Weekend Update – October 26, 2014

It’s too bad that life doesn’t come with highly specific indicators that give us direction or at least warn us when our path isn’t the best available.

Parents are supposed to do that sort of thing, but in real life the rules are pretty simple. You don’t go swimming for 30 minutes after a meal, you don’t kill people and you don’t swallow your chewing gum.

The seven additional commandments are really just derivative of those critically important first three.

Knowing the difference between right and wrong gives one the ability to change direction when getting too close to what is known to be on the wrong side of what society finds acceptable. Most people get the concept and also apply it to their personal safety.

In stock investing it’s not that simple, although there are lots of rules and all kinds of advance warning signals that may or may not work, depending on whether you were giving or receiving the information. As opposed to adolescents who eventually become adults and lose the “it can never happen to me” mentality, investors often feel a sense of immunity from what may await just beyond that point that others would avoid.

It would have been really, really nice if there was some kind of warning system that both alerted us to an upcoming decline and especially the fact that it would be abruptly followed by a reversal.

Much has been said about the various kinds of recoveries that can be seen, but if this most recent bounce higher will in fact be the recovery to the nearly 9% drop on an intra-day basis, then it is certainly of the “V-shape” variety.

This week came word that by a very large margin the activity in personal 401(k) retirement accounts had been to move out of equities, after the declines, and into fixed income instruments, after those interest rates had seen a 15% increase.

What may really complicate things is that there really is no society to provide guidance and set the boundaries. There are short sellers who like to see movement in one direction and then there are the rest of us, although we can all change those roles at any moment in time that seems to suit us.

For those that depended on the “key reversal” of a few weeks ago as a sign to buy or dipping below the 200 day moving average as a sign to sell, the past few weeks have frustrating.

On the other hand, news of rampant selling in 401(k) accounts may offer precisely the kind of prognostic indicator that many have been looking for, as being a perfectly contrarian signal and indication that the time to buy had come once again.

But what caused the sudden change that created the “V shape?”

Technicians and chart watchers will point to the sudden reversal seen on October 15th in the early afternoon as the DJIA had fallen more than 400 points. However, that 260 point mid-day reversal was lost, almost in its entirety at the following morning’s opening bell.

However, we may also want to thank serendipity that IBM (IBM) and Coca Cola (KO) didn’t report their earnings last week, and that reports of a New York City Ebola patient didn’t surface until market and contagion fears had abated.

It wasn’t until the afternoon following that 400 point drop that St. Louis Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard suggested that the Federal Reserve should consider delaying its ending of Quantitative Easing.

If you were looking for a turning point, that was it.

Even those that are critical of the Federal Reserve for its QE policies have been happy to profit from those very same policies. The suggestion that QE might continue would be a definite reason to abandon fear and buy what appear to be bargain priced stocks, especially as the fixed income side’s sudden 15% increase in rates made bonds less of a bargain..

I was either flatfooted or disbelieving in the sudden climb higher, not having made any new purchases for the second consecutive week. I was almost ready to make some purchases last Thursday, following what Wednesday’s decline, but that was followed by a 120 point gap up the following morning. Instead of adding positions I remained content to watch fallen asset values recapture what had been lost, still in the belief that there was another shoe to drop while en-route perhaps to a “W-shape”

That other shoe may come on Wednesday as the FOMC releases its monthly statement. Lately, that has been a time when the FOMC has given a boost to markets. This time, however, as we continue so consumed by the nuances or changes in the wording contained in the statement, there could be some disappointment if it doesn’t give some indication that there will be a continuing injection of liquidity by the Federal Reserve into markets.

If Bullard was just giving a personal opinion rather than a glimpse into the majority of opinion by the voting members of the FOMC there may be some price to be paid.

While there will be many waiting for such a word confirming Bullard’s comments to come there also has to be a sizable faction that would wonder just how bad things are if the Federal Reserve can’t leave the stage as planned.

Welcome back to the days of is good news bad news.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections ar

e classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.

While the move higher this week was more than impressive, there’s still no denying that these large moves higher only happen in downturns. The question that will remain to be answered is whether the very rapid climb higher from recent lows will have any kind of sustainability.

