Weekend Update – November 27, 2016

For anyone who is capable of remembering the sentiment that pervaded markets less than 3 weeks ago, the continuing shattering of stock market records day after day has to come as a surprise.

For those that had the conviction of their opinions, and there were some very prominent people expecting a sell-off in the event of a Trump victory, you have to wonder whether it was worse to miss out on the rally or worse to have been so wrong while in the public eye.

As that watchful eye looked at the DJIA, S&P 500, NASDAQ 100 and Russell 2000, all ended the week closing at their all time highs.

Do you remember what happened when the FBI announced that they were looking into some emails discovered on a laptop owned by one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides? Do you then remember what happened when the all clear was then given just days ahead of the election?

The conventional wisdom was that the uncertainty associated with the unpredictability of a Trump Administration was the antithesis to what the stock market needed to move higher.

That conventional wisdom was certainly reflected in the stock market’s exaggerated movements.

Do you remember the worldwide overnight plunges when it appeared as if Donald Trump would emerge victorious?

And then a funny thing happened.

After a quick 500 point gain in the DJIA when all of those earlier convictions were thrown out the window, the market has just had a slow and steady climb higher.


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Weekend Update – June 26, 2016

 A week ago, the world was getting ready for what all the polls had been predicting.

Only those willing to book bets seemed to have a different opinion.

Polls indicated that Great Britain was going to vote to leave the European Union, but those willing to put their money where their mouths were, didn’t agree.

Then suddenly there was a shift, perhaps due to the tragic murder of a proponent of keeping the EU intact.

That shift was seen not only in the polls, but in markets.

Suddenly, everyone was of the belief that British voters would do the obviously right thing and vote with their economic health in mind, first and foremost.

The funny thing is that it’s pretty irrational to expect rational behavior.

In a real supreme measure of confidence, just look at the 5 day performance of the S&P 500 leading up to the vote.

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Weekend Update – May 15, 2016

It took every last bit of my courage to jump out of a plane.

That was with a parachute and I only did so after suspending all of the logical and rational thoughts that I possessed.

Sometimes you do very uncharacteristic things when you want to impress someone for some other kind of excitement.

No other level of excitement could ever be high enough to get me to further suspend logic to engage in a free fall, though.

I don’t care how exhilarating it might be, staying alive seems more exhilarating to me.

Some free falls don’t require your consent, though and unless you’ve positioned yourself short in advance of the free fall, it’s definitely not an exhilarating process.

The past week was one in which oil wasn’t the prevailing theme even as it had its own large moves.

Instead, it was the free fall of retail, led by Macy’s (M) and Nordstrom (JWN), arguably among the best of the major national retailers, that characterized the stock market.

Of course, Macy’s and then Nordstrom took most every other retailer down with them and were able to drag along many others.

That kind of free fall, though, leaves open the question of exactly where the floor happens to be. 

On a positive note, hitting the floor after a market free fall is probably a lot better than hitting the floor following a recreational free fall and you do get the chance to play the game a bit longer.

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All in all, if you think about the man made tragic events of the past week in Brussels, the very rational and calm manner in which world markets reacted was really re-assuring.

When we sometimes scratch our heads wondering whether the market will this time interpret good news as being bad or whether it will deem it good, you know that something is amiss.

It’s nice when clear and rational heads are in charge of things.

So often the way the market seems to react to events it’s not too easy to describe the action as having been rational and you really do have to wonder just who is running the place.

The same may be said for the Federal Reserve and its Governors.

It wasn’t always that way, though.

We always knew who was running the place.

While dictatorships may not be a good thing, sometimes a benevolent dictatorship isn’t the worst of all possible worlds.

There was a time that the individual members of the Federal Reserve and the FOMC kept their thoughts to themselves and knew how to behave in public and in private.

That is, up until about 11 years ago when newly appointed and now departed President of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Richard Fisher, had made a comment regarding FOMC monetary tightening policy and was subsequently taken to the woodshed by Alan Greenspan.

That error in judgment, offering one’s opinion, wasn’t repeated again until the new Federal reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, ushered in an era of transparency, openness and the occasional dissenting vote.

At that time, Fisher didn’t even disagree with Federal reserve policy. He was simply giving his opinion on the timing left in an existing policy, or perhaps just disclosing what he knew to be the remaining time of that particular approach.

Still, that kind of behavior was unheard of and not terribly well tolerated.

Now, under Janet Yellen, it seems as if the various Governors are battling with one another over who gets the most air time and who can make the most noise.

Clearly, inmates can be intelligent people, but there may be a very good reason why they’re not running the show.

Why the market often latches onto the words of an FOMC inmate or one who’s not even in that inner circle, particularly when those words may run counter to the Chairman’s own recent words, is every bit of a mystery as why those words were uttered in the first place.

But that is where we seem to be at the moment as the crystal clear clarity that we’ve come to expect from the Federal Reserve is sounding more like the noises coming from the Tower of Babel.

And we all know how that worked out.

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

When there is so much confusion abounding, sometimes it makes some sense to get right back to basics.

There isn’t a much more basic approach to stocks than looking for safe and reliable dividend paying companies, especially when the waters are murky or choppy.

While I don’t disagree with those who point to the out-performance of the universe of dividend paying stocks to the universe of non-dividend paying stocks, I’m not a big fan of the dividend itself and it’s usually fruitless to argue the belief held by many that it is the dividend that makes the company a worthwhile investment that is prone to outperform others.

Ultimately you pay for that dividend by virtue of your share price having gone down the amount of the dividend and you may have to pay taxes as well, on that distribution.

What I do like about dividends is how some of that inherent decline in the share price may end up being subsidized by an option buyer and that can boost the return.

Most of the time, my preference would be to be able to get the premium from having sold the option, most often of weekly duration, and also to be able to collect the dividend.

What i especially like, although it doesn’t happen too often, is when a stock is ex-dividend on a Monday.

In such cases, if the option buyer is going to exercise his right to snatch those shares at a pre-determined price, he must do so no later than the previous Friday.

What I like to do with those Monday ex-dividend positions is to sell an extended weekly option and then I don’t really care too much if those shares get taken away from me early. 

That’s because the additional week’s premium offsets the loss of the dividend while being able to take the cash from the assignment to invest in some other position.

Maybe even an upcoming ex-dividend position.

While not every position that I’m considering in the coming week will be ex-dividend the following Monday, that does characterize most of the potential trades for the coming week.

To put them all of those into a single basket, Cisco (CSCO),  Comcast (CMCSA), Deere (DE) and JP Morgan Chase (JPM) are all ex-dividend next Monday.

They each have their own story to tell and since 2016 has been an incredibly quiet one for me in terms of adding new positions, there is virtually no chance that i will be adding all of them.

At the moment I do own shares of Cisco, but none of the other positions, all representing different sectors.

With everything else being equal, I’d probably be more inclined to consider adding shares to a sector in which I may be under-invested.

For me, that would be the finance sector, which has been embattled all year as the expected interest rate climbs haven’t materialized.

For many, the decision by JM Morgan’s Jamie Dimon to buy $26 million in his own shares was the impetus to turn the market around from its steep 2016 losses.

That turnaround started on February 11, 2016.

Those shares are still far from their 2016 high and sooner or later the inmates trading stocks and the inmates making policy will be right about the direction of interest rates.

I still hold somewhat of a grudge against Comcast when I was a consumer of its services. However, it would be the height of irrationality to ignore it for what it could contribute to my non-viewing or non-internet surfing well-being.

Once a disruptor in its own right, Comcast is working hard to remain at the cutting edge or itself be displaced as the competition and the various means of delivering content are getting more and more complex to understand.

That may be its saving grace.

