Weekend Update – March 29, 2015

Fresh off of his estate’s victory in a copyright infringement suit, Marvin Gaye comes to my mind this week as I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

With the Passover holiday approaching this week, I’m also reminded that much of the basis of re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt is in response to the questions asked by children.

Among the classes of children traditionally described are the wise child, the evil child, the simple one and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask a question.

When it comes to trying to understand the past week I’m feeling a bit more like one of the latter two of those categories, although I still retain the option of holding onto my evil persona.

The week started with the Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, who coincidentally had been the Governor of the Bank of Israel many years after the exodus, getting some laughs with jokes that maybe only economists would appreciate. However, to his credit he was able to tone down his hawkish sentiments while still staying true to his tenets, but without frightening markets. That was nice to see, as it was his comments just 2 days after Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony that brought an end to the February rally and, perhaps coincidentally, set us on the path for March.

That hasn’t been a very good path for most investors and with only 2 days of trading remaining in the quarter has it threatening to be the first losing quarter in quite a while as we learned that the most recent quarterly corporate profits over the same time period fell for the first time since 2008.

Yet that news didn’t seem to bother markets this morning as they had a rare session ending with a higher close.

With Stanley Fischer putting everyone into a good mood from a dose of Federal Reserve humor all went pretty well to start the week, with Monday looking like it would mark the first time of having two consecutive days higher in over a month. That was the case until the final 15 minutes of trading and then the market just continued in that downward path throughout most of the rest of the week.

But why? Someone, somewhere had to be asking the obvious question that 3 out of 4 categories of children are capable of asking.

What’s going on?

Friday’s GDP data for the 4th Quarter of 2014 showed no change with the economy growing at an annual 2.2% rate. That’s considerably less than projections based upon lower energy prices fueling a resurgence of consumer activity in the coming year, even recognizing that those perceived benefits were theoretically in only their very nascent stages in late 2014.

While the GDP data is certainly backward looking there’s been nothing happening to support that consumer led growth that we’ve all believed was coming.

Corporate profits are falling, retail sales are flat and home sales aren’t exactly setting the economy on fire, all as energy prices are well off their earlier eye popping lows.

So you might think that would all add an arrow to the quiver of interest rate doves, but the market hasn’t been embracing the idea of continuing low interest rates as much as it’s been fearing the prospects of increasing interest rates.

But this week had nothing to fear. Even the most influential of the hawks seemed and sounded accommodating, but the market wasn’t buying it.

This past week, like recent weeks, has made little sense no matter how much you try to explain it. Just like it’s hard to explain how the defendant’s weren’t aware of the existence of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” or that somehow pestilence, boils and locusts rained down upon the Pharoahs.

No matter how you look at it reason is not reigning.

Even a child who doesn’t know how to ask knows when something is going on.

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

I purchased some American Express (NYSE:AXP) shares a few weeks ago shortly after the news of their loss of Costco (NASDAQ:COST) as a co-branding partner. Coincidentally that decision came at the same time as both my wife and I had individual issues with American Express customer service.

With a combined history of more than 65 years of using American Express as our primary personal and business cards, we’ve done so largely for their customer service. My wife, after speaking to almost 15 representatives is ready to give her card the boot and she reminded me that she’s had that card longer than she’s had me, so I should be on notice.

Coming as no surprise, American Express just announced workforce cutbacks that will only serve to weaken what really distinguished them from the rest, but that may be what it takes to start making shares look attractive again as the company substitutes cost savings for revenues.

Fortunately, my shares from a few weeks ago were quickly assigned and now it looks as if another opportunity may be at hand as it has re-traced its bounce from the sizable drop it took when the Costco news was made known. It’s upcoming ex-dividend date this week adds to the attraction as the company is wasting no time in taking steps to offset what are now expected to be significant revenue losses beginning in 2016.

Who knew to ever ask just how important Costco was to American Express?

I purchased shares of Dow Chemical last week in order to capture the dividend. What I wasn’t expecting was the announcement coming Friday morning of their plans to merge a portion of the company with Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN) while becoming a majority owner of Olin.

Fortunately that announcement waited until Friday morning so that I was able to retain the dividend. Had it come after Thursday’s close and based on the initial price reaction, those shares would have been assigned early.