For the coming week I expect another quiet one, at least personally. The markets may be anything but quiet, as they certainly haven’t been so for the past few weeks, but trying to guess where things may go is always a dicey prospect, just seemingly more so, right now.

Despite what may be continuing uncertainty I have increased interest in earnings related and momentum stocks in the coming week.

Among those is Joy Global (JOY) a stock whose fortunes are closely aligned with Chinese economic growth. Those prospects got somewhat of a boost as Caterpillar (CAT) delivered better than expected earnings during a week that was a cavalcade of good earnings, despite some high profile disappointments. While the S&P 500 advanced 4.1% for the week and Caterpillar rose 4.6%, Joy Global may just be warming up following only a 2.1% climb higher, but still trading well below its mean for the past year.

In that year it has generally done well in recovering from any downward moves in price and after two months in that kind of trajectory may be ready to finally make that recovery.

With “old technology” continuing to do well, EMC Corp (EMC) held up surprisingly well after its majority owned VMWare (VMW) fell sharply after its own earnings were announced. EMC typically announces its earnings the morning after VMWare announces and while showing some impact from VMWare’s disappointment, rapidly corrected itself after its own earnings were released.

EMC has simply been a very steady performer and stands to do well whether staying as an independent company, being bought out pr merged, or spinning off the large remainder of its stake in VMWare. Neither its dividend nor option premium is stunning, but there is a sense of comfort in its stability and future prospects.

Halliburton (HAL) has been trading wildly of late and is well below the cost of my most recent lot of shares. WHile the entire energy sector has fallen on some hard times of late, there’s little reason to believe that will continue, even if unusually warm weather continues. Halliburton, as have others, have been down this path before and generally investors do well with some patience.

That will be what I practice with my more expensive lot. However, at its current price and volatility, Halliburton, with its just announced dividend increase offers an exceptional option premium that is worthy of consideration, as long as patience isn’t in short supply.

Another stock having required more patience than usual has been Coach (COH). It reports earnings this week and as has been the case over the past 3 years it wouldn’t be unusual to see a large price move in shares.

The options market is expecting a 7% move in shares, although in the past the moves have been larger than that and very frequently to the downside. Lately, however, Coach seems to have stabilized as it has gotten a reorganization underway and as its competitor in the hearts and minds of investors, Michael Kors (KORS) has also fallen from its highs and stagnated.

The current lot of shares of Coach that I purchased were done so after it took a large earnings related decline and I didn’t believe that it would continue doing so. This time around, I’m likely to wait until earnings are announced and if shares suffer a decline I may be tempted to sell puts, with the objective of rolling over those puts into the future if assignment appears to be likely.

For those that like dabbling in excitement, both Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) announce their earnings this week.

< span style="font-size: medium;">I recently came off an 8 month odyssey that began with the sale of a Twitter put, another and another, but that ultimately saw assignment as shares dropped about $14. During that period of time, until shares were assigned, the ROI was just shy of 25%. I wouldn’t mind doing that again, despite the high degree of maintenance that was required in the process.

The options market’s pricing of weekly options is implying a price movement of about 13% next week. However, at current premiums, a drop of anywhere less than 18% could still deliver a weekly ROI of about 1.2%. I look at that as a good return relative to the risk undertaken, albeit being aware that another long ride may be in store. Since Twitter is, to a large degree, a black box filled with so many unknowns, especially regarding earnings and growth prospects, even that 18% level below could conceivably be breached.

Facebook seems to have long ago quieted its critics with regard to its strategy and ability to monetize mobile platforms. In the 2 years that it has been a publicly traded company Facebook has almost always beaten earnings estimates and it very much looks like a stock that wants to get to $100.

The option market is implying a much more sedate 7.5% in price movement upon earnings release and the decline cushion is only about 9.5% if one is seeking a 1% ROI.

Both Facebook and Twitter are potentially enticing plays this coming week and the opportunities may be available before and after earnings, particularly in the event of a subsequent share decline. If trying to decide between one or the other, my preference is Twitter, as it hasn’t had the same upside move, as Facebook has had and I generally prefer selling puts into price weakness rather than strength.

