committing to for that time period, as it generally offers a fairly low stressful holding period in return for a potential 2-3% return for the month.

While perhaps one may make a case that Friday’s late sell-off on the leak of a Wal-Mart (WMT) memo citing their “disastrous” sales might extend to some other retailers, it’s not likely that the thesis that increased payroll taxes was responsible, also applied to The Limited, or other retailers that also suffered a last hour attack on price. Somehow that perspective was lacking when fear was at hand.

McGraw Hill (MHP) has gotten a lot of unwanted attention recently. If you’re a believer in government led vendettas then McGraw Hill has some problems on the horizon as it’s ratings agency arm, Standard and Poors, raised lots of ire last year and is being further blamed for the debt meltdown 5 years ago. It happens to have just been added to those equities that trade weekly calls and it goes ex-dividend this week. In return for the high risk, you might get
am attractive premium and a dividend and perhaps even the chance to escape with your principal intact.

I haven’t owned shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) for a few months. Shares have gone in only a single direction since the last earnings report when it skyrocketed higher. With that kind of sudden movement and with continued building on that base, you have to be a real optimist to believe that it will go even higher upon release of earnings.

What can anyone possibly add to the Herbalife saga? It, too, reports earnings this week and offers opportunity whether its shares spike up, plunge or go no where. I don’t know if Bill Ackman’s allegations are true, but I do know that if the proposition that you can make money regardless of what direction shares go is true, then I want to be a part of that. Of course, the problem. among many, is that the energy stored within the share price may be far greater than the 17% or so price drop that the option premiums can support while still returning an acceptable ROI.

Also in the news and reporting earnings this week is Tesla (TSLA). This is another case of warring words, but Elon Musk probably has much more on the line than the New York Times reporter who test drove one of the electric cars. But as with Herbalife and other earnings related plays, with the anticipation of big price swings upon earnings comes opportunity through the judicious sale of puts or purchase of shares and sale of deep in the money calls.

From my perspective these are enough stocks to consider for a holiday shortened week, although as long as earnings are still front and center, both Sodastream (SODA) and Walter Energy may also be in the mix.

The nice thing about perspective is that while it doesn’t have to be rational it certainly can change often and rapidly enough to eventually converge with true rational thought.

If you can find any.

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: JC Penney, RIverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: The Limited (ex-div 2/20), McGraw Hill (ex-div 2/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/22 AM), Herbalife (2/19 AM), Tesla (2/20 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.


Weekend Update – February 10, 2013

On Wednesday of this week, the Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, made the announcement that many of us had been expecting for years as the red ink lived up to its a visual onomatopoeia name and hemorrhaged.

No more Saturday delivery for ordinary mail. Unless I’m going away to summer camp this year, I’m not anticipating any extended grieving period for the loss, although like so many other things, the principal wags the principle.

It was a major news story in an otherwise slow news week. Surprisingly, what had gone unnoticed was the additional comment that effective immediately gloom of night would be sufficient cause to suspend delivery. Rain and snow are now also potential impediments to service, regardless of a centuries old social contract.

It’s a new world.

Forget about social contracts or expectations of behavior. Although if you follow the stock market you’re probably accustomed to broken dreams and hopes and rarely come to expect the expected.

Increasingly, data is ignored for its objective and descriptive properties. For example, when The Gap (GPS) announces great quarterly sales, as it did this week, it’s shares fell 4%, despite everyone agreeing that the results were extraordinary.

Equally common is the incredible emphasis now placed upon guidance, as if those issuing guidance have any greater ability to read the future than does the head of a close knit household. As much as I thought I knew about my family I don’t think I ever guessed anything correctly even a day into the future.

Have you ever visited a physicians office and browsed through some dated magazines? As it turns out, with near universal application, those whom we consider to be futurists have a fairly poor track record. Yet, when it comes to guidance, it is the closest thing we have to the gospel and fortunes are made or lost on the basis of the prognostications of people every bit as flawed as the guy you ignore on the subway platform every day.

For me, the past few weeks have broken some personal and inter-personal social contracts. As a die hard covered option investor, risk is the antithesis of everything I value. But as the market has been climbing higher and higher, it’s become harder and harder to find new places to park money. Additionally, the reduced premiums resulting from reduced volatility make it harder to live that life style to which I’ve become so accustomed.

That means only one thing and the devil has to be embraced.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had difficulty finding well priced and conservative investments that would feed my insatiable appetite. As a result, there have been more high beta name and more earnings related plays, not to mention lots more antacids. But sometimes you just do what has to be done.

