Weekend Update – August 9, 2015

In an age of rapidly advancing technology, where even Moore’s Law seems inadequate to keep up with the pace of advances, I wonder how many kids are using the same technology that I used when younger.

It went by many names, but the paper “fortune teller” was as good a tool to predict what was going to happen as anything else way back then.

Or now.

It told your fortune, but for the most part the fortunes were binary in nature. It was either good news that awaited you later in life or it was bad news.

I’m not certain that anything has actually improved on that technology in the succeeding years. While you may be justified in questioning the validity of the “fortune teller,” no one really got paid to get it right, so you could excuse its occasional bad forecasting or imperfect vision. You were certainly the only one to blame if you took the results too seriously and was faced with a reality differing from the prediction.

The last I checked, however, opinions relating to the future movements of the stock market are usually compensated. Those compensations tend to be very generous as befitting the rewards that may ensue to those who predicate their actions on the correct foretelling of the fortunes of stocks. However, since it’s other people’s money that’s being put at risk, the compensations don’t really reflect the potential liability of getting it all wrong.

Who would have predicted the concurrent declines in Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) that so suddenly placed them into correction status? My guess is that with a standard paper fortune teller the likelihood of predicting the coincident declines in Disney and Apple placing them into correction status would have been 12.5% or higher.

Who among the paid professionals could have boasted of that kind of predictive capability even with the most awesome computing power behind them?

If you look at the market, there really is nothing other than bad news. 200 Day Moving Averages violated; just shy of half of the DJIA components in correction; 7 consecutive losing sessions and numerous internal metrics pointing at declining confidence in the market’s ability to move forward.

While this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report provided data that was in line with expectations, wages are stagnant If you look at the economy, it doesn’t really seem as if there’s the sort of news that would drive an interest rate decision that is emphatically said to be a data driven process.

Yet, who would have predicted any of those as the S&P 500 was only 3% away from its all time highs?

I mean besides the paper fortune teller?

Seemingly paradoxical, even while so many stocks are in personal correction, the Volatility Index, which many look at as a reflection of uncertainty, is down 40% from its 2015 high.

As a result option premiums have been extraordinarily low, which in turn has made them very poor predictors of price movements of late, as the implied move is based upon option premium levels.

Nowhere is that more obvious than looking at how poorly the options market has been able to predict the range of price movements during this past earnings season.

Just about the only thing that could have reasonably been predicted is that this earnings season who be characterized by the acronym “BEMR.”

“Beat on earnings, missed on revenues.”

While a tepid economy and currency exchange have made even conservative revenue projections difficult to meet, the spending of other people’s money to repurchase company shares has done exactly what every CEO expected to be the case. Reductions in outstanding shares have boosted EPS and made those CEOs look great.

Even a highly p[aid stock analyst good have predicted that one.

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

Not too surprisingly after so many price declines over the past few weeks, so many different stocks look like bargains. Unfortunately, there’s probably no one who has been putting money at risk for a while who hasn’t been lured in by what seemed to be hard to resist prices.

It’s much easier to learn the meaning of “value trap” by reading about it, rather than getting caught in one.

One thing that is apparent is that there hasn’t been a recent rush by those brave enough to “buy on the dip.” They may sim

ply be trading off bravery for intelligence in order to be able to see yet another day.

With my cash reserves at their lowest point in years, I would very much like to see some positions get assigned, but that wish would only be of value if I could exercise some restraint with the cash in hand.

One stock suffering and now officially in correction is Blackstone (NYSE:BX). It’s descent began with its most recent earnings report. The reality of those earnings and the predictions for those earnings were far apart and not in a good way.

CEO Schwarzman’s spin on performance didn’t seem to appease investors, although it did set the tone for such reports as “despite quarterly revenues and EPS that were each 20% below consensus. That consensus revenue projection was already one that was anticipating significantly reduced levels.

News of the Blackstone CFO selling approximately 9% of his shares was characterized as “unloading” and may have added to the nervousness surrounding the future path of shares.

But what makes Blackstone appealing is that it has no debt on its own balance sheet and its assets under management continue to grow. Even as the real estate market may present some challenges for existing Blackstone properties, the company is opportunistic and in a position to take advantage of other’s misery.

Shares command an attractive option premium and the dividend yield is spectacular. However, I wouldn’t necessarily count on it being maintained at that level, as a look at Blackstone’s dividend payment history shows that it is a moving target and generally is reduced as share price moves significantly lower. The good news, however, is that shares generally perform well following a dividend decrease.

Joining Blackstone in its recent misery is Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY). While it has been in decline through 2015, its most recent leg of that decline began with its earnings report in June.

That report, however, if delivered along with the most recent reports beginning a month ago, may have been met very differently. Bed Bath and Beyond missed its EPS by 1% and met consensus expectations for revenue.

Given, however, that Bed Bath and Beyond has been an active participant in share buybacks, there may have been some disappointment that EPS wasn’t better.

However, with more of its authorized cash to use on share buy backs, Bed Bath and Beyond has been fairly respectful in the way it uses other people’s money and has been more prone to buying shares when the stock price is depressed, in contrast to some others who are less discriminating. As shares are now right near a support level and with an option premium recognizing some of the uncertainty, these shares may represent the kind of value that one of its ubiquitous 20% of coupons offers.

The plummet is Disney shares this week following earnings is still somewhat mind boggling, although short term memory lapses may account for that, as shares have had some substantial percentage declines over the past few years.

Disney’s decline came amidst pervasive weakness among cable and content providers as there is a sudden realization that their world is changing. Words such as “skinny” and “unbundling” threaten revenues for Disney and others, even as revenues at theme parks and movie studios may be bright spots, just as for Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA).

