Weekend Update – July 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/14 PM)

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

Weekend Update – July 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that much is clear.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 PM)

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

Weekend Update – May 3, 2015

For all the talk about how April was one of the best months of the year, that ship sailed on April 30th when the DJIA lost 192 points, to finish the month just 0.2% higher.

It will take complete Magellan-like circumnavigation to have that opportunity once again and who knows how much the world will have changed by then?

Higher Interest rates, a disintegrating EU, renewed political stalemate heading into a Presidential election, rising oil prices and expanding world conflict are just some of the destinations that may await, once having set sail.

Not quite the Western Caribbean venue I had signed up for.

With the market getting increasingly difficult to understand or predict, I’m not even certain that there will be an April in 2016, but I can’t figure out how to hedge against that possibility.

But then again, for all the talk about “Sell in May and go away,” the DJIA recovered all but 9 of those points to begin the new month. With only a single trading day in the month, if there are more gains ahead, that ship certainly hasn’t sailed yet, but getting on board may be a little more precarious when within just 0.4% of an all time closing high on the S&P 500.

The potential lesson is that for every ship that sails a new berth is created.

What really may have sailed is the coming of any consumer led expansion that was supposed to lead the economy into its next phase of growth. With the release of this month’s GDP figures, the disappointment continued as the expected dividend from lower energy prices hasn’t yet materialized, many months after optimistic projections.

How so many esteemed and knowledgeable experts could have been universally wrong, at least in the time frame, thus far, as fascinating. Government economists, private sector economists, CEOs of retail giants and talking heads near and far, all have gotten it wrong. The anticipated expansion of the economy that was going to lead to higher interest rates just hasn’t fulfilled the logical conclusions that were etched in stone.

Interestingly, just as it seems to be coming clear that there isn’t much reason for the FOMC to begin a rise in interest rates, the 10 Year Treasury Note’s interest rate climbed by 5%. It did so as the FOMC removed all reference from a ticking clock to determine when those hikes would begin, in favor of data alone.

I don’t know what those bond traders are thinking. Perhaps they are just getting well ahead of the curve, but as this earnings season has progressed there isn’t too much reason to see any near term impetus for anything other than risk. No one can see over the horizon, but if you’re sailing it helps to know what may be ahead.

What started out as an earnings season that was understanding of the currency related constraints facing companies and even gave a pass on pessimistic guidance, has turned into a brutally punishin

g market for companies that don’t have the free pass of currency.

All you have to do is look at the reactions to LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Yelp (NYSE:YELP) this week, as they all reported earnings. Some of those would have gladly seen their stocks tumble by only 20% instead of the deep abyss that awaited.

Before anyone comes to the conclusion that the ship has sailed on those and similar names, I have 4 words for you: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now simply known as Keurig Green Mountain (NASDAQ:GMCR).

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) reported earnings last week and in 2015, up until that point, had quietly diverged from the S&P 500 in a positive way, if you had owned shares. As the luster of some of its competitors was beginning to fade and in the process of implementing a new global strategy, it appeared that Coach was ready to finally recover from a devastating earnings plunge a year ago.

It was at that time that everyone had firmly shifted their favor to competitor Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) and had started writing Coach off, as another example of a company sailing off into oblivion as it grew out of touch with its consumers.

Who knew at that time that Kors itself would so quickly run out of steam? At least the COach ride had been a sustained one and was beginning to show some signs of renewed life.

I’ve owned shares of Coach many times over the years and have frequently purchased shares after earnings or sold puts before or after earnings, always in the expectation that any earnings plunge would be short lived. That used to be true, but not for that last decline and I am still suffering with a lot that I optimistically sold $50 August 2015 calls upon, the day before earnings were released.

Unlike many stocks that have suffered declines and that then prompts me to add more shares, I haven’t done so with Coach, but am ready to do so now as shares are back to where they started the year.

With a dividend payout that appears to be safe, an acceptable option premium and the prospects of shares re-testing its recently higher levels, this seems like an opportune time to again establish a position, although I might consider doing so through the sale of puts. If taking that route and faced with an assignment, I would attempt to rollover the puts until that time in early June 2015 when shares are expected to go ex-dividend, at which point I would prefer to be long shares.

As far as fashion and popularity go, Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) may have seen its ship sail and so far, any attempt to right the ship by changing leadership hasn’t played out, so clearly there’s more at play.

What has happened, though, is that shares are no longer on a downward only incline, threatening to fall off the edge. It’s already fallen off, on more than one occasion, but like Coach, this most recent recovery has been much slower than those in the past.

