Weekend Update – May 31, 2015

The one thing that’s been pretty clear as this earnings season is winding down is that the market hasn’t been very tolerant unless the bad news was somehow wrapped in a currency exchange story.

It was an earnings season that saw essentially free passes given early on to those reporting decreased top line revenue and providing dour guidance, as long as the bad news was related to a strong US Dollar.

As earnings season progressed, however, it became clear that some companies that could have asked for that free pass were somehow much better able to tolerate the conditions that investors were willing to forgive. That had to raise questions in some minds as to whether there was a little too much leniency as the market’s P/E ratio was beginning to get a little bit ahead of where it historically may have been considered fully priced. Not punishing share price when earnings may warrant doing so can lead to those higher P/E ratios that so often seem to have had a hard time sustaining themselves at such heights.

On the other hand, plunges of 20% or more weren’t uncommon when the disappointment and the pessimistic future outlook couldn’t be easily rationalized away. Sometimes the punishment seemed to be trying to make up for some of those earlier leniences, although if that’s the case, it’s not a very fair resolution.

In other words, this earnings season has been one where bad news was good news, as long as there was a good reason for the bad news. If there was no good reason for the bad news, then the bad news was extra bad news.

This past Friday’s GDP report was bad news. It was the kind of news that would make it difficult to justify increasing interest rates anytime very soon. That. of course, would make it good news.

The market, though, interpreted that as bad news as the week came to its close, while the same news a month ago would have been likely greeted as good news.

Same news, but take your pick on its interpretation.

This past week was one that i couldn’t decide how to interpret anything that was unfolding. Listless pre-open futures trading during the week sometimes failed to portend what was awaiting and so eager to reverse course, at the sound of the opening bell. While I tend to trade less on holiday shortened weeks usually due to lower option premiums, this past week offered me nothing to feel positive about and more than a few reasons to continue to want to wish that i had more in my cash reserve pile.

As the new week is getting ready to start, it’s another with fairly little to excite. Like this past week, perhaps the biggest news will come on the final trading day, as the Employment Situation Report is released.

Another strong showing may only serve to confuse the picture being painted by GDP data, which is now suggesting increased shrinking of our economy.

A weak employment report might corroborate GDP data, but at this point it’s hard to say what the market reaction might be. Whether that would be perceived as good news or bad news is a matter of guesswork.

If the news, however, is really good, then it’s really anyone’s guess as to what would happen, as a decreasing GDP wouldn’t seem to be a logical consequence of strongly expanding employment.

While the FOMC says that it will be data driven and has worked to remove any reference to a relative timeframe, ultimately it’s not about the data, but rather how they chose to interpret it, especially if logic seems to be failing to tie the disparate pieces together.

While markets may change how they interpret the data from day to day, hopefully the FOMC will be a bit more consistent and methodical than the paper fortune teller process markets have been subjected to of late.

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

Kohls (NYSE:KSS) is one of those companies that didn’t have a currency exchange excuse that could be used at earnings time and its shares took a nearly 15% plunge. Best of all, if not having owned shares, in the subsequent 2 weeks its share price has barely moved. That lack of movement can either represent an opportunity that hasn’t disappeared or could be the building of a new support level and invitation to take advantage of that opportunity.

With an upcoming ex-dividend date on Monday of next week, any decision to exercise an option to grab the dividend would have to be made by the close of trading this week. With only monthly options being sold, that could be an attractive outcome if purchasing shares and selling in the money June 2015 calls.

The potential downside is that the dramatic drop in Kohls’ share price still hasn’t returned it to where it launched much higher a few months ago and where the next level of technical support may be. For that reason, while hoping for a quick early assignment and the opportunity to then redeploy the cash, there is also the specter of a longer term holding in the event that shares start migrating lower to its most recent support level.

Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) is ex-dividend this week and represents a company that had a similar plunge nearly 2 years ago, but still has shown no signs of recovery. In its case the price plunge wasn’t related to poor sales or reduced expectations, but rather to the collapse of artificial price supports as the potash cartel was beginning to fall apart.

Mosaic, however, has traded in a fairly narrow range since then and has been an opportune short term purchase when at or below the mid-point of that range.

Those shares are now at that mid-point and the dividend is an additional invitation to entry for me. With its ex-dividend day being Tuesday, it may also be an example of seeking early assignment by selling an in the money weekly call in the hopes of attaining a small, but very quick gain and then redeploying cash into a new position.

I recently had shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) assigned and tried to repurchase them last week in order to capture the dividend, but just couldn’t get the trade executed. However, even with the dividend now out of the picture, I am interested in adding the shares once again.

While so much attention has recently focused on cable and content providers, Sinclair Broadcasting is simply the largest television station operator in the United States. The tightly controlled family operation shows that there is still a future in doing nothing more than transmitting signals the old fashioned way.

While I usually prefer to start new positions with an eye toward a weekly option or during the final week of a monthly option, Sinclair Broadcasting is one of those companies that I don’t mind owning for a longer period of time and don’t get overly concerned if its shares test support levels. I would have preferred to have entered the position last week, but at $30/share I still see some opportunity, but would not chase this if it moved higher as the week begins.

With old tech no longer moribund, people are no longer embarrassed to admit that they own shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Instead, so many seem to have re-discovered Microsoft before the rest of the world and no longer joke about or disparage its products or strategies. They simply forgot to tell the rest of the world that they were going to be so prescient, but fortunately, it’s never to late to do so.

Microsoft continues to have what has made it a great covered call trade for many years. It still offers an attractive premium and it offers dividend growth. Of course the risk is now greater as shares have appreciated so much over those years. But along with that risk comes an offset that may offer some support. In the belief that passivity or poorly conceived or integrated strategies are no longer the norm it is far easier to invest in shares with confidence, even as the 52 week high is within reach.

While new share heights provide risk there is also the feeling that Microsoft will be in a better position to proactively head into the future and react to marketplace challenges. Even the brief speculation about a buyout of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) helped to reinforce the notion that Microsoft may once again be “cool” and have its eyes on a logical strategy to evolve the company.

For the moment it seems as if some of the activist and boardroom drama at DuPont (NYSE:DD) may have subsided, although it’s not too likely that it has ended.

The near term question is whether activists give up their attempts at enhancing value and exit their positions with respectable profits or double down, perhaps with new strategic recommendations.

While the concern about Trian exiting its position may have been responsible for the steep price decline after the shareholder vote last month, it’s not entirely clear that the Trian stake was in any meaningful way responsible for DuPon’t share performance, as they like to credit themselves.

It’s apparently all a matter of interpretation.

In fact, from the time the Trian stake was first disclosed nearly 2 years ago, DuPont has only marginally out-performed the S&P 500. However, from the beginning of the market recovery in March 2009 up until the points that Trian’s stake was disclosed, DuPont’s share performance was more than 50% better than that of the S&P 500.

So while the market has clearly shown that they perceive Peltz’s position and strategy to be an important support for DuPont’s share price and they may have already discounted his exit, CEO Kullman’s strategic path may have easier going without activist distractions

Finally, following the release of some clinical trial results of its drug Opdivo in the treatment of lung cancer, shares of Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) fell nearly 7% on Friday. Those shares are still well above the level where they peaked following an earnings related move in October 2014, so there is still some concern that th

e decline last week may have more to go.

However, the results of those clinical trials actually had quite a few very positive bits of news, including significantly increased survival rates in a sizeable sub-population of patients and markedly lower side effects. On Friday, the market interpreted the results as being very disappointing, but after a few days that interpretation can end up becoming markedly different.

As we all know too well.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb , DuPont, Microsoft, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Kohls (6/8), Mosaic (6/2)

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.