Weekend Update – November 15, 2015

Back in March 2015, when writing the article “It’s As Clear As Mud,” there was no reason to suspect that there would be a reason for a Part 2.

After all, the handwriting seemed to be fairly clear at that time and the interest rate hawks seemed to be getting their footing while laying out the ground rules for an interest rate increase that had already been expected for months prior.

In fact, back in July 2015, I wrote another article inadvertently also entitled “It’s As Clear As Mud,” but in my defense the reason for the confusion back then had nothing to do with the FOMC or the domestic US economy, so it wasn’t really a Part 2.

It was simply a case of more confusion abounding, but for an entirely different reason.

Not that the FOMC hadn’t continued their policy of obfuscation.

But here we are, 8 months after the first article and the FOMC is back at the center of confusion that’s reigning over the market as messages are mixed, economic data is perplexing and the intent of the FOMC seems to be going counter to events on the ground.

While most understand that extraordinarily low interest rates have some appeal and can also be stimulatory, there’s also the recognition that prolonged low interest rates are a reflection of a moribund economy.

While individuals may someday arrive at a point in their lives that they’re not interested in or seeking personal growth, economies always have to be in pursuit of growth unless their populations are shrinking or aging along with the individual.

Like Japan.

Most would agree that when it comes to the economy, we don’t want to be like the Japan we’ve come to know over the past generation.

So despite the stock market being unable to decide whether an increase in interest rates would be a good thing for it, an unbiased view, one that doesn’t directly benefit from cheap money, might think that the early phase of interest rate increases would simply be a reflection of good news.

Growth is good, stagnation is not.

However, the FOMC has now long maintained that it will be data driven, but what may be becoming clear is that they maintain the right to move the needle when it comes to deciding where thresholds may be on the data they evaluate.

After years of regularly being disappointed by monthly employment gains below 200,000, October 2015’s Employment Situation Report gave us a number that was below 150,000. While that was surprising, the real surprise may have come a few weeks later when the FOMC indicated that 150,000 was a number sufficiently high to justify that rate increase.

The October 2015 Employment Situation report came at a time that traders had a brief period of mental clarity. They had been looking at negative economic news as something being bad and had been sending the market lower from mid-August until the morning of the release, when it sent the market into a tailspin for an hour or so.

Then began a very impressive month long rally that was based on nothing more than an expectation that the poor employment statistics would mean further delay in interest rate hikes.

But then the came more and more hawkish talk from Federal Reserve Governors, an ensuing outstanding Employment Situation Report and terrible guidance from national retailers.

With a year of low energy prices, more and more people going back to work and minimum wage increases you would have good reason to think that retailers would be rejoicing and in a position to apply that basic law of supply and demand on the wares they sale.

But the demand part of that equation isn’t showing up in the top line, yet the hawkish FOMC tone continues.

The much discussed 0.25% increase isn’t very much and should do absolutely nothing to stifle an economy. While I’d love to see us get over being held hostage by the fear of such an increase by finally getting that increase, it’s increasingly difficult to understand the FOMC, which seems itself to be held hostage by itself.

Difficulty in understanding the FOMC was par for the course during the tenure of Alan Greenspan, but during the plain talk eras of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen the words are more clear, it’s just that there seems to be so much indecisiveness.

That’s odd, as Janet Yellen and Stanley Fischer are really brilliant, but may be finding themselves faced with an economy that just makes little sense and isn’t necessarily following the rules of the road.

We may find out some more of the details next week as the FOMC minutes are released, but if they’re confused, what chance do any of the rest of us have?

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

Last week was just a miserable week. I was probably more active in adding new positions than I should have been and took little solace in having them out-perform the market for the week, as they were losers, too.

This week has more potentially bad news coming from retail, at a time when I really expected some positive news, at least with regard to forward guidance.

But with Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) having fallen about 12% last week after having picked up a little strength in the previous week, I’m ready to look at it again as it reports earnings this week.

I am sitting on a far more expensive lot of Abercrombie and Fitch, although if looking for a little of that solace, I can find some in having also owned it on 6 other occasions in 2015 and 21 other times in the past 3 years.

Despite that one lot that I’m not currently on speaking terms with, this has been a stock that I’ve longed loved to trade.

It has been range-bound for much of the past 8 months, although the next real support level is about 20% below Friday’s closing price.

With that in mind, the option market is implying about a 13.3% price move next week. A 1% ROI could potentially be obtained by selling puts nearly 22% below that close.

