Weekend Update – December 28, 2014

A week ago, it seemed as perhaps the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin was the cause for the sudden turnaround in market fortunes and was the giver of the gift that we had all been expecting this December.

His relative calm demeanor and reasonable words surrounding the sudden collapse of the Ruble and surging interest rates helped to put an equally sudden stop to market fears.

Thank you, Vladimir, but what have you done for us lately?

At least, even with his finger pointing, there hasn’t been any saber rattling and no new obligatory face saving demonstrable shows of bravado on the international front. At least, not yet, but it can get awfully cold in Russia this time of the year. Luckily for them, heating fuel is unusually inexpensive right now, although maybe not so much in Ruble terms.

Fortunately, it seems that there may be others willing to take up the mantle of prodding our markets forward when challenges appear, although it’s not very likely that they would want to do anything to lend us a helping hand or be part of the gift giving.

For the purists, there are still a steady stream of economic reports that can move markets depending on what kind of lens is used to interpret the data. Global personalities playing global games are just ephemeral distractions, even though a day old key economic report is also just as quickly forgotten when the next day’s, often contradictory report, is released.

Then it’s just a question of “what report have you delivered to me lately?”

Everyone should have expected good news coming from this week’s GDP report as the first glimpses of the impact of lower energy prices were revealed. That’s especially the case as 70% of GDP is said to be comprised of consumer spending and most everyone you know feels more wealthy. That’s not because of any great stock market rally but because of falling energy prices. Despite hitting a new record high an average of once each week in 2014 for most people that’s not where the feeling of wealth has come from this year.

The market still rallied in surprise. It was a case of good news being interpreted as good news, the way most normal people would have interpreted it.

What we can now await is the next GDP report which comes the morning after the next FOMC Statement release in January. Being data driven, it may be reasonable to expect that the FOMC may look at the initial data streams reflecting increasing consumer activity and GDP growth and throw “patience” out the window.

Then, we will simply be at the mercy of the lenses that decide whether that news is good or bad for markets as interest rate increases may seem to be warranted sooner than the last FOMC Statement led us to believe.

But this past week, it became clear that
if a Santa Claus Rally does await us these final days of 2014 as the DJIA closed at another record high, the real benefactor may be the diminutive leader of a nation that mandates haircut style and prohibits the personal use of “Dear Leader’s” actual name by anyone other than “Dear Leader” himself.

I don’t want to mention him by name, however, as I don’t deal well with threats or cyber-attacks of any kind, so we’ll just say that we may be able to thank Kim Jong Doe for this week’s establishment of more new closing record highs and setting the stage for the year end rally.

The lunacy surrounding the release of an otherwise inconsequential movie displaced most of our thoughts about the price of oil. While “Dear Leader” said nothing in a calming manner, offering threats rather than constructive strategies, the change of topic was a welcome relief, as oil continued to be a drag on the overall market, but no longer holds it in hostage, at least as long as it can continue to trade in the $54-60 range.

The alleged antics of a nation and a leader so far away was far better to focus upon than anything of substantive value, or anything that could have had us put on one of those lenses that interprets good news as being bad.

As a nation witnessed markets pass the 18000 level for the very first time, en route to setting its 51st record close of the year, more interest was directed at the outrage associated with a self-imposed censorship that appeared to be an acquiescence to external threats from someone with a funny haircut.

When the very idea of seeing a movie, that may turn out to be sophomorically delightful, is construed by reasonable and educated people as the patriotic thing to do, you know that no one is really paying attention to much else going on around them.

This week that was a good thing and I hope the final few trading days of the year are equally vacuous and that the market will continue rising in a vacuum.

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

I’m generally not a big user of ETF vehicles, although they do lend themselves to a covered option strategy, this week may be a little different.

While each of the past two weeks has offered an opportunity to dip a toe back into the energy sector, this week, rather than using individual names there may be reason to think about the most beaten down among the beaten down.

If you own anything in the oil services sector, as I already do, you know which sub-section of the energy sector that happens to be. The oil services sector has been absolutely abysmal, but like the rest of the sector has shown some ability to respond to anything resembling good news. At this point, however, simply being able to tread water would be a major victory for components of that sector.