But it’s in that period of quiescence for a stock that has a history of volatility that a covered option strategy, especially short term oriented, may be best suited.

Just 2 weeks ago I created a covered call position on new shares and saw them assigned that same week. They were volatile within a very narrow range that week, just as they were last week. That volatility creates great option premiums, even when the net change in share price is small.

With earnings still 3 weeks away, as is the dividend, the Abercrombie and Fitch trade may also potentially be considered as a put sale, and as with Coach, might consider share ownership if faced with the prospect of assignment approaching that ex-dividend date.

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), at least if you listen to its always opinionated CEO, John Legere, definitely has the wind blowing at its back. Some of that wind may be coming from Legere himself. There isn’t too much doubt that the bigger players in the cellphone industry are beginning to respond to some of T-Mobile’s innovations and will increasingly feel the squeeze on margins.

So far, though, that hasn’t been the case. as quarterly revenues for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) are at or near all time highs, as are profits. T-Mobile, on the other hand, while seeing some growth in revenues on a much smaller denominator, isn’t consistently seeing profits.

The end game for T-Mobile can’t be predicated on an endless supply of wind, no matter how much John Legere talks or Tweets. The end game has to include being acquired by someone that has more wind in their pockets.

But in the meantime, there is still an appealing option premium and the chance of price appreciation while waiting for T-Mobile to find a place to dock.

Keurig Green Mountain was the topic of the second article I everpublished on Seeking Alpha 3 years ago this week. It seems only fitting to re-visit it as it gets to report earnings. Whenever it does, it causes me to remember the night that I appeared on Matt Miller’s one time show, Bloomberg Rewind, having earlier learned that Green Mountain shares plunged about 30% on earnings.

Given the heights at which the old Green Mountain Coffee Roasters once traded, you would have been justified in believing that on that November 2011 night, the ship had sailed on Green Mountain Coffee and it was going to be left in the heap of other momentum stocks that had run into potential accounting irregularities.

But Green Mountain had a second act and surpassed even those lofty highs, with a little help from a new CEO with great ties to a deep pocketed company that was in need of diversifying its own beverage portfolio.

Always an exciting earnings related trade, the options market is implying a 10.2% price move upon earnings. In a week that saw 20% moves in Yelp, LinkedIn and Twitter, 10% seems like child’s play.

My threshold objective of receiving a 1% ROI on the sale of a put option on a stock that is about to report earnings appears to be achievable even if shares fall by as much as 12.1%.

It will likely be a long time before anyone believes that the ship has sailed on Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), but there was no shortage of comments about how the wind had been taken out of Intel’s sales as it missed the mobile explosion.

As far as Intel’s performance goes, it looks as if that ship sailed at the end of 2014, but with recent rumors of a hook-up with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) and the upcoming expiration of a standstill agreement, Intel is again picking up some momentum, as the market initially seemed pleased at the prospects of the union, which now may go the hostile route.

In the meantime, with that agreement expiring in 4 weeks, Intel is ex-dividend this week. The anticipation of events to come may explain why the premium on the weekly options are relatively high during a week that shares go ex-dividend.

Finally, perhaps one of the best examples of a company whose ship had sailed and was left to sink as a withered company was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Funny how a single product can turn it all around.

it was an odd week for Apple , though. Despite a nearly $4 gain to close the week, it finished the week virtually unchanged from where it started, even though it reported earnings after Monday’s close.

While it’s always possible to put a negative spin on the various components of the Apple sales story, and that’s done quarter after quarter, they continue to amaze, as they beat analyst’s consensus for the 10th consecutive quarter. While others may moan about currency exchange, Apple is just too occupied with execution.

Still, despite beating expectations yet again, after a quick opening pop on Tuesday morning shares finished the week $4 below that peak level when the week came to its end.

None of that is odd, though, unless you’ve grown accustomed to Apple moving higher after earnings are released. What was really odd was that the news about Apple as the week progressed was mostly negative as it focused on its latest product, the Apple Watch.

Reports of a tepid reception to the product; jokes like “how do you recognize the nerd in the crowd;” reports of tattoos interfering with the full functioning of the product; criticizing the sales strategy; and complaints about how complicated the Apple Watch was to use, all seemed so un-Apple-like.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and in the very short history of Apple having paid a dividend, the shares are very likely to move higher during the immediate period following the dividend distribution.

With the announcement this past week of an additional $50 billion being allocated to stock buybacks over the next 23 months, the ship may not sail on Apple shares for quite some time.

Traditional Stocks: Coach

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (5/5), Apple (5/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Keurig Green Mountain (5/6 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 – April 12, 2015

This was one of those rare weeks where there wasn’t really any kind of theme to guide or move markets.

