Weekend Update – July 26, 2015

At first blush it may be hard to comprehend how the following opening line from Charles Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities” could be possible.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

If your existence knows only the best of times it’s hard to see how it could also be the worst of times. Ask anyone on the right side of the 1% divide about the other side of that line and you’ll likely get a very quixotic look in response.

Recognizing that the polar opposites can concurrently exist in plain sight, yet be so hidden, was part of the genius of Dickens’ tale, but it was more than just the telling of a story. He was also sending a message of warning much closer to home.

If you have been following the stock market lately, you’ll know that even as new highs were approached once again just a week ago, there wasn’t really a pervasive sense of feeling more wealthy.

At least not for me.

The signs that perhaps not all was well and equitable were all around, but they barely received any notice. There were increasing dichotomies among the performances of the DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ 100 over the past few weeks. Outrageously strong moves higher by Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and others distorted market capitalization indexes, just as sharp moves lower by IBM (NYSE:IBM) and other high priced DJIA components served to magnify declines in that price weighted index.

It has certainly been the best of times for those owning a small sub-set of the universe of stocks that had the ability to move the indexes in which they resided. But like the Parisian aristocracy of centuries ago, the impression that all is well may be blind to reality as so many were being left behind.

The past few weeks have perhaps not really been the worst of times, as that would be an exaggeration of major proportion, but it certainly hasn’t been the best of times for the vast majority of that same universe of stocks.

So as the major indexes were once again approaching or exceeding previous highs, they were doing so having been unduly influenced by a small number of very large market capitalization stocks that have gotten all of the attention.

Last week’s abysmal performance of the S&P 500 came a week after an equally wonderful performance. However, that wonderful was very much a product of a narrow mix of stocks, while this week’s retreat was more broad in scope.

In the past few weeks the market has successfully tested support as it bounced back decisively from a 5% decline. What it has failed to do is successfully test resistance after having come within a hair of breaking through to new highs. The shoulders of a few high performers hasn’t been sufficient to do the really heavy lifting necessary to break through resistance.

With the S&P 500 now sitting about 3% below its all time highs some stocks have had their share prices ravaged by earnings in a manner that seems disproportionate to the news. However, some of those stocks looking like bargains after earnings became even greater bargains a day or two later.

With earnings season having taken a decided shift this week after some initial optimism, the focus remains on earnings this week as international events have quieted and even this week’s upcoming FOMC Announcement and GDP release aren’t likely to shake things up very much.

While some of the stocks mentioned this week may appear to be bargain priced, I’m continuing a relatively tight fisted approach to new positions as “buying on the dip” strategy may still work, but may need to be much more selective than at any time over the past 3 years.

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

Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) reported earnings last week and was among those suffering tremendous declines, well beyond what the options market had been predicting.

Like its one time parent company, IBM, Lexmark has re-invented itself from a hardware company to a services one and for the past 3 years as that transition had been made, it’s not entirely clear that investors understand what Lexmark has become. As with IBM, it may be time for yet another re-invention or risk falling into irrelevancy.

Still, sitting at a nearly 2 year low, but with some technical support, Lexmark offers an attractive option premium and a very attractive dividend which is due early in the September 2015 cycle.

For that reason I would consider the sale of September options and would likely choose an out of the money strike in the belief that there may be some bounce in price possible over the course of the next two months as the company and investors think about what comes next.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn’t need re-invention, although it may need to find a success in its recently introduced Apple Watch, whose sales statistics weren’t broken out in the recent earnings report.

On a YTD basis Apple shares are among those that have lifted the 3 major indexes, in part giving the impression that all is well.

It’s decline for the week following what was interpreted as a miss on earnings, came even as the company reported a nearly 33% revenue increase on a year over year basis. Some may also have interpreted the announcement of a $1 billion reduction is spending as reflecting a slowdown, forgetting that Apple has periodically done the same even as it moved forward with significant upgrade cycles.

With an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I would consider the purchase of shares and the use of an extended weekly option seeking to get some capital gains on shares in addition to an attempt to capture the dividend.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) is another that suffered a large loss for the week after announcing earnings. While revenue was lower, it beat analyst’s estimates on EPS handily and proved CEO Andrew Liveris’ contention that low oil prices were good for Dow Chemical, despite some oil interests, at a time that it’s shares were trading in sympathy with declining oil prices.