While Dow Chemical has been somewhat phlegmatic lately as it tracks energy prices, the sale to Olin appears to be responsive to activist Dan Loeb’s desire to shed low margin businesses. This deal looks to be a great one for Dow Chemical and may also demonstrate that it is serious about improving margins.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) reported earnings this past Friday and recovered significantly from its preliminary decline. I was amazed that it did so after watching what appeared to be a very wooden and canned performance by its CFO during an interview before trading began that didn’t seem very convincing. However, shortly after trading did begin shares climbed significantly.

I like considering adding shares of GameStop after a decline, as there is a long history of people predicting its coming demise and offering very rational and compelling reasons of why they are correct, only to see shares have a mind of their own.

I had shares assigned just a week earlier and was happy to see that assignment come right after its ex-dividend date but before earnings. Now at a lower price it looks tempting again, although I would probably hold out for a little bit more of a decline, perhaps approaching Friday morning’s opening lows.

While GameStop has a reasonably low beta you wouldn’t know it if you owned shares, but fortunately the options market knows it and typically offers premiums that reflect the sudden moves shares are very capable of taking.

Up until about 30 minutes before Friday’s close it hadn’t been a very good week to be in the semiconductor business. That may have changed, at least for a moment or two, as it was announced that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was in talks to purchase Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR).

Among those stocks benefiting from that late news was Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU), which has fallen even more than Intel in 2015.

Micron Technology reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large earnings related moves. The options market, however is implying only a 5.5% price move next week. While I normally look for a strike level that’s outside of the range defined by the implied move that offers at least a 1% ROI for the week, this coming week is a bit odd.

That’s because Micron Technology reports earnings after the market’s close on Thursday, yet the market will be closed for trading on Good Friday.

For that reason I would consider looking at the possibility of selling puts for the following week, but would like to see shares give up some of the gains made in response to the Intel news.

While Intel’s late news helped to rescue it from having sunk below $30 for the first time in 9 months, it did nothing for Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) nor Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). They, along with Intel had been significantly under-performing the S&P 500 this week and for the year to date.

Both Cisco and Oracle are ex-dividend this week and following their drops this past week both are beginning to have appeal once again.

With a holiday shortened week and also going ex-dividend the expectation is that option premiums would be noticeably lower, However, both Cisco and Oracle are offering a compelling combination of option premiums and dividends along with some chance of recovering some of their recent losses.

The real challenge for each may be related to currency exchange and how it will impact earnings. However, barring early earnings warnings, Cisco won’t report earnings for another 7 weeks and Oracle not for another 12 weeks, so hopefully that would allow plenty of time to extricate from a position before the added risk of earnings comes into play.

Finally, I came close to buying shares of SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) just a couple of days ago, looking to replace shares that were assigned just 2 weeks earlier.

It’s not often that you see a company give earnings warnings twice within the space of about 2 months, but SanDisk now has that distinction and has plunged on both of those occasions.

What SanDisk may have discovered is what so many others have, in that being an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) supplier may be very much a mixed blessing or curse, depending on your perspective at the moment.

While its revenues are certainly being squeezed I’m reminded of a period about 10 years ago when SanDisk was essentially written off by just about everyone as flash memory was becoming to be considered as nothing more than a commodity.

In that time anyone with a little daring would have done very well in that time period with shares nearly doubling the S&P 500 performance.

With a nearly 25% drop over the past few days, even as a commodity or a revenue stressed company, SanDisk may have some opportunity as it approaches its 18 month lows.

As with many other stocks that have taken large falls, I would consider entering a new position through the sale of put options and if faced with the possibility of assignment would try to roll the position over to a forward week in an attempt to delay or preclude assignment while still collecting a premium.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: American Express (3/31), Cisco (3/31), Oracle (4/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Micron Technology (4/2 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 – March 22, 2015

The past week has to be one to make most people pause and try to understand the basis for what we just experienced.

In a week otherwise devoid of any meaningful news there was a singular event in the middle of the week and then a little bit of follow-up to help clarify that event.

That event was the release of this month’s FOMC Statement and the subsequent clarifying event was the press conference held by its Chair, Janet Yellen.

In its aftermath, I am more confused than ever.

Not so much about where interest rates are headed, nor when, but more about the thought processes that propel markets when expectations are so clearly defined and what our continuing expectations should be.

Most everyone who follows markets knows that the great debate of late has not been whether the FOMC was going to begin the process of raising interest rates, but when they were going to begin that process. Somehow, we believed that the answer to that question was going to come when we learned whether the word “patience” would continue to characterize the FOMC’s timetable with regard to its effort to “normalize the stance of monetary policy.”

