Weekend Update – April 26, 2015

 

The question of how much longer this market rally can keep going is the same question that’s been asked ever since the last time the market had a 10% loss.

Actually even that time, way back in April 2102, it wasn’t quite a 10% loss. For that, you would have to go back to 2011.

But that’s splitting hairs.

I wish I would have known Michael Batnick, also know as “The Irrelevant Investor” on Twitter, back in those days.

He had the answer to that burning question that is every bit as applicable today as it was every time the market hit a new high over the past few years.

With each of those highs and the gap between corrections growing and growing, it reminded me of the fallacy of believing that after 8 straight spins of the roulette wheel falling on “red” the next spin just had to yield “black.”

The belief that “this time it’s going to be different” is frequently held by those who don’t get shamed even after having been already fooled twice.

Had I known Michael Batnick in 2011, 2012, 2013 or even 2014, he would have told me that it’s hard to make a bear case on the basis of the duration of any move, because the duration is never knowable.

Since I was one of those certain that the ninth spin would just have to fall on black, I’ve also been one of those waiting for a correction since having recovered from the one in 2012. Not only waiting, but convinced that with each and every week we were a week closer to that inevitable decline.

At least that logic wasn’t totally flawed, as we did get a week closer to everything. But mostly, what we’ve gotten closer to has been the next rally higher.

What do you say about a week that ends with the S&P 500 being 1.7% higher and closing at a new all time high, while at the same time the NASDAQ 100 closes at a 15 year high? Granted those S&P 500 highs have come fairly often and fairly regularly, so they don’t really mean very much, but for those that thought that the NASDAQ could never see 5000 again, a good case can be made for never giving up hope.

That’s why I never give up hope that there’s a correction coming.

NASDAQ has given me the strength.

This past week was one almost totally devoid of economic news. Instead, it was one fully dominated by earnings, as it was the first of the two most busy weeks of earnings reports every quarter.

The earnings pattern that has become clear is that revenues are down, but profits are up, especially if you focus on the “earnings per share” part of the report. The lesson to that may be that if you can’t grow your revenues simply find a strategy to shrink your share numbers.

Hashtag “buybacks.”

As long as revenues are lower as a result of the currency exchange issues that everyone has been expecting, the market has been kind. Surprisingly, however, the market has also been kind when companies have taken their guidance lower.

Next week, while still highly focused on earnings, two events within hours of one another may disrupt or enhance the party currently under way and take some attention away from earnings.

Just a few hours before an FOMC Statement release will be a GDP Report. Expectations are that the GDP report will be disappointing, particularly in light of earlier expectations for a consumer led surge in GDP. While disappointing GDP growth could quiet fears of an interest rate increase among those that are still hung up on that eventuality, it could also give FOMC doves another month to hold court.

Is that good news or bad news?

The longer the FOMC doves continue to influence monetary policy the more doubt there can be regarding the strength of economic recovery.

That can’t be good news.

Since it seems as if even bad news has been taken as good news for such a long time, it would seem natural to believe that sooner or later we would be due for some bad news to be finally taken as bad news.

You would think that sooner or later I would learn.

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

Among those not faring well this earnings season was General Motors (NYSE:GM), predominantly on disappointing foreign news that went beyond currency exchange. Following a boost in share price following
some quick activist intervention it has returned to a level that makes it more enticing to re-enter into a position.

Having spent only $400 million on its promised $5 billion in share buybacks through the first quarter, as part of its activist appeasement, there is at least something to keep share price artificially inflated as it also artificially inflates earnings per share.

What General Motors has offered amidst all of the uncertainty and bad news over the past year has been an attractive option premium and a good dividend that, thanks to the same activist, is now even better.

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) reports earnings this week and also goes ex-dividend.

I’m not terribly interested in taking earnings risk with Ford, but those earnings are reported the morning of the day before it goes ex-dividend. In the event of a downward move after earnings are released, I would be interested in buying shares if the move down strongly after earnings.

The options market is implying a move of only 3.5%. If it approaches or exceeds that to the downside, I might take that as an indication to buy shares, although I might consider using an extended weekly option, perhaps expiring May 8, 2015, rather than the weekly option that I would ordinarily use.

Also going ex-dividend this week and also having had a difficult time following its earnings release this week is Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN).

In a market that suddenly seems to like “old tech,” what’s older than Texas Instruments? I can still remember buying the most rudimentary of calculators for about $150 more than 40 years ago and thinking that we had now seen everything.

What I didn’t think I would see was a nearly 8% decline on earnings last week. That leaves it still well above its yearly high, but may represent a good re-starting point, particularly as the dividend is at hand, as well. While semi-conductors may have had a hard go of things lately, if looking for a global correction in order to get a better entry point, you may be better served by settling for a more focused correction.

While I don’t like buying shares when they are near their yearly highs, Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) may be an exception, particularly as it is ex-dividend this week.

