Weekend Update – July 27, 2014

It seems that almost every week over the past few months have both begun and ended with a quandary of which path to take.

Talk about indecision, for the previous seven weeks the market closed in the an alternating direction to the previous week. This past week was the equivalent of landing on the “green” as the S&P 500 was 0.12 higher for the week, but ending the streak.

Like the biology experiment that shows how a frog immersed in water that is slowly brought to a boil never perceives the impending danger to its life, the market has continued to set new closing record high after record high in a slow and methodical fashion.

With all the talk continuing about how money remains on the sidelines from 2008-9, you do have to wonder how getting into the market now is any different from that frog thinking about climbing into that pot as it nears its boiling point.

Unless there’s new money coming in what fuels growth?

That’s not to say that danger awaits or that the slow climb higher will lead to a change in state or a frenzied outburst of energy leading to some calamitous event, but the thought could cross some minds.

Perhaps Friday’s sell off will prompt some to select one path over another, although a single bubble doesn’t mean that as you’re immersed in a bath that it is coming to a boil. It may entirely be due to other reasons, such as your most recent meal, so it’s not always appropriate to jump to conclusions.

While the frog probably doesn’t really comprehend the slowly growing number of bubbles that seem to be arising from the water, investors may begin to notice the rising number of IPO offerings entering the market and particularly their difficulty in achieving pricing objectives.

I wonder what that might signify? The fact that suddenly my discount brokerage seems to be inundating me with IPO offers makes me realize that it does seem to be getting hotter and hotter around me.

This coming week I’ve had cash reserves replenished with a number of assignments, somehow surviving the week ending plunge and I see many prices having come down, even if just a little. That combination often puts me into a spending mood, that would be especially enhanced if Monday begins either on the downside or just tepidly higher.

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

The big news in the markets this week was Facebook (FB) as its earnings report continued to make clear that it has mastered the means to monetize a mobile strategy. While it produces nothing it’s market capitalization is stunning and working its way closer to the top spot. For those in the same or reasonably close sector, the trickle down was appreciated. One of those, Twitter (TWTR) reports earnings this week and the jury is still very much out on whether it has a viable product, a viable management team and even a viable life as an independent entity.

For all of those questions Twitter can be an exciting holding, if you like that sort of thing. I currently hold shares that were assigned to me after having fallen so much that I couldn’t continue the process of rolling over puts any longer. The process to recover has been slow, but speeded a bit by selling calls on the way higher. However, while that has been emotionally rewarding, but as may be the case when puts are sold and potential ownership is something that is shunned, has required lots of maintenance and maneuvering.

With earnings this week the opportunity arises again to consider the sale of new Twitter puts, either before earnings are released or if shares plunge, afterward.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move in shares upon earnings. a 1% weekly ROI may possibly be obtained at a strike price that’s 14.8% below Friday’s close.

While Twitter is filled with uncertainty, Starbucks (SBUX) has some history behind it that gives good reason to have continuing confidence. With the market having looked adversely at Starbucks’ earnings report, Howard Schultz gave an impassioned and wholly rational defense of the company, its operations and prospects.

In the past few years each time Starbucks shares have been pummeled after earnings and Schultz has done as he did on Friday, it has proven itself an excellent entry point for shares. Schultz has repeatedly shown himself to be among the most credible and knowledgeable of CEOs with regard to his own business and business strategy. He has been as bankable as anyone that can be found.

With an upcoming dividend, always competitive option premiums and Schultz standing behind it, the pullback on Friday may be a good time to re-consider adding shares, despite still trading near highs.

While I suppose Yelp (YELP) could tell me all about the nearest Starbucks and the experience that I might expect there, it’s not a site that gets my attention, particularly after seeing some reviews of restaurants that pilloried the businesses of places that my wife and I frequent repeatedly.

Still, there’s clearly something to be had of value through using the site for someone. What does have me interested is the potential opportunity that may exist at earnings. Yelp is no stranger to large moves at earnings and for those who like risk there can be reward in return. However, for those who like smaller dosages of each a 1% ROI for the week can potentially be achieved at a strike price of $58 based on Friday’s $68.68 closing priced and an implied move of 12%. Back in April 2014 I received an almost 3% ROI for the risk taken, but don’t believe that I’m willing to be so daring now that I’m older.