When you get right down to it, nothing is as simple as having a box, your television and your computer. While there’s decidedly nothing simplistic about what Comcast is doing and where it envisions going, at some point consumers may get overwhelmed by the growth in disparate and unconnected systems and may again long for bringing it all back together under a single roof.

Even if it is and continues to be challenged, Comcast is a few dollars below some resistance and I would feel comfortable adding shares in advance of its ex-dividend date.

I haven’t owned shares of Deere for a long time, just as I haven’t owned shares of caterpillar (CAT). The two of those used to be mainstays of my portfolio, if not both at the same time, then at least alternating, often with a new purchase being initiated as an ex-dividend date was approaching.

What appeals to me about Deere at the moment is that it is a little bit off from its recent highs and only a bit higher than where it stood on February 11th.

But more importantly, this week, as with all of the other potential selections, there is a nice dividend and an equally nice option premium. That combination lends itself to any number of potential contract lengths and strike levels, depending on one’s horizon.

While I especially like the Monday ex-dividend date, this is a position that i might consider wanting to hold for a longer period of time in an effort to either reap additional option premiums or some capital gains from shares, in addition to premiums and the dividend.

While I do already own shares of Cisco and it has bounced back nicely in the past 6 weeks, I think that it, too, has some more upside potential, if only to get it back to some resistance about 5% higher from its current level.

Like most others mentioned this week, there is a generous dividend and a generous option premium that make any consideration worthwhile.

As with Deere, while the Monday ex-dividend date may lead to one specific strategy, there may also be some consideration of utilizing longer dated contracts and further out of the money strike prices in order to capitalize on some anticipated price appreciation.

By contrast, I own shares of both The Gap (GPS) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

There has been absolutely nothing good that has been said about The Gap in far too long of a time.

There was a time that The Gap could be counted upon to alternated its monthly same store sales between worse than expected and better than expected results. as a result The Gap’s shares would frequently bounce back and forth on a monthly basis and it had periodically enhanced option premiums to reflect those consistent moves.

Lately though, the news has always been disappointing and the direction of shares has been unilateral, that is, until February 11th.

There’s not too much of a likelihood that The Gap’s recent performance is related to oil prices or interest rates, but it is certainly long overdue for a sustained move higher.

At its current level, i wouldn’t mind shares staying in the same neighborhood for a while and building some support for another leg. In the meantime, at this level there is some opportunity to collect the dividend and some reasonably health premiums, as well.

Finally, just as last week, I think that there may be opportunity in Dow Chemical.

While it has unjustifiably been held hostage by falling oil prices for more than a year, it has performed admirably. The market reacted positively when the announcement was made of its fairly complex merger and subsequently planned uncoupling with DuPont (DD), although the favor was lost as the rest of the market sank.

I continue to believe that there is relatively little risk associated with shares in the event the proposed merger runs into obstacles, as shares are trading at pre-announcement levels.

That combination of dividends and option premiums keeps making Dow Chemical an appealing consideration even as lunatics may be running around elsewhere.

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (4/4 $0.27), CSCO (4/4 $0.26), Deere (3/29 $0.60), DOW (3/29 $0.46), GPS (4/4 $0.23), JPM (4/4 $0.44)

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. 

Weekend Update – September 27, 2015

Subscribers to Option to Profit received preliminary notification of this week’s stock selections on Friday, September 25th, 8:00 AM EDT and updated at 10:20 AM. The full article was distributed on Saturday, at 11:25 AM)

I doubt that Johnny Cash was thinking about that thin line that distinguishes a market in correction from one that is not.

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For him, walking the line” was probably a reference to maintaining the correct behavior so that he could ensure holding onto something of great personal value.

Sometimes that line is as clear as the difference between black and white and other times the difference can be fairly arbitrary.

Lately our markets have been walking a line, not necessarily borne out of a clear distinction between right and wrong, but rather dancing around the definition of exactly what constitutes a market correction, going in and out without much regard.

The back and forth dance has, to some degree, been in response to mixed messages coming from the FOMC that have left the impression of a divergence between words and actions.

Regardless, what is at stake can hold some real tangible value, despite a stock portfolio not being known for its ability to keep you warm at night. Indirectly, however, the more healthy that portfolio the less you have to think about cranking up the thermostat on those cold and lonely nights.

It had been a long, long time since being challenged by that arbitrary 10% definition, but ever since having crossed that line a month ago there’s been lots of indecision about which direction we were heading.

This week was another good example of that, just as the final day of the week was its own good example of the back and forth that has characterized markets.

Depending on your perspective our recent indecision about which side of the line we want to be on is either creating support for a launching pad higher or future resistance to that move higher.

When you think about the quote attributed to Jim Rogers, “I have never met a rich technician,” you can understand, regardless of how ludicrous that may be, just how true it may also be.

While flipping a coin may have predictable odds in the long term, another saying has some real merit when considering the difficulty in trying to interpret charts and chart patterns,

That is “the market can stay irrational far longer than you can stay liquid.” Just a few wrong bets in succession on the direction can have devastating effects.

The single positive from the past 10 days of trading, however, is that the market has started behaving in a rational manner. It finally demonstrated that it understood the true meaning of a potential interest rate hike and then it reacted as a sane person might when their rational expectation was dashed.

Part of the indecision that we’ve been displaying has to be related to what has seemed as a lot of muddled messages coming from the FOMC and from Federal Reserve Governors. One minute there are hawkish sentiments being expressed, yet it’s the doves that seem to be still holding court, leading onlookers to wonder whether the FOMC is capable of making the decision that many believe is increasingly overdue.

In a week where there was little economic news we were all focused on personalities, instead and still stewing over the previous week’s unexpected turn of events.

It was a week when Pope Francis took center stage, then Chinese President Xi trying to cozy up to American business leaders before his less welcoming White House meeting, and then there was finally John Boehner.

The news of John Boehner’s early departure may be the most significant of all news for the week as it probably reduces the chance of another government shutdown and associated headaches for all.

It also marked something rare in Washington politics; a promise kept.

That promise of strict term limits was included in the “Contract with America” and John Boehner was a member of that incoming freshman Congressional Class of 1995 running on that platform, who has now indicated that he will be keeping that promise after only 11 terms in office.

None of that mattered for markets, but what did matter was Janet Yellen’s comments after Thursday’s market close when she said that a rate hike was likely this year and that overseas events were not likely to influence US policy.

That was something that had a semblance of a definitive nature to it and was to the market’s liking, particularly as the coming week may supply new economic information to justify the interest rate hawks gaining control.

Friday’s revised GDP data indicating a 3.9% growth rate for the year is a start, as the coming week also bring Jobless Claims, the Employment Situation Report and lots of Federal Reserve officials making speeches, including more from Janet Yellen, who had been reclusive for a while prior to the September meeting and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.

As a prelude to the next earnings season that begins in just 2 weeks, the stage could be set for an FOMC affirmation that the economy is growing sufficiently to begin thinking about inflation for the first time in a long time.

After being on the other side of the inflation line for a long time and seeing a lost generation in Japan, it will feel good to cross over even as old codgers still dread the notion.

Both sides of the line can be the right side, but not at the same time. Now is the time to get on the right side and let rising interest rates reflect a market poised to move higher, just as low interest rates subsidized the market for the past 6 years. However, as someone who likes to sell options and take advantage of this increased volatility, I welcome continued trading in large bursts of movement up and down, as long as that line is adhered to.

Since the mean can always be re-calculated based on where you want to start your observations, this reversion to the new mean, that just happens to be 10% below the peaks of the summer, can be a great neighborhood to dance around.

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

Last week I was a little busier than has been the usual case of late with regard to opening new positions. Following the sharp sell offs to end the previous week I had a reasonably good feeling about the upcoming week, but now feel fortunate to have emerged without any damage.

