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This was an incredibly boring week, almost entirely devoid of news, other than for earnings reports and an outdated Employment Situation Report.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.