Declining material costs were significant in helping Dow Chemical overcome decreased revenues and with oil’s recent renewed decline, there may be more advantage for the company.

As is often the case after a large price decline there is an increase in uncertainty that becomes reflected in the option premiums buyers are willing to pay and as shares dropped 10% last week the premiums are reflecting belief that some recovery is likely.

Unlike some more volatile positions that may be used in a covered option strategy and that are best when held for short periods, Dow Chemical is a very suitable long term holding thanks to its option premiums and dividends.

Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN) reported earnings last week and in the minefield that the semiconductors currently represent, it did reasonably well after having fallen short of most analyst’s estimates.

Texas Instruments is ex-dividend this week and its option premiums reflect the perception that there is continued volatility ahead, as shares have fallen about 15% in the past 3 months. That combination may be a compelling one to consider a buy/write on shares prior to its ex-dividend date.

Ford (NYSE:F) reports earnings on Tuesday morning and is ex-dividend the following day. General Motors (NYSE:GM) reported much better than expected EPS last week, despite lower revenues and its shares were rewarded after some weakness the previous month.

While Ford hasn’t fallen as much as GM over the past month it may also be due for a some relief after it reports earnings.

There are a number of different potential approaches that could be taken with Ford as both earnings and a dividend are part of the options pricing equation this week.

One possibility is a buy/write selling an in the money call option. While the options market is predicting a 4.5% price move, the premium provides about 3.5% downside protection based upon Friday’s closing prices. If selling the $14 weekly call, shares would have to close at above $14.15 to have a likelihood of being assigned 3 days early.

However, if assigned early, the 2 day ROI of approximately 0.8% and the ability to recycle the funds into another income generating vehicle may have some appeal.

If, however, of the belief that Ford may also move higher as did General Motors, the use of a weekly out of the money strike price could offer a very nice return, especially if the dividend is also able to be captured. In the case of a $14.50 strike, that would mean that shares would likely have to exceed $14.65 for early assignment in order for the option buyer to capture the dividend.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is one of those whose gains have been a boon for the S&P 500 and NASDAQ 100 as its market capitalization well exceeds that of IBM and is beginning to rival Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and other much longer establish

ed companies.

As everyone was getting on the bandwagon for Facebook shares to breach the $100 level the shares did exactly what you might expect them to do. The louder and more universal the calls came for that price ascent the more quickly it did just the opposite, although shares still ended the week on an up note and again out-performing the NASDAQ 100 for the week.

Facebook reports earnings this week and in its brief history as a public company has almost always pleased investors with their numbers and ability to both formulate strategies and execute them.

In the last 3 months Facebook shares are up nearly 19% while the NASDAQ 100 is absolutely flat. The options market is implying a 9.8% price move next week. Meanwhile, a price decline of less than 13.3% could still deliver a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly put contract. However, in this instance, particularly in light of the 13% share price increase in July, I’d be more inclined to consider put sales after earnings are released, if shares fall in any meaningful way.

Finally, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) is both a company and a stock that can generate concurrent polar opposites of reaction from users and investors, respectively. With its co-founder and interim CEO concurrently serving as CEO at start-up payment processor, Square, comes word that it has reportedly filed a confidential IPO.

In Dorsey’s case it may be the best of times and the best of times, but the jury is still out on Twitter, which reports earnings this week.

Twitter was my single most profitable position last year, not because of its stellar performance, but because it was so predictably volatile and offered wonderful option premiums along the way, as I sold puts repeatedly through the year and occasionally took assignment of shares and then sold calls.

I currently am short Twitter puts and am considering adding to that position as the premium itself is enticing, but knowing that in the event of a poorly received earnings report there will be heated up talks about Twitter’s viability as an independent company and whether it fits perfectly into Google’s need to own up to the minute information for its search engine behemoth.

The option market is implying a significant 13.8% price movement next week as earnings are released. However, a 1% ROI may be able to be achieved by selling put options a full 21% below Friday’s closing price. That represents one of the biggest dichotomies that I’ve seen in a while, particularly at a time when option premiums have been extraordinarily low, even for positions that hold more volatility than is usually the case.