This coming week looks to be a little different thanks to some market hesitancy. Blame it on Europe, blame it on Draghi, or just blame it on burn-out, I don’t really care, because as bad as we are at telling the future, we’re at least equally as bad at recognizing causation and correlation. It’s not like pornography. You don’t necessarily know it when you see it. But for whatever reason, this week, unlike the preceding month, it seemed easier to spot some lesser risk potential investments

As always, stocks are categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” (see details).

British Petroleum (BP) has no shortage of legal issues still awaiting it. To me it’s mind boggling that judgments and fines of $20 Billion could possibly have come as good news, but that is how news is interpreted. For some, perhaps more rational, British Petroleum’s inability to have its share price keep up with the likes of its partners in evil, Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG) is a sign of the legal liability overhang.

For me, it is finally down enough that I am interested in re-purchasing shares last owned a month ago, which to me seems like an eternity, since at the moment I own neither its shares, nor Halliburton or Transocean, usually mainstays of my portfolio. The dividend this week is a bonus.

As long as on the energy theme, Southwestern Energy (SWN) was a potential selection from last week that went unrequited. At this level it still looks like a reasonable trade and resultant ROI after selling an in the money option, in a market that may be taking a little break

The Limited (LTD) is one of those retailers that I never seem to own often enough, which is odd since I’m a serial re-purchaser of stocks that I’ve owned and that subsequently are assigned due to the use of covered calls. It has a good dividend, including regular use of special dividends and trades in a reasonably tight range. During the final week of a monthly option it becomes a bit more appealing to me. However, if not assigned next Friday
and faced with owning shares for at least an additional month, it dies go ex-dividend early in the March 2013 option cycle. Although I own more retailers than I would like, at the moment, this is one for which it may be worth bending some diversification rules.

DuPont (DD) was one of those stocks that I regularly owned when I first started selling options. A combination of good premiums, reliable dividends and price appreciation, especially after early 2009 made it a great income generator. These days, lower volatility has taken its toll on the premiums and the availability of only monthly options has made me look elsewhere. However, this week DuPont goes ex-dividend, and as the final week of the monthly option cycle it effectively trades as a weekly option, although you have to be prepared to own it through the next cycle or longer.

Walter Energy (WLT) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) seem to go hand in hand in the speculative corner of my portfolio. It goes ex-dividend this week and always offers a nice option premium in exchange for the risk that is being taken on. A caveat that should be considered for adding new shares is that if shares are not assigned by the end of the week, Walter Energy reports earnings the following week and that may be more excitement than many would want to accept. Writing a deeper in the money call or a longer duration call may be strategies to reduce that kind of stress.

Baidu (BIDU) is one of the very few Chinese companies that I ever consider purchasing. I do, however, miss the days when Muddy Waters would live up to its name and cast aspersions on the accounting practices of some Chinese companies. That always represented a good opportunity to sell puts a few days later and then merrily go on your way when the waters calmed. Someday, I’m fairly confident that most, if not all of the fears that we have regarding accounting practices will become reality. I’m hopeful that it’s not this week, as I already own shares of Baidu by virtue of being assigned $97.50 puts on Friday (February 7, 2013). If you don’t mind wild swings within a 10% range on a seemingly regular basis, Baidu is a good way to generate income. My experience with shares has been that a moment or two after its price performance looks bleak, it bounces right back. It is a good example of why gloom shouldn’t be a deterrent, but I doubt the Postmaster General is paying any attention to me.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was a potential earnings choice last week. As usual it’s price movements tend to be exaggerated after it announces earnings, particularly since they tend to give pessimistic guidance. Back in the old days you would give pessimistic guidance and then shares would soar when earnings surpassed the forecast. That was so yesterday’s social contract. RIverbed reported record revenues, in-line EPS data, but offered a weak outlook. SO what else is new? Its shares have been one of my greatest option premium producers for years and I look for every opportunity to either own shares or sell puts.

Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) is one of those places that I would love to visit, but know that it may not be worth trading off a few years of my life. It is also one of those companies that tends to have exaggerated moves following earnings release. In this case about 1.4% for a 10% drop in share price. The biggest caveat is that Buffalo Wild Wings has shown that it can easily drop 15% on earnings release.

Cliffs Natural Resources is not for the faint of heart. It bounces around on rumors of the Chinese economy’s well being and global growth. It is a good example of forecaster’s inability to forecast, as it recently fully recovered from a recent major downgrade from Goldman Sachs (GS), which at least was consistent in demonstrating that predicting commodity prices was not one of its strengths. On top of its usual volatility, Cliffs Natural reports earnings this week and has yet to announce its next dividend, which is currently at nearly 7%. I already own shares and have so, on and off for a few months. If I did anything, it would most likely be through the sale of well out of the money puts, seeking to return 1-1.5% for the week.

