Weekend Update – October 27, 2013

Watching Congressional testimony being given earlier this week by representatives of the various companies who were charged with the responsibility of assembling a functioning web site to coordinate enrollment in the Affordable Care Act it was clear that no one understood the concept of responsibility.

They did, however, understand the concept of blame and they all looked to the same place to assign that blame.

As a result there are increased calls for the firing or resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. After all, she, in essence, is the CEO.

On the other hand, it was also a week that saw one billionaire, Bill Gross, the “Bond King” of PIMCO deign to give unsolicited advice to another billionaire, Carl Icahn, in how he should use his talents more responsibly. But then again, the latter made a big splash last week by trying to convince a future billionaire, Tim Cook, of the responsible way to deal with his $150 billion of cash on hand. Going hand in hand with a general desire to impart responsibility is the tendency to wag a finger.

Taking blame and accepting responsibility are essentially the same but both are in rare supply through all aspects of life.

This was an incredibly boring week, almost entirely devoid of news, other than for earnings reports and an outdated Employment Situation Report. The torrent of earnings reports were notable for some big misses, lots of lowered guidance and a range of excuses that made me wonder about the issue of corporate responsibility and how rarely there are cries for firings or resignations by the leaders of companies that fail to deliver as expected.

For me, corporate responsibility isn’t necessarily the touchy-feely kind or the environmentalist kind, but rather the responsibility to know how to grow revenues in a cost-efficient manner and then make business forecasts that reflect operations and the challenges faced externally. It is upon an implied sense of trust that individuals feel a certain degree of comfort or security investing assets in a company abiding by those tenets.

During earnings season it sometimes becomes clear that living up to that responsibility isn’t always the case. For many wishing to escape the blame the recent government shutdown has been a godsend and has already been cited as the reason for lowered guidance even when the business related connection is tenuous. Instead of cleaning up one’s own mess it’s far easier to lay blame.

For my money, the ideal CEO is Jamie Dimon, of JP Morgan Chase (JPM). Burdened with the legacy liabilities of Bear Stearns and others, in addition to rogue trading overseas, he just continues to run operations that generate increasing revenues and profits and still has the time to accept responsibility and blame for things never remotely under his watch. Of course, the feeling of being doubly punished as an investor, first by the losses and then by the fines may overwhelm any feelings of respect.

Even in cases of widely perceived mismanagement or lack of vision, the ultimate price is rarely borne by the one ultimately responsible. Instead, those good earnings in the absence of revenues came at the expense of those who generally shouldered little responsibility but assumed much of the blame. While Carl Icahn may not be able to make such a case with regard to Apple, the coziness of the boardroom is a perfect place to abdicate responsibility and shift blame.

Imagine how convenient it would be if the individual investor could pass blame and its attendant burdens to those wreaking havoc in management rather than having to shoulder that burden of someone else’s doing as they watch share prices fall.

Instead, I aspire to “Be Like Jamie,” and just move on, whether it is a recent plunge by Caterpillar (CAT) or any others endured over the years.

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

Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW) was everyone’s favorite prior to the banking meltdown and was a perennial guest on financial news shows. His star faded quickly when Dow Chemical fell to its lows during the financial crisis and calls for his ouster were rampant. Coincidentally, you didn’t see his ever-present face for quite a while. Those calls have halted, as Liveris has steadily delivered, having seen shares appreciate over 450% from the market lows, as compared to 157% for the S&P 500. Shares recently fell after earnings and is closing in to the level that I would consider a re-entry point. Now offering weekly option contracts, always appealing premiums and a good dividend, Dow Chemical has been a reliable stock for a covered option strategy portfolio and Andrew Liveris has had a reliable appearance schedule to match.

A company about to change leadership, Coach (COH) has been criticized and just about left for dead by most everyone. Coach reported earnings last week and for a short while I thought that the puts I had sold might get assigned or be poised for rollover. While shares recovered from their large drop, I was a little disappointed at the week ending rally, as I liked the idea of a $48 entry level. However, given its price history and response to the current level, I think that ownership is still warranted, even with that bounce. Like Dow Chemical, the introduction of weekly options and its premiums and dividend make it a very attractive stock in a covered call strategy. Unlike Dow Chemical, I believe its current price is much more attractive.