While I usually don’t want to take ownership of shares when I’ve sold puts, Twitter has been one instance of a stock that I haven’t minded taking shares when assigned, rather than trying to evade that possibility by rolling over put options.

In Twitter’s case, if taking ownership, patience comes in handy, while awaiting either good news on performance, change in strategic direction or continued rumors of an inevitable buyout.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: Lexmark

Double-Dip Dividend: Ford (7/29), Texas Instruments (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Facebook (7/29 PM), Ford (7/28 AM), Twitter (7/28 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 – July 19, 2015

There’s a lot of confusion over who was responsible for the idea that time is merely an illusion and that it is “nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once.”

The first part of the idea is certainly thought provoking and is beyond my ability to understand. The second part may be some attempt at a higher plane of humor in an attempt to explain the significance of what is beyond the capability of most people.

In essence, if you thought that the time frame described during the first seven days of creation was compressed, some physicists would suggest that it all actually happened all at once and if you had the appropriate vehicle traveling at sufficient speed you would know that first hand.

The humorous quip has been attributed to Albert Einstein, Woody Allen and others. It has also been attributed to theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who was one of Einstein’s last collaborators, which itself indicates a relative time in Einstein’s career, so it may be unlikely that Wheeler would have described himself in those terms, if he was a real believer.

You might believe that Wheeler’s single degree of separation from Einstein would suggest hat perhaps the true source of the concept would then be Einstein himself. However, Wheeler maintained that he actually saw it scrawled on a men’s room wall in an Austin, Texas cafe, that in theory would have occurred at the same time that Einstein saw the famous Theory of Relativity equation scrawled on the men’s room wall of a Dusseldorf beer garden.

The idea, though, flows from Einstein’s earlier works on time, space and travel and may have been an inspiration to some well read patron while making room for the next idea inducing purchase of a large quantity of beer, wine or spirits.

This past week may have been an example of time forgetting its role, as we saw an avalanche of important news and events that came upon us in quick succession to begin the week. The news of an apparent agreement to the resolution of the Greek debt crisis and the announcement of a deal on Iran’s march toward developing a nuclear weapon came in tandem with the non-event of a melt down of the Chinese stock market.

The majority of the 2.4% weekly gain seen in the S&P 500 was over by the time we could blink, as the rest of the week offered little of anything, but saw a continuing successful test of support in the S&P 500, nearly 5% lower, as it moved to be in a position to now test resistance.

With the near simultaneous occurrence of those important events, the real question may be whether or not they themselves are illusory or at least short-lived.

Time may be the key to tell whether the events of this week were justifiable in creating a market embrace of a rosy future.

We’ve lived through past Greek debt crises before, so there is probably little reason to suspect that this will be the last of them for Greece or even the last we’ll see in the Eurozone. When and where the next flash point occurs is anyone’s guess, but German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments regarding Greece’s place in the EU continues to leave some uncertainty over the sanctity of that union and their currency.

With an Iranian deal now comes the effort to block it, which itself has a 60 day time limit for Congressional opponents to do their best to defeat the proposal and then overcome a Presidential veto. While it’s not too likely that the latter will become reality, there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine the agreement that probably contributed to continuing weakness in the energy sector in fears that Iranian oil would begin flooding markets sooner than is plausible.

The Chinese attempts at manipulating their stock markets have actually worked far longer than I would have predicted. Here too, time is in play, as there is a 6 month moratorium on the sale of some stocks and by some key individuals. That’s a long time to try and hold off real market dynamics and those forces could very well yet undermine the Chinese government’s “patriotic fight” to save its stock market.

The role that those three may have played in moving the market higher last week may now become potential liabilities until they have stood the test of time.

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

The coming week is very short on scheduled economic news, but will be a very busy one as we focus on fundamentals and earnings.

While there are lots of earnings reports coming this week the incredibly low volatility, after flirting with higher levels just 2 weeks ago, has resulted in few opportunities to try and exploit those earnings reports.

As again approaching all time highs and being very reluctant to chase new positions, I would normally focus on relatively safe choices, perhaps offering a dividend to accompany a premium from having sold call options.

This week, the only new position that may fulfill those requirements is Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) which offers only monthly options and reported earnings last week.