Most had taken positions that the first rate increase would come either as early as this June or perhaps as late as September. The continuing use of the word “patience” was perceived as a sign that interest rate increases wouldn’t occur until sometime after June 2015.

So you have to excuse some confusion when the market reversed course by more than 300 points as it learned that the word “patience” was eliminated, but also received news that the FOMC didn’t foresee an interest rate increase before their next meeting in April 2015.

April?

That could mean that an increase by the May meeting was still on the table and the last time I looked, May came before June, especially if you believe a more hawkish approach is warranted.

Presumably, it was the fear of interest rate increases coming as early as June that was a source for recent market weakness.

As I parsed the words I couldn’t understand the way in which the news was initially embraced. While I expected that regardless of the wording outcome the market would find reason to move forward, I certainly didn’t expect the reaction that ensued, especially since the signal was so mixed and really offered nothing to get excited about, nor to fear.

No rate increase likely in April? That’s the best the FOMC could do?

But in a world where even the slightest of interest rate increases is feared, despite the past evidence suggesting that it should be embraced, the very thought of an increase possibly coming before June should have sent buyers heading for the exits.

Yet it was more than good enough, at least for a couple of hours, and actually represented the first in 7 trading sessions where the market reversed course intra-day, having had triple digit moves in opposite directions each and every one of those days.

Now clearly that has to inspire confidence for whatever is to come next.

It’s a good thing that I don’t believe very much in chart analysis, because it would otherwise be very tempting to notice that the previous 7 trading sessions shows a clear pattern of lower highs and higher lows when looking at the net change and an even more compelling series of higher highs and higher lows when looking at the DJIA closing levels.

Yet, at the same time, it has been nearly 4 weeks ever since the DJIA has been able to string together as little as 2 consecutive days of gains.

Perhaps not to coincidentally the last time the market was able to do that was on the occasion of Janet Yellen’s two day mandated congressional testimony during which time she re-iterated a dovish position regarding the initiation of interest rate increases. But barely 2 days later suspicion of her intentions set in as the Vice-Chairman of the FOMC, Stanley Fischer struck a more hawkish tone that just a week later seemed to be validated by the Employment Situation Report.

Despite the fact that there has been no other corroborating evidence to drive the data that the FOMC insists that it values, the market lost its forward momentum from February until Janet Yellen once again took center stage.

Why people just didn’t believe her all along is a mystery, just as it is a mystery that they again chose to believe her.

How long will the trust in her comforting words last this time?

Perhaps Friday’s GDP release, coming on the same day as a scheduled speech by Stanley Fischer will give us some idea of the staying power of the dove when faced with a circling hawk.

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

“PEE” categories.

It was neither a good week to be DuPont (NYSE:DD) nor eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) as both received analyst downgrades and saw their shares fall significantly when compared to the S&P 500 over the previous 7 sessions.

DuPont’s downgrade came amid worries of problems in its agricultural and chemical segments, along with concerns about the kind of currency headwinds that we’re likely to be hearing much more about in the coming weeks as the next earnings season gets ready to begin.

While those are all important issues, certainly important enough to see DuPont’s shares fall nearly 9% relative to the S&P 500 in the past week, there was lots of activist related news that may be setting the stage for a more contentious kind of fight than Nelson Peltz usually gets himself into. However, it is that activist position that the analyst recognized as a risk to his overall negative outlook as Peltz took to the media last week to be both more accommodating in his requests to DuPont, but also to voice his frustrations.

In the meantime the recent drop in share price is similar to other such drops seen in the past year that have been at levels representing higher lows and that have set the stage for climbs to higher highs.

While Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) may be suffering from some of the same issues as DuPont and has the added liability of oil interests in Kuwait, it is at least seemingly at peace with its own activist investors, or at the very least the relations are not overtly adverse at the moment.

Dow Chemical has been very much tied to energy prices these past few months even as its CEO Andrew Liveris has clearly stated that on a net basis the decrease in energy prices is beneficial to Dow Chemical, as it pays more for energy input than it depends on revenue from energy outputs.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and are attractively priced, although as long as energy is under pressure and as long as Liveris’ contention goes ignored, the shares will be under pressure. I currently own shares and Dow Chemical was for a long time a staple in my portfolio, both as a long term holding and as a frequent trading vehicle. At the current price I think a new position could be used as either a longer term holding or a serial trade.

eBay has been absent from my portfolio for a couple of months as I’ve grown too uneasy with it flirting near the $60 level to consider re-purchasing shares. Even the $57.50 level puts me at unease, but a recent downgrade calling into question the value of its PayPal unit in light of increasing competition, most recently from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was welcome and did bring shares closer to the upper level at which I had some comfort.