I’m not certain how to categorize the CEO of Herbalife (HLF). If allegations regarding the products and the business model prove to be true, he has been a pure genius in guiding share price so much higher. Of course, then there’s that nasty fact that the allegations turned out to be true.

Herbalife reports earnings this week and if you have the capacity for potential ownership the sale of out of the money puts can provide a 1.2% return even of shares fall 17%. The option market is implying a 10% move. That is the kind of differential that gets my attention and may warrant an investment, even if the jury is still out on some of the societal issues.

In the world of coffee, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) blamed K-Cups and guided toward the lower end of estimates. Investors didn’t care for that news, but they soon got over it. The category leader, Starbucks (SBUX) reports earnings this week. I still consider Howard Schultz’s post-disappointing earnings interview of 2012 one of the very best in addressing the issues at hand. But it’s not Starbucks that interests me this week. It’s Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). Itself having had some questionable leadership, it restored some credibility with the appointment of its new CEO and strengthening its relationships with Starbucks. Shares have fallen about 25% in the past 6 weeks and while not reporting its own earnings this week may feel some of the reaction to those from Starbucks, particularly as Howard Schultz may characterize the nature of ongoing alliances. Green Mountain shares have returned to a level that I think the adventurous can begin expressing interest. I will most likely do so through the sale of puts, with a strike almost 5% out of the money being able to provide a 1.2% ROI. The caveat is that CEO Brian Kelley may soon have his own credibility tested as David Einhorn has added to his short position and has again claimed that there are K-cup sales discrepancies. Kelley did little to clear up the issue at a recent investor day meeting.

Baxter International (BAX) has held up reasonably well through all of the drama revolving around the medical device tax and the potential for competition in the hemophilia market by Biogen Idec (BIIB). WIth earnings out of the way and having approached its yearly low point I think that it is ready to resume a return to the $70 range and catching up to the S&P 500, which it began to trail in the past month when the issues of concern to investors began to take root.

MetLife (MET) has settled into a trading range over the past three months. For covered calls that is an ideal condition. It is one of those stocks that I had owned earlier at a much lower price and had assigned. Waiting for a return to what turned out to be irrationally low levels was itself irrational, so I capitulated and purchased shares at the higher level. In fact, four times in the past two months, yielding a far better return than if shares had simply been bought and held. Like a number of the companies covered this week it has that nice combination of weekly option contracts, appealing premiums and good dividends.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reports earnings this week, along with Seagate Technology (STX). Riverbed is a long time favorite of mine and has probably generated the greatest amount of premium income of all of my past holdings. However, it does require some excess stomach lining, especially as earnings are being released. I currently own two higher cost lots and uncharacteristically used a longer term call option on those shares locking in premium in the face of an earnings report. However, with recent price weakness I’m re-attracted to shares, particularly when a 3 week 1.7% ROI can be obtained even if shares fall by an additional 13%. In general, I especially like seeing price declines going into earnings, especially when considering the sale of puts just in advance of earnings. Riverbed Technology tends to have a history of large earnings moves, usually due to providing pessimistic guidance, as they typically report results very closely aligned with expectations.

Seagate Technology reports earnings fresh off the Western Digital (WDC) report. In a competitive world you might think that Western Digital’s good fortunes would come at the expense of Seagate, but in the past that hasn’t been the case, as the companies have traveled the same paths. With what may be some of the surprise removed from the equation, you can still derive a 1% ROI if Seagate shares fall less than 10% in the earnings aftermath through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

ConAgra (CAG) and Texas Instruments (TXN) both go ex-dividend this week. I think of them both as boring stocks, although Texas Instruments has performed nicely this year, while ConAgra has recently floundered. On the other hand, Texas Instruments is one of those companies that has fallen into the category of meeting earnings forecasts in the face of declining revenues by slashing worker numbers.

Other than the prospect of capturing their dividends I don’t have deeply rooted interest in their ownership, particularly if looking to limit my new purchases for the week. However, any opportunity to get a position of a dividend payment subsidized by an option buyer is always a situation that I’m w
illing to consider.