It has been mired in a narrow price range since its January 2015 earnings report and is currently trading at the low end of that range. Having just reported earnings in line with estimates is actually quite an achievement when considering that Fastenal has been on a hiring spree in 2015 and has significantly added costs, while revenues have held steady, being only minimally impacted by currency exchange rates.

Their business is a very good reflector of the state of the economy and encompasses both professional construction and weekend warrior customers. They clearly believe that their fortunes are poised to follow an upswing in economic activity and have prepared for its arrival in a tangible way.

At the current price, I think this may be a good time to add shares, capture a dividend and an option premium. I may even consider going out a bit further in time, perhaps to the November 2014 option that will take in the next earnings report and an additional dividend payment, while seeking to use a strike price that might also provide some capital gains on shares, such as the $45 strike.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) isn’t offering a dividend this week, although it will do so later in the August 2015 option cycle. However, before getting to that point, earnings are scheduled to be announced on July 28th.

Following what many shareholders may derisively refer to as the “successful” effort to defeat Nelson Peltz’s bid for a board seat, shares have plummeted. The lesson is that sometimes victories can be pyrrhic in nature.

Since that shareholder vote, which was quite close by most proxy fight standards, shares have fallen about 15%, after correcting for a spin-off, as compared to a virtually unchanged S&P 500.

However, if not a shareholder at the time, the current price may just be too great to pass up, particularly as Peltz has recently indicated that he has no intention of selling his position. While DuPont does offer weekly and expanded weekly option contracts, I may consider the sale of the August monthly contract in an attempt to capture the dividend and perhaps some capital gains on the shares, in addition to the premium that will be a little enhanced by the risk associated with earnings.

The remainder of this week’s limited selection is a bit more speculative and hopefully offers quick opportunities to capitalize by seeing assignment of weekly call options or expiration of weekly puts sold and the ability to recycle that cash into new positions for the following week.

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), of course, will be in everyone’s sights as it begins trading without PayPal (Pending:PYPL) as an integral part. Much has been made of the fact that the market capitalization of the now independent PayPal will be greater than that of eBay and that the former is where the growth potential will exist.

The argument of following growth in the event of a spin-off is the commonly made one, but isn’t necessarily one that is ordained to be the correct path.

I’ve been looking forward to owning shares of eBay, as it was a very regular holding when it was an absolutely mediocre performer that happened to offer very good option premiums while it tended to trade in a narrow and predictable range.

What I won’t do is to rush in and purchase shares in the newly trimmed down company as there may be some selling pressure from those who added shares just to get the PayPal spin-off. For them, Monday and Tuesday may be the time to extricate themselves from eBay, the parent, as they either embrace PayPal the one time child, if they haven’t already sold their “when issued” shares.

However, on any weakness, I would be happy to see the prospects of an eBay again trading as a mediocre performer if it can continue to have an attractive premium. Historically, that premium had been attractive even long before murmurings or demands for a PayPal spin-off became part of the daily discussion.

Following a downgrade of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), which is no stranger to falling in and out of favor with analysts, the opportunity looks timely to consider either the sale of slightly in the money puts or the purchase of shares and sale of slightly out of the money calls.

The $2 decline on Friday allowed Best Buy shares to test a support level and is now trading near a 9 month low. With earnings still a month away, shares offer reasonable premiums for the interim risk and sufficient liquidity of options if rollovers may be required, particularly in the event of put sales.

The arguments for and against Best Buy’s business model have waxed and waned over the past 2 years and will likely continue for a while longer. As it does so, it offers attractive premiums as the 2 sides of the argument take turns in being correct.

Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) will report earnings on July 31st. In the meantime, that gives some opportunity to consider the sale of out of the money puts.

While I generally prefer not to be in a position to take assignment in the event of an adverse price reaction and would attempt to rollover the puts, in this case with an upcoming ex-dividend date likely to be the week after earnings are released, I might consider taking the assignment if faced with that possibility and then subsequently selling calls, perhaps for the week after the ex-dividend date in an effort to capture that dividend and also attempt to wait out any price recovery.

Like Best Buy, Seagate Technology has been in and out of favor as its legitimacy as a continuing viable company is periodically questioned. Analysts pretend to understand where technology and consumer preferences are headed, but as is the case with most who are in the “futurist” business, hindsight often offers a very punishing report card.