After some disappointing earnings Ford Motor (F) goes ex-dividend this week. Everyone from a recent Seeking Alpha reader who commented on his Ford covered call trade to just about every talking head on television is now touting Ford shares.

Normally, the latter would be a sign to turn around and head the other way. However, despite still being saddled with shares of a very beleaguered General Motors (GM), I do like the prospects of Ford going forward and after a respite of a few years it may be time to buy shares again. The dividend is appealing and more importantly, appears to be safe and the option premiums are enough to garner some interest as shares are just slightly above their yearly low.

Finally, I don’t know of anyone that has anything good to say about Abercrombie and FItch (ANF), regardless of what the perspective happens to be. It, along with some other teen retailers received some downgrades this past Friday and its shares plummeted.

I have lost count of how often that’s been the case with Abercrombie and FItch shares and I’ve come to expect them to rise and plunge on a very regular basis. If history is any guide Abercrombie and Fitch will be derided for being out of touch with consumers and then will surprise everyone with better than expected earnings and growth in one sector or another.

I’ve generally liked to jump on any Abercrombie post-plunge opportunity with the sale of puts and while I’d be inclined to roll those over in the event of likely assignment, I wouldn’t be adverse to taking possession of shares in advance of its earnings and ex-dividend date, which are usually nearly concurrent, with earnings scheduled for November 20t, 2014.

Traditional Stocks: EMC, Halliburton

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Ford (10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/28 AM), Facebook (10/28 PM), Twitter (10/27 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 19, 2014

 After Friday’s nearly 300 point move higher, it’s absolutely inconceivable that anyone can have a clear idea of what comes next.

Even during the climbs higher over the past two years no one really had a clue of what the next day would bring, but there was an entirely different “gestalt” about the market than we have now.

During that earlier time the sum of its parts seemed somewhat irrelevant as the market as a whole was just greater than those parts and had a momentum that was impervious to the usual challenges and patterns.

The most obvious of those challenges that hadn’t come to a fruition was the obligatory periodic 10% correction. Instead, while we really didn’t know what was coming next, at least we had a clear idea of what was not coming next.

Can you say the same today?

After a month of the kind of daily moves that we really haven’t seen since the latter half of 2011, their alternating basis can only keep people off guard.

People generally fall into two categories on days when the market spikes as it did on Friday, particularly after a torrent of plunges. They either see that as evidence that we’ve turned the corner or that it’s just another trap to lure you in so that your money can wither away while feeding the beast.

For some, those optimists among us, they will have identified a capitulation as having occurred this week. They believe that kind of blow off selling marks the beginning of a return to a climb higher.

For the pessimists among us, they see that most every out-sized market one day gain has occurred during an overall downtrend.

While I remain confused about what the next week will bring, I’m not too confused about what my course of action is likely to be.

I don’t agree with the optimists that we’ve seen a capitulation. Those tend to be marked by a frenzy of selling. It’s not just a 400 point decline, it’s the rapid acceleration of the losses that shows no evidence of letting up that is usually the hallmark. The following day is also usually marked by selling during the open and then cautious buying that becomes a flood of bargain hunters.

So capitulation? Probably not, but the market very well still could have found a near term bottom this week as that 400 point loss did evaporate. That near bottom did bring us to about a 9% overall decline in the S&P 500 over the past 4 weeks, so perhaps you might hear the optimists asking “can a brother get some slack on 1%?” in the hopes that we can all move on and return to the carefree ways of 2012 and 2013.

On the other hand, those pessimists do have data on their side. You don’t need very fancy kinds of analysis to show that those 200, 300 and higher point moves over history have only served to suck money out of people’s pockets under false pretenses.

Over the past four weeks with the possible exception of the advances higher in the latter half of this past week, every strong advance led to disappointment. Every time it looked as if there was value to be had it was another value trap, as a whole.

My course of action last week was one that still has me in shock.

I didn’t execute a single new position trade last week, after having only added 2 new positions the previous week.

I’d better get used to that shock, because I don’t expect to add many, if any, new positions this week, unless there’s some reason to believe that a period, even if very short, of stability will step in.