Following the market’s sharp drop on Friday it was difficult to not jump the gun a little bit as some prices looked to be either “too good” or just ready. One of those was General Motors (GM). Having survived earnings last week,
albeit with a sizeable share drop over the course of a few days and wading its way through so much litigation, it is quietly doing what it is supposed to be doing and selling its products. An energized consumer will eventually trade in those cars that have long passed their primes, as for many people what they drive is perceived as the best insight into their true standing in society. General Motors has traded nicely as it has approached $33 and offers a nice premium and attractive dividend, making it fit in nicely with a portfolio that tries to accentuate income streams even while shares my gyrate in price.

I never get tired of thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY). With some of my shares assigned this past Friday despite some recent price strength after earnings, I think it is now in that mid-point of its trading range from where it has been relatively easy to manage the position even with some moves lower.

Carl Icahn has remained incredibly quiet on his position in eBay and my guess, based on nothing at all, is that there is some kind of behind the scenes convergence of thought between Icahn and eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, regarding the PayPal jewel.

With all of the recent talk about “old tech,” there’s reason to consider one of the oldest, Texas Instruments (TXN) which goes ex-dividend this coming week. Having recently traded near its year’s high, shares have come down considerably following earnings, over the course of a few days. While still a little on the high side, it has lots of company in that regard, but at least has the goods to back up its price better than many others. It, too, offers an attractive combination of dividend, premiums and still possibility of share appreciation.

Reporting earnings this week are both MasterCard (MA) and MetLife (MET). Neither are potential trades whose premiums are greatly enhanced by the prospects of earnings related surprises. Both, however, are companies that I would like to once again own, possibly through the sale of put options prior to earnings being announced.

MasterCard suffered on Friday as collateral damage to Visa’s (V) earnings, which helped drag the DJIA down far more than the S&P 500, despite the outsized contribution by Amazon (AMZN) which suffered a % decline after earnings. On top of that are worries again from the Russian market, which earlier in the year had floated the idea of their own credit system. Now new rules impacting payment processors in Russia is of concern.

MasterCard has been able to generate satisfactory option premiums during an otherwise low volatility environment and despite trading in a $72 – $78 range, as it has regular bounces, such as seen this past week.

I have been waiting for MetLife to trade down to about the $52 range for the past two months and perhaps earnings will be the impetus. For that reason I might be more inclined to consider opening a position through the sale of puts rather than an outright buy/write. However, also incorporated into that decision process is that shares will be going ex-dividend the following week and there is some downside to the sale of puts in the face of such an event, much as their may be advantage to selling calls into an ex-dividend date.

Finally, there hasn’t been much that has been more entertaining of late than the Herbalife (HLF) saga. After this past week’s tremendous alternating plunge and surge and the absolute debacle of a presentation by Bill Ackman that didn’t quite live up to its billing.

While there may certainly be lots of validity to Ackman’s claims, which are increasingly not being nuanced, the opportunity may exist on both sides of the controversy, as earnings are announced next week. Unless some significant news arises in addition to earnings, such as from the SEC or FTC, it is like any other high beta stock about to report earnings.

The availability of expanded weekly options makes the trade more appealing in the event of an adverse move bringing shares below the $61.50 level suggested by the implied volatility, allows some greater flexibility. However, because of the possibility of other events, my preference would be to have this be as short term of a holding as possible, such that if selling puts and seeing a rise in shares after earnings, I would likely sacrifice remaining value on the options and close the position, being happy with whatever quick profits were achieved.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, General Motors, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (7/28 PM), Twitter (7/29 PM), Yelp (7/30 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 – July 20, 2014

While I don’t necessarily believe that space aliens will descend upon us with laser rays blazing, there’s reason to increasingly believe that possibility as we learn more and more about the existence of conditions elsewhere in the universe that may be compatible with sustaining life.

Still, even with that knowledge, I don’t let it control my life and quite frankly will probably never do anything that in any way is impacted by the thought of an encounter with an alien.