I don’t feel the same level of optimism as the new week is set to begin, but there really is no reason to have much conviction one way or another, although there appears to be a more hawkish tone in the air as Janet Yellen is attempting to give the impression that actions will be aligned with words.

With the good fortune of getting some assignments as the week came to its close and having some cash in hand, I would like to build on those cash reserves but still find lots of temptations that seek to separate me from the cash.

The temptations aren’t just the greatly diminished prices, but also the enhanced premiums that accompany the uncertainty that’s characterizing the market.

That uncertainty is still low by most standards other than for the past couple of years, but taking individual stocks that are either hovering around correction or even bear market declines and adding relatively high premiums, especially if a dividend is also involved, is a difficult combination to walk away from.

The stocks going ex-dividend in the upcoming week that may warrant some attention are EMC Corporation (EMC) and Cisco (CSCO).

I own shares of both and both have recently been disappointing, Cisco, after its most recent earnings report looked as if it was surely going to be assigned away from me, but as so many others got caught up in the sudden downdraft and has fallen 14% since earnings, without any particularly bad news. EMC for its part has dropped nearly 13% in that same time period.

As is also so frequently the case as option premiums are rising, those going ex-dividend may become even more attractive as an increasing portion of the share’s price drop due to the dividend gets subsidized by the option premium.

That is the case for both Cisco and EMC. In the case of EMC, when the ex-dividend is early in the week you could even be excused for writing an in the money call with the hope that the newly purchased shares get assigned, as you could still potentially derive a 1% ROI on such a trade, yet for only a single day of holding.

Cisco, which goes ex-dividend later in the week may be a situation where it is warranted to sell an expanded weekly option for the following week that is also in the money by greater than the amount of the dividend, again in an effort to prompt an early assignment.

Doing so trades off the dividend for additional premium and fewer days of holding so that the cash may potentially be recycled into other income generating positions.

On such position is Comcast (CMCSA) which is ex-dividend the following Monday and if assigned early would have to be done so at the conclusion of this week.

While the entire media landscape in undergoing rapid change and while Comcast has positioned itself as best as it can to withstand the quantum changes, a trade this week is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the shares for the income that it may be able to produce and isn’t a vote of confidence in its strategic initiatives and certainly not of its services.

The intention with Comcast is considering the sale of an in the money October 9 or October 16, 2015 call and as with Cisco or EMC, consider forgoing the dividend.

However, for any of those three dividend related trades, I believe that their prices alone are attractive enough and their option premiums enhanced enough, that even if not assigned early, they are in good position to be candidates for serial sale of call options or even repurchases, if assigned.

As long as considering a Comcast purchase, one of my favorites in the sector is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). I currently own shares and most often consider initiating a new position as an ex-dividend date is approaching.

That won’t be for a while, however, the second criteria that I look at is where its price is relative to its historical trading range and it is currently below the average of my seven previous purchases in the past 16 months.

While little known, it is a major player in the ancient area of terrestrial television broadcasting and has significant family ownership. While owners of Cablevision (CVC) can argue the merits or liabilities of a closely held public company, the only real risk is that of a proposal to take the company private as a result of shares having sunk to ridiculously low levels.

I don’t see that on the horizon, although the old set of rabbit ears may be to blame for any fuzzy forecasting. Instead of relying on high technology and still being available the old fashioned way for free viewing, Sinclair Broadcasting has simply been amassing outlets all over the county and making money the old fashioned way.

As I had done with my current lot of shares, I sold some slightly longer term call options, as Sinclair offers only the monthly variety. Since it reports earnings very early in November and will likely go ex-dividend late that month, I would consider selling out of the money calls, perhaps using the December 2015 options in an effort to capture the dividend, the option premium and some capital gains on shares.

While religious and political luminaries were getting most of the attention this past week, it’s hard to overlook what has unfolded before our eyes at Volkswagen (VLKAY). Regulatory agencies and the courts may be of the belief that you can’t spell “Fahrvergnügen,” Volkswagen’s onetime advertising slogan buzzword, without “Revenge.” Unfortunately, for those owning shares in the major auto manufacturer’s, such as General Motors (GM), last week’s news painted with a very broad brush.

General Motors hasn’t been immune to its own bad news and you do have to wonder if society places greater onus and personal responsibility on the slow deaths that may be promoted by Volkswagen’s falsified diesel emissions testing than by the instantaneous deaths caused by faulty lock mechanisms.

For its part, General Motors appears to really be bargain priced and will likely escape the continued plastering by that broad brush. With an exceptional option premium this week, plumped up by the release of some sales data and a global conference call, GM’s biggest worry after having resolved some significant legal issues will continue to be currency exchange and potential weakness in the Chinese market.

With earnings due to be reported on October 21st, if considering a purchase of General Motors shares, I would think about a weekly or expanded weekly option sale, or simply bypassing the events and going straight to December, in an effort to also collect the generous dividend and possibly some capital gains while having some additional time to recover from any bad news at earnings.

MetLife (MET) is a stock that is beautifully reflective of its dependency on interest rates. As rates were moving higher and the crowd believed that would go even higher, MetLife followed suit.

Of course, the same happened when those interest rate expectations weren’t met.

Now, however, it appears that those rates will be getting a boost sooner, rather than later, as the FOMC seems to be publicly acknowledging its interests in a broad range of matters, including global events and perhaps even stock market events.

With a recently announced share buyback, those shares are now very attractively priced, even after Friday’s nearly 2% gain.

With earnings expected at the end of the month, I would consider the purchase of shares coupled with the sale of some out of the money calls, hoping to capitalize on both capital gains and bigger than usual option premiums. In the event that shares aren’t assigned prior to earnings, I would consider then selling a November 20 call in an effort to bypass earnings risk and perhaps also capture the next dividend.

Finally, I’ve been anxious to once again own eBay (EBAY) and have waited patiently for its price to decline to a more appealing level. While most acknowledge that eBay gave away its growth prospects when it completed the PayPal (PYPL) spin-off, it has actually out-performed the latter since that spin-off, despite being down  nearly 12%.

While eBay isn’t expected to be a very exciting stock performer, it hadn’t been one for years, yet was still a very attractive covered option trading vehicle, as it’s share price was punctuated by large moves, usually earnings related. Those moves gave option buyers a reason to demand and a reason for sellers to acquiesce.

That hasn’t changed and the volatility induced premiums are as healthy as they have been in years. As that volatility rises in the stock and in the overall market, there’s more and more benefit to be gained from selling in the money options both for enhanced premium and for downside protection.

It would be good to welcome eBay back into my portfolio. Even if it won’t keep me warm, I could likely buy someone else’s flea bitten blanket at a great price, using its wonderful services.

 

Traditional Stocks:  eBay, General Motors, MetLife, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (10/5 $0.25), Cisco (10/1 $0.21), EMC Corp (9/29 $0.12)

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.

Weekend Update – June 28, 2015

To call the stock market of this past week “a dog” probably isn’t being fair to dogs.

Most everyone loves dogs, or at least can agree that others may be able to see some positive attributes in the species. It’s hard, however, to have similar equanimity, even begrudgingly so, toward the markets this week.

What started off strongly on Monday and somehow wasn’t completely disavowed the following day, devolved unnecessarily on Wednesday and without any strong reason for doing so.

In fact, it was a week of very little economic news. We were instead focused on societal news that likely made little to no impression on the markets as a whole, although one sector did stand out.

That sector was health care, as the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act was a re-affirmation of a key component of the legislation and delayed any need to come up with an alternative, while still allowing Presidential contenders to criticize it heading into election season.

That’s a win – win.

It also keeps the number of uninsured at their lowest levels ever and puts more money in the pockets of hospitals and insurers, alike.

That’s another win – win.