Finally, it’s yet another retailer, Michael Kors (KORS), and it is a difficult one to ignore as it reports its earnings this week. As with most all “PEE” selections, it is very capable of making large moves upon releasing earnings and providing guidance. In this case, the ratio that may lure me into committing to another retailer is a 1% ROI in exchange for a 10% or less drop in share price.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, Southwestern Energy, The Limited

Momentum Stocks: Baidu, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (ex-div 2/13), DuPont (ex-div2/13), Walter Energy (ex-div 2/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Buffalo Wild Wings (2/12 PM), Cliffs Natural (2/12 PM), Kors (2/12 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

Weekend Update – February 3, 2013

On Wednesday evening, Bloomberg Rewind host, Matt Miller tweeted that he was interviewing Wilbur Ross in a live segment in a few moments and was soliciting questions for one of the century’s greatest investors and serial turnaround artists.

Never really needing a reason to Tweet, I was nonetheless pleased that my question was chosen, but I especially liked the ultimate answer. I simply wanted to know if the cool and calm demeanor that Wilbur Ross always displays when on television was ever belied by emotion that got in the way of a business or management decision.

The answer was, to me, at least, incredibly profound and absolutely reflective of the persona that we get to see when he makes appearances. Ross said that in takeovers things often do not go as planned, but you have to “roll with the punches.” He further went on to point out that emotions conspire to work against you in making decisions and taking actions. He was calm and collected in his response and barely showed any facial grimacing or twitching when the question was being asked.

I, on the other hand was twitching, contorting and breathing rapidly at the mere use of my question. I do the same with every tick up and down of every stock I own.

My initial thought was that was probably among the best pieces of advice that could ever be given, but it was just too bad that human nature so reflexively intervenes.

One of the things that I like about buying stocks and then selling calls is that it takes so much of the emotion out of the equation. It also frees you from being held hostage to each and every dive that shares can take for no rational reason. This week alone we watched Petrobras (PBR) drop nearly 10% as it announced fuel increases that Deutsche Bank (DB) described as a “positive” action and Chesapeake Energy (CHK) surge 10% on news that their founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon, would be leaving in 3 months. In the case of Chesapeake Energy that surge was dissipated in just a day, although that may have been as irrational as the initial move.

Recently, large adverse moves impacted shares of Tiffany (TIF) and YUM Brands (YUM) as downgrades, stories, rumors, a smattering of data and a myriad of other factors took their turns at poking holes in whatever support existed for share price. Of course, they weren’t alone in the cross hairs of the barrage of often transiently irrelevant “facts.”

But by and large, if you sell covered options you can roll with the punches. Instead of feeling the anguish when your stock takes a hit it’s similar to seeing road-kill. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy, but for the most part you realize that in the big picture it’s all just a blip. Those options that someone else was kind enough to buy from you protect you from having to suffer through the anguish and gives you a chance to get over the initial emotional reaction so that when it is time to make a decision, such as at the end of the option period, you can do so with a far less clouded mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little Wilbur Ross inside of all of us? Maybe even better would be to be his sole heir, though.

As everyone seemed to be giddy about the fact that the DJIA briefly crossed 140000 for the first time since 2007, I reminded myself of how short a period of time it remained there and then saw that the slopes of the periods preceding the 2007 and 2013 tops are remarkably similar. If anything, maybe a bit more steep this time around?


Fortunately for me that was the time I learned to start going with the punches and had already started protecting my stocks with calls and then used the premiums generated to purchase more shares during the ensuing drops.

Not that history is ever in a position to repeat itself, but we’ve seen this before.

As always, this week’s potential stock positions are all intended as part of a covered option strategy, whether through the sale of covered calls or puts. The selections fall into the usual categories of Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividends or “PEE” stocks (see details).

As the market found itself celebrating jobs on Friday, one sector that was left behind was retail. Among my favorites this year has been The Gap (GPS). They’re mundan
e, not terribly innovative, but they are ubiquitous and always a safe fashion choice. Although its next support level appears to be 10% lower it does offer an appealing enough option premium to accept that risk of wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo.

Murphy Oil (MUR) just took a large hit after announcing earnings. More and more I question the extreme earnings related reactions. What seems to separate some stocks from one another is the rapidity at which they recover from those reactions. The faster the recovery the easier it is to call it an over-reaction. Otherwise, if I own such shares and they don’t rebound quickly, it’s just a case of them being under-appreciated. In Murphy Oil’s case, I think it was a welcome over-reaction.