The principle reason for not elevating the alarm level is that there is no point in history to serve as an example. The pattern of life on earth has been so far devoid of such occurrences, as best we know. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

However, I just don’t completely discount the possibility, because I believe that it’s of a very low probability. Besides, the vaporization process would be so swift that there would be no time for remorse or regrets. At least that’s what I expect.

By the same token I don’t expect a complete meltdown in the market, even though I know it has and can, likely occur again. Despite its probability of occurrence and my belief of that probability, I’m not really prepared for one if it were to occur, even with the extraordinarily low cost of portfolio protection. The chances of a complete meltdown, as we know, is probably more likely to occur in the near term than the prospect of laser waving aliens in our lifetimes.

For all practical purposes one is a real probability and the other isn’t, yet they aren’t necessarily placed into different risk categories at the moment.

This week’s events, however, served as a reminder that the unexpected should always be expected. With the nice rebound on Friday from Thursday’s news of the tragic downing of the civilian Malaysian airplane, the lesson may be lost, however.

One thing that we seem to have forgotten how to do in the past 5 years is to expect the unexpected. Instead our expectations have been fueled by the relentless climb higher and a feeling of invincibility. To a large degree that feeling has been justified as every attempt to fight back against the gains has been stymied in quick and due course.

I probably wasn’t alone in having that invincible feeling way back in 2007. The vaporization process was fairly swift then, as well.

Even when faced with challenges that in the past would have sent markets tumbling, such as international conflict, we haven’t seen the application of age old adages such as “do not stay long going into a weekend of uncertainty.” This Friday’s market rebound was another example in a long string of uncertainty being expected to not lead to the unexpected.

In essence with the certainty of an ever climbing market having become the new reality there’s been very little reason to exercise caution, or at least to be prepared to act in a cautious manner in the expectation that perhaps the unexpected will occur.

Our minds are wired to like and identify patterns. That’s certainly the strategic basis for stock trading for many. Predictability brings a degree of comfort, but too much comfort brings complacency. The prevailing pattern simply argues against the unexpected, so we have discounted its probability and to a large degree its possibility.

While we may be correct in discounting complete market meltdowns, as their occurrence is still relatively uncommon, that complacency has us discounting intermediate sized moves that can easily come from the unexpected. The world is an increasingly complex and inter-connected place and as seen in the past week there needn’t be advanced warning signs for any of an infinite number of unexpected events to occur.

We did get lucky this past week, but we probably expected the luck to continue if the unexpected did strike. What would really be unexpected would be to draw a lesson from our fragility standing near market highs.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. With many companies reporting earnings this coming week a companion article, “Taking a Gamble with Earnings,” explores some additional potential trades.

As Thursday’s trading was coming to its close at the lows of the session more and more stocks were beginning to return to what seemed to be more reasonable trading levels.

The problem, of course, is dealing with the unexpected and trying to predict what comes next when there are really no data points to characterize what we’ve seen. Someday when we look back at these events and the market impact we may see a pattern, but at the moment the question will be “which pattern?” Is it one that’s simply a blip and short-lived as the event itself is self-limiting or is the pattern consistent with the beginning stages of what is to become an ongoing and escalating series of events that serve to erode confidence and place continuing strains on the market?

In other words, did we just witness a typical over-reaction and subsequent rebound or are we ready to witness a correction?

I think its the former, but it opens the possibility of additional incidents and escalation of hostilities in a part of the world that is far more meaningful to the world’s economies than unheralded internecine conflicts occurring in so many other places.

Interestingly, with that kind of backdrop, this week, while we begin to sort out what the short term holds, “Momentum” kind of stocks, particularly those with little to no international exposure in the hotbed areas, may be more conservative choices than the more Traditional selections.

While I like British Petroleum (BP), General Electric (GE) and Deere (DE) this week, predominantly due to their recent price drops, there is certainly reason to be wary of their exposure to parts of the world in conflict.