Finally, as this week’s allegation that NQ Mobile (NQ), a Chinese telecommunications company was engaged in “massive fraud” reminds us, there is always reason to still be circumspect of Chinese companies. While the short selling firm Muddy Waters has been both on and off the mark in the past with similar allegations against other companies they still get people’s attention. The risk of investing in companies with reliance on China carries its own risk. YUM Brands (YUM) has navigated that risk as well as any. With concern that avian flu may be an issue this year, that would certainly represent a justifiable shifting of blame in the event of reduced revenues. At its recent lower price levels YUM Brands appears inviting again, but may carry a little more risk than usual.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: ConAgra (ex-div 10/29), Texas Instruments (ex-div 10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (10/28 PM), Riverbed Technology (10/28 PM), Seagate Technology (10/28 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – October 20, 2013

With the S&P 500 having reached an all time high this past week you could certainly draw the conclusion that a government shutdown is a good thing and flirting with default is a constructive strategy. At a reported cost of only $24 Billion associated with closure and nothing more than a symbolic “Fitch slap” credit watch issued, perhaps we should look forward to the next potential round in just a few months.

For me, this past week marked the slowest week of opening new positions that I can recall since the 2009 market bottom. Although history suggests that the eleventh hour is a charm, the zeal of some more newly elected officials was reminiscent of a theological premise that believes in order to save it you must first destroy the world. That kind of uncertainty is the kind in which you get your affairs in order rather than embarking on lots of new and exciting initiatives.

With manufactured uncertainty temporarily removed the market can focus on earnings and other things that most of us believe are somewhat important.

One thing that will be certain is that wherever possible the next earnings season will attempt to lay some blame for any disappointments upon the government shutdown. This past week it certainly didn’t take Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) and eBay (EBAY) very long to already take advantage of that excuse. Who knew that government purchasing agents were unable to use eBay for Blackhawk helicopter replacement parts during their unexpected furlough?

As with the previous earnings season the financial sector started off the reports in a promising way, although early in the season the results are mixed, with some significant surges and plunges. What is clear is that investors are paying particular attention to guidance.

One earnings report that caught my attention was from Pet Smart (PETM). My father always believed that no matter what the economic environment, people would always find the wherewithal to spend on the pets and their kids. Pet Smart’s disappointing earnings focused on a “challenged consumer” and lower customer traffic. That can’t be a good sign. If pets are going wanting what does that portend for the rest of us?

Yet, on the other hand, Align Technology (ALGN) discussed last week, was a different story. Certainly representing discretionary spending and not benefiting from any provisions in the Affordable Care Act, their orthodontic appliances see no barriers from the economy ahead, as they reported great earnings and guidance.

Also clouding the picture, perhaps both literally and figuratively, is the positive guidance provided by Peabody Energy (BTU). For a nation that has been said to “move on coal,” that has to be a signal of something positive going forward.

This week, with lots of cash from assignments of October 2013 option contracts, I’m anxious to get back to business as usual, but still have a bit of wariness. However, despite the appearances of a reluctant consumer, I’m encouraged by recent activity in the speculative portion of my portfoli0, enough so to consider adding to those positions, even at market highs.

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

The news from Peabody Energy in addition to some recent price stabilization in Walter Energy (WLT), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) have me in a hopeful mood after long having suffered with positions in all three.

A year ago at this time I believed that Freeport McMoRan would be among the best performers in 2013, but subsequent to that it has only recently started on its recovery from the price plunge it sustained when announcing plans to acquire Plains Exploration and Production, as it planned to expand its asset base to include oil and natural gas. While the long term vision may be someday vindicated, 2013 has not been a stellar year. But, like some others this week, there has been a steady strengthening in its price, despite significantly lower gold, oil and copper prices, year to date. While its dividend has made holding shares marginally tolerable through the year, I think it is now ready to start a sustained climb and it offers appealing call premiums to create income or provide downside protection. Earnings are reported this week, but the option market is not expecting a very large move.

Another company slowly climbing higher, but still with a great distance to travel is Walter Energy . In addition to suffering through a proxy fight this year and significant challenges to management, declining coal prices and a slashed dividend, I believe that it is also poised to continue climb higher. I recently tested the waters and added shares along with selling in the money calls. Those were just assigned, but I think that I’m ready to dip deeper.