In the world of energy related companies that have been under significant stress, Kinder Morgan has ironically been a breath of fresh air as it stores and transports combustible fuels for a nation that gets even more energy hungry as prices are dropping.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) is a company that I always like owning. Mostly it has been due to the admiration that I have for its CEO, TJ Rodgers, as long as he sticks to his CEO and incubator patron roles.

Occasionally he veers into other areas and then I have to remind myself that what I really admire is the ability to make money by investing in Cypress Semiconductor and that’s far more important than admiration or personal politics.

With its acquisition of Spansion being hailed by investors shares surged to a point that was well outside my comfort zone, but following a 20% decline in the past month, it is now at the upper level of that zone.

Cypress Semiconductor is often very volatile at earnings and this time will likely be no different. While I usually want to consider the sale of puts prior to earnings, in this case I would probably consider the purchase of shares, especially if they continue to move downward in the early part of the week and then consider a sale of June 2015 option contracts, rather than the May 2015 variety, thereby providing additional time for shares to recover if shares drop drastically.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for a chance to enter into a Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) position one way or another. In 2014 I had positions on 10 different occasionsand spent most of that time trying to avoid being assigned shares after having sold put contracts.

In hindsight, I don’t mind the very high maintenance that those positions required, however, the perception of Twitter has changed, as it seems to actually have a plan to monetize itself. More importantly it has the means and the people to execute on their strategies that continue to evolve.

Following a period of withering criticism of its leadership, the unequivocal show of support for its CEO, Dick Costolo by the Board as well as some Twitter founders, seemed to stem the tide of calls for his resignation.

That and earnings.

Following a large move higher after its last earnings report and then slowly migrating higher over the subsequent 3 months, the options market is implying an 11% move next week.

However, a 1% ROI may be possible if selling a weekly put contract even if shares fall by as much as 13.6%. If selling puts and faced with an adverse move beyond the range implied by the options market, my past experience with Twitter has shown that the options market is liquid enough to have a good chance of being able to roll over those puts if trying to avoid assignment and wait out the price cycle until it starts to show signs of recovery.

Alternatively, it has also offered a chance to assume ownership of shares and then generate income by selling calls, that always have premiums reflecting the underlying risk and volatility of the shares.

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Ford Motor (4/29), Kinder Morgan (4/28), Texas Instruments (4/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cypress Semiconductor (4/30 AM), Twitter (4/28 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 – April 26, 2015

 

The question of how much longer this market rally can keep going is the same question that’s been asked ever since the last time the market had a 10% loss.

Actually even that time, way back in April 2102, it wasn’t quite a 10% loss. For that, you would have to go back to 2011.

But that’s splitting hairs.

I wish I would have known Michael Batnick, also know as “The Irrelevant Investor” on Twitter, back in those days.

He had the answer to that burning question that is every bit as applicable today as it was every time the market hit a new high over the past few years.

With each of those highs and the gap between corrections growing and growing, it reminded me of the fallacy of believing that after 8 straight spins of the roulette wheel falling on “red” the next spin just had to yield “black.”

The belief that “this time it’s going to be different” is frequently held by those who don’t get shamed even after having been already fooled twice.

Had I known Michael Batnick in 2011, 2012, 2013 or even 2014, he would have told me that it’s hard to make a bear case on the basis of the duration of any move, because the duration is never knowable.

Since I was one of those certain that the ninth spin would just have to fall on black, I’ve also been one of those waiting for a correction since having recovered from the one in 2012. Not only waiting, but convinced that with each and every week we were a week closer to that inevitable decline.

At least that logic wasn’t totally flawed, as we did get a week closer to everything. But mostly, what we’ve gotten closer to has been the next rally higher.

What do you say about a week that ends with the S&P 500 being 1.7% higher and closing at a new all time high, while at the same time the NASDAQ 100 closes at a 15 year high? Granted those S&P 500 highs have come fairly often and fairly regularly, so they don’t really mean very much, but for those that thought that the NASDAQ could never see 5000 again, a good case can be made for never giving up hope.

That’s why I never give up hope that there’s a correction coming.

NASDAQ has given me the strength.

This past week was one almost totally devoid of economic news. Instead, it was one fully dominated by earnings, as it was the first of the two most busy weeks of earnings reports every quarter.

The earnings pattern that has become clear is that revenues are down, but profits are up, especially if you focus on the “earnings per share” part of the report. The lesson to that may be that if you can’t grow your revenues simply find a strategy to shrink your share numbers.

Hashtag “buybacks.”

As long as revenues are lower as a result of the currency exchange issues that everyone has been expecting, the market has been kind. Surprisingly, however, the market has also been kind when companies have taken their guidance lower.

Next week, while still highly focused on earnings, two events within hours of one another may disrupt or enhance the party currently under way and take some attention away from earnings.