Perhaps continuing good earnings news will be the catalyst for the market to take a breather from its recent mindless journeys to the depths and to the heights. Good news form the financial sector, some good indications from industrials and some good news from the technology companies that really matter could be a wonderful prelude to improved retail earnings.

Or maybe none of that will matter and we’ll again focus on things like moving averages, support levels, mixed messages from Federal Reserve Governors and news of continuing economic dysfunction in the European Union, all while watching the smartest guys in the room, the bond traders have their own gyrations as interest rates on 10 Year Treasury notes resemble a yo-yo, having had an enormous 10% spread in the past week.

Most of all, I want to focus on not being duped and trying to put uncovered positions to work. That means continuing to try and resist what appear to be screaming bargains, even after Friday’s march higher and higher.

But, we’re only human and can only resist for so long.

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

As I look at prices, even after some runs higher on Friday, what’s not to like? That still doesn’t mean, however, that you have to end up committing to anything.

What makes the temptation even stronger, despite a big drop in volatility on Friday, are the option premiums that can now be had when selling. The challenge, however, is finding the option buyer, as call volume is diminished, probably reflecting a paucity of belief that there will be sudden price jumps in underlying shares.

Part of the strategy accommodation that may be made if grappling with paper losses following the past four weeks is to now consider using out of the money strike prices that will still return the same ROI on the premium portion, but also potentially add some meaningful capital gains on the shares.

As with last week, I’m not terribly interested in the back story behind the week’s selections, but more in the recent price history, with particular attention to those that may have been overly and inappropriately punished.

MetLife (MET) is one of those among so many, that l have been waiting to repurchase. With the recent interest rate gyrations that actually brought the 10 Year rate below 2% there may be some rational to the price drop seen in MetLife, but with the 10% increase in rates some life was breathed back into floundering shares.

eBay (EBAY) is still a company that is always on my radar screen. Whether that will continue to be the case after the PayPal spin-off may be questionable, but for now, at its new low, low price, having taken a little bit of a beating from its just posted earnings, it really is beginning to feel irresistible.

Among sectors getting my attention this week is Healthcare. Following the drop in Merck (MRK), Baxter International (BAX) and the continued weakness of Walgreen (WAG).

With a 10% drop in shares of Merck in the past week, taking it to an 8 month low in the absence of any meaningful news one has to wonder when will the craziness end? Now
in
its own personal correction phase it wouldn’t be entirely an ill-conceived idea to believe that shares have either no reason to continue under-performing the market. With an attractive dividend and option premiums reflecting that downward spiral, Merck is one position that could warrant resisting the need to resist.

Baxter International is also in its own personal correction, although its time frame as been a month for that 10% decline. Despite having just released earnings and offering improved guidance shares continued to flail even as most everything else was showing some recovery. While there may be some logical explanation my interest in entertaining it may be subsumed by an interest in picking up shares.

Walgreen continues to be mired down at a price level to which it plunged after calling off any potential tax inversion plans. Being stuck in that trading range, however, has helped Walgreen to outperform the S&P 500 since it hit its highs last month. For it to continue trading in that range might be the kind of comfort that could provide some smiles even while everything else around is crumbling, particularly if the upcoming dividend is captured, as well.

Marathon Oil (MRO) is just another of those really hard hit energy stocks that has to cause some head shaking as it is in a personal correction and then some, even after 2 days of strength. The list need not end with Marathon Oil if considering adding energy sector positions, as there is no shortage of viable candidates. FOr me, Marathon Oil is one position that I’ve longed to return to my portfolio, but do understand that there may continue to be some downward pricing pressure in oil, before the inevitable bounce higher.

FInally, how can you not at least consider taking sides in the great Apple (AAPL) saga? Whether there will be a gold mine ahead as the new products hit the stores or deep disappointment, its earnings report this week is not likely to reflect anything other than great phone sales and lagging sales in most, if not all other product lines.

The option market, however, isn’t expecting too much action, with an implied price movement of only 4.4% next week. With barely a 1% premium at a strike level right at the lower edge defined by the implied move there isn’t really any enhancement in its premiums, especially as there is a general increase in volatility buoying most option premiums.