Sticking to the same theme, Cliffs Natural Resources goes hand in hand with Walter Energy, at least in its price behavior and disappointments. I
t too has slashed its dividend and its CEO has retired. Like Walter Energy, I recently started adding shares and had them assigned this week. Cliffs reports earnings this week and unlike Freeport McMoRan, the option market is expecting a larger price move.

While I rarely do more than glance at charts, in the case of Cliffs Natural Resources the 5 Year price chart may suggest a long term pattern that has shares at the beginning of a sustained climb higher.

As with many positions that are preparing to report earnings, I typically consider potential entry through the sale of put options.

Also reporting earnings this week is Cree (CREE). Thanks to legislation its LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous in home improvement stores and homes. It has the features of companies that make potentially alluring earnings trades. In this case, this always volatile moving company can sustain up to a 14% price decline and still return a 1% ROI for the week. The only real consideration is that it is capable of making that decline a reality, so if selling puts you do have to be prepared to take ownership.

While already having reported earnings and falling into the “disappointing” category, Fastenal (FAST), which I look at as being an economic barometer kind of company has already started regaining its price decline. It will be ex-dividend this week offering an additional reason to consider its purchase, even though I already own lower priced shares and rarely buy additional lots at higher prices. However, with W.W. Grainger (GWW) recently reporting positive earnings I’m encouraged that Fastenal will follow, but in the meantime the dividend and option premium make it easier to wait.

Also going ex-dividend this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM). I considered its purchase last week, but it fell victim to a week of my inaction. While perhaps at risk to suffer from decreased spending at some higher end stores it has already fallen about 11% from its recent high point. However, since it reports earnings just prior to the expiration of the November 2013 option cycle, I might consider utilizing a December 2013 covered call sale.

The Gap (GPS) isn’t at risk of losing too many high end customers, it has just been losing customers, at least on the basis of its most recent monthly report. It is one of those retailers that still reports monthly comparison figures. That’s just one more bullet that needs to be dodged in addition to potential surprises during earnings season. Shares went precipitously lower with its most recent retail report and caught me along with it. It is near a price support level and represents an opportunity to either purchase additional shares to attempt to offset paper losses of an earlier lot or to establish an initial covered position.

While eBay may not sell used Blackhawk helicopter parts it somehow found a way to link its coming fortunes to the government shutdown. Suffering a significant price drop following earnings and guidance shares were once again in a channel of great familiarity. Having traded reliably in the $50-$52.50 range the sight of it falling was well received. However, late in the trading session on Friday someone else must have seen the same appeal as shares suddenly jumped $1.65 in about 20 minutes. That takes away some of the appeal. What takes away more of the appeal was the explanation by CEO Donahoe that spurred the surge, when he explained that he and his CFO did not mean to sound so dour about holiday prospects, it’s just that they both had colds.

On the other hand UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is a company that may be able to justifiably point its finger at the Federal government when it reports earnings again in January 2014. Already suffering a nearly 10% drop in the past week related to 2014 guidance, UnitedHealth is a major player in the options available on the Affordable Health Care Act exchanges. While perhaps not being able to blame the shutdown for any revenue related woes, disappointing enrollment statistics may be in the making. The additional price drop on Friday, following the large drop on Thursday may be related to enrollment challenges rather than projections of lower Medicare funding in the coming year. However, nearing a price support and following such a large price drop provides a combination that makes ownership appealing. Perhaps eBay employees should consider signing up en masse in the event they are all prone to colds that effect their ability to perform. In enough numbers that may be helpful to UnitedHealth Group’s 2014 revenues.

Of course, while the market seemed to rejoice at what could only be construed as the return to health of the eBay executives, Groupon (GRPN) is another example of a stock whose price has returned to more lofty levels following surgical removal of its CEO. It is one of a handful of stocks that I sold last year taking a capital loss and swore that I would never buy again. Now down about 15% from its recent high, which itself was up approximately 500% from its not too distant low, Groupon is a different company in leadership, product and prospects. While still a risky position

Finally, a name that everyone seems to disparage these days is Coach (COH). While there is certainly sufficient reason to believe that retailers, even the higher end retailers are being challenged, Coach is beginning to be perceived as taking a back seat to retailer Michael Kors (KORS). SHares have certainly been volatile, especially at earnings and Coach reports earnings this week. Having owned shares a number of times in the past year, my preference is to sell puts in advance of earnings in anticipation of a large drop. Currently, the option market is implying nearly a 9% move. A 1% ROI for the week can be obtained through such a sale if the price drop is less than 12%.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, The Gap, United Health Group

Momentum Stocks: Groupon, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 10/23), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 10/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/22 AM), Freeport McMoRan (10/22), Cree (10/22 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (10/24 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – October 13, 2013

This week I’m choosing “risk on.”