Just a few hours before an FOMC Statement release will be a GDP Report. Expectations are that the GDP report will be disappointing, particularly in light of earlier expectations for a consumer led surge in GDP. While disappointing GDP growth could quiet fears of an interest rate increase among those that are still hung up on that eventuality, it could also give FOMC doves another month to hold court.

Is that good news or bad news?

The longer the FOMC doves continue to influence monetary policy the more doubt there can be regarding the strength of economic recovery.

That can’t be good news.

Since it seems as if even bad news has been taken as good news for such a long time, it would seem natural to believe that sooner or later we would be due for some bad news to be finally taken as bad news.

You would think that sooner or later I would learn.

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

Among those not faring well this earnings season was General Motors (NYSE:GM), predominantly on disappointing foreign news that went beyond currency exchange. Following a boost in share price following
some quick activist intervention it has returned to a level that makes it more enticing to re-enter into a position.

Having spent only $400 million on its promised $5 billion in share buybacks through the first quarter, as part of its activist appeasement, there is at least something to keep share price artificially inflated as it also artificially inflates earnings per share.

What General Motors has offered amidst all of the uncertainty and bad news over the past year has been an attractive option premium and a good dividend that, thanks to the same activist, is now even better.

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) reports earnings this week and also goes ex-dividend.

I’m not terribly interested in taking earnings risk with Ford, but those earnings are reported the morning of the day before it goes ex-dividend. In the event of a downward move after earnings are released, I would be interested in buying shares if the move down strongly after earnings.

The options market is implying a move of only 3.5%. If it approaches or exceeds that to the downside, I might take that as an indication to buy shares, although I might consider using an extended weekly option, perhaps expiring May 8, 2015, rather than the weekly option that I would ordinarily use.

Also going ex-dividend this week and also having had a difficult time following its earnings release this week is Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN).

In a market that suddenly seems to like “old tech,” what’s older than Texas Instruments? I can still remember buying the most rudimentary of calculators for about $150 more than 40 years ago and thinking that we had now seen everything.

What I didn’t think I would see was a nearly 8% decline on earnings last week. That leaves it still well above its yearly high, but may represent a good re-starting point, particularly as the dividend is at hand, as well. While semi-conductors may have had a hard go of things lately, if looking for a global correction in order to get a better entry point, you may be better served by settling for a more focused correction.

While I don’t like buying shares when they are near their yearly highs, Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) may be an exception, particularly as it is ex-dividend this week.

In the world of energy related companies that have been under significant stress, Kinder Morgan has ironically been a breath of fresh air as it stores and transports combustible fuels for a nation that gets even more energy hungry as prices are dropping.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) is a company that I always like owning. Mostly it has been due to the admiration that I have for its CEO, TJ Rodgers, as long as he sticks to his CEO and incubator patron roles.

Occasionally he veers into other areas and then I have to remind myself that what I really admire is the ability to make money by investing in Cypress Semiconductor and that’s far more important than admiration or personal politics.

With its acquisition of Spansion being hailed by investors shares surged to a point that was well outside my comfort zone, but following a 20% decline in the past month, it is now at the upper level of that zone.

Cypress Semiconductor is often very volatile at earnings and this time will likely be no different. While I usually want to consider the sale of puts prior to earnings, in this case I would probably consider the purchase of shares, especially if they continue to move downward in the early part of the week and then consider a sale of June 2015 option contracts, rather than the May 2015 variety, thereby providing additional time for shares to recover if shares drop drastically.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for a chance to enter into a Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) position one way or another. In 2014 I had positions on 10 different occasionsand spent most of that time trying to avoid being assigned shares after having sold put contracts.

In hindsight, I don’t mind the very high maintenance that those positions required, however, the perception of Twitter has changed, as it seems to actually have a plan to monetize itself. More importantly it has the means and the people to execute on their strategies that continue to evolve.

Following a period of withering criticism of its leadership, the unequivocal show of support for its CEO, Dick Costolo by the Board as well as some Twitter founders, seemed to stem the tide of calls for his resignation.

That and earnings.

Following a large move higher after its last earnings report and then slowly migrating higher over the subsequent 3 months, the options market is implying an 11% move next week.

However, a 1% ROI may be possible if selling a weekly put contract even if shares fall by as much as 13.6%. If selling puts and faced with an adverse move beyond the range implied by the options market, my past experience with Twitter has shown that the options market is liquid enough to have a good chance of being able to roll over those puts if trying to avoid assignment and wait out the price cycle until it starts to show signs of recovery.

Alternatively, it has also offered a chance to assume ownership of shares and then generate income by selling calls, that always have premiums reflecting the underlying risk and volatility of the shares.

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Ford Motor (4/29), Kinder Morgan (4/28), Texas Instruments (4/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cypress Semiconductor (4/30 AM), Twitter (4/28 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 – April 19, 2015

When I was a kid just about the funniest word any of us had ever heard was “fink.” Way back then that was pretty much the way Mad Magazine felt too, as it used that word with great regularity.