British Petroleum certainly has known interests in Russia and could be at unique risk, however, I believe that we will be seeing a lesser chest thumping Russia in the n

ear term as there is some reason to believe that existing sanctions and perhaps expanded ones are beginning to get attention at the highest levels. Above all, pragmatism would dictate not injuring the source of hard currency.

I’ve been waiting a while to re-purchase shares of British Petroleum and certainly welcome any opportunity, even if still at a price higher than my last entry. With earnings scheduled to be reported July 29, 2014 and a healthy dividend sometime during the August 2014 option cycle there may be opportunities over the coming weeks with these shares to generate ongoing income.

General Electric reported its earnings this past Friday and also announced the impending IPO of its consumer finance business. The market was unimpressed on both counts.

I haven’t owned shares of General Electric with the frequency that it deserved. With a generous and increasing dividend, price stability, low beta and decent option premiums, it certainly has had the appeal for ownership, perhaps even using longer term option contracts to better  lock in some of those dividends. While it has significant international exposure the recent price weakness makes entry a little less risky, but even with the quality and size of General Electric unexpected bumpy rides can be possible when uncontrollable events create investor fear.

Deere is simply finally down to the price level that in the past was my upper range for purchase. With Caterpillar (CAT) reporting earnings later this week and trading near its 52 week high, there is room on the downside, as well as some trickle down to Deere shares. However, with Joy Global’s (JOY) recent performance, my anticipation is that Caterpillar’s Chinese related revenues will be enough to satisfy traders and offer some protection to Deere, as well.

On the Momentum side of the equation this week are Best Buy (BBY), Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and YUM Brands (YUM).

While Las Vegas Sands and YUM Brands certainly have international exposure, at the moment if you had to choose where to place your overseas bets, China may be relatively insulated from the unexpected elsewhere in the world.

Both companies are coming off weak earnings reports and the markets reacted accordingly. Both, however, have been very resilient to declines and finding substantive support levels in the past. With some shares of Las Vegas Sands recently assigned at current levels I would look for opportunity to re-purchase them. It’s volatility offers generous option premiums and the availability of expanded weekly options makes it easier to consider rollover opportunities in the event of unexpected price drops in order to wait out any price rebound, which has been the expected pattern.

YUM Brands is, like Deere, finally approaching the upper range of where I have purchased shares in the past. While I would like to see them even lower, I think that due to its dependence on the Chinese economy and market it may be a relative out-performer in the event of internationally induced market weakness.

Best Buy, unlike YUM Brands and Las Vegas Sands, has recently been on an upward price trajectory. I liked it much better when it was trading in the $26 range, but I believe it still has further upside potential in its slow climb back after unexpectedly bad earnings news 6 months ago. It too has an attractive option premium and a dividend and despite its recent price climb higher has come down nearly 5% in the past two weeks.

I have never purchased shares of Pandora (P) before, but love its product. At the moment I don’t particularly have any great desire to own shares, but Pandora does report earnings this week and is notable for its 10.8% implied price move. In the meantime a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike price that is 16.4% below the current price. Those are the kind of characteristics that I like to see when considering what may otherwise be a risk laden trade.

Pandora has certainly shown itself capable of making very large earnings related moves and it is also certainly in the cross hairs of other and bigger players, such as Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). However, even a scathing critic, TheStreet’s Rocco Pendola, has recently commented that its crushing defeat at the hands of those behemoths is not guaranteed.

Expected, maybe, but not guaranteed.

Facebook (FB) is also reporting earnings this coming week and in the two years that it has done so has predominantly surprised to the upside as it has quickly lived up to its vow to monetize its mobile strategy.

With an implied price move of 7.6% the strike level necessary to generate a 1% ROI through the sale of puts is 8.7% below Friday’s closing price. While shares can certainly make a move much larger than what is expected by the option market, in the event of an adverse move Facebook has some qualities that makes it an easier put option position to manage in the effort to avoid assignment.

It trades expanded weekly options and it does so with liquidity and volume, thereby having relatively narrow bid and ask spreads, even for deep in the money options.

Sooner or later, though, the expectation must be that earnings expectations won’t be met. I wouldn’t discount that possibility, although I think the options market may have done so a bit, so in this case I would be more inclined to consider the sale of puts after earnings, if share price drops on a disappointing report.