Finally, GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) reports earnings this week. During its brief time as a publicly traded company it has seen plenty of ups and downs and some controversy regarding its lock-up provisions for insiders.

It is also a company whose main product may be peaking in sales and it has long made a case for seeking to re-invent itself as a media company, in an effort to diversify itself from dependence on consumer cycles or from its product going the commodity route.

The option market is implying a 9.9% movement in shares next week as earnings are reported. However, a 1% ROI may possibly be achieved if selling a weekly put at a strike that is 13.3% below this past Friday’s closing price.

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

Traditional Stocks: DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GoPro (7/21 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts, in adjustment to and consideration of market movements. The overriding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – July 12, 2015

While mankind has tried and will probably never give up on such attempts, there is a reason many are assigned to the fact that you just can’t fight nature.

In the case of natural disasters, those forces are so powerful and so relentless the best you can hope for is that they will run their course before nature finds its way to you.

Fleeing is probably a better strategy than fighting when faced with the release of unfathomable stores of energy in an effort to buy time until the inevitable reversal of course occurs.

Sure, you can build shelters, fortify dams or enact more stringent building codes in efforts to mollify the impacts of nature, but eventually, we all know who’s in charge.

Economic cycles, stock market cycles, currency cycles and interest rate cycles aren’t very different. They represent incredibly powerful forces that governments attempt to manipulate, but it is really only time that can tame the unwieldy power of an event, regardless of government intervention.

It’s those natural cycles, sometimes a cascade of events coming to a crescendo that are like the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

Most of us know that trying to best nature is a fairly futile way to expend our own energy, just as is trying to manipulate or change the direction of capital markets. Over the past 50 years there is plenty of evidence to show that heavy handed government attempts to manipulate markets, such as currencies, have exceedingly short impacts.

You can’t really blame the Chinese government for trying to control their stock markets, though, especially in a time of crisis.

They’re pretty new at this capitalism game and it’s only through surviving one of the varied crises that descend upon the cogs of capitalism on occasion that you can continue to reap its many benefits.

Undoubtedly someone in a high position of authority must have seen footage from a 70 year old cartoon and had it mistaken for real news footage of someone successfully battling with a force of nature and then drew the obvious conclusion that the same would be possible as their market was threatening a meltdown.

In a system where it controls everything and has a bully pulpit in more than just figurative terms, it’s only natural to think that it could just as easily exert its will on its stock market and change its behavior.

But what we know is that the forces seen in capital markets is no different from those seen in nature, at least in terms of how unlikely it is that human efforts can suddenly change the course.

Of course, in a nation that executes many for white collar crimes, official condemnation of “malicious short sellers” who being blamed for the bursting bubble and threatened with investigation and arrest can certainly lead to behavioral changes, but not the kind that can stem the inevitable path as gravity takes control of sky high stock prices.

Learning that market forces aren’t as easily controlled as 1.4 billion people isn’t very easy when you actually do have the power to control those 1.4 billion people. That itself is so improbable that everything else must seem like a cakewalk.

When you have the power to tell people that they can only have one child, and they obey the edict, you’ve shown that you’re pretty good at battling nature and what comes naturally. So it’s only natural that when faced with a brewing crisis in their stock markets, the Chinese government would elect to try and alter its natural course.

Good luck with that.

The combination of events in China, the ongoing battle among Greece, the EU, ECB and IMF and the trading halt on the NYSE resulted in a week that saw large moves in both directions, intra-day reversals in both directions and ultimately ended the week unchanged.

There wasn’t too much doubt that events in China determined our own fortunes this past week as the net result of the interventions was to see their markets recover and spill over onto our shores. While I saw reason to establish some new positions last week as the market opened the week on a sharp decline, and was fortunate to have benefited from market strength to close the week, I’m circumspect about the ability of the Chinese government intervention to have anything more than a temporary halting impact. Being mindful of so many past attempts by governments to halt slides in their currency by massive entry into currency markets, makes me want to hold on tightly to any cash that I have as this week is about to begin.

Perhaps some good economic news will be forthcoming this week as earnings season really gets underway in earnest. Maybe some good news can move our attention away from world events, but ignoring those powerful overseas forces would be a mistake, particularly as the Chinese government’s actions may be unpredictable if their initial attempts at controlling their stock markets don’t succeed.