While those two are usually on the opposite sides of most health care related arguments investors definitely agreed that the Affordable Care Act was and will continue to be additive to their bottom lines.

There is no health care flag, however.

The “Rainbow Flag” got a big thumbs up last week as the Supreme Court re-affirmed the right to dignity and the universal right to have access to divorce courts. The Court’s decision and its impact on businesses and the economy was a topic of speculation that was designed to fill air time and empty columns in the business section, as it came on a quiet day to end the week.

The Confederate Flag, of course, got a big thumbs down, after 150 years of quiet and thoughtful deliberation over its merits and what it represented. The decision by major retailers to stop sales of items with the Confederate flag on them can only mean that their demand wasn’t very significant and those items will probably be sent overseas, just as is done with the tee shirts of the losing Super Bowl team, so we can expect to see lots of photos of strangely attired impoverished third world children in the future.

And that leaves Greece, the EU, the IMF and the World Bank. For those most part, those aren’t part of our societal concerns, but they do concern markets.

Just not too much this past week.

The European Union was very forward thinking in the design of its flag. Rather than being concrete and having the 12 stars represent its member nations, those stars are said to represent characteristics of those member states. In other words Greece could leave the EU and the flag remains unchanged. Although the symbolism of the stars being arranged in a circle to represent “unity” may have to come under some scrutiny.

The growing realization is that would likely not be the same for the EU itself, as an exit by Greece would ultimately be “de minimis.” Either way, we should get some more information this week, as IMF chief Christine Legarde’s June 30th line in the sand regarding Greece’s repayment is quickly approaching.

It may be too late for a proposed “Plan B” for Greece to prevent default, as the European Union is now in its 86th trimester.

Still, despite a week of little news, somehow it was another week of pronounced moves in both directions that ultimately managed to travel very little from home.

New and existing home sales data suggested a strengthening in that important sector and the revised GDP indicated that the first quarter wasn’t as much of a dog as we all had come to believe. But there really wasn’t enough additional corroborating data to make anyone jump to the conclusion that core inflation was now exceeding the same objective that Janet Yellen had just stated weren’t being met.

So any concerns about improving economic news shouldn’t have led anyone to begin expressing their fears of increased interest rates by selling their stocks.

But it did.

Wednesday’s sell-off followed the news that the revised 2015 first quarter GDP was only down by 0.2% and not the previously revised 0.7%.

That makes it seem as if nerves and expectations for a long overdue correction or even a long overdue mini-correction are ruling over common sense and rational thought.

As usual, the week’s poten

tial stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double-Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.

The coming week is a holiday shortened one and will have the Employment Situation Report coming on Thursday, potentially adding to interest rate nervousness if numbers continue to be strong.

After Micron Technology’s (NASDAQ:MU) earnings disappointment last week it may be understandable why a broad brush was used within the technology sector to drive prices considerably lower on Friday. However, it wasn’t Micron Technology that introduced the weakness. The past two weeks haven’t been particularly kind to the sector.

At a time that I’m under-invested in technology and otherwise very reluctant to commit new funds, the sector has a disproportionate share of my attention in competition for whatever little I’m willing to let go.

With Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) having also recently reported disappointing earnings and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) reporting in the next 3 weeks, it may be an interesting period.

While Micron Technology brought up concerns about PC sales, they are more dependent upon those than some others that have found salvation in laptops, tablets and mobile devices.

What was generally missing from Micron’s report, however, was placing the blame for lower revenues on currency exchange, unlike as was just done by Oracle. Micron focused squarely on decreasing product demand and pricing pressure.

That lack of adverse impact from currency exchange is a theme that I’m expecting as the upcoming earnings season begins. Whereas the previous earnings reports provided dour guidance on expectations of USD/Euro parity, the Dollar’s relative weakness in the most recent quarter may provide some upside surprises.

With share prices in Microsoft and Intel having dropped, this may be a good time to add positions in both, as they could both be significant beneficiaries of an improvement in currency exchange, as both await any bump coming from the introduction of Windows 10. I haven’t owned shares of Microsoft for a while and have been looking for a new entry point. At the same time, I do own shares of Intel and have been looking for an opportunity to average down and ultimately leave the position, or at least underwrite some of the paper losses with premiums on contracts written on an additional lot of shares.

While Seagate Technology doesn’t report its earnings until July 15th, following its weakness over the last 7 weeks, I’m considering the sale of puts in the weeks in advance of earnings. Those premiums are elevated and will become even more so during the actual week of earnings. In the event of an adverse price move, there might be a need to rollover the puts to try and avoid or delay assignment. However, at some point in the August 2015 option cycle the shares will be ex-dividend, so a shift in strategy, pivoting to share ownership maybe called for if still short the put options.

While Oracle and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) don’t report earnings for a while, both have upcoming ex-dividend dates that add to their appeal. In the case of Oracle, it’s ex-dividend date is on Monday of the following week, which opens the possibility of ceding the dividend to early assignment in exchange for getting two weeks of premium and the opportunity to recycle proceeds from an assignment into another income producing position.

Also going ex-dividend on the Monday of the following week is The Gap (NYSE:GPS). It is one of my favorite stocks, even though it rarely seems to be doing anything right these days.

Part of its allure is that it continues to provide monthly sales data and the uncertainty with those report releases consistently creates option premium opportunities usually seen only quarterly for most stocks as they prepare to release earnings.

As long as The Gap continues to trade in a range, as it has done for quite some time, there is opportunity by holding shares and serially selling calls, while collecting dividends, as the company attempts to figure out what it wants to be, as it closes stores, yet announces plans to take over the Times Square Toys ‘R Us location, for those NYC tourists that just have to jet a pair of khakis to remember their trip.

Finally, American Express (NYSE:AXP) goes ex-dividend this week. It has been extremely range bound ever since the initial shock of losing its co-branding relationship with Costco (NASDAQ:COST) in 2016.

My wife informed me this morning that after about 30 years of near exclusive use of American Express, she has replaced it with another credit card. While that’s not related to the Costco news, it is something that American Express will likely be experiencing more and more in the coming months. That may, of course, explain the spate of mailings I’ve recently received to entice continuing loyalty.

While that comes at a cost, that’s still tomorrow’s problem and the market has likely discounted the costs of the partnership dissolution, as well as the lost revenues.

I like the price range and I like the option premium and dividend opportunities for as long as they may persist, but my loyalty to shares may only go for a week at a time.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, Microsoft

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (6/30), Cisco (7/1), Oracle (7/6), The Gap (7/6)

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.

Weekend Update – June 7, 2015

 

In statistics, there is a concept of “degrees of freedom.”

It is the number of independent ways by which a dynamic system can move, without violating any constraint imposed upon it.

For example, if you know that you have a dollar in change distributed between your 2 pockets and one of those pockets has $0.75 in it, there aren’t too many possibilities for what the other pocket will contain. That’s an example of a single degree of freedom. However, as soon as you throw a third pocket into the mix there are an additional 25 permutations possible, as a second degree of freedom opens up lots of possibilities.

Poor Janet Yellen. So few possibilities and so many constraints tying her up.

Since US interest rates can’t go much lower, she doesn’t have too much choice in their direction. She has no choice but to raise rates.

Eventually.

Her only freedom is in the timing of action. If you’re married to data, as is now being professed, she has to balance the opinion of a well regarded economist with the latest employment data release and the prospects of upwardly revised GDP statistics.

Her degrees of freedom situation got a little muddled this past week as Christine Lagarde, who is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, urged her to stay in line with the European Central Bank and keep interest rates low. At the same time the Employment Situation Report, released on Friday morning came in with job growth stronger than expected.