For about 6 months I’ve been overly cautious, having evolved from a fully invested trader to one starting most weeks at about 40% cash reserves and maintaining about 25-30% by week’s end after initiating new positions.

Despite the belief that something untoward was right around the corner, the desire for current income through the purchase of stocks and the sale of options has been strong enough to temper the heightened caution on an ongoing basis for much of the past half year.

With uncertainty permeating the market’s mood, eased by late last week’s glimmer of hope that perhaps a short term debt ceiling increase may be at hand, “risk on” isn’t the most likely of places to find me playing with my retirement funds, but that’s often where it’s the most interesting, especially if the risk is one of perception more than one of probability.

While we may all have different operational definitions of what constitutes “risk” I consider beta, upcoming known market or stock moving events, the unknown, past price history and relative performance. Tomorrow the formula may be entirely different, as may tolerance for risk or willingness to burn down the cash reserves.

However, trying to dispassionately look at the current market and all of the talk about a correction, one metric that I’ve been using for the past few months reminds me that we’re doing just fine and that risk is still tolerable, even in the context of uncertainty.

Although I continue to believe that we can’t just keep moving higher, I’m not quite as dour when seeing that we are essentially at the same levels the S&P 500 stood on May 21, 2013 and June 18, 2013.

Those dates reflect relative high points, each of which gave way to the FOMC minutes or a press conference by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke.

In fact, we’re actually at a higher level than either of those two previous peaks, now trailing only the all time high of September 18, 2013 by less than 1.5%. So all in all, not too bad, especially since that 50 Day Moving Average that was breached by the S&P 500 earlier in the week was quickly remedied and the 200 Day Moving Average remains relatively distant.

From May 21 to June 5, then from June 18 to June 24, August 2 to 27 and finally September 19 to October 6, we have gone down a combined 16.7% in a cumulative trading period of 13 weeks or the equivalent of a quarter.

What more do you want? Armageddon?

For the past few months I’ve been focusing increasingly on new positions that have been trading below the May and June highs and preferably under-performing the S&P 500 at the same time. However, within that framework I’ve focused increasingly on near term dividend paying stocks and those more likely to fall into the “Traditional” category, typically low beta and attempting to avoid any known short term risk factors.

That has meant fewer “Momentum” positions and fewer earnings related trades. But up until Friday’s continuation of the hope induced rally, I had a number of “Momentum” stocks on my radar, all of which I had already owned and anticipated being assigned, but ripe for re-purchase in the pursuit of risk heightened premiums, but with less risk than readily apparent.

As it turned out Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) got caught up in The Gaps’ same stores problem and whip-sawed in trading and I ultimately rolled over the position. Meanwhile, Mosaic (MOS) fell as investors were somehow surprised that Potash (POT) adjusted its guidance downward to reflect lower prices stemming from a collapse of the cartel.

As it would turn out Phillips 66 (PSX) was assigned, but soared, making it too expensive for repurchase, but that can change very quickly.

This week there are two deadlines. One is the end of the October 2013 option cycle, but the other is October 17, 2013, which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew proclaimed to be the day after which none of his “tricks” would be able to sustain the Treasury’s count and be able to pay our bills.

In a word? That’s when we would see the United States go into default on its obligations.

Under Senate questioning last week Lew acquitted himself quite well and demonstrated that he wasn’t very patient with regard to suffering fools. Uncharacteristically there appeared to be less self-aggrandizing statements in the form of questions coming from the committee members.

It may not be entirely coincidental that minutes after Lew’s appearance, House Speaker Boehner’s office announced that the Speaker would be making a statement reflecting upcoming meetings with the Administration, reflecting the possibility of some agreement.

For those that remember past such budgetary crises, you’ll recall that the market typically reacted to the hopes and then crashed along with the dashed hopes, in an eerily rhythmic manner.