As with so many other stocks as the bell gets set to ring on Monday morning, the prevailing question will focus on value and relative value. Disney’s ascent beyond the $100 level was fairly precipitous, so there isn’t a very strong level of support below its current price, despite this week’s sharp decline. That may provide reason to consider the sale of puts rather than a buy/write, if interested in establishing a position. Additionally, a longer term time frame than the one week that I generally prefer may give an opportunity to generate some income with relatively low risk while awaiting a more attractive stock price.

While much of the attention has lately been going to PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) and while I am now following that company, it’s still eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) that has my focus, after a prolonged period of not having owned shares. Once a mainstay of my holdings and a wonderful covered option trade it has become an afterthought, as PayPal is considered to offer better growth prospects. While that may be true, I generally like to see at least 6 months of price history before considering a trade in a new company.

However, as a covered option trader, growth isn’t terribly important to me. What is important is discovering a stock that can have some significant event driven price movements in either direction, but with a tendency to predictably revert to its mean. That creates a situation of attractive option premiums and rel

atively defined risk.

eBay is now again trading in a narrow range after some of the frenzy associated with its PayPal spin-off, albeit the time frame for that assessment is limited. However, as it has traded in a relatively narrow range following the spin-off, the option premium has been very attractive and I would like to consider shares prior to what may be an unwanted earnings surprise in October.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) reported earnings last week beating both EPS and revenue expectations quite handily. However, the market’s initial response was anything but positive, although shares did recover about half of what they lost.

Perhaps shares were caught in the maelstrom that was directed toward cable and content providers as one thing that you can predict is that a very broad brush is commonly used when news is at hand. But as a plebian provider of terrestrial television access, Sinclair Broadcasting isn’t subject to the same kind of pressures and certainly not to the same extent as their higher technology counterparts.

I often like to consider the purchase of shares just before Sinclair Broadcasting goes ex-dividend, which it will do on August 28th. However, with the recent decline, I would consider a purchase now and selling the September 18, 2015 option contract at a strike level that could generate acceptable capital gains in addition to the dividend and option premium, while letting the cable and content providers continue to take the heat.

It seems only appropriate on a week that is focused on an old time paper fortune teller that some consideration be given to International Paper (NYSE:IP) as it goes ex-dividend this week. With its shares down nearly 17% from their 2015 high, the combination of perceived value, very fair option premium and generous dividend may be difficult to pass up at this time, while having passed it up on previous occasions during the past month.

International Paper’s earnings late last month fell in line with others that “BEMR,” but it shares remained largely unchanged since that report and shares appear to have some price support at its current level.

You may have to take my word for it, but Astra Zeneca (NYSE:AZN) is going ex-dividend this week. That information didn’t appear in any of the 3 sources that I typically use and my query to its investor relations department received only an automated out of office response. The company’s site stated that a dividend announcement was going to be made when earnings were announced on July 30th, but a week after earnings the site didn’t reflect any new information. Fortunately,someone at NASDAQ knew what I wanted to know.

Astra Zeneca pays its dividends twice each year, the second of which will be ex-dividend this week and is the smaller of the two distributions, yet still represents a respectable 1.3% payment.

I already own shares and haven’t been disappointed by shares lagging its peers. What I have been disappointed in, however, has been it’s inability to mount any kind of sustained move higher and the inability to sell calls on those shares, particularly as there had been some liquidity issues.

The recent stock split, however, has ameliorated some of those issues and there appears to be some increased options trading volume and smaller bid-ask discrepancies. Until that became the case, I had no interest in adding shares, but am now more willing to do so, also in anticipation of some performance catch-up to its other sector mates.

The promise that seemed to reside with shares of Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA) not so long ago has long since withered along with many other companies whose fortunes are closely tied to the Chinese economy.

Ali Baba reports earnings this week and the option market is predicting only a 6.7% price move. That seems to be a fairly conservative assessment of the potential for exhilaration or the potential for despair. However, a 1% ROI through the sale of a weekly put option is not available at a strike that’s below the bottom of the implied range.

For that reason, I would approach Ali Baba upon earnings in the same manner as with Green Mountain Keurig’s (NASDAQ:GMCR) earnings report. That is to only consider action after earnings are released and if shares drop below the implied lower end of the range. There is something nice about letting others exercise a torrent of emotion and fear and then cautiously wading into the aftermath.

Finally, during an earnings season that has seen some incredible moves, especially to the downside, Cree (NASDAQ:CREE) should feel right at home. It has had a great habit of surprising the options market, which is supposed to be able to predict the range of a stock’s likely price move, on a fairly regular basis.

With its products just about every where that you look you would either expect its revenues and earnings to be booming or you might think that it was in the throes of becoming commoditized.

What Cree used to be able to do was to trade in a very stable manner for prolonged periods after an earnings related plunge and then recover much of what it lost as subsequent earnings were released. That hasn’t been so much the case in the past year and its share price has been in continued decline in 2015, despite a momentary bump when it announced plans to spin-off a division to “unlock its full value.”

The option market is implying a 9.4% move when earnings are announced this coming week. By historical standards that is a low estimation of what Cree shares are capable of doing. While one could potentially achieve a 1% weekly ROI at a strike price nearly 14% below Friday’s closing price, as with Ali Baba, I would wait for the lights to go out on the share’s price before considering the sale of short term put options.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Blackstone, Disney, eBay, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Astra Zeneca (8/12 $0.45), International Paper (8/12 $0.40)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Ali Baba (8/12 AM), Cree (8/11 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.