As the popular song once asked “should I stay or should I go?” is the kind of decision facing Janet Yellen right now and regardless of her decision, it’s going to be second guessed to death and much more likely to receive blame than credit for whatever near term or longer term outcomes there may be.

Doing nothing may be the safest decision, although this week the US bond market made its feelings known as rates moved in the only direction that makes sense.

That’s because suddenly the data has shifted the discussion back to the potential for the announcement of an interest rate increase as early as June 17th, the date of the next FOMC Statement release. That’s happened within days of the discussion having been about whether that increase would even occur in 2015.

With competing pressures of being out of synchrony with the direction of rates in the rest of the world and the reality of an economy that now may actually be growing at a stronger rate than had been believed, inaction would seem to be the obvious path to take.

Being tied up makes it easier to fail to act, but I’m betting that if any one can break free of the duct tape constraints that seek to bind her, it will be Janet Yellen.

The expression became long ago hackneyed, but while we all await a decision of interest rates, I suspect that Janet Yellen will break out of the box. As Bernanke before her, she will put her own twist on our narrow and limited expectations, leaving Christine Lagarde to realize that being late to the game is not a good reason to heed advice.

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

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) had a really terrible week last week as the news that everyone had come to expect regarding its intentions with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) became confirmed.

The funny part, although not if you’re an Intel shareholder, is that when rumors first surfaced earlier in the year, the initial response was positive for Intel’s share price.

Not so much, though, as rumors became news and suddenly every one started questioning intel’s strategy with the acquisition.

As weak as the overall market was this past week, it was well ahead of Intel, which lost nearly 8%. That drop in price has made the shares once again appealing, as its CEO, Brian Krzanich, shouldn’t strike anyone as being frivolous, particularly as it comes to operations, having previously served as Intel’s COO. I would guess that Krzanich can sense a strategic fit better than most at a company where he has spent nearly 33 years of his life.

With Chuck Robbins set to start soon as the new CEO at Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), more executive level changes were announced this past week, as shares also well under-performed the S&P 500 for the week.

Although nowhere as severe as Intel’s weekly decline, the drop in Cisco’s shares bring them closer to an appealing price once again, as its
ex-dividend data nears in a few weeks.

While shares are still a little higher priced than I might like to initiate a position, its recent weakness hasn’t had very much basis. Robbins’ new team, even though comprised of many Cisco insiders, is likely to hit the ground running with strategic initiatives and will probably be more focused on near term victories, than was outgoing CEO John Chambers.

I think that creates short term opportunities even as Robbins may pull out varied accounting tricks in the waning days of June in order to make the next quarter’s earnings pale in comparison to the subsequent quarter, thereby creating a positive early image of his leadership.

Altria (NYSE:MO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) are both ex-dividend this week and both offer a very attractive dividend. While one seeks to improve people’s lives through better chemistry, the other takes a different path.

Tobacco companies faced some challenges last week as the market didn’t react well to news of a $15 billion Canadian court penalty. Nor did it react well to news that a lawsuit regarding package labeling against the FDA was being dropped. A nearly 6% drop for the week is enough evidence of market displeasure.

Those drops helped to bring shares near some support levels just in time for the dividend and surprisingly good option premiums. While I don’t take any particular delight in the products or in the consequences of their use, there has never been a very good time to bet against their continued ability to withstand challenges.

That ability to withstand challenges is one of the signs of a great company and Merck falls into that category, as well.

Most often, companies like Altria and Merck, that have better than average dividend yields and whose dividend is about the size of a strike price unit or larger, in this case $0.50, are difficult to double dip in an effort to have some of the share price reduction brought about by going ex-dividend get subsidized by the option premium. However, with pharmaceutical companies being in play of late, the option premiums are higher than they have been for quite some time, even during an ex-dividend week.

Merck is rarely a candidate for a double dip dividend trade, but may be so this coming week, having also concluded a very weak past few trading days that highlighted a number of drug study trial results.

Finally, Williams Company (NYSE:WMB) is also ex-dividend this week having fallen sharply following the very positive reception it received after announcing the planned purchase of the remainder of its pipeline business, Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ).

With a nearly 10% decline in the past month since that announcement, as with both Altria and Merck, it offers a better than average dividend yield and a dividend that is greater than its strike price units. However, it too, is now offering an option premium that allows for double dipping that is so often now possible or feasible.

However, as with Altria, the recent decline seems to have been over-exaggerated and rather than selling an in the money call in an attempt to double dip on dividend and premium, I think that i may be inclined to forgo some of that double dipping in exchange for capital gains on the underlying shares by using out of the money options.

Either way, it’s an exercise in greed, but I like having the increased degree of freedom to do so.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Intel

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Altria (6/11), Williams Company (6/10), Merck (6/11)

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.

Weekend Update – May 17, 2015

The nice thing about the stock and bond markets is that anything that happens can be rationalized.

That’s probably a good thing if your job includes the need to make plausible excuses, but unless you work in the finance industry or are an elected official, the chances are that particular set of skills isn’t in high demand.

However, when you hear a master in the art of spin ply his craft, it’s really a thing of beauty and you wonder why neither you nor anyone else seemed to see things so clearly in a prospective manner.

Sometimes rationalization is also referred to as self-deception. It is a defense mechanism and occasionally it becomes part of a personality disorder. Psychoanalysts are divided between a positive view of rationalization as a stepping-stone on the way to maturity and a more destructive view of it as divorcing feeling from thought and undermining powers of reason.

In other words, sometimes rationalization itself is good news and sometimes it’s bad news.

But when it comes to stock and bond markets any interpretation of events is acceptable as long as great efforts are taken to not overtly make anyone look like an idiot for either having made a decision to act or having made a decision to be passive.

That doesn’t preclude those on the receiving end of market rationalizations to wonder how they could have been so stupid as to have missed such an obvious connection and telegraphed market reaction.

That’s strange, because when coming to real life personal and professional events, being on the receiving end of rationalization can be fairly annoying. However, for some reason in the investing world it is entirely welcomed and embraced.

In hindsight, anything and everything that we’ve observed can be explained, although ironically, rationalization sometimes removes rational thought from the process.

The real challenge, or so it seems, in the market, is knowing when to believe that good news is good and when it is bad, just like you need to know what the real meaning of bad news is going to be.

Of course different constituencies may also interpret the very same bits of data very differently, as was the case this past week as bond and stock markets collided, as they so often do in competition for investor’s confidence.

We often find ourselves in a position when we wonder just how news will be received. Will it be received on its face value or will markets respond paradoxically?

This week any wonder came to an end as it became clear that we were back to a world of rationalizing bad news as actually being something good for us.

In this case it was all about how markets viewed the flow of earnings reports coming from national retailers and official government Retail Sales statistics.

In a nutshell, the news wasn’t good, but that was good for markets. At least it was good for stock markets. Bond markets are another story and that’s where there may be lots of need for some quick rationalizations, but perhaps not of the healthy variety.

In the case of stock markets the rationalization was that disappointing retail sales and diminished guidance painted a picture of decreased inflationary pressures. In turn, that would make it more difficult for an avowed data driven Federal Reserve to increase interest rates in response. So bad news was interpreted as good news.

If you owned stocks that’s a rationalization that seems perfectly healthy, at least until that point that the same process no longer seems to be applicable.

As the S&P 500 closed at another all time high to end the week this might be a good time to prepare thoughts about whether what happens next is because we hit resistance or whether it was because of technical support levels.

^TNX Chart

On the other hand, if you were among those thought to be a member of the smartest trading class, the bond traders, you do have to find a way to explain how in the face of no evidence you sent rates sharply higher twice over the past 2 weeks. Yet then presided over rates ending up exactly where they started after the ride came to its end.

The nice thing about that, though, is that the bond traders could just dust off the same rationalization they used for surging rates in mid-March 2015.