Finally, Apple reports earnings this week. It doesn’t really fulfill the criteria that I used when considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, in that it doesn’t appear that a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike level outside of the range defined by the option market when calculating the “implied move.”

It’s probably useless trying to speculate on sales numbers or guidance. Based on its usual earnings related responses in the past, you would be justified in believing that the market had not expected  the news. However, this quarter the implied move is on the small side, at only 4.5%, suggesting that not much in the way of a surprise is expected next week.

With the current option pricing, the sale of Apple puts doesn’t meet my criteria, but I would again be interested in considering either the sale of puts after earnings, if the market’s response is negative or the outright purchase of shares and sale of calls, in anticipation of an ex-dividend date coming up in early August.

Sometimes it’s just
easier dealing with the expected.

Traditional Stocks:  British Petroleum, Deere, General Electric

Momentum: Best Buy, Las Vegas Sands, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/22 PM), Facebook (7/23 PM), Pandora (P)

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 – July 13, 2014

In the past month Janet Yellen has reaffirmed the commitment to keeping stocks the preferred investment vehicle yet after the initial euphoria, skepticism and askance looks greeted any attempts to set even more new record highs.

For stock investors the greatest gift of all was there, delivered on a platter, just waiting to be taken advantage of this past week. But we didn’t do so, maybe having learned a lesson from Greek mythology and avoiding obvious and superficial temptation.

Unfortunately, the application of that lesson may have been misguided as the temptations offered by the Federal Reserve had already run fairly deep, having already been acknowledged to have fueled much of the years long rally in stocks.

Instead of focusing on accepting and making good use of the gifts this past week it didn’t take long to re-ignite talk of the beginning of the long overdue correction after a failed start to the week’s trading.

The week itself was a bizarre one with some fairly odd stories diverting attention from what really mattered.

There was the frivolous news of a wildly successful potato salad Kickstarter campaign, the inconsequential news of the demise of Crumbs (CRMB), the laughably sad news of the sudden appearance of a seemingly phony social media company in Belize with a $5 billion market capitalization while the SEC slept and feel good news of LeBron James taking his talents back to the fine people of Cleveland.

Somewhere in-between was also the news that a Portuguese bank was having some difficulty paying back short term debt obligations.

Talk of an impending correction came before this week’s FOMC statement release, which did much to erase the previous two days of weakness, but it was short lived, as fears related to the European banking system swept through the European markets and made their ways to our shores on Thursday.

This was yet another week when the market wasn’t willing to accept the assurance of continuing gifts from the Federal Reserve after the initial giddiness upon the delivery of its news. While we all know that sooner or later the gifts from the Federal Reserve will slow down and then stop altogether in advance of that time when it actually begins to impede our over-fed avarice, there isn’t too much reason to refuse the gifts that are still there to be given. While perhaps those gifts could be viewed as an entitlement perhaps the additional lesson learned is that we are resilient enough to not allow a natural sense of cautionary behavior to be disarmed.

Somehow, I doubt that’s the case, just as I doubt that Greek mythology has taught very many or lasting lessons to many of us lately.

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

Puts I sold on Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) that I sold a few weeks ago expired this past week, as they were within easy range of assignment or in need of rollover on Friday until murmurings of a leveraged buyout started to lift shares.

Had those murmurings waited until sometime on Monday I might have considered them as a gift, as I wanted to now add shares to my portfolio. However, coming as they did, although securing the ability to see the puts sold expire worthless, may have snatched a gift away, as I rarely want to chase a stock once it has started moving higher. However, on any weakness that see shares trading lower to begin the week, I would be anxious to add shares as I believe Bed Bath and Beyond was already in recovery mode from the strong selling pressure after it reported earnings a few weeks ago.

The Gap (GPS) continues to be one of the dwindling few that report monthly sales statistics. As it does, it regularly has paroxysms of movement when those statistics are released. Rarely does it string together more than two successive months of consistent data, such that its share price bounces quite a bit, despite shares themselves not being terribly volatile in the longer run. Those movements often provide nice option premiums and makes The Gap an attractive buy, although it can also be a frustrating position, as a result. However, it is one that I frequently like as part of my portfolio and currently do own shares. This most recent report on Friday don’t send shares moving as much as in the recent past, however, it did create an opportunity to consider the addition of more shares.