I was stunned the very first time I actually met someone whose last name was “Fink,” but that came only after some giggles. I think the only thing funnier was when I met Morris Lipschitz.

Sadly, I thought that was funny even though it was after college, as it reminded me of the prank phone calls we used to make as kids.

I think “fink” has since fallen out of common parlance. Back then hearing the word “Fink” word evoked the same reactions as today’s kids may experience when hearing a sentence such as “but I do do what you tell me to do.”

I don’t think that’s very funny after the first 20 or so times, but I’ve gained a certain level of maturity over the years.

I don’t know very much with any degree of certainty, but I do know that I’m never likely to meet Larry Fink, the CEO and Chairman of BlackRock (NYSE:BLK).

With more than $4 trillion under management people at least give the courtesy of listening when Larry Fink speaks, even if they may not agree with the message or the opinion. The only giggles that he may get are when people may feel the need to laugh when they’re not certain if he’s joking.

This week, he wasn’t joking, although there were certainly some, at whom his message was directed, that won’t take it seriously or to heart.

I never really thought about Larry Fink very much until this week whenhe said something that needed to be said.

While investors seem to love buybacks and dividend hikes Fink politely said that CEOs were being “too nice to shareholders.”

The most conventional interpretation is that buybacks and dividends may be coming at the expense of future growth, research and investment in the business. It also calls into question whether you really need a CEO and a board to do any long range strategic planning if companies are going to become something on the order of a REIT and just return earnings to shareholders in one form or another while effectively mortgaging the future.

Of course, that also calls into question the role

or responsibility of activists, who now take great pains to distinguish themselves from what used to be called corporate raiders back in the days when I thought the very mention of Lipschitz was hilarious.

They may be more genteel in their ways and they may stick around longer, but so do buzzards as long as there’s still something left on the carcass.

What Fink didn’t directly say was that CEOs and their Board of Directors were being far too nice to themselves at the expense of the future health of their company. Their paydays, both direct and indirect, benefit far more from short term strategies than do shareholders, especially those who are truly investors and not traders.

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric (NYSE:GE) which has certainly been in the news lately for its own buybacks, may, in hindsight begin to seem like an Emperor without much of a wardrobe. The haze from hot air may have obscured the view, but to his never ending credit, Welch has long criticized incompetent board directors and the roles they may play in the diminution of once great American companies.

Sooner or later the cash needed for buybacks is going to start to dry up, especially when the predominant buying of shares may be at price far removed from bargain share prices.

What then?

It’s difficult to argue that fundamentals have been altered through intervention in the form of buybacks, but that fuel may have peaked with the recent General Electric announcement. It’s hard to imagine, but we may soon get to that point that quarter to quarter comparisons will actually have to depend on real earnings and not simply benefiting from having fewer and fewer shares in the float from one quarter to the next.

The prevailing question, at least in my mind, is where will the next real catalyst come from to drive markets higher. As currency exchange issues have been making themselves tangible as earnings are forthcoming, the impact has, thus far been minimal as we’ve been expecting the drag on earnings.

Prior to Friday’s sell off, the limited earnings reports received where currency was a detrimental factor in earnings and forward guidance was greeted positively, as the news wasn’t as bad as expected.

Fortunately, the market reacted to the expected bad news in a more mature manner than I’ve been known to react to names.

But going higher on less disappointing than expected results is not a good strategy to keep banking on. There has to be something more tangible than things not being as bad as we thought, especially as energy prices may be stabilizing and interest rates moving higher.

Larry Fink has the perfect solution, although it’s a little old fashioned.

Invest in yourself.

That’s sound advice for individuals, just as it is for businesses that care about growth and prosperity.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) has not had a very good ride since Costco (NASDAQ:COST) announced that it was terminating its co-branding agreement with them, that allowed it to be the exclusive card accepted at its shopping warehouses. While that may not have been a huge surprise, what was a surprise was just how important of a player Costco may have been in American Express revenues. As a result, those shares have fallen more than 10% in the 2 months since the announcement of the split, which will occur in the first quarter of 2016.

American Express reported earnings this past week and dropped heavily on Friday, having done so before the overall market turned very sour. But buried in the bad news of decreased revenue, that supposedly stemmed from decreased gas sales, was the fact that they don’t anticipate further revenue declines this year.

Based on my perception of recent degradation in customer service, I think that they may have already become cost cutting through workforce reductions prior to the end of their agreement with Costco. SO while revenue may not be growing any time in 2015, the bottom line may end up better than expected.

While there may not be much in the way of growth prospects this year a rising interest rate environment will still help American Express and it is now offering a better option premium than it has in quite some time as uncertainty has taken hold.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) both report earnings this week and both will likely report the adverse impact of a stronger US dollar and provide guarded guidance, but if the past week is any guide the market will be understanding.