A stock that I like to trade, but don’t do often enough has just come off a very bad single day’s performance. GameStop (NYSE:GME) received a downgrade this past week and fell 16.5%

The downgrade was of some significance because it came from a firm that has had a reasonably good record on GameStop, since first downgrading it in 2008 and then upgrading in 2015.

GameStop has probably been written off for dead more than any stock that I can recall and has long been a favorite for those inclined to short stocks.

Meanwhile, the options market is implying a 5.5% move next week, even though earnings aren’t to be reported until Monday morning of the following week.

A 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a put contract at a strike level 5.8% below Friday’s close, but if doing that and faced with possible assignment resulting in ownership of shares, you need to be nimble enough to roll over the put contracts to the following or some other week in order to add greater downside protection.

For the following week the implied move is 12.5%, but part of that is also additional time value. However, the option market clearly still expects some additional possibility of large moves.

If you’re a glutton for more excitement, salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large price movements with or without earnings at hand.

Depending upon your perspective, salesforce.com is either an incredible example of great ingenuity or a house of cards as its accounting practices have been questioned for more than a decade.

The basic belief is that salesforce.com’s practice of stock based compensation will continue to work well for everyone as long as that share price is healthy, but being paid partially in the stock of a company whose share price is declining may seem like receiving your paycheck back in the days of Hungarian hyper-inflation.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that this week, as shares already did fall 4.6% last week.

The share price of salesforce.com has held up well even as rumors of a buyout from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have gone away. The option market is implying a share price move of 8.1% next week and a 1% ROI might possibly be obtained if selling puts at a strike level 9.4% below Friday’s close.

Microsoft itself is ex-dividend this week and is one of those handful of stocks that has helped to create the illusion of a healthy broader market.

That’s because Microsoft, a member of both the DJIA and the S&P 500 is up nearly 14% for the year and is one of those few well performing companies that has helped

to absorb much of the shock that’s being experienced by so many other index components that are in correction or bear territory.

In fact, coming off its market correction lows in August, Microsoft shares are some 30% higher and is only about 5% below its recent high.

While that could be interpreted by some as its shares being a prime candidate for a decline in order to catch up with a flailing market, sometimes in times of weakness it may just pay to go with the prevailing strength.

While I’d rather consider its share purchase after a price decline and before its ex-dividend date, Microsoft’s ability to withstand some of the market’s stresses adds to its appeal right now.

On the other hand, Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) 5.1% decline last week and its 6.5% decline from its recent ex-dividend date when some of my shares were assigned away from me early, makes it appealing.

Despite a large differential in comparative performance between Microsoft and Intel in 2015, they have actually tracked one another very well through the year if you exclude two spikes higher in Microsoft shares in the past year.

With that in mind, in a week that I like the idea of adding Microsoft for its dividend, I also like the idea of adding more Intel, just for the sake of adding Intel and capturing a reasonably generous option premium, in the hopes that it keeps up with Microsoft.

Finally, also going ex-dividend in the coming week are Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ).

The former probably sells something that can help you if you’ve over-indulged in the former for far too long of a time.

Dunkin Brands only has monthly dividends, but this being the final week of the monthly cycle, some consideration can be given to using it as a quick vehicle in an attempt to capture both premium and dividend, or perhaps a longer term commitment in an attempt to also secure some meaningful gain from the shares.

Those shares are actually nearly 30% lower in the past 4 months and are within easy reach of a 22 year low.

I’m currently undecided about whether to look at the short term play or a longer term, but I am also considering using a longer term contract, but rather than looking for share appreciation, perhaps using an in the money option in the hopes of being assigned shares early and then moving on to another potential target with the recycled cash.

Johnson & Johnson is not one of those companies that has helped to create the illusion of a healthy market. If you factor in dividends, Johnson & Johnson has essentially mirrored the DJIA.

Over the past 5 years, with a very notable exception of the last quarter, Johnson & Johnson has tended to trade well in the few weeks after having gone ex-dividend.

For that reason I may look at the possibility of selling calls dated for the following week, or perhaps even the week after Thanksgiving and also thinking about some capital gains on shares in addition to its generous dividend, but somewhat lower out of the money premium.’

While thinking about what to do in the coming week, I may find myself munching on some Dunkin Donuts. That tends to bring me clarity and happiness.

Maybe I could have some delivered to the FOMC for their next meeting.

It couldn’t hurt.

Traditional Stocks:Intel

Momentum Stocks: GameStop

Double-Dip Dividend: Dunkin Donuts (11/19 $0.26), Johnson & Johnson (11/20 $0.75). Microsoft (11/17 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (11/20 AM), 11/18 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.