On Saturday morning, word came from Eric Cantor (R-VA) that President Obama rejected the House offer. Unusually, GOP leadership skipped the opportunity to step up to the microphone to push their version of righteousness.

This week, in anticipation of the possibility of dashed hopes as may come from an appearing setback, my definition of “risk
on” includes positions already trading at depressed levels.

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

For dividend lovers this week offers Footlocker (FL), Colgate (CL) and Caterpillar (CAT). All under-performing the S&P 500 YTD.

Colgate, however, is higher than its June 2013 high and has a surprisingly high beta, despite the perceived sedate nature of being a consumer defensive stock. Perhaps that combination makes it a “risk on” position for me. Coupled with a dividend that is lower than the overall S&P 500 average it may not readily appear to be worth the time, but then again, how much additional downside should accrue from a US default?

I already own two lots of Footlocker and three is generally my limit, as it precluded including Mosaic in this week’s recommendations. Footlocker doesn’t report earnings until the December 2013 option cycle, so a little bit of risk is removed, although in the world of retail you are always at risk for any of your competitors that may still report monthly comparison data, just look at the pall created by The Gap (GPS) and L Brands (LTD) this past week.

While a pall was created by L Brands and it is higher than those referenced high points it is now down a tantalizing 10% in a week’s time. I’ve already owned shares on five separate occasions this year and have been waiting for an opportunity to do so again. It is a generally reliably trading stock that had simply climbed too far and for a month’s time traveled only in a single direction. That’s rarely sustainable. The combination of premium and dividend makes L Brands worthy of consideration in a sector that has been challenged of late. The lack of weekly options makes ownership less stressed by day to day events for those otherwise inclined to like weekly options.

Not to be outdone, Joy Global (JOY) is a stock that’s been worth owning on 7 distinct occasions this year. It has consistently traded in tight range and has been able to find its way home if temporarily wandering. High beta, well underperforming the S&P 500 and lower than both of the two earlier market high points continues to make it an appealing short term selection, especially with earnings still so far off in the future.

I’ve been waiting to add shares of Caterpillar for a while, having owned it only four times in 2013, as compared to nine occasions in 2012. However, the upcoming dividend makes another purchase more likely. Despite the thesis advanced by short seller Jim Chanos against Caterpillar, it has, thus far continued to maintain its existence in a tight trading range, making it an excellent covered option candidate.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) reported its earnings this past Friday and reported a loss for the first time under Jamie Dimon’s watch. Regardless of your position on the merits of the myriad of legal and regulatory cases which have resulted in spectacular legal fees and fines, JP Morgan has acquitted itself nicely on the bottom line. While there is still unknown, but tangible punishment ahead, for which shareholders are doubly brutalized, I think a sixth round of share ownership is warranted at this price level.

Williams Sonoma (WSM) was one of the first stocks that I purchased specifically to attempt to capture its dividend and have it partially underwritten by an option premium. It fell a bit by the wayside as weekly options appeared on the scene. However, as uncertainty creeps into the market there is a certain comfort that comes from a monthly or even longer term option contract. WHile it has come down nearly 15% in the past two months and is now priced lower than during the May and June market highs, Williams Sonoma’s dirty little secret is that it has still outperformed the S&P 500 YTD by a whisker.

SanDisk (SNDK) had its eulogy written many years ago when flash memory was written off as being simply a commodity. Always volatile, especially in response to earnings, which have seen plunges on each of those last two occasions, now may not be the time to believe that “the third time is a charm,” although I do. Despite that, my participation, if any, would be in the sale of out of the money puts, as the options market is implying a move of approximately 7% and that may not be aggressive enough, given past history.

FInally, Align Technology (ALGN) reports earnings this week. In the business of making orthodontic therapy so easy that even a monkey could do it, the company’s prospects have significantly improved as its treatment solutions are increasingly geared toward children. That’s important because their traditional customer base, adults, views orthodontic treatment as discretionary and, therefore, represents an economically sensitive purchase. But most anyone with kids knows that orthodontic treatment isn’t discretionary at all. It can be as close to life and death as you would like to experience. This kind of orthodontic care represents a new profit center for many dental offices and a boon to Align Technology. While I expect good earnings numbers, shares have already had a 13% price decline in the past two weeks. I would most likely consider entering a position by means of selling out of the money puts. In this case for a single week’s position, if unassigned, as much as a 12% price drop could still yield a 1.3% ROI, as the options market is implying a 9% e
arnings related move.

Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan, L Brands, Williams Sonoma

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (ex-div 10/17), Colgate (ex-div 10/18), Footlocker (ex-div 10/16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Align Technology (10/17 PM), SanDisk (10/16 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk. 

Weekend Update – October 6, 2013

This is the time of year that one can start having regrets about the way in which votes were cast in prior elections.

Season’s Misgivings

The sad likelihood, however, is that officials elected through the good graces of incredibly gerrymandered districts are not likely to ever believe that their homogeneous and single minded neighbors represent thoughts other than what the entire nation shares.

That’s where both parties can at least agree that is the truth about the other side.

Living in the Washington, DC area the impact of a federal government shutdown is perhaps much more immediately tangible than in a “geometric shape not observed in nature” congressional district elsewhere. However, there is no doubt that a shutdown has adverse effect on GDP and that impact is cumulative and wider spreading as the shutdown continues.

It’s unfortunate that elected officials seem to neither notice nor care about direct and indirect impact on individuals and financial institutions. In war that sort of thing is sanitized by referring to it as “collateral damage.” As long as it’s kept out of sight and in someone else’s congressional district it doesn’t really exist.

Pete Najarian put it in terms readily understandable, much more so than when some tried expressing the cost of a shutdown in terms of drag on quarterly GDP.

Of course, the real challenge awaits as we once again are faced with the prospect of having insufficient cash to pay debts and obligations. But for what it’s worth at least the rest of the world gets a much needed laugh and boost in national ego, while McGraw Hill Financial (MHFI) and others ponder the price of their calling it as they see it.

At the moment, that’s probably not what the economy needs, but in the perverse world we live in that may mean continued Federal Reserve intervention in Quantitative Easing. While “handouts” are decried by many who don’t see a detriment to a government shutdown, the Federal Reserve handout is one that they are inclined to accept, as long as it helps to fuel the markets.

However, as we are ready to enter into another earnings season this week many are mindful of the fairly lackluster previous earnings season that just ended. While the markets have recently been riding a wave of unexpected good news, such as no US intervention in Syria, continued Quantitative Easing and the disappearance of Lawrence Summers from the landscape, we are ripe for disappointment. We were spared any potential disappointment on Friday morning as the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report fell victim to someone being furloughed.

So what would be more appropriate than to re-introduce the concept of stock fundamentals, such as earnings, into the equation? During this past summer, when our elected officials were on vacation, that’s pretty much where we focused our attention as the world and the nation were largely quiet places. While no one is particularly effusive about what the current stream of reports will offer, a market that truly discounts the future already has its eyes set on the following earnings season that may begin to bear the brunt of any trickle down from a prolonged government shutdown.

At the moment, sitting on cash reserves, I am willing to recycle funds from shares that have been assigned this Friday (October 4, 2013), but am not willing to dip further into the pile until seeing some evidence of a bottoming to the current process that had the S&P 500 drop 2.7% since September 19, 2013 until Friday’s nice showing pared the loss down to 2%. But I need more evidence than a tepid one day respite, just as it will take more than a resolution to the current congressional impasse to believe that we wouldn’t be better served by an unelected algorithm.

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

I’m certain many people miss the days when a purchase of shares in Apple (AAPL) was a sure thing. While I like profits as much as the next person, I also enjoy the hunt and from that perspective I think that Apple shares are far more interesting now as we just passed the one year anniversary of having reached its peak price and tax related selling capitalizing on the loss will likely slow. Suddenly it’s becoming like many other stocks and financial engineering is beginning to play a role in attempts to enhance shareholder value.

Without passing judgment on the merits of the role of activist investors it doesn’t hurt to have additional factors that can support share price, particularly at times that the market itself may be facing weakness. Apple has increasingly been providing opportunities for short term gains as its price undulates with the tide that now includes more than just sales statistics and product releases. Capital gains or shares, an attractive dividend and generous option premiums make its ownership easier to consider at current prices. However, with earnings scheduled to be reported on October 22, 2013 I would likely focus on the sale of weekly option contracts as Apple is prone to large earnings related moves.