This coming week may offer a wild ride in both stocks and bonds and if so, we’d be very fortunate if the net result was the same as this past week, but you can be lucky only so often in the face of unleashed natural forces.

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

With fewer compelling reasons to spend money this week there aren’t too many stocks that have much in the way of appeal to me at the moment and my selections for this week continue to be limited.

As long as China is front and center, there may be some reason to think about YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) as it both reports earnings this week and goes ex-dividend.

Over the past few years it seems that there have been an infinite number of disasters that have come YUM’s way, as so much of its fortunes rely on its businesses in China which can so easily fall prey to the weakest links in the chain, as well as to the macro-economic picture.

Following a large move higher on Friday, I wouldn’t rush into any kind of position unless there was some pullback. However, in the event that some of that gain is returned prior to earnings on Tuesday, I would consider a covered call trade, rather than the sale of puts, in order to also be able to capture the dividend the following day.

The option market is implying a 6.4% move next week. At Friday’s closing price of $90.87, the implied lower boundary is about $85. The option premium being offered for the weekly $85 strike would offer a 0.75% ROI if assigned early and a 1.2% ROI if the dividend is captured.

Since earnings are reported on Tuesday after the market’s close and the ex-dividend date is the following day, there is a very short window of opportunity for an option holder to exercise following earnings. The owner of shares would have approximately $6 of downside protection, although YUM shares can certainly be very volatile when earnings or any adverse news is reported.

I have some mixed feelings about considering Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) this week, as so much focus is placed on its dependence on Chinese economic activity. Overall revenues from the Asia-Pacific region account for about 20% of total revenue and has already been hard hit as it share price is down nearly 25% since November 2014 and 7% in the past 2 weeks. While its CEO tried putting a positive spin on the Chinese economic slowdown a few months ago, he may have to spin extra hard now.

Caterpillar shares go ex-dividend this week and that is certainly a selling point, as its shares are approaching their 52 week low and I have been wanting to add shares for quite a while.

I would be willing to take the risk of their China exposure in the event of any additional price weakness as the week begins in the belief that any disappointing earnings or guidance the following week may have already been discounted.

I have less mixed feelings about Lowes (NYSE:LOW) which goes ex-dividend the following Monday. Lowes shares are down about 10% in the past 3 months and 4% in the past 2 weeks.

What I don’t have mixed feelings about is the quality of the shopping experience at Lowes. I’ve spent lots of time there lately, having become a convert from Home Depot (NYSE:HD) on the advice of a friend who suggested that I try them for a large DIY project I was ready to undertake.

In the past 2 months I have probably made about 20 trips, bypassing that Home Depot store and have noticed that the store always seemed busy and I tended to make more purchases as their sales associates were proactive and helpful.

While I generally like to consider Monday ex-dividend positions, that’s more true when weekly options are available, in an attempt to get 2 weeks of premium instead of the dividend, in the hopes of an early assignment. However, Lowes no longer has weekly options available and while this is the final week of the July 2015 cycle, the ex-dividend date is part of the August 2015 cycle.

With that potential purchase comes the potential liability associated with earnings, which are scheduled to be reported 2 days before the end of the monthly cycle. For that reason I might consider a purchase coupled with the sale of a September or later option, in order to capture the dividend and provide some cushion in the event of a downward price move.

I haven’t owned Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) in almost 2 years and have a very difficult time understanding why that has been the case, as it traded in a very narrow band that entire time while offering a reasonable option premium and attractive dividend.

Having now completed its spin off of Baxalta (NYSE:BXLT), it may join other companies that fell out of favor as they were perceived as less desirable after spinning off their faster growing assets. Whether that’s actually supported by reality may be questionable, but there’s no question that spin-offs, such as Baxalta and the upcoming PayPal (PYPLV) have gotten attention.

For its part, what remains of Baxter is a company that offers an excellent dividend and attractive option premiums in an industry sector that shows little sign of slowing down.

Finally, I purchased shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) last week and happily saw them assigned. I still hold a much more expensive lot of shares and every little bit of premium derived from additional short term lot holdings helps to ease the pain of that non-performing lot.

Last week’s purchase was the third such in the past 10 weeks as Abercrombie and Fitch’s shares have been trading in a very narrow range, but its option premiums still reflect its historical ability to make large moves. Lately, those large moves have been predominantly lower and certainly any time new shares are added the risk remains of continued erosion of value.