Shares recovered nicely from the initial reaction to the downgrade, but still trailed the S&P 500 by 5% over the past 7 trading sessions.

In the past I have very much liked owning eBay when it was mired in a tight range, yet still delivered appealing option premiums due to the occasional earnings related surprises. The story changed once activism entered the picture and shares started moving beyond the 2 year price range in the belief that PayPal had great value beyond what was already reflected in eBay’s price.

With each passing day, however, the luster of PayPal may be diminishing, even as it still remains an extremely valuable brand and service.

As it sits at the upper end of where I would consider taking a position, I would be very interested in either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts on any further drop in price. If selling puts this is one position that I wouldn’t mind taking assignment on in the event of an adverse price move, but would still look at the possibility of simply rolling over those puts to forward weeks.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is increasingly becoming an interesting company. While it certainly has some challenges as it’s chief revenue generating drug goes off patent next year, it has certainly been actively pursuing other lucrative areas, including management of Hepatitis C and cancer therapy, with its planned purchase of Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ:PCYC).

While shares have recovered somewhat from its recent low following an analyst downgrade, they are still nearly 8% lower YTD, but the company is certainly not standing still. In addition to upside potential, the shares offer attractive option premiums and an upcoming dividend that’s well ahead of that offered by its one time parent.

I’m not much of a video gamer even though I can get easily get sucked in by useless activities of a repetitive nature. My guess is that a combination of lack of skill, lack of attention span and allegiance to pinball have kept me indifferent to much of the last 25 years of home entertainment.

This week, however, GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) have my attention.

I was actually happy to see my shares of GameStop get assigned this past week ahead of earnings this week. The timing was good as its generous dividend was captured without having to think about the risk of its upcoming earnings.

GameStop is a company that many have written off for years, pointing toward its paleolithic business model, the challenges of brick and mortar as well as streaming competition and the always large short interest looming over shares.

But somehow it continues to confound everyone.

With shares about 10% higher in March the option market is implying a price move of 7.8% upon earnings release. Meanwhile a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained even if shares fall almost 10% following the news. As with eBay, GameStop is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning if puts were at risk of being assigned. However, I’d be much more willing to sell puts if there was some price weakness heading into earnings. Otherwise, I would wait until after earnings and again consider the sale of puts in the event of a large price drop.

The last time I purchased Activision was after its own large price drop following earnings this past February when the company announced record earnings but provided weak forward guidance.

Shares, however, recovered quickly as Activision announced a large share buyback and increased dividend. Since then the shares have been trading in a fairly tight range and they are ex-dividend this week.

That dividend, however, is an annual one and on that basis is paltry. However, if shares end up being a short term holding the dividend yield can be very attractive, especially taken together with the option premiums available when selling calls.

Finally, LuLuLemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings this week and appears to be back in favor with shoppers as the company appears to be sufficiently distanced from its founder. Time may have been the best of all remedies to their particular problem as shares have shown great recovery.

The option market is implying an earnings related move of 8% and a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained when selling puts at a strike level 10.1% below Friday’s closing price. In the past, LuLuLemon has had some very significant earnings moves, with 15-20% moves not being out of the norm.

However, unlike a number of other stocks mentioned this week, LuLuLemon had nicely out-performed the S&P 500 over the past 7 trading sessions. For that reason I would be inclined to wait until after earnings are released and would consider either a sale of puts or a buy/write in the event of a large price drop.

Traditional Stocks: AbbVie, DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Activision (3/26), Dow Chemical (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/26 PM), LuLuLemon (3/26 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 – March 15, 2015

Anyone who has seen the classic movie “Casablanca” will recall the cynicism of the scene in which Captain Renault says “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” seconds before the croupier hands him his winnings from earlier.

This week, the Chief Global Investment Strategist of Blackrock (NYSE:BLK) in attempting to explain a sell-off earlier in the week said “You’ve got the dollar up about 23 percent from the summer lows, and people are realizing this is starting to bite into earnings.”

No doubt that a stronger US Dollar can have unwanted adverse consequences, but exactly what people was Russ Koesterich referring to that had only that morning come to that realization?