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

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has had a big two past weeks, not necessarily reflected in its share price, but in the news it delivered. The impending departure of John Chambers as CEO and the announcement of his successor, along with reporting earnings did nothing to move the stock despite better than expected revenues and profits. In fact, unlike so many others that reported adverse currency impacts, Cisco, which does approximately 40% of its revenues overseas was a comparative shining star in reporting its results.

However, unlike so many others that essentially received a free pass on currency issues, because it was expected and who further received a free pass on providing lowered guidance, Cisco’s lowered guidance was thought to muzzle shares.

However, as the expected Euro – USD parity is somehow failing to materialize, Cisco may be in a good position to over-deliver on its lowered expectations. In return for making that commitment to its shares with the chance of a longer term price move higher, Cisco offers a reasonable option premium and an attractive dividend.

Both reporting earnings this week, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ), have fortunes that are, to a small degree, related to one another.

In two weeks I will try to position myself next to the husband of the Hewlett Packard CEO at an alumni reunion group photo. By then it will be too late to get any earnings insights, not that it would be on my agenda, since I’m much more interested in the photo.

No one really knows how the market will finally react to the upcoming split of the company, which coincidentally will also be occurring this year at the previous employer of the Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman.

The options market isn’t anticipating a modest reaction to Hewlett Packard’s earnings, with an implied move of 5.2%. However, the option premiums for put sales outside the lower boundary of that range aren’t very appealing from a risk – reward perspective.

However, if the lower end of that boundary is breached after earnings are released and approach the 52 week lows, I would consider either buying shares or selling puts. If selling puts, however and faced with the prospects of rolling them over, I would be mindful of an upcoming ex-dividend event and would likely want to take ownership of shares in advance of that date.

I currently own shares of Best Buy and was hopeful that they would have been assigned last week so as to avoid them being faced with the potential challenge of earnings. Instead, I rolled those shares over to the June 2015 expiration, possibly putting it in line for a dividend and allowing some recovery time in the event of an earnings related price decline.

However, with an implied move of 6.6% and a history of some very large earnings moves in the past, the option premiums at and beyond the lower boundary of the range are somewhat more appealing than is the case with Hewlett Packard.

As with Hewlett Packard, however, I would consider waiting until after earnings and then consider the sale of puts in the event of a downward move. Additionally, because of an upcoming ex-dividend date in June, I would consider taking ownership of shares if puts are at risk of being exercised.

It’s pretty easy to rationalize why MetLife (NYSE:MET) is such an attractive stock based on where interest rates are expected to be going.

The only issue, as we’ve seen on more than one recent occasion is that there may be some disagreement over the timing of those interest rate hikes. Since MetLife responds to those interest rate movements, as you might expect from a company that may be added to the list of “systemically important financial institutions,” there can be some downside if bonds begin trading more in line with prevailing economic softness.

In the interim, while awaiting the inevitable, MetLife does offer a reasonable option premium, particularly as it has traded range-bound for the past 3 months.

A number of years ago the controlling family of Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) thought it had a perfectly rationalized explanation for why public shareholders would embrace the idea of taking the company private.

The shareholding public didn’t agree, but Cablevision hasn’t sulked or let the world pass it by as the world of cable providers is in constant flux. Although a relatively small company it seems to get embroiled in its share of controversy, always keeping the company name in the headlines.

With a shareholder meeting later this month and shares going ex-dividend this week, the monthly option, which is all that is offered, is very attractive, particularly since there is little of controversy expected at the upcoming shareholder meeting.

Also going ex-dividend this week, and also with strong historical family ties, is Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). What appeals to me about shares right now, in addition to the dividend, is that while they have been trailing the S&P 500 and the Health Care SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLV) since early 2009, those very same shares tend to fare very well by comparison during periods of overall market weakness.

In the process of waiting for that weakness the dividend and option premium can make the wait more tolerable and even close the performance gap if the market decides that 2022 on the S&P 500 is only a way station toward something higher.

Finally, there are probably lots of ways one can rationalize the share price of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM). Profits, though, may not be high on that list.

salesforce.com has certainly been the focus of lots of speculation lately regarding a sale of the company. However, of the two suitors, I find it inconceivable that one of them would invite the CEO, Marc Benioff back into a company that already has a power sharing situation at the CEO level and still has Larry Ellison serving as Chairman.

I share price was significantly buoyed by the start of those rumors a few weeks ago and provide a high enough level that any disappointment from earnings, even on the order of those seen with Linkedin (NYSE:LNKD), Yelp (NYSE:YELP) and others would return shares to levels last seen just prior to the previous earnings report.

The options market is implying a 7.3% earnings related move next week. After a recent 8% climb as rumors were swirling, there is plenty of room for some or even all of that to be given back, so as with both Best Buy and Hewlett Packard, I wouldn’t be overly aggressive in this trade prior to earnings, but would be very interested in joining in if sellers take charge on an earnings disappointment. However, since there is no dividend in the picture, if having sold puts and subject to possible exercise, I would likely attempt to rollover the puts rather than take assignment.

But either way, I can rationalize the outcome.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (5/20), Johnson and Johnson (5/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (5/21 AM), Hewlett Packard (5/21 PM), salesforce.com (5/20 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 – March 29, 2015

Fresh off of his estate’s victory in a copyright infringement suit, Marvin Gaye comes to my mind this week as I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

With the Passover holiday approaching this week, I’m also reminded that much of the basis of re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt is in response to the questions asked by children.

Among the classes of children traditionally described are the wise child, the evil child, the simple one and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask a question.

When it comes to trying to understand the past week I’m feeling a bit more like one of the latter two of those categories, although I still retain the option of holding onto my evil persona.

The week started with the Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, who coincidentally had been the Governor of the Bank of Israel many years after the exodus, getting some laughs with jokes that maybe only economists would appreciate. However, to his credit he was able to tone down his hawkish sentiments while still staying true to his tenets, but without frightening markets. That was nice to see, as it was his comments just 2 days after Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony that brought an end to the February rally and, perhaps coincidentally, set us on the path for March.

That hasn’t been a very good path for most investors and with only 2 days of trading remaining in the quarter has it threatening to be the first losing quarter in quite a while as we learned that the most recent quarterly corporate profits over the same time period fell for the first time since 2008.

Yet that news didn’t seem to bother markets this morning as they had a rare session ending with a higher close.

With Stanley Fischer putting everyone into a good mood from a dose of Federal Reserve humor all went pretty well to start the week, with Monday looking like it would mark the first time of having two consecutive days higher in over a month. That was the case until the final 15 minutes of trading and then the market just continued in that downward path throughout most of the rest of the week.

But why? Someone, somewhere had to be asking the obvious question that 3 out of 4 categories of children are capable of asking.

What’s going on?

Friday’s GDP data for the 4th Quarter of 2014 showed no change with the economy growing at an annual 2.2% rate. That’s considerably less than projections based upon lower energy prices fueling a resurgence of consumer activity in the coming year, even recognizing that those perceived benefits were theoretically in only their very nascent stages in late 2014.

While the GDP data is certainly backward looking there’s been nothing happening to support that consumer led growth that we’ve all believed was coming.

Corporate profits are falling, retail sales are flat and home sales aren’t exactly setting the economy on fire, all as energy prices are well off their earlier eye popping lows.

So you might think that would all add an arrow to the quiver of interest rate doves, but the market hasn’t been embracing the idea of continuing low interest rates as much as it’s been fearing the prospects of increasing interest rates.

But this week had nothing to fear. Even the most influential of the hawks seemed and sounded accommodating, but the market wasn’t buying it.

This past week, like recent weeks, has made little sense no matter how much you try to explain it. Just like it’s hard to explain how the defendant’s weren’t aware of the existence of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” or that somehow pestilence, boils and locusts rained down upon the Pharoahs.