With earnings season beginning to high gear this week there is no shortage of potential candidates. However, unless most weeks when considering earnings related trades I only think in terms of put sales and would prefer not to own shares.

That is certainly the case with SanDisk (SNDK).

The option market believes that there may be a 6.6% movement in either direction next week upon earnings being released. However, a 1.1% ROI can potentially be achieved at a strike level that is outside of the range implied by the option market, making it an appealing trade, if willing to also manage the position in the event that assignment may be likely by attempting to roll over the put sale to a new time period.

On the other hand both Blackstone (BX) and Cypress Semiconductor (CY) are shares that I would want to own

at a lower price and would consider accepting assignment rather than rolling over and trying to stay one step ahead of assignment.

In the case of Cypress Semiconductor, whose products are quietly ubiquitous, since it has only monthly options available, there aren’t good opportunies to try such evasive techniques, so being prepared for ownership is a requisite if selling puts. Shares have traded in an identifiable range, so if assigned and patient there’s liukely to be an escape path while collecting option premiums and perhaps dividends, as well.

Blackstone is off from its recent highs and has been a beneficiary of the rash of IPO offerings of late. While I wouldn’t mind owning shares again at this level, the fact that it offers many expanded weekly options does allow for the possibility of managing the position through rollovers in the event that assignment may be imminent. However, with a generous dividend upcoming there may also be reason to consider ownership if assignment may be likely.

Finally, A stock that I love to own is Fastenal (FAST). To me it represents a snapshot of the US economy. Depending on your perspective when the economy does well, Fastenal does well or when Fastenal is doing well the economy is doing well. While that’s fairly simple and easy to understand, even if not entirely validated, what is always less easy to understand is how a stock responds to its earnings reports. In this case shares of Fastenal tumbled as top line numbers were very good, but margins were decreasing.

While that may not be great news for Fastenal and it certainly wasn’t for its shareholders today, the growth in sales revenues may be a positive sign for the economy. For me, the negative response provides opportunity to once again own shares and to do so as either a potential short term purchase or with a longer term horizon.

While Fastenal trades only monthly options with this being the final week of the July 2014 cycle it could potentially be purchased with the mindset of a weekly option trader. However, in the event that shares aren’t assigned, they do go ex-dividend the following week, so there may be reason to consider immediately considering an August 2014 option in hedging the share purchase.

Traditional Stocks: Bad Bath and Beyond, Fastenal, The Gap

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackstone, Cypress Semiconductor, SanDisk

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 – July 6, 2014

You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I’ve long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It’s far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.

Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.

So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you’re not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That’s especially so because lately the market hasn’t been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality

In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen re-affirmed he commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.

If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post – FOMC press conference?

That gift didn’t have too much staying power and it’s unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it’s good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.

When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.

Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."

As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.

So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation’s employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn’t a very good time if you were an equity investor.

While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you’re on a roll you go with it.

More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.

However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying  about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?

I’m afraid the answer is that "you don’t," other than perhaps in hindsight.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or "PEE" categories.

Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.

I don’t say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer’s face.

That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I’m always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.

Most recently Coach (COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven’t found myself displaying a similar emotion. I’ve usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.

However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn’t end with earnings this time around.

As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares  or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.

While not  in retail, Mosaic (MOS) is another company that I’ve spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it’s time to  make some money. 

Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to continually rollover option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.

Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (DRI). There’s probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend. 

While Darden’s payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn’t much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.

Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.

As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have  are-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.

Microsoft (MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.

Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it’s clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.

Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.

The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn’t quite fulfill my objective of tring to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen is a good friend to have on your side.

Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.

While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs’ illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook’s second seat at the helm of the company.

JP Morgan’s shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon’s health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JP Morgan’s credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon’s health or unexpected change of leadership.

In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JP Morgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected form its own self than in past years. WHether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.

Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we’ll need.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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.