Despite the bump received from their new CEO and the bump received from having an activist pushing eBay’s Board’s buttons, Microsoft and eBay respectively have trailed the S&P 500 over the past year.

Microsoft still hasn’t recovered from its last earnings decline, although eBay has, but in the past month has been making its way back toward those near term lows as it may be getting closer to spinning off its profitable PayPal unit having just completed a 5 year non-compete contract with PayPal.

As eBay approaches that lower price level it has returned within the range that I’m comfortable buying shares. While I u

sually consider the sale of puts as the primary way to engage with a stock getting ready to report earnings, I wouldn’t mind owning shares and the enhanced premium offsets some of the added risk of entering a position at this point.

As with eBay, I prefer considering an earnings related trade when shares have already had some downside pressure on shares. While eBay is a better candidate in that regard, Microsoft also has a premium that will also offset some of the earnings related risk. Like eBay, the options market is anticipating a relatively sedate price move, that if correct in magnitude, even if an adverse direction, could be relatively easily managed while awaiting some recovery.

Colgate (NYSE:CL) goes ex-dividend this week and I continually tell myself that I will be someday be buying shares. As a one time Pediatric Dentist it’s probably the least I could do after a lifetime of being the fifth out of those 5 dentists on the panel. But somehow that’s never happened, to the best of my recollection.

While it does have a low beta and isn’t necessarily shares that you buy in anticipation of excitement, if those shares are not assigned during the upcoming week, there is a need to be prepared for earnings the following week and potentially the need for a longer term commitment if earnings disappoint.

I like considering Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) whenever its shares have gotten to the point of having declined 10%. It has done just that and a little bit more in the past month and does it on a fairly regular basis. But in doing so over the past 14 months the lows have been higher as have the highs along the way.

That has been a good formula for considering either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts. In either case the premium has long reflected the risk, but the risk appears to be definable and at lest there aren’t too many currency exchange concerns to cloud whatever issues Best Buy faces as it is currently once again relevant.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) was on my list last week as a potential candidate to join the portfolio. However, with cash reserves low, it wasn’t a very active week, with only a single new position opened.

This week, despite the sell-off on Friday, I had the good fortune of still being able to see a number of positions get assigned and was able to replenish cash reserves. With a 2.5% decline last week, considerably worse than the S&P 500, Bed Bath and Beyond added to its post-earnings losses from the previous week, as it often does after previous earnings declines. But what it also has done after those declines is to relatively quickly recover.

I think the weakness this week brings us simply one week closer to recovery and while waiting for that recovery the shares do allow you to generate a competitive return for option sales. Because of that anticipated recovery, I might consider using an out of the money option and a time frame longer than a single week, however, particularly as Friday’s market weakness may need its own time for recovery.

Finally, SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) didn’t disappoint when it announced its earnings this past week. It was certainly in line with all of the warnings that it had given over the past month and may make many wonder whether or not they may be Jack Welch’s new poster child for dysfunction at the C-suite and board levels.

With everyone seeming to pile on in their criticism of the company and calling for even more downward price pressure, I’m reminded that SanDisk has been down this path before and arose for the ashes that others had defined for it.

The year to date descent in share price has been impressive and it is only a matter of great luck that I had shares assigned right before another one of its precipitous plunges.

This one is definitely not one for the faint of heart, but I would consider entering a position through the sale of puts, rolling them over, if faced with assignment. However, with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I’d be more inclined to take assignment if faced with it, collect the dividend and work the call sale side of share ownership.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Bed Bath and Beyond

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate (4/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (4/22 PM), Microsoft (4/23 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 – April 12, 2015

This was one of those rare weeks where there wasn’t really any kind of theme to guide or move markets.

The week started with some nervousness about where the opening would take us after the previous Friday’s very disappointing Employment Situation Report statistics. On that day some were obliged to even suggest that it was a conspiracy that the report was released on Good Friday, as the markets were conveniently closed for what was supposedly known in advance to be a report that would have otherwise sent markets tumbling.

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

That was as rational an outlook as was the response of the futures and bond markets trading, as they remained opened for holiday abbreviated sessions. Futures did go tumbling and interest rates plunged, leaving a gap for markets to deal with 3 days later.

But by then, after the mandatory initial response to those S&P 500 levels as the market opened, rational thought returned and the market had a very impressive turnaround beginning within minutes of the open.

Some brave souls may have remembered the market’s out-sized response to the previous month’s extraordinarily strong Employment Situation Report data that took the market down for the month to follow, only to see revisions to the data a month later. The 3 days off may have given them enough presence of mind to wonder whether the same outlandish response was really justified again.

One thing that the initial futures response did show us is that the market may be poised to be at risk regardless of what news is coming our way. One month the market views too many jobs as being extremely negative and the next month it views too few jobs as being just as negative.

Somewhere right in the middle may be the real sweet spot that represents the “No News is Good News” sentiment that may be the only safe place to be.