No matter how you look at it reason is not reigning.

Even a child who doesn’t know how to ask knows when something is going on.

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

I purchased some American Express (NYSE:AXP) shares a few weeks ago shortly after the news of their loss of Costco (NASDAQ:COST) as a co-branding partner. Coincidentally that decision came at the same time as both my wife and I had individual issues with American Express customer service.

With a combined history of more than 65 years of using American Express as our primary personal and business cards, we’ve done so largely for their customer service. My wife, after speaking to almost 15 representatives is ready to give her card the boot and she reminded me that she’s had that card longer than she’s had me, so I should be on notice.

Coming as no surprise, American Express just announced workforce cutbacks that will only serve to weaken what really distinguished them from the rest, but that may be what it takes to start making shares look attractive again as the company substitutes cost savings for revenues.

Fortunately, my shares from a few weeks ago were quickly assigned and now it looks as if another opportunity may be at hand as it has re-traced its bounce from the sizable drop it took when the Costco news was made known. It’s upcoming ex-dividend date this week adds to the attraction as the company is wasting no time in taking steps to offset what are now expected to be significant revenue losses beginning in 2016.

Who knew to ever ask just how important Costco was to American Express?

I purchased shares of Dow Chemical last week in order to capture the dividend. What I wasn’t expecting was the announcement coming Friday morning of their plans to merge a portion of the company with Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN) while becoming a majority owner of Olin.

Fortunately that announcement waited until Friday morning so that I was able to retain the dividend. Had it come after Thursday’s close and based on the initial price reaction, those shares would have been assigned early.

While Dow Chemical has been somewhat phlegmatic lately as it tracks energy prices, the sale to Olin appears to be responsive to activist Dan Loeb’s desire to shed low margin businesses. This deal looks to be a great one for Dow Chemical and may also demonstrate that it is serious about improving margins.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) reported earnings this past Friday and recovered significantly from its preliminary decline. I was amazed that it did so after watching what appeared to be a very wooden and canned performance by its CFO during an interview before trading began that didn’t seem very convincing. However, shortly after trading did begin shares climbed significantly.

I like considering adding shares of GameStop after a decline, as there is a long history of people predicting its coming demise and offering very rational and compelling reasons of why they are correct, only to see shares have a mind of their own.

I had shares assigned just a week earlier and was happy to see that assignment come right after its ex-dividend date but before earnings. Now at a lower price it looks tempting again, although I would probably hold out for a little bit more of a decline, perhaps approaching Friday morning’s opening lows.

While GameStop has a reasonably low beta you wouldn’t know it if you owned shares, but fortunately the options market knows it and typically offers premiums that reflect the sudden moves shares are very capable of taking.

Up until about 30 minutes before Friday’s close it hadn’t been a very good week to be in the semiconductor business. That may have changed, at least for a moment or two, as it was announced that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was in talks to purchase Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR).

Among those stocks benefiting from that late news was Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU), which has fallen even more than Intel in 2015.

Micron Technology reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large earnings related moves. The options market, however is implying only a 5.5% price move next week. While I normally look for a strike level that’s outside of the range defined by the implied move that offers at least a 1% ROI for the week, this coming week is a bit odd.

That’s because Micron Technology reports earnings after the market’s close on Thursday, yet the market will be closed for trading on Good Friday.

For that reason I would consider looking at the possibility of selling puts for the following week, but would like to see shares give up some of the gains made in response to the Intel news.

While Intel’s late news helped to rescue it from having sunk below $30 for the first time in 9 months, it did nothing for Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) nor Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). They, along with Intel had been significantly under-performing the S&P 500 this week and for the year to date.

Both Cisco and Oracle are ex-dividend this week and following their drops this past week both are beginning to have appeal once again.

With a holiday shortened week and also going ex-dividend the expectation is that option premiums would be noticeably lower, However, both Cisco and Oracle are offering a compelling combination of option premiums and dividends along with some chance of recovering some of their recent losses.

The real challenge for each may be related to currency exchange and how it will impact earnings. However, barring early earnings warnings, Cisco won’t report earnings for another 7 weeks and Oracle not for another 12 weeks, so hopefully that would allow plenty of time to extricate from a position before the added risk of earnings comes into play.

Finally, I came close to buying shares of SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) just a couple of days ago, looking to replace shares that were assigned just 2 weeks earlier.

It’s not often that you see a company give earnings warnings twice within the space of about 2 months, but SanDisk now has that distinction and has plunged on both of those occasions.

What SanDisk may have discovered is what so many others have, in that being an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) supplier may be very much a mixed blessing or curse, depending on your perspective at the moment.

While its revenues are certainly being squeezed I’m reminded of a period about 10 years ago when SanDisk was essentially written off by just about everyone as flash memory was becoming to be considered as nothing more than a commodity.

In that time anyone with a little daring would have done very well in that time period with shares nearly doubling the S&P 500 performance.

With a nearly 25% drop over the past few days, even as a commodity or a revenue stressed company, SanDisk may have some opportunity as it approaches its 18 month lows.

As with many other stocks that have taken large falls, I would consider entering a new position through the sale of put options and if faced with the possibility of assignment would try to roll the position over to a forward week in an attempt to delay or preclude assignment while still collecting a premium.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: American Express (3/31), Cisco (3/31), Oracle (4/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Micron Technology (4/2 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 – February 16, 2014

Is our normal state of dysfunction now on vacation?

Barely seven trading days earlier many believed that we were finally on the precipice of the correction that had long eluded the markets.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify what causes sudden directional changes, much less understand the nature of what caused the change. That doesn’t stop anyone from offering their proprietary insight into that which may sometimes be unknowable.

Certainly there will be technicians who will be able to draw lines and when squinting really hard be able to see some kind of common object-like appearing image that foretold it all. Sadly, I’ve never been very adept at seeing those images, but then again, I even have a hard time identifying “The Big Dipper.”

Others may point to an equally obscure “Principle” that hasn’t had the luxury of being validated because of its rare occurrences that make it impossible to distinguish from the realm of “coincidence.”

For those paying attention it’s somewhat laughable thinking how with almost alternating breaths over the past two weeks we’ve gone from those warning that if the 10 year Treasury yield got up to 3% the market would react very negatively, to warnings that if the yield got below 2.6% the markets would be adverse. There may also be some logical corollaries to those views that are equally not borne out in reality.

Trying to explain what may be irrational markets, which are by and large derivatives of the irrational behaviors found in those comprising the markets, using a rational approach is itself somewhat irrational.

Crediting or blaming trading algorithms has to recognize that even they have to begin with the human component and will reflect certain biases and value propositions.

But the question has to remain what caused the sudden shifting of energy from its destruction to its creation? Further, what sustained that shift to the point that the “correction” had itself been corrected? As someone who buys stocks on the basis of price patterns there may be something to the observation that all previous attempts at a correction in the past 18 months have been halted before the 10% threshold and quickly reversed, just as this most recent attempt.

That may be enough and I suppose that a chart could tell that story.

But forget about those that are suggesting that the market is responding to better than expected earnings and seeking a rational basis in fundamentals. Everyone knows or should know that those earnings are significantly buoyed by share buybacks. There’s no better way to grow EPS than to shrink the share base. Unfortunately, that’s not a strategy that builds for the future nor lends itself to continuing favorable comparisons.

I think that the most recent advance can be broken into two component parts. The first, which occurred in the final two days of the previous trading week which had begun with a 325 point gain was simply what some would have called “a dead cat bounce.” Some combination of tiring from all of the selling and maybe envisioning some bargains.

But then something tangible happened the next week that we haven’t seen for a while. It was a combination of civility and cooperation. The political dysfunction that had characterized much of the past decade seemed to take a break last week and the markets noticed. They even responded in a completely normal way.