However, the sale of puts at the lower level strike may offer the opportunity to enter a position, particularly in front of the upcoming dividend at a better price than has been seen in over 2 months, or may simply offer a decent one week return.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, eBay, Marathon Oil, Merck, MetLife, Walgreen

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (10/20 AM)

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 12, 2014

As The Federal Reserve’s policy of “Quantitative Easing” comes to an end the next phase considered should perhaps be one of instituting some form of “Quantitative Muzzling.”

Given comments contained in this past week’s FOMC statement had recognized global economic concerns, perhaps the Federal Reserve should consider expanding its dual mandate and reaching across the ocean to affix, adjust and tighten the right remedy.

As most of us learned sometime in childhood, words have consequences. However, we tend not to mind when the consequences are positive for us or when what we all know is left unsaid and ignored.

In each of the past two weeks words from the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi have had adverse impacts on global markets. While no one is overtly suggesting that ECB President’s should be seen and not heard, undoubtedly at least one person is thinking that, having applied a sloppy test of correlation to the market’s moves and Draghi’s words.

Such sloppy tests may have at least as much validity as the much discussed “key reversal” seen as trading closed on Wednesday and said to presage a bullish turnaround to the downtrend.

How did that work out for most people?

This week Draghi told us what everyone knows to be the truth, but what no one wants to hear. He simply said that there can be no growth in the European economies without economic reform.

That’s not different from what he said the previous week, as he pointed out that political solutions were necessary to deal with economic woes.

We also all know if it we have to rely on politicians to do the right thing, or make the difficult decisions, we’re not going to fare terribly well, hence the sell-offs. Why the Europeans can’t simply kick things down the road and then forget about it is a question that needs to be asked.

Compare the response to Draghi’s comments to the absolutely effusive response to this past week’s FOMC statement that simply said nothing and ignored answering the question that everyone wanted to ignore.

Despite everyone knowing what Draghi has been saying to be true, having had the same scolding take place in the U.S. just two years ago, no one with an investment portfolio wants to hear of such a thing, especially when it’s followed up with downgrades of Finland’s and France’s credit ratings.

Add to the mix the International Monetary Fund’s cut to its global growth forecast and you have spoken volumes to an already wary US market that was now eagerly eying any breach of the 200 day S&P 500 moving average (dma), as that had taken the place of the “key reversal” in the hearts and minds of technicians and foisted upon investors as being the gateway to what awaits.

Unfortunately, the message being sent with that technical indicator is a bearish one. While it has been breached on numerous occasions in the past 5 years, the most pronounced and prolonged stay below the 200 dma came in the latter half of 2011, a period when triple digit daily moves were commonplace and volatility was more than double the now nearly 2 year high level.

I miss those days.

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

When I first started thinking about a theme for this week’s article I decided to focus on stocks that had already undergone their own personal 10% correction.

That list grew substantially by the time the week came to its close following a brief FOMC induced rally mid-week and that thesis was abandoned.

As trading in the coming week opens at a DJIA level lower than where it began the year, there’s not much reason to start the week with any sense of confidence.

While the S&P 500 is only 5.2% below its recent high, putting it on par with numerous “mini-corrections” over the past two years, you don’t have to do a quantitative assessment to know that this decline feels differently from the others, as volatility is at a two year high point. The sudden appearance of triple digit moves have now gone from the mundane 100 point variety and have added 200 and 300 point ones into the arsenal.

For me, this week may be a little different. Heading into the week I have less cash reserves than I would like and less confidence than I would ordinarily need to dwindle it down further.

While it appears as if there are so many values to be had I would prefer to see some sign of stability before committing resources in my usual buy/write manner. Instead, I may be more likely to add new positions through the sale of out of the money puts, unless there is a dividend involved.

Additionally, while individual stocks may have compelling reasons to consider their purchases, this week I’m less focused on those specific reasons rather than the nature of their recent price declines and the ability to capitalize on the heightened option premiums associated with their recent volatility.

One of the benefits of this rising volatility environment is that option premiums grow as does the uncertainty. The sale of puts and anticipation of the need to rollover those puts in the event of further price erosion may be better suited to an environment of continuing price declines, rather than utilizing a traditional buy/write strategy.