That is the true essence of a Goldilocks stock market, no matter what the accepted definition may be. It is a market where only the mediocre may be without risk. However, the question of whether mediocrity will be enough to continue to propel markets to new heights is usually easily answered.

It isn’t.

After a while warm porridge loses its appeal and something is needed to spice things up to keep Goldilocks returning. U.S. traded stocks have plenty of asset class competition in the event that they become mediocre or unpredictable.

The coming week may be just the thing to make or break the current malaise, that despite having the S&P 500 within about 0.7% of its all time high from just a month ago, is only 2.1% higher for 2015.

Granted that on an annualized basis that would bill respectable, but if the 2015 pattern of alternating monthly advances and declines continues we would end the year far from that annualized rate.

The catalyst could be this new earnings season which begins in earnest next week as the big banks report and then in the weeks to follow. Where the catalyst may arise is from our lowered expectations encountering a better reality than anticipated, as we’ve come to be prepared for some degree of lowered earnings due to currency considerations.

The real wild card will be the balance between currency losses and lower input costs from declining energy prices, as well as the impact, if any from currency hedges that may have been created. Much like the hedging of oil that some airlines were able to successfully implement before it became apparent how prescient that strategy would be, there may be some real currency winners, at least in relative terms.

I actually don’t really remember how the story of Goldilocks ended, but I think there were lots of variations to the story,depending on whether parents wanted to soothe or scare.

The real lesson is that you have to be prepared for either possibility.

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

WIth General Electric (NYSE:GE) getting most everyone’s attention this past Friday morning with plans to divest itself of most of its non-industrial assets, that may leave us with one fewer “systemically important” financial institution.

Too bad, for MetLife (NYSE:MET), which might find it would be less miserable with that proposed assignment if it had more company. It’s easy to understand why financial institutions would want to rid themselves of the yoke they perceive, however, it may be difficult to imagine how MetLife’s desire to avoid that designation can become reality. That is unless the battle goes a very long distance, which in turn could jeopardize a good deal of whatever confidence exists over the restraints that are intended to prevent another financial meltdown.

I believe that the eventuality of those restraints and capital requirements impacting MetLife’s assets is already factored into its share price. If so, MetLife is simply just a proxy for the direction of interest rates, which continue to be volatile as there is still uncertainty over when the eventual interest rate increases will be coming from the FOMC.

While waiting for that to happen MetLife has been trading in a fairly tight range and offering an attractive option premium and dividend. I’ve already owned shares on 3 occasions in 2015 and look forward to more opportunities while waiting to figure out if the economy is too hot or not hot enough or just right.

With the coming week being dominated by bank earnings, one that isn’t reporting until the following week is Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). Thus far 2015 hasn’t been especially kind to the money center banks, but it has held Morgan Stanley in particular low regard.

With its well respected CFO heading to warmer pastures it still has a fairly young CEO and lots of depth, with key people continually being exposed to different parts of the company, thereby lessening dependence on any one individual.

With earnings from other banks coming this week the option premiums on Morgan Stanley are a little higher than usual. However, since they report their own earnings before the market opens on Monday of the following week, it would be a good idea to attempt to rollover weekly contracts if not likely to be assigned or to simply sell extended weekly contracts to encompass the additionally enhanced premiums for both this week and the next

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is no stranger to significant earnings related price drops. It did so again last week and the options market correctly created the price range in which the stock price varied.

While Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to those kind of drops, it does tend to have another common characteristic in that it frequently recovers from those price drops fairly quickly. That’s one reason that when suggesting that consideration be given to selling puts on it last week prior to earnings, I suggested that if threatened with assignment I would rather accept that than to try and rollover the put contracts.

Now that the damage has been done I think it’s safe to come back and consider another look at its shares. If recent history holds true then a purchase could be considered with the idea of seeking some capital gains from shares in addition to the option premiums received for the call sales.

SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) reports earnings this week and has been on quite a wild ride of late. It has the rare distinction of scaring off investors on two occasions in advance of this week’s upcoming earnings. Despite an 11% price climb over the past week, it is still down nearly 20% in the past 2 weeks.

The option market is implying a relatively small 6.8% move in the coming week which is on the low side, perhaps in the belief that there can’t possibly be another shoe to be dropped.

Normally, when considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings I like to look for a strike price that’s outside of the range defined by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the week. However, that strike level is only 7.1% lower, which doesn’t provide too much of a safety cushion.

However, I would be very interested in the possibility of selling puts on SanDisk shares after earnings in the event of a sharp drop or prior to earnings in the event of significant price erosion before the event.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) also reports earnings this coming week and didn’t change its guidance or offer earnings warnings as it occasionally does in the weeks in advance of the release.

It actually had a nice report last quarter and initially went higher, although a few weeks later, without any tangible news, it nose-dived, along with some of its competitors.