The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (NYSEARCA:OIH) can give you either the best or the worst way to establish a position or hedge existing positions. While some components may still be at risk of eliminating or reducing a dividend, there’s not too much doubt that at the first sign of oil prices creeping higher there will be some increase in drilling activity and the reward, at these low price levels, may now finally be greater than the risk.

While not an ETF, the United States Brent Oil Fund (NYSEARCA:BNO) tracks the price of its namesake very closely and offers a way to take a position on the direction and magnitude of future pricing. While I don’t believe that oil prices will be turning higher in the near term, the opportunity doers exist, however, to use a covered call strategy and elect to sell a longer term out of the money strike, if you believe that prices will be heading higher. At the moment, with shares trading at $23.26, for example, selling a $28 April 17, 2014 call option would deliver a premium of $0.80 while awaiting shares to return to a closing price last seen on December 1, 2014.

Pharmaceutical companies, long considered a conservative kind of investment, have been anything but that in recent months. Between the flurry of merger and inversion activity and the very recent across the board drops as a cheaper alternative to the management of Hepatitis C may become the drug of choice by those paying for coverage, the entire sector has responded poorly.

Merck (NYSE:MRK) was one of those companies that appeared to be simply caught in the crosswinds between battling insurance companies and those who play in role in delivering health care and want to be paid for their services. A quick 6% drop in Merck shares isn’t something that happens with any regularity and it can be a suitable longer term covered option position, particularly with its dividend in mind.

In addition the Healthcare Select SPDR (NYSEARCA:XLV) is off of its recent highs in response to the same assault, although not to the degree of some individual names. It offers a reasonable option premium with greater diversification of risk, but without sacrificing inordinately on the reward side of the equation. Like so many surprises, in this case, the decision of a pharmacy benefit management company to squeeze profits, the initial response by investors is swift and often in over-reaction to events. The Healthcare Select SPDR may be a good vehicle to capitalize on some of the immediate reaction as some of the recovery has already begun to take form.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) and VMWare (NYSE:VMW) continue to have the kind of relationship that is too close for many, particularly those who believe that EMC should capitalize by selling its large remaining holding in VMWare.

EMC shares are ex-dividend this week and despite having considered adding shares over the past few weeks, instead, I’ve just watched its price climb higher from the brief drop it took along with the rest of the market, as falling oil prices indiscriminately took most everything lower.

Whether on the basis of its own businesses, its appeal to other larger technology companies or because of its stake in VMWare, EMC remains a steadfast company that has offered moderate share appreciation, a marginally acceptable dividend and competitive option premiums. Individually, none of those is spectacular, but that reflects the kind of company that EMC is in a universe of higher profile and higher risk companies.

VMWare, on the other hand offers no dividend, but does offer some more excitement, and therefore, higher option premiums, than does EMC. I haven’t owned shares in a

while, but might consider entering into a position by first selling puts and rolling over, if necessary, if assignment is trying to be avoided. With earnings being reported in a month, the evening before EMC reports its earnings, there may be additional opportunities to leverage the put premium in advance of earnings, particularly as VMWare is prone to large earnings moves.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about considering adding either Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) or AT&T (NYSE:T) to a portfolio. With cellphone companies under some pressure, in part due to the popularity of Apple’s offerings, share price is attractive, although there may be some additional surprises as earnings season begins next month and may reflect not only on the competitive pressures, but also on the costs of having Apple as a partner.

AT&T, despite a nice recovery in the past week is still nearly 5% lower than just a month ago. With its generous dividend up for distribution the following week and earnings still nearly 3 weeks after that date, there may be opportunity to create a short term position to collect the dividend and some option premiums in the interim.

There aren’t very many insights that can be offered on Apple. It continues to be on most everyone’s wish list and continues to command premium pricing, even when there may be reasons to believe that competitors may have reasonable alternatives to offer.

Despite having gone more than 20% higher since its stock split, the climb has been reasonably orderly over the past 6 months. However, in the past month, despite the 2% climb to end last week, it has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 during December. I think that if the Santa Claus Rally is for real, Apple shares are bound to atone for some of that drop, just as there is likelihood that all of those consumers feeling more wealthy from the nice surprise of lower oil prices may have treated themselves or a loved one to a new iPhone.