Furthermore, as the premiums become more and more attractive, I find myself more inclined to attempt to rollover positions that might otherwise be assigned, as the accumulation of premiums can offer significant downside protection and reduces the need to find alternative investment candidates.

If you’re looking for a sector that is screaming “correction” you really don’t have to look beyond the Energy Sector. Hearing so many analysts calling for continued
decline in oil prices may be reason enough to begin considering adding positions.

Over the years I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve owned Halliburton (HAL), but other than during the 2008-2009 market crash, the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and during the tumultuous market of 2011, there haven’t been such precipitous declines in its price, as it has just plunged below its own 200 dma.

Although Halliburton doesn’t report earnings until the following week, next week’s premiums are reflective of the volatility anticipated. For anyone considering this position through a buy/write one factor to keep in mind is that it will be imperative to rollover the contract if expiration looks likely. That is the case because earnings are reported on the following Monday morning before trading opens so there won’t be a chance to create a hedging position unless done the previous week.

I have been waiting for an opportunity to repurchase shares of Anadarko Petroleum (APC) ever since a bankruptcy judge approved a pollution related settlement, that was part of its years earlier purchase of Kerr-McGee. Like Halliburton, it is now trading below its 200 dma, but it doesn’t report earnings until a week after Halliburton. However, it also offers exceptionally high option premiums as the perceived risk remains heightened in anticipation of further sector weakness.

Owing to its drops the final two days of the previous week, Dow Chemical (DOW) is now also trading below its 200 dma. It, too, is demonstrating an option premium that is substantially higher than has been the case recently, although the risk appears to be considered less than that seen for both Halliburton and Anadarko. With the exception of having received an “outperform” rating those past two days, Dow Chemical appears to have just been caught up in the market’s downturn.

Fastenal (FAST) has traded below its 200 dma since its last earnings report in July 2014 and was not helped by its latest report this past Friday. That was the case despite generally good revenues, but with softer margins that were expected to continue. Unlike the preceding stocks the option premiums are not expanded in reflection of heightened risk. In the event that this position is initiated with a put sale that is likely to be assigned, I would consider taking possession of shares rather than rolling over the puts, as shares go ex-dividend during the November 2014 option cycle.

For a stock whose price hasn’t done very much, eBay (EBAY) has been getting lots and lots of attention and perhaps it is that attention which has prompted it to finally decide to do what so many have suggested, by releasing plans to spin off its PayPal unit. eBay reports earnings this week and is always a prospect to exhibit a sizeable move. It is currently trading below the point that consider the mid-point of the price range that I like to see when considering a new position. As with some other potential earnings trades, it is a candidate for out of the money put sales before earnings or for those more cautious the sale of puts after earnings in the event of a large price drop upon earnings having been released.

Intel (INTC) reports earnings this week after having already been brutalized this past week along with the rest of the chip sector. Most recently I discussed some hesitancy regarding a position in Intel because it had two price gaps higher in the past few months. However, thanks to the past week it has now erased one of those price gaps that represented additional risk. As with Fastenal there is an upcoming ex-dividend date that may be a consideration in any potential trade.

Following YUM Brands’ (YUM) earnings report last week, many over-reacted during after hours trading and shares quickly recovered to end the following day higher, perhaps buoyed by the enthusiasm following the FOMC Statement. Shares did trend lower the rest of the week, but fared much better than the overall market. This coming week YUM Brands is ex-dividend and based upon its option premium is a veritable sea of calm, although it too is demonstrating growth in premiums as risk is generally heightened.

Finally, Best Buy (BBY) is one of those stocks that has seen its own personal correction, having fallen nearly 13% since the market high just 3 weeks ago. With so much attention having been placed on European concerns it’s hard to think of too many stocks that are so well shielded from some of those perceived risks. Although it doesn’t report earnings for more than a month, this is a position that I would like to maintain for an extended period of time, particularly with its currently bloated option premiums, heading into earnings, which I believe will reflect an improving discretionary spending environment, to Best Buy’s benefit.