While teen retailers haven’t been terribly good stores of stock value of late, and while there’s certainly nothing positive that can be said of Abercrombie and Fitch, it won’t report earnings again until the end of August and continues to present a short term opportunity.

However, following a price reversal during Friday’s session, that saw it’s shares close higher for the day, I would consider an entry this coming week only on weakness, if considering a covered call position. Alternatively, the sale of puts may have some more appeal, especially if there’s price weakness as the week begins and moves the share price closer to $21.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (7/16), Lowes (7/20)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/14 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 – July 5, 2015

I used to work with someone who used the expression “It’s as clear as mud,” for just about every occasion, even the ones that had obvious causes, answers or paths forward.

Initially, most of us thought that was just some kind of an attempt at humor until eventually coming to the realization that the person truly understood nothing.

Right now, I feel like that person, although the fact that it took a group of relatively smart people quite a while to realize that person had no clue, may be more of a problem.

It should have been obvious. That’s why we were getting the big bucks, but the very possibility that someone who was expected to be capable, was in reality not capable, wasn’t even remotely considered, until it, too, became painfully obvious.

I see parallels in many of life’s events and the behavior of stock markets. As an individual investor the “clear as mud” character of the market seems apparent to me, but it’s not clear that the same level of diminished clarity is permeating the thought processes of those who are much smarter than me and responsible for directing the use of much more money than I could ever dream.

What often brings clarity is a storm that washes away the clouds and that perfect storm may now be brewing.

Whatever the outcome of the Greek referendum and whatever interpretation of the referendum question is used, the integrity of the EU is threatened if contagion is a by-product of the vote and any subsequent steps to resolve their debt crisis.

Most everyone agrees that the Greek economy and the size of the debt is small potatoes compared to what other dominoes in the EU may threaten to topple, or extract concessions on their debt.

Unless the stock market has been expressing fear of that contagion, accounting for some of the past week’s losses, there should be some real cause for concern. If those market declines were only focused on Greece and not any more forward looking than that, an already tentative market has no reason to do anything other than express its uncertainty, especially as critical support levels are approached.

Moving somewhat to the right on the world map, or the left, depending on how much you’re willing to travel, there is news that The People’s Republic of China is establishing a market-stabilization fund aimed at fighting off the biggest stock selloff in years and fears that it could spread to other parts of the economy. Despite the investment of $120 billion Yuan (about $19.3 billion USD) by 21 of the largest Chinese brokerages, the lesson of history is that attempts to manipulate markets tends not to work very well for more than a day or so.

That lesson seems to rarely be learned, as market forces can be tamed about as well as can forces of nature.

The speculative fervor in China and the health of its stock markets can create another kind of contagion that may begin with US Treasury Notes. Whether that means an increased escape to their safety or cashing in massive holdings is anyone’s guess. Understanding that is far beyond my ken, but somehow I don’t think that those much smarter than me have any clue, either.

Back on our own shores, this week is the start of another earnings season, although that season never really seems to end.

While I’ve been of the belief that this upcoming series of reports will benefit from a better than expected currency exchange situation, as previous forward guidance had been factoring in USD/Euro parity, the issue at hand may be the next round of forward guidance, as the Euro may be coming under renewed pressure.

Disappointing earnings at a time that the market is only 3% below its all time highs together with international pressures seems to paint a clear picture for me, but what do I know, as you can’t escape the fact that the market is only 3% below those highs.

The upcoming week may be another in a succession of recent weeks that I’ve had a difficult time finding a compelling reason to part with any money, even if that was merely a recycling of money from assigned positions.

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

Much of my interests this week are driven purely by performance relative to the S&P 500 over the previous 5 trading days and the belief that the extent of those price moves were largely unwarranted given the storm factors.

One exception, in that it marginally out-performed the S&P 500 last week, is International Paper (NYSE:IP). However, that hasn’t been the case over the past month, as the shares have badly trailed the market, possibly because its tender offer to retire high interest notes wasn’t as widely accepted as analysts had expected and interest payment savings won’t be realized to the anticipated degree.

Subsequently, shares have traded at the low end of a recent price cut target range. As it’s done so, it has finally returned to a price that I last owned shares, nearly a year ago and this appears to be an opportune time to consider a new position.