Finally, this will likely be just another week where someone finds reason to either extol or criticize the leadership skills of Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Like EMC, at least some of Yahoo’s fortunes are tied up in the performance of another company. However, that other company hasn’t yet been tested in any meaningful manner since its recent IPO.

For that matter neither has Marissa Mayer since her ascension, but shares have done nicely during her tenure, perhaps due to a very fortunate situation that she inherited

In the meantime as all of the speculation mounts as to what Yahoo will do with all of its cash, the shares have settled into a narrow range over the past month, having significantly trailed the S&P 500. However, in that time, it has also significantly out-performed shares of Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA), the company to which most believe its fortunes are intimately tied.

Yahoo will report earnings a week before Ali Baba and if considering a position I would probably want to consider one, perhaps the sale of puts, that might allow some reasonable ability to be out of the position before Yahoo’s earnings. If not, I’d especially want to be
out before those of Ali Baba, amid reports that it spent more than $160 million in the past year countering fake listings on its websites.

While I trust that Santa Claus exists, Jack Ma’s request of “trust” may need a little more time to be earned, as apparently trustworthiness may not be a core quality extending very deeply into those who fuel the money making enterprise that took Wall Street by storm just a few months ago.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, AT&T, Healthcare Select SPDR, Merck

Momentum Stocks: United States Brent Oil Fund, Market Vectors Oil Services ETF, VMWare, Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: EMC Corp (12/30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in AAPL, BNO, EMC, MRK, OIH, T, VMW, XLV, YHOO over the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Weekend Update – December 21, 2014

What a week.

There were enough events to form the basis for a remake of the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

The range of those events this past was stunning.

Oil prices stabilizing, The Colbert Show finalizing; North Korean cyber-attack, Cuban Revolution roll back; Ruble in freefall, speculators facing margin call; FOMC removing “considerable time,” markets having a memorable climb.

Russia didn’t start the fire, but they could have flamed it.

Deep down, maybe not so deep down, there are many who wouldn’t feel too badly if its President, Vladimir Putin, began to start reeling from the precipitous decline in oil prices, as many also believe as does Eddy Elfenbein, of “Crossing Wall Street” who recently tweeted:

The problem is that it can be a precarious balance for the Russian President between the need to support his ego and the need to avoid cutting off one’s own nose while spiting an adversary.

While Putin pointed a finger at “external forces” for causing Russia’s current problems stemming from economic sanctions and plunging energy and commodity prices, thus far, ego is winning out and the initial responses by the Bank of Russia. Additionally, comments from Putin indicate a constructive and rational approach to the serious issues they face having to deal with the economic burdens of their campaigns in Ukraine and Crimea, the ensuing sanctions and the one – two punch of sliding energy and metals prices.

Compare this week’s response to the economic crisis of 1998, as many are attempting to draw parallels. However, in 1998 there was no coherent national strategy and the branches of Russian government were splintered.

No one, at least not yet, is going to defy a decree from Putin as was done with those from Yeltsin nearly a generation ago when he had no influence, much less control over Parliament and unions.

While the initial response by the Bank of Russia, increasing the key lending rate by 65% is a far cry from the strategies employed by our own past Federal Reserve Chairmen and which came to be known as the Greenspan and Bernanke puts, you can’t spell “Putin” without “put” an the “Putin Put” while a far cry from being a deliberate action to sustain our stock markets did just that last week.

Putin offered, what sounded like a sober assessment of the challenges facing Russia and a time frame for the nation to come out from under what will be pronounced recession. Coming after the middle of the night surprise rate hike that saw the Ruble plunge and international markets showing signs of panic, his words had a calming effect that steadied currency and stock markets.

Somehow, the urge to create chaos as p

art of a transfer of pain has been resisted, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season. Who would have guessed that the plate of blinis and vodka left out overnight by the dumbwaiter would have been put to good use and may yet help to rescue this December and deliver a Santa Clause Rally, yet?

No wonder Putin has been named “Russia’s Man of the Year” for the 15th consecutive year by the Interfax news agency. It’s hard to believe that some wanted to credit Janet Yellen for this week’s rally, just for doing her part to create her own named put by apparently delaying the interest rate hikes we’ve come to expect and dread.

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

I know that if anyone chose to designate me as being “systemically important,” I would feel honored, but after that glow had worn off I would start wondering what the added burden of that honor was going to be.