Unless of course the muzzle falls off, in which case all bets are off for this week.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Fastenal, Halliburton

Momentum: Best Buy

Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (10/15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (10/15 AM), Intel (10/14 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 5, 2014

This week’s markets didn’t respond so positively when Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank failed to deliver on what many had been expecting for quite some time.

The financial markets wanted to hear Draghi follow through on his previous market moving rhetoric with an ECB version of Quantitative Easing, but it didn’t happen. After two years of waiting for some meaningful follow through to his assertion that “we will do whatever it takes” Draghi’s appearance as simply an empty suit becomes increasingly apparent and increasingly worrisome.

On a positive note, as befitting European styling, that suit is exquisitely tailored, but still hasn’t shown that it can stand up to pressure.

It also wasn’t the first time our expectations were dashed and no one was particularly pleased to hear Draghi place blame for the state of the various economies in the European Union at the feet of its politicians as John Chambers, the head of Standard and Poor’s Sovereign Debt Committee did some years earlier when lowering the debt rating of the United States.

Placing the blame on politicians also sends a message that the remedy must also come from politicians and that is something that tends to only occur at the precipice.

While the Biblical text referring to a young child leading a pack of wild animals is a forward looking assessment of an optimistic future, believing that an empty suit can lead a pack of self-interested politicians is an optimism perhaps less realistic than the original passage.

At least that’s what the markets believed.

Befitting the previous week’s volatility that was marked by triple digit moves in alternating fashion, Draghi’s induced 238 point decline was offset by Friday’s 208 point gain following the encouraging Employment Situation Report. Whereas the previous week’s DJIA saw a net decline of only 166 points on absolute daily moves of 810 points, this past week was more subdued. The DJIA lost only 103 points while the absolute daily changes were 519 points.

The end result of Friday’s advance was to return volatility to where it had ended last week, which was a disappointment, as you would like to see volatility rise if there has been a net decline in the broader market. Still, if you’re selling options, that level is better than it was two weeks ago.

While Friday’s gain was encouraging it is a little less so when realizing that such memorable gains are very often found during market downtrends. There is at least very little doubt that the market behavior during the past two weeks represents some qualitative difference in its behavior and an isolated move higher may not be very reflective of any developing trend, but rather reactive to a different developing trend.

As with Draghi, falling for the rhetoric of such a positive response to the Employment Situation Report, may lead to some disappointment.

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

Many of the positions being considered this week are recently highlighted positions made more appealing following recent price pullbacks rather than on any company specific factors. Of course, when looking at stocks whose price has recently fallen at some point the question regarding value versus “value trap” has to be entertained.

With some increase in volatility, despite the rollback this week, I’ve taken opportunity to rollover existing positions to forward weeks when expanded option contracts have been available. As those premiums have increased a bit being able to do so helps to reduce the risk of having so many positions expire concurrently and being all exposed to a short term and sudden price decline.

Just imagine how different the outcome for the week may have been if Thursday’s and Friday’s results were reversed if you were relying on the ability to rollover positions or have them assigned.

However, with the start of earnings season this week there’s reason to be a little more attentive when selecting positions and their contract expiration dates as earnings may play a role in the premiums. While certainly making those premiums more enticing it also increases the risk of ownership at a time when the relative market risk may outweigh the reward.

One stock not reporting earnings this week, but still having an enriched option premium is The Gap (GPS). It opens the week for trading on its ex-dividend date and later in the week is expected to announce its monthly same store sales, being one of the few remaining companies to do so. Those results are inexplicably confusing month to month and shares tend to make strong price movements, frequently in alternating directions from month to month. For that uncertainty comes a very attractive option premium for shares that despite that event driven volatility tend to trade in a fairly well defined range over the longer term.

When it comes to their fashion offerings you may be ambivalent, but when it comes to that kind of price movement and predictability, what’s not to like?

If you’re waiting for a traditional correction, one that requires a 10% pullback, look no farther than Mosaic (MOS). While it had been valiantly struggling to surpass the $50 level on its long road to recovery from the shock of the break-up of the potash cartel, it has now fallen about 13% in 5 weeks. Most recently Mosaic announced a cutback in phosphate production and lowered its guidance and when a market is already on edge it doesn’t need successive blows like those offered by Mosaic as it approaches its 52 week low.