How in the world could people such as Koesterich and others responsible for managing huge funds and portfolios possibly have been caught off guard?

Was he perhaps instead suggesting that somehow small investors around the nation suddenly all had the same epiphany and logged into their workplace 401(k) accounts in order to massively dump their mutual fund shares in unison and sufficient volume prior to the previous day’s closing bell?

Somehow that doesn’t sound very likely.

I can vaguely understand how a some-what dull witted middle school aged child might not be familiar with the consequences of a strengthening dollar, especially in an economy that runs a trade deficit, but Koesterich could only have been referring to those who were capable of moving markets in such magnitude and in such short time order. There shouldn’t be too much doubt that those people incapable of seeing the downstream impacts of a strengthening US Dollar aren’t the ones likely to be influencing market direction upon their sudden realization.

Maybe it just doesn’t really matter when it’s “other people’s money” and it is really just a game and a question of pushing a sell button.

This past week was another in which news took a back seat to fears and the fear of an imminent interest rate increase seems to be increasingly taking hold just at the same time as the currency exchange issue is getting its long overdue attention.

While there are still a handful of companies of importance to report earnings this quarter, the next earnings season begins in just 3 weeks. If Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is any reflection, there may be any number of companies getting in line to broadcast earnings warnings to take some of the considerable pressure off the actual earnings release.

The grammatically incorrect, but burning question that I would have asked Russ Koesterich during his interview would have been “And this comes to you as a surprise, why?”

In the meantime, however, those interest rate concerns seem to have been holding the stock market hostage as the previous week’s Employment Situation report is still strengthening the belief that interest rate increases are on the near horizon, despite any lack of indication from Janet Yellen. In addition, the past week saw rates on the 10 Year Treasury Note decrease considerably and Retail Sales fell for yet another month, even while gasoline prices were increasing.

The coming week’s FOMC meeting may provide some clarity by virtue of just occurring. With so many focusing on the word “patience” in the FOMC Statement, whether it remains or is removed will offer reason to move forward as either way the answer to the “sooner or later” question will be answered.

Still, it surprises me, having grown up believing the axiom that the stock market discounts events 6 months into the future, that it has come to the point that fairly well established economic cycles, such as the impact of changing currency exchange rates on earnings, isn’t something that had long been taken into account. Even without a crystal ball, the fact that early in this current earnings season companies were already beginning to factor in currency headwinds and tempering earnings and guidance, should at least served as a clue.

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

Years ago, before spinning off its European operations, Altria (NYSE:MO) was one of my favorite companies. While I have to qualify that, lest anyone believed that their core business was the reason for my favor, it was simply a company whose shares I always wanted to trade.

In academic medicine we used to refer to the vaunted “triple threats.” That was someone who was an esteemed researcher, clinician and teacher. There really aren’t very many of those kind of people. While Altria may represent the antithesis to what a triple threat in medicine is dedicated toward, it used to be a triple threat in its own right. It had a great dividend, great option premiums and the ability to have share appreciation, as well.

That changed once Phillip Morris (NYSE:PM) went on its own and the option premiums on the remainder of Altria became less and less appealing, even as the dividend stayed the course. I found less and less reason to own shares after the split.

However, lately there has been some life appearing in those premiums at a time that shares have fallen nearly 10% in just 2 weeks. With the company re-affirming its FY 2015 guidance just a week ago, unless it too has a sudden realization that its now much smaller foreign operations and businesses will result in currency exchange losses, it may be relatively immune from what may ail many others as currency parity becomes more and more of a reality.

Lately, American Express (NYSE:AXP) can’t seem to do anything right. I say that, as both my wife and I registered our first complaints with them after more than 30 years of membership. Fascinatingly, the events were unrelated and neither of us consulted

with the other, or shared information about the issues at hand, before contacting the company.

My wife, who tends to be very low maintenance, was nearly apoplectic after being passed to 11 different people, some of whom acted very “Un-American Express- like.”

The preceding is anecdotal and meaningless information, for sure, but makes me wonder about a company that received a premium for its use by virtue of its service.

With the loss of its largest co-branding partner to take effect in 2016, American Express has already sent out notices to some customers of its intent to increase interest rates on those accounts that are truly credit cards, but my guess is that revenue enhancements won’t be sufficient to offset the revenue loss from the partnership dissolution.