That’s what MetLife (NYSE:MET) is facing as it has 30 days to respond to its designation as being a systemically important financial institution, which carries with it significantly increased regulatory oversight.

I can see why they might want to resist the designation, especially when it knows that better and more profitable days are ahead, as interest rates rises are actually going to be more likely as employment and GDP continue to increase, buoyed by low energy prices. Most would agree that with increased regulation comes decreased profit.

MetLife, like most every other stock had inexplicably been taken lower as the energy sector held the stock market hostage. Also, like most other stocks, it had a substantial recovery this week to end the week a little higher than I would like to consider entering into a position. However, on any further drop back toward $52.50 it appears to again be a good candidate for a covered call strategy.

It’s only appropriate that during the holiday season thoughts turn to food. Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) may stand in sharp contrast to Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), but they may all have a place in a portfolio, but for different reasons.

Dunking Brands just reported earnings and shares plunged toward its 52 week lows. In doing so it reminded me of the plight of Whole Foods earlier in the year.

While a horrible winter was part of Whole Foods’ successive disappointing quarterly earnings reports, so too was their national expansion effort. That effort began to deliver some rewards after the most recent earnings report, but in the interim there were many questioning whether Whole Foods was being marginalized by growing competition.

Instead, after its most recent earnings report shares gapped up higher to the point at which they had gapped down earlier in the year, as shares now appear to be solidifying at a new higher baseline.

I don’t ordinarily think about a longer term position when adding shares, but if adding to my existing Whole Foods position, I may consider selling February 2015 call options that would encompass both the upcoming earnings report and a dividend, while also seeking some modest capital gains from the underlying shares.

Where Dunkin Donuts reminds me of Whole Foods is in its national expansion efforts and in also having now returned successive disappointing earnings while investing for the future. Just as I believe that will be a strategy with long term benefits for Whole Foods, I think Dunkin Brands will also turn their earnings story around as the expansion efforts near their conclusion.

Coca Cola represents an entirely different story as the clock is ticking away on its hope to withstand activist efforts. Those efforts appear as if they will have an initial primary focus on a CEO change.

While it may not be appropriate to group Coca Cola with Dunkin Brands and Whole Foods, certainly not on the basis of nutritional value, that actually highlights part of its problem. Like Russia, so tied to energy and mining, Coca Cola is tied to beverages and has little to no diversification in its portfolio. At the moment a large part of its product portfolio is out of favor, as evidenced by my wife, who when shopping for Thanksgiving guests said “we don’t need soda. No one drinks soda, anymore.”

That may be an exaggeration and while the long term may not be as bright for Coca Cola as some of its better diversified rivals, in the short term there is opportunity as pressure for change will mount. In the interim there will always be the option premiums and the dividends to fall back upon.

I had shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) assigned this past week and that left me without any shares for the coming week. That’s an uncommon position for me to be in, as eBay has been a favorite stock for years as it has traded in a fairly well defined range.

That range was disrupted, in a good way, by the entrance of Carl Icahn and then by the announcement of its plans to spin off its profitable PayPal unit, while it still has value.

My most recent lot assigned was the highest priced lot that I had ever owned and was also held for a significantly longer time period than others. Ordinarily I like to learn from my mistakes and wouldn’t consider buying shares again at this level, but I think that eBay will continue moving higher, hopefully slowly, until it is ready to spin off its PayPal division.

The more slowly it moves, occasionally punctuated by price drops or spikes, the better it serves as part of a covered options strategy and in that regard it has been exemplary.

While eBay doesn’t offer a dividend, and has had very little share appreciation, it has been a very reliable stock for use in a covered option strategy and should continuing being so, until the point of the spin-off.

If last week demonstrated anything, it was that the market is now able to decouple itself from oil prices, whereas in previous weeks almost all sectors were held hostage to energy. This week, by the middle of the week the market didn’t turn around and follow oil lower, as futures prices started dropping. By the same token when oil moved nicely higher to close the week, the market essentially yawned.

Energy sector stocks were a different story and as is frequently the case their recovery preceded the recovery in crude prices. Despite some nice gains last week there may be room for some more. Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is well off from its highs, with that decline preceding the plunge felt within the sector. While its proposed buyout of Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) helped send it 10% higher that surge was short lived, as its descent started with details of the penalty Halliburton would pay if the deal was not completed.