Early in the week came rumors that the House of Representatives would actually present a “clean bill” to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. No fighting, no threats to shut down the government and most importantly the decision to ignore the “Hastert Rule” and allow the vote to take place.

The Hastert Rule was a big player in the introduction of dysfunction into the legislative process. Even if a majority could be attained to pass a vote, the bill would not be brought to a vote unless a majority of the majority party was in favor the bill. Good luck trying to get that to occur in the case of proposing no “quid pro quo” in the proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The very idea of some form of cooperation by both sides for the common good has been so infrequent as to appear unique in our history. Although the common good may actually have taken a back seat to the need to prevent looking really bad again, whatever the root cause for a cessation to a particular form of dysfunction was welcome news.

While that was being ruminated, Janet Yellen began her first appearance as Federal Reserve Chairman, as mandated by the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill.

Despite the length of the hearings which would have even tired out Bruce Springsteen, they were entirely civil, respectful and diminished in the use of political dogma and talking points. There may have even been some fleeting moments of constructive dialogue.

Normal people do that sort of thing.

But beyond that the market reacted in a straightforward way to Janet Yellen’s appearance and message that the previous path would be the current path. People, when functioning in a normal fashion consider good news to be good news. They don’t play speculative games trying to take what is clear on the surface to its third or fourth derivative.

Unfortunately, for those who like volatility, as I do, because it enhances option premiums, the lack of dysfunction and the more rational approach to markets should diminish the occurrence of large moves in opposite directions to one another. In the real world realities don’t shift that suddenly and on such a regular basis, however, the moods that have moved the markets have shifted furiously as one theory gets displaced by the next.

How long can dysfunction stay on vacation? Human nature being what it is, unpredictable and incapable of fully understanding reality, is why so many in need stop taking their medications, particularly for chronic disorders. I suspect it won’t be long for dysfunction to re-visit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

Speaking of dysfunction, that pretty well summarizes the potash cartel. Along with other, one of my longtime favorite stocks, Mosaic (MOS) has had a rough time of things lately. In what may be one of the great blunders and miscalculations of all time, there is now some speculation that the cartel may resume cooperation, now that the CEO of the renegade breakaway has gone from house arrest in Belarus to extradition to Russia and as none of the members of the cartel have seen their fortunes rise as they have gone their separate ways.

In the interim Mosaic has traded in a very nice range after recovering from the initial shock. While I still own more expensively priced shares their burden has been somewhat eased by repetitive purchases of Mosaic and the sale of call contracts. Following an encouraging earnings report shares approached their near term peak. I would be anxious to add shares on even a small pullback, such as nearing $47.50.

^TNX ChartOne position that I’ve enjoyed sporadically owning has been MetLife (MET) which reported earnings last week. As long as interest rates are part of anyone’s equation for predicting where markets or stocks will go next, MetLife is one of those stocks that received a bump higher as interest rates started climbing concurrent with the announcement of the Federal Reserve;’s decision to initiate a taper to Quantitative Easing.

Cisco (CSCO), to hear the critics tell the story is a company with a troubled future and few prospects under the continued leadership of John Chambers. For those with some memory, you may recall that Chambers has been this route before and has been alternatively glorified, pilloried and glorified again. Currently, he has been a runner-up in the annual contest to identify the worst CEO of the year.

Personally, I have no opinion, but I do like the mediocrity in which shares have been mired. It’s that kind of mediocrity that creates a stream of option premiums and, in the case of Cisco, dividends, as well. With the string of disappointments continued at last week’s earnings report, Cisco did announce another dividend increase while it recovered from much of the drop that it sustained at first.

I’m never quite certain why I like Whole Foods (WFM). What this winter season has shown is that many people are content to stay at home any eat whatever gluten they can find rather than brave the elements and visit a local store for the healthier things in life. I think Whole Foods is now simply making the transition from growth stock to boring stock. If that is the case I expect to be owning it more often as with boring comes that price predictability that appeals to me so much.

This week’s potential dividend trades are a disparate group if you ignore that they have all under-performed the S&P 500 since its peak.

General Electric (GE) is just one of those perfect examples of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and perhaps not being in the right place at the right time. Much of General Electric’s woes when the market was crumbling in 2008 was its financial services group. Since the market bottom its shares have outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 50%, as GE has taken steps to reduce its financial services portfolio. Unfortunately that means that it won’t be in a position to benefit from any rising interest rate environment as can reasonably be expected to be in our future.

Still, coming off its recent price decline and offering a strong dividend this week its shares look inviting, even if only for a short term holding.

L Brands (LB) along with most of the rest of the retail sector hasn’t been reflective of a strong consumer economy. Having recovered about 50% of its recent fall and going ex-dividend this coming week I’m ready to watch it recover some more lost ground as its specialty retailing has appeared to have greater resilience than department store competitors. 

Transocean (RIG) still hasn’t recovered from its recent ratings cut from “sector outperform” to “sector perform.” I’ve never understood the logic of that kind of  assessment, particularly if the sector may still be in a position to outperform the broad market. However, equally hard to understand is the reaction, especially when the entire sector goes down in unison in response. Subsequently Transocean also received an outright “sell” recommendation and has been mired near its two year lows.

With a very healthy ex-dividend date this week I may have renewed interest in adding shares. While he has been quiet of late, at its latest disclosure, Icahn Enterprises (IEP) owned approximately 6% of Transocean and to some degree serves as a floor to share price, as does the dividend which is scheduled to increase to $3 annually.

However, as with L Brands, which also reports earnings on February 26, 2104, I would also consider an exit or rollover strategy for those that may want to mitigate earnings related risk that will present itself. Such strategies may include closing out the position below the purchase price or rolling over to a March 2014 option in order to have some additional time to ride out any storms.

There’s really not much reason to take sides in the validity of claims regarding the nature of Herbalife (HLF). It has certainly made for amusing theater, as long as you either stayed on the sidelines or selected the right side. With the recent suggestion that some on the long side of the equation have been selling shares this week’s upcoming earnings release may offer some opportunity, as shares have already fallen nearly 16%.

While the option market is only implying a 7.2% move in share price, the sale of a put can return a weekly 1% ROI even at a strike price 13.7% below the current price. That is about the largest cushion I recall seeing and does look appealing for those that may have an inclination to take on risk. I’m a little surprised of how low the implied price movement appears to be, however, the surprise is answered when seeing how unresponsive shares have been the past year upon earnings news.

Also reporting earnings this week is Groupon (GRPN), a stock that has taken on some credibility since replacing its one time CEO, who never enjoyed the same cycle of adulation and disdain as did John Chambers. While the “Daily Deal” space is no longer one that gets much attention, Groupon has demonstrated that all of the cautionary views warning of how few barriers to entry existed, were vacuous. Where there were few barriers were to exit the space. 

In the meantime the options market is predicting a 13.9% move related to earnings, while a weekly 1.3% ROI could possibly be achieved with a price movement of less than 19%. While that kind of downward move is possible, there is some very strong support above there.

Finally, there is the frustration of owning AIG (AIG) at the moment. The frustration comes from watching for the second successive earnings report shares climb smartly higher in the after-hours and then completely reverse direction the following day. I continue to believe that its CEO, Robert Benmosche is something of a hero for the manner in which he has restored AIG and created an historical reference point in the event anyone ever questions some future day bailout of a systemically vital company.

None of that hero worship matters as far as any proposed purchased this coming week. However, shares may be well priced and in a sector that’s ready for some renewed interest.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum Stocks: Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (ex-div 2/20), L Brands (ex-div 2/19), Transocean (ex-div 2/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Groupon (12/20 PM) , Herbalife (2/18 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.