With that possibility, however, comes an awareness that earnings will be reported at the end of the month, as analysts have reduced their paper sales and expectations and profit margins have been squeezed as demand has fallen and input costs have risen.

DuPont’s (NYSE:DD) share decline wasn’t as large as it seemed as hitting a new 52 week low. That decline was exaggerated by about $3.20 after the completion of their spin-off of Chemours (NYSE:CC).

As shares have declined following the defeat of Nelson Peltz’s move to gain a seat on the Board of Directors, the option premium has remained unusually high, reflecting continued perception of volatility ahead. At a time when revenues are expected to grow in 2016 and shares may find some solace is better than expected currency exchange rates.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) has been on my wish list for the past few weeks and continues to be a possible addition during a week that I’m not expecting to be overly active in adding new positions.

What caused Cypress Semiconductor shares to soar is also what was the likely culprit in its decline. That was the proposed purchase of Integrated Silicon Solution (NASDAQ:ISSI) that subsequently accepted a bid from a consortium of private Chinese investors.

What especially caught my attention this past week was an unusually large option transaction at the $12 strike and September 18, 2015 expiration. That expiration comes a couple of days before the next anticipated ex-dividend date, so I might consider going all the way out to the December 18, 2015 expiration, to have a chance at the dividend and also to put some distance between the expiration and earnings announcements in July and October.

Potash (NYSE:POT) is ex-dividend this week and was put back on my radar by a reader who commented on a recent article about the company. While I generally lie to trade Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), the reader’s comments made me take another look after almost 3 years since the last time I owned shares.

The real difference, for me at least, between the 2 companies was the size of the dividend. While Potash has a dividend yield that is about twice the size of that of Mosaic, it’s payout ratio is about 2.7 times the rate of that of Mosaic.

While that may be of concern over the longer term, it’s not ever-present on my mind for a shorter term trade. When I last traded Potash it only offered monthly options. Now it has weekly and expanded weekly offerings, which could give opportunity to manage the position aiming for an assignment prior to its earnings report on July 30th.

During a week that caution should prevail, there are a couple of “Momentum” stocks that I would consider for purchase, also purely on their recent price activity.

It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). However, if you do sell call options, the fact that it has been trading at a reasonably well defined range of late while offering an attractive dividend, may be the best nice thing that can be said about the stock.

I recently had shares assigned and still sit with a much more expensive lot of shares that are uncovered. I’ve had 2 new lots opened in 2015 and subsequently assigned, both at prices higher than the closing price for the past week. There’s little reason to expect any real catalyst to move shares much higher, at least until earnings at the end of next month. However, perhaps more importantly, there’s little reason to expect shares to be disproportionately influenced by Greek or Chinese woes.

Trading in a narrow range and having a nice premium makes Abercrombie and Fitch a continuing attractive position, that can either be done as a covered call or through the sale of puts.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is another whose shares were recently assigned and has given back some of its recent price gains while banks have been moving back and forth along with interest rates.

With the uncertainty of those interest rate movements over the next week and with earnings scheduled to be released the following week, I would consider a covered call trade that utilizes the monthly July 17, 2015 option, or even considering the August 21, 2015 expiration, to get the gift of time.

Finally, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) reports earnings this week after having sustained a 21.5% fall in shares in the past 2 months. That’s still not quite as bad as the 31% one month tumble it took 5 years ago, but shares have now fallen 36% in the past 7 months.

The option market is implying a 5% price movement next week, which on the downside would bring shares to an 18 month low.

Normally, I look for the opportunity to sell a put option in advance of earnings if I can get a 1% ROI for a weekly contract at a strike price that’s below the lower level determined by the option market’s implied movement. I usually would prefer not to take possession of shares and would attempt to delay any assignment by rolling over the short put position in an effort to wait out the price decline.

In this case the ROI is a little bit less than 1% if the price moves less than 6%, however, at this level, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares, especially if Alcoa is going to move back to a prolonged period of share price stagnation as during 2012 and 2013.

That was an excellent time to be selling covered calls on the shares as premiums were elevated as so many were expecting price recovery and were willing to bet on it through options.

You can’t really go back in time, but sometimes history does repeat itself.

At least that much is clear.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 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.