Can shares offer further disappointment when it reports earnings at the end of this month? Perhaps, but for those with a longer term outlook, at this level shares may be repeating the opportunity they offered upon hitting their lows on the cartel’s dissolution for serial purchase and assignment, while offering a premium enhanced by uncertainty.

Seagate Technology (STX) is also officially in that correctio

n camp, having dropped 10% in that same 5 week period. It has done so in the absence of any meaningful news other than perhaps the weight of its own share price, with its decline having come directly from its 52 week high point.

For a company that has become fairly staid, Pfizer (PFE) has been moving about quite a bit lately. Whether in the news for having sought a tax inversion opportunity or other acquisitions, it is clearly a company that is in need of some sort of catalyst. That continuing kind of movement back and forth has been pronounced very recently and should begin making its option premium increasingly enticing. With shares seemingly seeking a $30 home, regardless of which side it is currently on and an always attractive dividend, Pfizer may start getting more and more interesting, particularly in an otherwise labile market.

Dow Chemical (DOW) is one of those stocks that used to be a main stay of my investing. It’s price climb from the $40 to $50 range made it less so, but with the realization that the $50 level may be the new normal, especially with activist investor pressure, it is again on the radar screen, That’s especially true after this week’s price drop. I had been targeting the $52.50 level having been most recently assigned at $53.50, but now it appears to be gift priced. Unfortunately, it may be a perfect example of that age old dilemma regarding value, having already greatly under-performed the market since its recent high the “value trap” part may have already been played out.

While MasterCard (MA) is ex-dividend this week, it is certainly not one to chase in order to capture its dividend. With a payout ratio far below its competitors it would seem that an increase might be warranted. However, what makes MasterCard attractive is that it has seemingly found a trading range and is now situated at about the mid-point of that range. While there is some recent tumult in the world of payments and with some continuing uncertainty regarding its presence in Russia, MasterCard continues to be worth consideration, particularly as it too has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past two weeks.

Equal in its under-performance to MasterCard during that period has been Texas Instruments (TXN). I’ve been eager to add some technology sector positions for a while and haven’t done so as often as necessary to develop some better diversification. Along with Intel (INTC) which I considered last week, as well, Texas Instruments is back to a price level that has my attention. Like Intel, it reports earnings soon and also goes ex-dividend during the October 2014 option cycle. Unlike Intel, however, Texas Instruments doesn’t have a couple of gap ups in price over the past three months that may represent some additional earnings related risk.

When it comes to under-performance it is possible that Coach (COH) may soon qualify as being synonymous with that designation. Not too surprisingly its past performance in the past two weeks, while below that of the S&P 500 may be more directly tied to an improved price performance seen in its competitor for investor interest, Michael Kors (KORS). However, Coach seems to have established support at its current level and may offer a similar opportunity for serial purchase and assignment as had been previously offered by Mosaic shares.

Finally, with the exception of YUM Brands (YUM) all of the other stocks highlighted this week have under-performed the S&P 500 since hitting its recent high on September 18, 2014. YUM Brands reports earnings this week and is often very volatile when it does so. This time, hover, the options market doesn’t seem to be expecting a very large move, only about 4.5%. Neither is there an opportunity to achieve a 1% ROI through the sale of a put option at a strike outside of the range implied. However, YUM Brands is one of those stocks, that if I had sold puts upon, I wouldn’t mind owning if there was a likelihood of assignment.

So often YUM Brands share price is held hostage to food safety issues in China and so often it successfully is able to  see its share price regain sudden losses. That, however, hasn’t been the case thus far since it’s summertime loss. There are probably little expectations for an upside surprise upon release of earnings and as such there may be some limited downside, perhaps explaining the option market’s subdued pricing.

If facing assignment of puts being sold with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I would be inclined to accept assignment and proceed from the point of ownership rather than trying to continue avoiding ownership of shares. However, with the slightest indication of political unrest spreading from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland that may be a decision destined for regret, just like the purchase of an ill-fitting and overly priced suit.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Texas Instruments, The Gap

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend:  MasterCard (10/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/7 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.