While there has to be some regulatory concern the challenge of low prices and decreased drilling and exploration probably reinforces for Halliburton the wisdom of combining with Baker Hughes.

During its period of energy price uncertainty, coupled with the uncertainty of the buy out, Halliburton is offering some very enticing option premiums, both as part of a covered call trade or the sale of puts.

In addition to some stability in energy prices, there’s probably no greater gift that Putin himself could receive than higher prices for gold and copper. Just as Russia has been hit by the double hardship of reliance on energy and metals it has become clear that there isn’t too much of an economy as we may know it, but rather an energy and mining business that simply subsidizes everything else.

Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) can probably empathize with Russia’s predicament, as the purchase of Plains Exploration and Production was intended to protect it from the cycles endured by copper and gold.

Funny how that worked out, unless you are a current shareholder and have been waiting for the acquisition strategy to bear some fruit.

While it hasn’t done that, gold may be approaching a bottom and with it some of Freeport’s troubles may get diminished. At its current level and the lure of a continuing dividend and option premiums it is getting to look appealing, although it still carries the risks of a world not valuing or needing its products for some time to come.

However, when the perceived value returns and the demand returns, the results can be explosive for Freeport’s shares to the upside, just as it has dragged it much lower in a shirt period of time.

Finally, I’ll never be accused of leading a lifestyle that would lend itself to documentation through the use of a GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) product, but its prospects do have my heart racing more than usual this week.

I generally stay away from IPO stocks for at least 6 months, so as to get an idea of how it may trade, especially when earnings are part of the equation. Pragmatically, another issue is the potential impact of lock-up expiration dates, as well.

GoPro, in its short history as a publicly traded company has already had a storied life, including its key underwriter allowing some shares that were transferred into a charitable trust to be disposed of prior to the lock-up expiration date. Additionally, a secondary offering has already occurred at a price well above this past week’s closing price and also represented a fairly large sale by insiders.

Will the products and the lifestyle brand that GoPro would like to develop may be exciting, so far its management of insider shares hasn’t been the kind that inspires confidence, as shares are now about 42% below their high and 25% below their secondary issue pricing.

What could be worse?

Perhaps this week’s lock-up expiration on December 23, 2014.

The option market is treating the upcoming lock-up expiration as if it was an earnings event and there is a nearly 9% implied move for the week in anticipation. For those accustomed to thrill seeking there’s still no harm in using a safety harness and you can decide what strike puts on the sale of puts provides the best combination of excitement and safety.

I tend to prefer a strike price outside of the range identified by the option market that can offer at least a 1% ROI. That could mean accepting up to a 12.8% decline in price in return for the lessened thrill, but that’s thrill enough for me for one week.

Happy Holidays.

 

Traditional Stocks: Coca Cola, Dunkin Brand Group, eBay, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum: Freeport McMoRan, GoPro, Halliburton

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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 – December 14, 2014

On a cruise ship you only know the answer to the question of “How low can you go” once you’ve met the physical limits of your body and the limit of your ability to balance yourself.

Other than losing a little self-respect, maybe a little embarrassment in front of a bunch of drunken strangers, there’s not too much downside to playing the game.

When it comes to the price of oil the answer isn’t so clear, mostly because the answer seemed so clear for each of the past few weeks and has turned out to be anything other than clear. Besides the lack of clarity, the game has consequences that go well beyond self-respect and opening yourself up to embarrassment.

While we all know that at some point the law of “Supply and Demand” will take precedence over the intrusion of a cartel, the issue becomes one of time and how long it will take to set in motion the actions that are in response to the great opportunities created by low cost energy.

Until a few days ago we thought we were in recently uncharted territory, believing that the reduction in oil prices was due to an increase in supply that itself was simply due to increasing production in the United States.

However, with Friday’s release of China’s Industrial Production data, as well as an earlier remark by a Saudi Arabian Oil Minister, there was reason to now believe that the demand side of the equation may not have been as robust as we had thought.

While there’s not a strong correlation between sharply declining oil prices and recession, that has to now be considered, at least for much of the rest of the world.