While Apple has done a reasonable job in price recovery over the past few months amid questions regarding whether its products were still as fashionable as they had been, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) hasn’t yet made that recovery from its most recent earnings report that saw a more than 20% price drop. As far as I know, and I don’t get out very much, talks of it no longer being the “cool” place to buy clothes aren’t the first item on people’s conversational agenda. The risk associated with ownership is always present but is subdued when earnings reports are still off in the distance, as they are currently. In the meantime,
Abercrombie and Fitch always offers option premiums that help to reduce the stress associated with share ownership.

Ironically, the health care sector hasn’t be treating me terribly well of late, perhaps being whipsawed by the fighting on Capitol Hill over the Affordable Care Act and proposed taxes on medical devices. Additionally, a government shutdown conceivably slows the process whereby regulated products can be brought to the market. Abbott Labs (ABT), whose shares were recently assigned at $35 has subsequently dropped about 5% and will be going ex-dividend this week. Although the dividend isn’t quite as rich as some of the other major pharmaceutical companies after having completed a spin-off earlier in the year, I think the selling is done and overdone.

For me, a purchase of MetLife (MET) is nothing more than replacing shares that were just assigned after Friday’s opportune price surge and that have otherwise been a reliable creator of income streams from dividends and option premiums. At the current price levels MetLife has been an ideal covered call stock having come down in price in response to fears that in a reduced interest rate environment its own earnings will be reduced.

International Paper (IP) is an example of a covered call strategy gone wrong, as the last time I owned it was about a year ago having had shares assigned just prior to its decision to go on a sustained rise higher. While frequently cited by detractors as an argument against a covered option strategy, the reality is that such events don’t happen terribly often, nor does the investor have to eschew greed as share price is escalating or exercise perfect timing. to secure profits before they evaporate. I’ve waited quite a while for its share price to drop, but it is still far from where I last owned them. Still, the current price drop helps to restore the appeal.

Being levered to China or even being perceived as levered to the Chinese economy can either be an asset or a liability, depending on what questionable data is making the rounds at any given moment. Joy Global (JOY) is one of those companies that is heavily levered to China, but even when the macroeconomic news seems to be adverse the shares are still able to maintain itself within a comfortably defined trading range. With Friday’s strong close my shares were assigned, but I would like to re-establish a position, particularly at a price point below $52.50. If it stays true to form it will find that level sooner rather than later making it once again an appealing purchase target and source of option related income.

With the start of a new earnings season one stock that I’ve been longing to own again starts out the season. YUM Brands (YUM) is an always interesting stock to own due to how responsive it is to any news or rumors coming from China. Over the past year it’s been incredibly resilient to a wide range of reports that you would think were being released in an effort to conspire against share price. Food safety issues, poor drink selection during heat waves and Chinese economic slow down have all failed to keep the share price down. While the current price is near the top of its range I think that expectations have been set on the low side. In addition to reporting earnings this week shares also go ex-dividend the following day.

A little less exciting, certainly as compared to Abercrombie and Fitch is The Gap (GPS). In a universe of retailers going through violent price swings, The Gap has been an oasis of calm. It goes ex-dividend this week and if it can maintain that tight trading channel it would be an ideal purchase as part of a covered call strategy.

While The Gap isn’t terribly exciting, Molson Coors (TAP) and Williams Co. (WMB) are even less so. While I usually start thinking about either of them in the period preceding a dividend payment they have each found a price level that has offered some stability, thereby providing some additional appeal in the process that includes sale of near the money calls.

Finally, I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with Mosaic (MOS). The hate part is only recent as shares that I’ve owned since May 2013 have fallen victim to the collapse of the potash cartel. In a “what have you done for me lately” kind of mentality that kind of performance makes me forget how profitable Mosaic had been as a covered call holding for about 5 years. However, the recent “love” part of the equation has come from the serial purchase of shares at these depressed levels and collecting premiums in alternation with their assignment. I have been following shares higher with such purchases as there is now some reason to believe that the cartel may not be left for dead.

Traditional Stocks: International Paper, Molson Coors, Williams Co.

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Joy Global, MetLife, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 10/10), The Gap (ex-div 10/11), YUM Brands (ex-div 10/9)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/8 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adj
ustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.