To that end the investing world will laud American Express for its workforce cutbacks that will certainly occur at some point, and service will as certainly decline until that point that the consumers go elsewhere for their credit needs.

That is known as a cycle. The sort of cycle that perhaps highly paid money managers are unable to recognize, until like currency headwinds, it hits them on the head.

Still, the newly introduced uncertainty into its near term and longer term prospects has again made American Express a potentially attractive covered option candidate, as it has just announced a dividend increase and a nearly $7 billion share buyback.

Based on its falling stock price, you would think that Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) hasn’t been able to do anything right of late, either.

Sometimes your fortunes are defined on the basis of either being at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. For the moment, Macao is the wrong place and this is the wrong time. However, despite the downturn of fortunes for those companies that placed their bets on Macao, somehow Las Vegas Sands has found the wherewithal to increase its quarterly dividend and is now at 5%, yet with a payout ratio that is sustainable.

The company also has operating and profit margins that would make others, with or without exposure to Macao envious, yet its shares continue to follow the experiences of the much smaller and poorer performing Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN). That probably bothers Sheldon Adelson to no end, while it likely delights Steve Wynn, who would rather suffer with friends.

With shares going ex-dividend this week and trading near its yearly low, it’s hard to imagine news from Macao getting much worse, particularly as China is beginning to play the interest rate game in efforts to stimulate the economy. The risk, however, is still there and is reflected in the option premium.

Given the risk – benefit proposition, I ask myself “WWSD?”

What would Sheldon Do?

My guess is that he would be betting on his company to do more than just tread water at these levels.

The Gap (NYSE:GPS) fascinates me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in one of their stores, but I know their brand names and occasionally make mental notes about the parking conditions in front of their stores. Those activities are absolutely meaningless, as are The Gap’s monthly sales reports.

I don’t think that I can recall any other company that so regularly alternates between being out of touch with what the consumer wants and being in complete synchrony. At least that’s how those monthly sales statistics are routinely interpreted and share prices goes predictably back and forth.

The good thing about all of the non-sense is that the opportunities to benefit from enhanced option premiums actually occurs up to 5 times in a 3 month period extending from one earnings report to the next, as the monthly same store sales reports also have enhanced premiums. With an upcoming dividend during the same week as the next same store sales report in early April 2015, this is a potential position that I’d consider selling a longer term option, in order to take advantage of the upcoming volatility, collect the dividend and perhaps have some additional time for the price to recoup if it reacts adversely.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) has been trading in a range lately that has simply been following interest rates for the most part. As it awaits a decision on its challenge to being designated as “systemically important” it probably is wishing for rate increases to come as quickly as possible so that it can put as much of its assets to productive use as quickly as possible before the inevitable constraints on its assets become a reality.

With interest rate jitters and uncertainty over the eventual judicial decision, MetLife’s option premiums are higher than is typically the case. However, in the world of my ideal youth, the stock market would have already discounted the probabilities of future interest rate increases and the upheld designation of the company as being systemically important.

With Intel’s announcement, this wasn’t a particularly good week for “old technology.” For Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) the difficulties this week were just a continuation since its disappointing earnings in January. After its earnings plunge and an attempted bounce back, it is now nearly 9% lower than at the depth of its initial January drop.

That continued drop in share price is finally returning shares to a level that is getting my attention. With its dividend, which is very generous and appears to be safe, still two months away, Seagate Technology may be a good candidate for the sale of put contracts and if opening such a position and faced with assignment, I would consider trying to rollover as long as possible, either resulting in an eventual expiration of the position or being assigned and then in a position to collect the dividend.

Finally, for an unprecedented fourth consecutive week, I’m going to consider adding shares of United Continental (NYSE:UAL) as energy prices have recaptured its earlier lows. Those lows are good for UAL and other airlines and by and large the share prices of UAL and representative oil companies have moved in opposite directions.

I had shares of UAL assigned again this past Friday, as part of a pairs kind of trade established a few weeks ago. I still hold the energy shares, which have slumped in the past few weeks, but would be eager to once again add UAL shares at any pullback that might occur with a bounce back in energy prices.

The volatility and uncertainty inherent in shares of UAL has made it possible to buy shares and sell deep in the money calls and still make a respectable return for the week, if assigned.

That’s a risk – reward proposition that’s relatively easy to embrace, even as the risk is considerable.

 

Traditional Stocks: Altria, American Express, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, United Continental

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (3/19)

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.