The United States, on the other hand, may be going in a very different direction as is the rest of the world, until such factors as the relative strength of the US dollar begin to catch up with our good fortunes, as an example of yet another kind of cycle that has real meaning on an every day basis in an ever more inter-connected world.

While there may not be a substantive decoupling between the US and other world economies, at the moment all roads seem to be leading to our shores and cheap oil can keep that road a one way path longer than is usually the case with economic cycles.

When considering the amount of evil introduced into the world as a result of oil profits supporting nefarious activities and various political agenda in countries many of us never even knew existed, the idea that energy self-reliance is paramount strategically becomes tangible. It also should make us wonder why we’ve essentially ignored doing anything for the past 40 years and why we would delay, even for another second the ability to break free from a position of submissiveness.

While most free market capitalists don’t like the idea of a government hand, there is something to be said for government support of US oil production and exploration activities particularly when they are suffering from low prices due to their successes and might have to curtail activity, as some in the world would like to see.

Insofar as the success of US producers adds to the tools with which we may face the rest of the sometimes less than friendly world, there is reason for our government to act as an anti-cartel a

t times and keep prices artificially low, while protecting local producers from short term pain they endure that helps to make the nation lass susceptible to pressures from other nations who are more than happy to control our destiny.

Great time to increase the Strategic Petroleum reserve, anyone?

In the meantime, though, that pain is being shared among investors in most every sector, as the volatility index, which usually moves in a direction opposite the market, is again moving higher as it has a habit of doing every two months, or so.

As an option seller that’s one bar I like seeing moved higher and higher, until someone asks the obvious question”

“How high will it go?”

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

From just about every perspective the stocks considered this week reads as a “Who’s Who of Losers.”

Sometimes there are good reasons, other times the reasons aren’t quite as clear, but even as oil prices may be playing a game of “how low can you go,” individual stocks across all sectors are being taken along for a nasty ride, that thus far has been nothing more than a 3.5% move from its recent high.

McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) is an example of a stock that continually finds itself on the wrong side of $100 and periodically finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion, as well. At the moment, it’s on the wrong side of each of those challenges and there is probably an association between the two.

While the news can get worse for McDonalds, a DJIA component, as it releases more US and international sales data, it is finally doing something that its franchisees have been wanting for quite a while, as it returns to some sense of simplicity in its menu. That simplicity will help reign in costs that can then reign in customers who have to balance cost and health consciousness.

Another DJIA component, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) also had a bad week, as it lowered profit forecasts and is feeling the pain of its competition with other carriers. It is also feeling the pain of underwriting the true costs of the wildly popular iPhone 6.

Having patiently waited for shares to return to the $47.50 level, it breezed right through that, heading straight to its low point for 2014.

With an upcoming dividend and option premiums increasing along with the volatility of its share price, Verizon is again becoming appealing, although there will be the matter off those earnings next month, that we’ve already been warned about, but are still likely to come as a surprise when reality hits.

Yet another DJIA component, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was on everyone’s “worst company and worst CEO” list and was even famously Jim Chanos’ short of the year back in July 2013. As most know, shares have traded well above those July 2013 levels and even with its recent 20% decline, it is still well above those levels.

While Caterpillar has some Chinese exposure there is often a reaction that is out of proportion to that exposure and that brings opportunity. I have long liked shares at $85, but it has been a long time since that level has been seen, much to Jim Chaos’ dismay. On the other hand, $90 may be close enough to consider initiating a position following this most recent round of weakness.

While EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) isn’t close to being a member of the DJIA it certainly wasn’t shielded from the losses, as it fell 6.5% on the week that was harsh to the technology sector, despite it being difficult to draw a straight line connecting oil and technology sectors.

Just a week or two ago I was willing to buy EMC shares at $30, but now, as with so many stocks, the question of “how low will it go?” must be raised, even if there is no logical reason to suspect anything lower, as long as it’s majority owned VMWare (NYSE:VMW) can do better than a 12% decline for the week.

The China story is reflected in 3 stocks highlighted this week and none of the stories are very good. Neither Joy Global (NYSE:JOY), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) nor YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) had very good weeks, as a combination of stories from China struck at the core of their respective businesses.

Las Vegas Sands goes ex-dividend this week and despite its name, has significant interests in Macao. The gaming news coming from Macao has been a stream of negativity for the past 4 months, including such issues as the impact of smoking bans on casino income.

I already own 2 lots of Las Vegas Sands and have traded in and out of some additional lots these past few months, It’s Chinese exposure certainly has risk at the moment, but the dividend and premiums at this very low price level can serve as a good entry point or even to average down on existing shares.

YUM Brands has had years of experience in the Chinese marketplace and has had numerous challenges and obstacles come its way. Public health scares of airborne diseases, tainted food supplies and more, in addition to the normal cycles that economies go through.

Somehow, YUM Brands has been able to survive an onslaught of challenges, although it has been relatively slow in boun

cing back from the latest food safety related issue. It lowered its profit forecasts this past week and took a very large hit, however, it subsequently recovered about half of the loss during the final two days of the week when the broader market was substantially lower.

Joy Global reports earnings next week and tumbled on Friday upon release of Chinese government data. The drop would seem consistent with Joy Global’s interests in China. However, what has frequently been curious is that Joy Global often paints a picture of its activity and importantly its forward activity in a light different from “official” government reports.

Following Friday’s pessimistic report from China, Joy Global plunged to its 5 year low in advance of earnings. Ideally, that is a more favorable condition if considering a position in advance of earnings, particularly if selling puts, as the concern for further drops can amplify the premiums on the puts and potentially provide a more appealing entry point for shares.

Blackberry (NASDAQ:BBRY) also reports earnings next week and it, too, has fallen significantly in the past month, having declined nearly 20% in that time.

I’m not really certain that anyone knows what its CEO John Chen has in mind for the company, but most respect his ability to do something constructive with the carcass that he was left with, upon arriving on the scene.

My intuition tells me that his final answer will be a sale to a Chinese company, as a last resort, and that will understandably be met with lots of resistance on both security and nationalism concerns. Until then, there’s always hope for making some money from the shares, but once that kind of sale is scuttled, the Blackberry story will have sailed.

For now, however, the option market is implying an 11.6% move in shares upon earnings news. Meanwhile, a 1.5% weekly ROI can be achieved through the sale of puts if shares do not fall more than 15%

Finally, after nothing but horrid news from the energy sector over the past weeks, at some point there comes a time when it just seems appropriate to pull the trigger and commit to a turnaround that is hopefully coming sooner, rather than later.

There is no shortage of names to choose from among, in that regard, but the one that stands out for me is the one that was somewhat ahead of the curve and has taken more pain than others, by virtue of having eliminated its dividend, which had been unsustainably high for quite a while.

Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) is now simply an offshore drilling and services company, that is beleaguered like all of the rest, but not any longer encumbered by its dividend.

What it offers may be a good example of just how low something can go and still be a viable and respectable company, while offering a very attractive option premium that reflects the risk or the opportunity that is implied to come along with ownership of shares.

Although the bar on Seadrill’s price may still be lowered if more sector bad news is forthcoming, Seadrill may also be the first poised to pop higher once that

cycle reawakens.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, EMC Corporation, McDonalds, Verizon

Momentum: Seadrill, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (12/16 $0.50)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/17 AM), Blackberry (12/19 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 – December 7, 2014

Trying to listen to the President put forth some statistics regarding the employment situation in the United States this past week was difficult, as my attention was captured by the festive holiday backdrop.

Holding a prominent position next to our nation’s flag was what appeared to be a symbol that perhaps reflected official endorsement of Bacchanalian celebrations, together with the more traditionally accepted holiday decorations. Enlarging the photo did nothing to re-direct my imagination.

The President’s exploring the good news contained in the Employment Situation Report and trumpeting the trend in employment statistics may have been his muted version of a Bacchanalian victory lap, of sorts.

Focusing on that background item for as long as I did in wonderment caused me to lose sight of what should probably be recognized, as Friday’s Employment Situation Report indicated the addition of more than 300,000 new jobs in the past month, as well as a substantial upward revision to the previous month.

I guess that I wasn’t alone in losing focus about what’s been going on in the economy, as later that day during one of their now ubiquitous polls, CNBC viewers were asked whether President Obama was good for the stock market.

I suppose the answer may depend on the criteria one uses to define “good.” as well as whether one believes that things would have been better without him or his economic policies, or whether their time frame is forward or backward looking. Continue reading “Weekend Update – December 7, 2014”