Southwestern Energy (SWN) has been lagging behind some of its sector mates thus far in 2013, but that situation is reversed if looking at the one year comparisons. It reports earnings early in the March 2013 option cycle and I believe may be poised to challenge its 52 week high.

I’m somewhat reluctant to consider adding Intel shares (INTC) this week. The only lure is the dividend that comes along with it as it goes ex-dividend on February 5, 2013. My reluctance stems from the fact that if I add shares my Intel position will be too large and it has been a disappointingly under-performing asset in the months I’ve held shares, having waited a long time for something of a rebound. While I don’t expect $24 or $25 any day soon, I’m comfortable with $21, a dividend and some option premiums. At least that would ease some of the paper cuts on my wrists.

Starbucks (SBUX) another favorite is a reluctant choice this week, as well, but only because of its strong gain in Friday’s trading and the fact that its option contracts are spread a bit too far apart. With more and more options being offered at strike prices in $1 and even $0.50 gradations the $2.50 and $5 differences seen with some stocks makes them less appealing, especially if selling options to optimize income production over share gains. What’s really needed is for more people to read these articles and drive up the option trading voliume as they realize what an opportunity exists.

Chesapeake Energy has been in the news quite a bit this year, but for all of the wrong reasons. AS usual, its high profile story this week concerned its founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon. The market quickly added 10% to share value upon learning that McClendon will be leaving the company in April 2013. It quickly gave that gain up during the course of the rest of this week. This is a position, that if I decide to enter, would likely be done on the basis of selling put options. That has been a common theme as I’ve re-entered Chesapeake Energy positions over the years.

What again distinguishes this week’s target stocks is that there is greater emphasis on risk, specifically earnings related risk, as Friday’s jobs data numbers fueled a strong week ending rally that further added to already high stock prices, making bargains harder to find.

Acme Packet (APKT) was one of the first earnings related situations that I described in an article entitled “Turning Hatred into Profits” that sought to create income from either disappointment or reaffirmation. It’s share price is higher now than it was the last time around, but I think that a 1% or more ROI for the chance that it’s share price may go down 10% or less after earnings is a reasonable risk-reward venture. If it works again, I may even try to understand what it is that Acme Packet does the next time earnings season rolls around.

Baidu (BIDU) has been on my lists for the past 2 months or so and has been purchased several times. Under the best and calmest of circumstances it is a volatile stock and is sometimes a frustrating one to match strike price premiums with anticipated objectives because the price moves so quickly. As it gets ready to report earnings, it too can easily move 10% in either direction, yet still meet my threshold of 1% ROI for the level of risk taken.

When it comes to stocks that are capable of making big moves in either direction on any given day and especially on earnings, there aren’t many that are better at doing so than Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). This is certainly a stock that has required “going with punches” over the past few years, but it has been a mainstay of my speculative slice of my portfolio for quite a while. I typically think in terms of 25% moves when it comes to earnings. In this case I’m looking at about a 25 to 1 proposition. A 25% drop for securing a 1% profit for one week. If not, then it’s just back to the usual Green Mountain “grind” and selling calls until shares are assigned.

While Herbalife (HLF) has been having all of the fun and getting all of the attention, poor NuSkin (NUS) has been ignored. But, it too, reports earnings this week. I have no opinion on whether NuSkin or any other company are engaged in questionably ethical business practices, I just see it as a vehicle to throw off option premium with relatively little risk, despite it’s overall risky persona. It
‘s not a stock that I would want to hold for very long, so the availability of only monthly options is of some concern.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was one of the most early and most frequent members of my covered call strategy. It always feels strange when I don’t have shares. As it gets ready to report earnings this coming week I’m reminded why it so often makes numerous and sizable movements, especially in response to earnings. It has a bad habit of giving pessimistic guidance, but after a long courtship you learn to accept that failing because even if punished after conference calls it always seems to get right back up.

Finally, Panera Bread (PNRA) reports earnings next week. It too is highly capable of having large earnings related movements. Its CEO has lots of Howard Schultz-like characteristics in that he truly knows the business and every intricate detail regarding his company. Interestingly, it went up almost 4% just 2 trading days before earnings are released. That kind of investor “commitment” before a scheduled event always concerns me, but I’m not yet certain just how much it scares me.

Traditional Stocks: Murphy Oil, The Gap, Southwestern Energy

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 2/5), Starbucks (ex-div 2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Acme Packet (2/4 PM), Baidu (2/4 PM), Panera Bread (2/5 PM), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (2/6 PM), NuSkin (2/6 AM), Riverbed Technology (2/7 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy