Weekend Update – January 18, 2015

This was really a wild week and somehow, with all of the negative movement, and despite futures that were again down triple digits in the previous evening’s futures trading, the stock market somehow managed to move to higher ground to bring a tumultuous week to its end.

Actually, the reason it did so is probably no mystery as the market seems to have re-coupled with oil prices, for good or for bad.

Still it was a week when stocks, interest rates, precious and non-precious metals, oil and currencies were all bouncing around wildly, as thus far, is befitting for 2015.

The tonic, one would have thought could have come from the initiation of another earnings season, traditionally led by the major banks. However “the big boys” suffered on top and bottom lines, citing disappointing results in fixed income and currency trading, as well as simply being held hostage by a low interest rate environment for their more mundane activities, like pumping money into the economy through loans.

Even worse, the unofficial spokesperson for the interest of those “too big to fail,” Jamie Dimon, seemed passively resigned to the reality that the Federal government was in charge and could do with systemically important institutions whatever it deemed appropriate, such as breaking them up.

The first sign of troubles came weeks ago as trader bonus cuts were announced. While declines in trader revenue were expected, the bonus cuts suggested that the declines were steeper than expected, particularly when the bonus cuts were greater than had only recently been announced.

Of course, that leads to the question: “If a banker can’t make money, then who can?”

That’s a reasonable question and has some basis in earnings seasons past and may provide some insight into the future.

For those who follow such things, the past few years have seen a large number of such earnings seasons start off with good news from the financial sector, only to have lackluster or disappointing results from the rest of the S&P 500, propped up by rampant buybacks.

What is rare, however, is to have the financials disappoint , yet then seeing the remainder of the market report good or better than expected earnings, particularly as the rate of increase of buybacks may be decreasing.

That is now where we stand with the second week of earnings season ready to begin when the market re-opens on Tuesday.

While there was already some clue that the major money center banks were not doing as well as perhaps expected, as bonuses were cut for many, the expectation has been that the broader economy, especially that reflecting consumer spending, would do well in an environment created by sharply falling energy prices.

Among gyrations this week were interest rates which only went lower on the week, much to the chagrin of those whose fortunes are tied to the certainty of higher rates and in face of expectations for increases, given growing employment, wage growth and the anticipated increase in consumer demand.

Funny thing about those expectations, though, as we got off to a bad start on the surprising news that retail sales for December 2014 didn’t seem to reflect any increased consumer spending, as most of us had expected, as the first dividend to come from falling energy prices.

While faith in the integrity and well being of our banking system is a cardinal tenet of our economy, it is just another representation of the certainty that investors need. That certainty was missing all of this past week as events, such as the action by the Swiss National Bank were unexpected, oil prices bounced by large leaps and falls without ob

vious provocation, copper prices plunged and gold seemed to be heating up.

How many of those did anyone expect to all be happening in a single week? Yet, on Friday, in a reversal of the futures, markets surged adding yet another of those large gains that are typically seen in bearish cycles.

Still, the coming week has its possible antidotes to what has been ailing us all through 2015. There are more earnings reports, including some more from the oil services sector, which could put some pessimism to rest with anything resembling better than expected news, such as was offered by Schlumberger (SLB) this past Friday, which also included a very unexpected dividend increase.

Also, this may finally be the week that Mario Draghi belatedly brings the European Central Bank into the previous decade and begins a much anticipated version of “quantitative easing.”

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. Additional earnings related trades may be seen in an accompanying article.

Among those big boys with disappointing stories to tell was JP Morgan Chase (JPM). In a very uncharacteristic manner, CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon didn’t exude optimism and confidence, instead seemingly accepting whatever fate would be assigned by regulators. Of course, some of that resignation comes in the face of likely new assaults on Dodd-Frank, which could only be expected to benefit Dimon and others.

Whether banks and large financial institutions are under assault or not may be subject to debate, but the assault on JP Morgan’s share price is not, as it has fallen about 11% over the past two weeks, despite a nice gain on Friday.

While still above its 52 week low, unless interest rates continue their surprising descent and go lower than 1.8% for a while, this appears to be a long sought after entry point for shares. The volatility in the financial sector is so high that even with an upcoming 4 day trading week the option premium is very rich, reflecting the continuing uncertainty.

More importantly, may be the distinction that Dimon made between good and bad volatility, with JP Morgan having been subject to the bad kind of late.

The bad kind is when you have sustained moves higher or lower and the good kind is when you see a back and forth, often with little net change. The latter is a trader’s dream and it are the traders that make it rain at JP Morgan and others. That good kind of volatility is also what option writers hope will be coming their way.

So far, 2015 is sending a signal that it may be time to take the umbrellas out of storage.

MetLife (MET), with its 30 day period to challenge its designation as a “systemically important” financial institution, decided to make that challenge. As interest rates went even lower this week, momentarily breaching the 1.8% level, MetLife’s shares continued its decline.

If Dimon is correct in his resignation that nothing can really be done when regulators want to express their whims, then we should have already factored that certainty into MetLife’s share price. It too, like JP Morgan, had a nice advance on Friday, but is still about 11% lower in the past 2 weeks and has an upcoming dividend to consider, in addition to earnings a week afterward.

Intel (INTC), a stellar performer in 2014, joined the financials in reporting disappointing earnings this past week. While it did get swept along with just about everything else higher in the final hour of trading, it had already begun its share recovery after hitting its day’s low in the first 30 minutes of trading.

After 2 very well received earnings reports the past quarters, it may have been too much to expect a third successive upside surprise. However, the giant that slid into somnolence as the world was changing around it has clearly reawakened and could make a very good covered option trade once again if it repeatedly faces upside resistance a

t $37.50.

I’m not quite certain how to characterize The Gap (GPS). I don’t know whether it’s fashionable, just offers value or is a default shopping location for families.

What I do know is that among my frequent holdings it has a longer average holding period than most others, despite having the availability of weekly options. That’s because it consistently jumps up and down in price, partially due to its habit of still reporting same store sales each month and partially for reasons that escape my ability to grasp.

Yet, it still trades in a fairly narrow range and for that reason it is a stock that I always like to consider on a decline. Because of its same store sales reports it offers an enhanced option premium on a monthly basis in addition to its otherwise average premium returns, but it also has an acceptable dividend for your troubles of holding it for any extended period of time.

As a Pediatric Dentist, you would think that I would own Colgate-Palmolive (CL) on a regular basis. However, I tend to put option premium above any sense of professional obligation. In that regard, during a sustained period of low volatility, Colgate-Palmolive hasn’t been a very appealing alternative investment. However, with volatility creeping higher, and with shares going ex-dividend this week, the premium is getting my attention.

Together with its recent 6% price decline and its relative immunity from oil prices, the time may have arrived to align professional and premium interests. However, if shares go unassigned, consideration has to be given to selecting an option expiration for a rollover trade that offers some protection in the event of an adverse price move after earnings, which are scheduled for the following week.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Cree (CREE), eBay (EBAY) and SanDisk (SNDK).

Cree is an example of a company that regularly has an explosive move at earnings and may present some opportunity if considering the sale of puts before, or even after earnings, in the event of a large decline.

I have experience with both in the past year and the process, as well as the result can be taxing. My most recent exploit having sold puts after a large decline and eventually closing that position at a loss, and both the process and the result were less than enjoyable.

That’s not something that I’d like to do again, but seeing the ubiquity of its products and the successive earnings disappointments in the past year, I’m encouraged by the fact that Cree hasn’t altered its guidance, as it has in the past in advance of earnings.

I generally prefer selling puts into a price decline, however Cree advanced by nearly 4% on Friday and reports earnings following Tuesday’s close. In the event of a meaningful decline in price before that announcement I would consider the sale of puts. The option market believes that there can be a move of 10.1% upon earnings release, however a 1% ROI can potentially be achieved even when selling a put contract at a strike that is 14.2% below Friday’s close.

Alternatively, in the event of a large drop after earnings, consideration can be given toward selling calls in the aftermath, although if past history is a guide, when it comes to Cree, what has plunged can plunge further.

SanDisk recently altered its guidance and saw its share price plunge nearly 20%. For some reason, so often after such profit warnings are provided before earnings, the market still seems surprised after earnings are released and send shares even lower.

While I’m interested in establishing a position in SanDisk, I’m not likely to do so before earnings are announced, as the option market is implying a price move of 7% and in order to achieve a 1% ROI the strike level required is only 7.5% below Friday’s closing price. That offers inadequate cushion between risk and reward. Because I expect a further decline, I would want a greater cushion, so would prefer to wait until earnings are released.

While Cree and SanDisk are volatile and, perhaps speculative, eBay is a very different breed. However, it is still prone to decisive moves at earnings and it has recently diffused disappointing earnings reports with announcements, such as the existence of an Icahn position or comments regarding a PayPal spin-off.

As opposed to most put sale, where I usually have no interest in taking ownership of shares, eBay is one that, if I sell puts and see an adverse move, would consider taking assignments, as it has been a very reliable covered call stock for the past few years, as its shares have traded in a very narrow range.

Despite a gain on Friday that trailed the market’s advance, it is about 6% below where I last had shares assigned and would be interested in initiating another new position before it becomes a less interesting and less predictable company upon its planned PayPal spin-off.

I tend to like Best Buy (BBY) when it is down or has had a large decline in shares. It has done so on a regular basis since January 2014 and did so again this past week, almost a year to the day of its nearly 33% drop.

This time it was a pin being forced into the bubble that its shares had recently been experiencing as the reality behind its sales figures indicated that margins weren’t really in the equation. Undertaking a “sales without profits” strategy like its brickless and mortarless counterpart isn’t a formula for long term success unless you have very, very deep pockets or a surprisingly disarming and infectious laugh, such as Jeff Bezos possesses.

While possibly selling all of those GoPro (GPRO) devices and other items over the holidays at little to no profit may not have been in Best Buy’s best interests, it may have helped others, for at least as long as that strategy can be maintained.

However, Best Buy has repeatedly been an acceptable buy after gaps down in its share price, although consideration can also be given to the sale of put contracts, as its price is still a bit higher than I would like to see for a re-entry.

Finally, there are probably a large number of reasons to dislike GoPro. For me, it may begin with the fact that I’m neither young, photogenic nor athletic. For others it may have to do with secondary offerings or the bent rules around its lock-up expiration. Certainly there will be those that aren’t happy about a 50% drop from its high just 3 months ago, which includes the 31% decline occurring in the days after the lock-up expiration.

While it has been on a downtrend after the most recent lock-up expiration, despite having traded higher in the days before and immediately afterward, the impetus for this week’s large decline appears to be the filing of a number of patents by Apple (AAPL) which many have construed as potentially offering competition to GoPro in the hardware space, all while GoPro is already seeking to re-invent itself or at least shift from a hardware company to a media company.

I don’t know too much about Apple and I know even less about GoPro, but Apple’s long history has shown that it doesn’t necessarily pounce into markets where there already seems to be a product that is being well received by consumers.

It prefers to pick on the weak and defenseless, albeit the ones with good ideas.

Apple has done incredibly well for itself in recognizing new technologies that might be in much greater demand if the existing products didn’t suffer from horrid design and engineering. Having a fractured manufacturer base with no predominant player has also been an open invitation to Apple to meld its design and marketing prowess and capture markets.

Whatever GoPro may suffer from, I don’t think that anyone has accused the GoPro product line of either of those shortcomings. so this most recent and pronounced decline may be unwarranted. However, GoPro does report earnings in the following week, so I would consider the potential risk associated with a position unlikely to be assigned this week. For that reason I would consider either the purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or the sale of deep out of the money puts, utilizing a weekly contract and keeping fingers crossed and strapping on for the action ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, GoPro

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate-Palmolive (1/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/20 PM), eBay (1/21 PM), SanDisk (1/21 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.