What makes Fastenal interesting is that it is almost entirely US based and so will have very little currency risk. The risk, however, is that it is currently trading near its 2 year lows, so if considering an earnings related trade, I’m thinking of a buy/write and using a May 2015 expiration, to both provide some time to recover from any further decline and to also have a chance at collecting the dividend at the end of April.

With a much more expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) long awaiting an opportunity to sell some calls upon, I’m finally ready to consider adding more shares. The primary goal is to start whittling down some of the losses on those shares and Abercrombie is finally showing some signs of making a floor, at least until the next earnings report at the end of May.

With its dysfunction hopefully all behind it now with the departure of its past CEO it still has a long way to go to reclaim lost ground ceded to others in the fickle adolescent retail market. The reasonable price stability of the past month offers some reason to believe that the time to add shares or open a new position may have finally arrived. Alternatively, however, put sales may be considered, especially if shares open on a lower note to begin the week.

Finally, I don’t know why I keep buying The Gap (NYSE:GPS), except that it never really seems to go anywhere. It does have a decent dividend, but it’s premiums are nothing really spectacular.

What appeals to me about The Gap, however, is that it’s one of those few stocks that is continually under the microscope as it reports monthly sales statistics and as a result it regularly has some enhanced premiums and it tends to alternate rapidly between disappointing and upbeat same store sales.

All in all, that makes it a really good stock to consider for a covered option strategy. It’s especially nice to see a stock that does trade in a fairly tight range, even while it may have occasional hiccoughs that are fairly predictable as to when they will occur, just as their direction isn’t at all predictable.

The Gap reported those same store sales last week and this time they disappointed. That actually marked the second consecutive month of disappointment, which is somewhat unusual, but in having done so, it still hasn’t violated that comfortable range.

I already own some shares and in expectation of a better than expected report for the following month, my inclination is to add shares, but rather than write contracts expiring this week will look at those expiring on either May 8 or May 15, 2015, taking advantage of the added uncertainty coming along with the next scheduled same store sales report. In doing so I would likely think about using an out of the money strike, rather than a near the money strike in anticipation of finally getting some good news and getting back on track at The Gap.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Fastenal (4/14 AM), SanDisk (4/15 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 – April 5, 2015

It was a little odd having the Employment Situation Report released on a day that stock markets were closed yet bond markets and equity futures were trading on an abbreviated schedule.

It reminds me of the frustrations that I sometimes experience when being unable to react to news that moves a stock’s price after the market has closed on the Friday of option expiration. The option holder has the advantage of being able to exercise or not until nearly 90 minutes after the market has closed while as the seller of an option I can do nothing to respond to the news.

In trading circles that is something referred to as “a case of the blue calls.”

Not that I would know, but I would imagine that’s something like being in the old Times Square, before Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up and chased all of the adult entertainment away. Those glass walls between the patrons pumping quarters into the booth and the paid entertainment must have been frustrating for those watching events unfold but being incapable of taking appropriate action. That’s especially the case if knowing that a more genteel, moneyed and privileged clientele was in the back room and had less restricted access.

Or so I’ve heard. I believe that there was an expression describing that situation, as well.

While analysts are going to be spending time trying to find something good to say about the data released, the number of new jobs created was the smallest in more than a year and included downward revisions of the past 2 months. In fact, the 126,000 new jobs created in March was about half of what the consensus had been expecting. The 69,000 jobs downward revisions makes you wonder whether the decidedly negative reaction to what was perceived as a heating up jobs market previously was warranted.

The smaller than expected job creation number caused an immediate and large decline in interest rates and a meaningful decline in stock futures, although on very light volume.

Still, there was a net increase in jobs, and there is no specter of unmanageable and unruly lines queuing up as in scenes from 75 years ago. Yet we will begin trading on Monday on the far end of a 3 day vacuum having been unable to respond to the immediate reactions to Friday morning’s news.

After a few days to mull it over we may learn whether the disappointing employment news is ultimately interpreted as being good or bad for the stock market and more specifically for the likelihood of interest rates being increased sooner rather than later.

After all, lately that seems to be all that markets have cared about and the speculation has gone back and forth as the data has done the same.

As far as the Treasury market is concerned their bet is on lower interest rates after the Employment Situation Report was released and they’re said to be smarter than the average investor.

When rates go
back up just as quickly, as they have volleyed back and forth over the past few weeks, we can remind ourselves that the back and forth of rates simply reflects how smart those bond traders really are.

One might think that any further decline in rates would be good for stocks particularly as an alternative to bonds, unless it is interpreted as being bad news that the tepid economic expansion was actually beginning a deceleration phase.

Couple that thought with the worry that the upcoming earnings season is going to highlight currency woes more than costs savings from lower energy and you do have the makings of continued uncertainty about where the next catalyst to move stocks higher will be coming from.

Normally, I like uncertainty, but unfortunately, the uncertainty that we’ve seen over the past few weeks as markets have regularly alternated between triple digit gains and losses hasn’t really moved volatility as much as it would seem to have been logical. That’s because most days have actually traded with great certainty, showing little variance from where the day’s trading started and then giving way to an all new kind of certainty the very next day.

We’ll see how that certainty shows itself on Monday.

It’s anyone’s guess.

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

Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) is one of many stocks that I currently own that are not earning their keep because they’re too far below their purchase price to warrant writing calls and generating premium income. While shares do go ex-dividend this week, the dividend is too small to justify chasing or to make a trade simply in the hopes of capturing that dividend.

However, I’ve been happy to see some of the share gains seen after earnings in February get digested, notwithstanding this past Thursday’ strong gain. The slow and methodical retracement of those gains is providing an opportunity to add shares of Whole Foods again with the goal of using new shares to help offset some of the losses on the non-performing lot, as was done 5 times in 2014.

However, following the previous share increase after earnings those shares just seemed too expensive to use as an offset to paper losses. However, now they appear to be more reasonably priced and ready to stabilize at that lower level.

Having add my General Motors (NYSE:GM) shares assigned last month I’ve wanted to repurchase shares since then. At the time the entry of an activist into the picture was unexpected and poor timing for me, but I’m glad to see shares come down from that activist induced high.

Through several bouts of share ownership during the Mary Barra era I’ve continued to be amazed at how well share price has persever

ed against a barrage of bad news. The toll on share price has generally been small and short lived, while being able to roll over option contracts helped to increase yield while awaiting assignment.

Shares offer attractive premiums, an increasingly attractive dividend and the watchful eyes of activists. That can be a good combination particularly since earnings are still a month away, giving some opportunity to collect those premiums before contending with the challenge of currency.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) reports earnings this week and used to be one of those traditionally being among the last of S&P 500 members to report earnings. Now it’s either still among the last or possibly among the first, as earnings seasons now just tend to flow one into the next.

While Bed bath and Beyond isn’t likely to suffer much due to the strengthening dollar, in fact it may benefit from increased buying power, it may report some detriment from the west coast port disruptions.

Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to large moves when announcing its earnings, but this time the options market is implying a move of 6.5%. A 1% ROI may be possible by selling put options as much as 7.1% below the week’s closing price. That’s not as large of a cushion as I would prefer seeing, but if selling puts and faced with the possibility of assignment, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares rather than attempting to roll the put options over.

Being booted from the DJIA isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as being added isn’t always a good thing as far as stock prices go.

Few have done as well as Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which despite a nearly 50% decline since reaching it’s peak post-DJIA share price is still about 65% higher and has well out-performed the S&P 500 and the DJIA.

Alcoa, which reports earnings this week, and while perhaps no longer considered to be the kick-off to a new earnings season still remains the first to get much attention.

Shares have been in a considerable decline for the past 2 months after having recovered from most of the decline that preceded the market’s decline in early December 2014. The subsequent recovery in share price at that time was in lock step with the S&P 500 from mid-December to mid-January when earnings intervened.

Unlike most earnings related trades that I consider, for this one I’m not looking at the sale of puts, but rather a buy/write and am further considering the use of a slightly out of the money option, rather than an in the money strike price, in the belief that there’s reason to suspect both on a technical basis and a fundamental basis that there is room to move higher.

While it’s too soon to tell how its continuing performance will be, AT&T (NYSE:T) has joined Alcoa as an ex-member of the DJIA. During the two week period of its exile, shares have out-performed the S&P 500, just as its replacement has t

railed.

While 2 weeks doesn’t make for a trend, as AT&T shares are ex-dividend this week, I think there may be enough past history with other ex-members in the immediate period of their expulsion to create a tiny additional increment of confidence. WHile that confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to believing that shares will move higher in the very near term, it does make me feel better about the prospects of it continuing to out-perform the broader market.

With it’s very generous dividend the option premium isn’t very large, but at the very least will offset some of the decline in price that will occur as the dividend is taken into account. With much of the competitive hoopla and pressure now in the past and with less of a concern about currency fluctuations, this may be a good time to consider a position as shares may be a bit more immune to some of the pressures that may face many other multi-national companies as earnings are soon to be released.

Finally, being added to the DJIA isn’t necessarily a golden ticket, either, as some more recently added members may attest.

In exchange for AT&T’s departure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was added and has since trailed the narrow index as excitement mounts over the prospects for its latest product entry.

I’m not as excited about that as I am about the prospects of Apple announcing a dividend increase most likely concurrent with its next earnings release in 3 weeks. Between now and then I think there are going to be many opportunities for Tim Cook and others to increasingly whip up excitement and demand for a product that has a fairly low bar being set.

In the meantime Apple continues to offer an attractive option premium and can easily be considered as either a buy/write or put sale, as there is considerable liquidity on either side of the options aisle.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (4/8), Whole Foods (4/8 $0.13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (4/8 PM), Bed Bath and Beyond (4/8 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.