The week started with some nervousness about where the opening would take us after the previous Friday’s very disappointing Employment Situation Report statistics. On that day some were obliged to even suggest that it was a conspiracy that the report was released on Good Friday, as the markets were conveniently closed for what was supposedly known in advance to be a report that would have otherwise sent markets tumbling.

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

That was as rational an outlook as was the response of the futures and bond markets trading, as they remained opened for holiday abbreviated sessions. Futures did go tumbling and interest rates plunged, leaving a gap for markets to deal with 3 days later.

But by then, after the mandatory initial response to those S&P 500 levels as the market opened, rational thought returned and the market had a very impressive turnaround beginning within minutes of the open.

Some brave souls may have remembered the market’s out-sized response to the previous month’s extraordinarily strong Employment Situation Report data that took the market down for the month to follow, only to see revisions to the data a month later. The 3 days off may have given them enough presence of mind to wonder whether the same outlandish response was really justified again.

One thing that the initial futures response did show us is that the market may be poised to be at risk regardless of what news is coming our way. One month the market views too many jobs as being extremely negative and the next month it views too few jobs as being just as negative.

Somewhere right in the middle may be the real sweet spot that represents the “No News is Good News” sentiment that may be the only safe place to be.

That is the true essence of a Goldilocks stock market, no matter what the accepted definition may be. It is a market where only the mediocre may be without risk. However, the question of whether mediocrity will be enough to continue to propel markets to new heights is usually easily answered.

It isn’t.

After a while warm porridge loses its appeal and something is needed to spice things up to keep Goldilocks returning. U.S. traded stocks have plenty of asset class competition in the event that they become mediocre or unpredictable.

The coming week may be just the thing to make or break the current malaise, that despite having the S&P 500 within about 0.7% of its all time high from just a month ago, is only 2.1% higher for 2015.

Granted that on an annualized basis that would bill respectable, but if the 2015 pattern of alternating monthly advances and declines continues we would end the year far from that annualized rate.

The catalyst could be this new earnings season which begins in earnest next week as the big banks report and then in the weeks to follow. Where the catalyst may arise is from our lowered expectations encountering a better reality than anticipated, as we’ve come to be prepared for some degree of lowered earnings due to currency considerations.

The real wild card will be the balance between currency losses and lower input costs from declining energy prices, as well as the impact, if any from currency hedges that may have been created. Much like the hedging of oil that some airlines were able to successfully implement before it became apparent how prescient that strategy would be, there may be some real currency winners, at least in relative terms.

I actually don’t really remember how the story of Goldilocks ended, but I think there were lots of variations to the story,depending on whether parents wanted to soothe or scare.

The real lesson is that you have to be prepared for either possibility.

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

WIth General Electric (NYSE:GE) getting most everyone’s attention this past Friday morning with plans to divest itself of most of its non-industrial assets, that may leave us with one fewer “systemically important” financial institution.

Too bad, for MetLife (NYSE:MET), which might find it would be less miserable with that proposed assignment if it had more company. It’s easy to understand why financial institutions would want to rid themselves of the yoke they perceive, however, it may be difficult to imagine how MetLife’s desire to avoid that designation can become reality. That is unless the battle goes a very long distance, which in turn could jeopardize a good deal of whatever confidence exists over the restraints that are intended to prevent another financial meltdown.

I believe that the eventuality of those restraints and capital requirements impacting MetLife’s assets is already factored into its share price. If so, MetLife is simply just a proxy for the direction of interest rates, which continue to be volatile as there is still uncertainty over when the eventual interest rate increases will be coming from the FOMC.

While waiting for that to happen MetLife has been trading in a fairly tight range and offering an attractive option premium and dividend. I’ve already owned shares on 3 occasions in 2015 and look forward to more opportunities while waiting to figure out if the economy is too hot or not hot enough or just right.

With the coming week being dominated by bank earnings, one that isn’t reporting until the following week is Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). Thus far 2015 hasn’t been especially kind to the money center banks, but it has held Morgan Stanley in particular low regard.

With its well respected CFO heading to warmer pastures it still has a fairly young CEO and lots of depth, with key people continually being exposed to different parts of the company, thereby lessening dependence on any one individual.

With earnings from other banks coming this week the option premiums on Morgan Stanley are a little higher than usual. However, since they report their own earnings before the market opens on Monday of the following week, it would be a good idea to attempt to rollover weekly contracts if not likely to be assigned or to simply sell extended weekly contracts to encompass the additionally enhanced premiums for both this week and the next

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is no stranger to significant earnings related price drops. It did so again last week and the options market correctly created the price range in which the stock price varied.

While Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to those kind of drops, it does tend to have another common characteristic in that it frequently recovers from those price drops fairly quickly. That’s one reason that when suggesting that consideration be given to selling puts on it last week prior to earnings, I suggested that if threatened with assignment I would rather accept that than to try and rollover the put contracts.

Now that the damage has been done I think it’s safe to come back and consider another look at its shares. If recent history holds true then a purchase could be considered with the idea of seeking some capital gains from shares in addition to the option premiums received for the call sales.

SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) reports earnings this week and has been on quite a wild ride of late. It has the rare distinction of scaring off investors on two occasions in advance of this week’s upcoming earnings. Despite an 11% price climb over the past week, it is still down nearly 20% in the past 2 weeks.

The option market is implying a relatively small 6.8% move in the coming week which is on the low side, perhaps in the belief that there can’t possibly be another shoe to be dropped.

Normally, when considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings I like to look for a strike price that’s outside of the range defined by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the week. However, that strike level is only 7.1% lower, which doesn’t provide too much of a safety cushion.

However, I would be very interested in the possibility of selling puts on SanDisk shares after earnings in the event of a sharp drop or prior to earnings in the event of significant price erosion before the event.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) also reports earnings this coming week and didn’t change its guidance or offer earnings warnings as it occasionally does in the weeks in advance of the release.

It actually had a nice report last quarter and initially went higher, although a few weeks later, without any tangible news, it nose-dived, along with some of its competitors.

What makes Fastenal interesting is that it is almost entirely US based and so will have very little currency risk. The risk, however, is that it is currently trading near its 2 year lows, so if considering an earnings related trade, I’m thinking of a buy/write and using a May 2015 expiration, to both provide some time to recover from any further decline and to also have a chance at collecting the dividend at the end of April.

With a much more expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) long awaiting an opportunity to sell some calls upon, I’m finally ready to consider adding more shares. The primary goal is to start whittling down some of the losses on those shares and Abercrombie is finally showing some signs of making a floor, at least until the next earnings report at the end of May.

With its dysfunction hopefully all behind it now with the departure of its past CEO it still has a long way to go to reclaim lost ground ceded to others in the fickle adolescent retail market. The reasonable price stability of the past month offers some reason to believe that the time to add shares or open a new position may have finally arrived. Alternatively, however, put sales may be considered, especially if shares open on a lower note to begin the week.

Finally, I don’t know why I keep buying The Gap (NYSE:GPS), except that it never really seems to go anywhere. It does have a decent dividend, but it’s premiums are nothing really spectacular.

What appeals to me about The Gap, however, is that it’s one of those few stocks that is continually under the microscope as it reports monthly sales statistics and as a result it regularly has some enhanced premiums and it tends to alternate rapidly between disappointing and upbeat same store sales.

All in all, that makes it a really good stock to consider for a covered option strategy. It’s especially nice to see a stock that does trade in a fairly tight range, even while it may have occasional hiccoughs that are fairly predictable as to when they will occur, just as their direction isn’t at all predictable.

The Gap reported those same store sales last week and this time they disappointed. That actually marked the second consecutive month of disappointment, which is somewhat unusual, but in having done so, it still hasn’t violated that comfortable range.

I already own some shares and in expectation of a better than expected report for the following month, my inclination is to add shares, but rather than write contracts expiring this week will look at those expiring on either May 8 or May 15, 2015, taking advantage of the added uncertainty coming along with the next scheduled same store sales report. In doing so I would likely think about using an out of the money strike, rather than a near the money strike in anticipation of finally getting some good news and getting back on track at The Gap.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Fastenal (4/14 AM), SanDisk (4/15 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 1, 2015

It was interesting listening to the questioning of FOMC Chairman Janet Yellen this week during her mandated two day congressional appearance.

The market went nicely higher on the first day when she was hosted by the more genteel of the two legislative bodies. The apparent re-embrace of her more dovish side was well received by the stock market, even as bond traders had their readings of the tea leaves called into question.

While the good will imparted by suggesting that interest rate increases weren’t around the corner was undone by the Vice-Chair on Friday those bond traders didn’t get vindicated, but the stock market reacted negatively to end a week that reacted only to interest rate concerns.

His candor, or maybe it was his opinion or even interpretation of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the FOMC may be best kept under covers, especially when I’m awaiting the likelihood of assignment of my shares and the clock is ticking toward the end of the trading week in the hope that nothing will get in the way of their appointed rounds.

Candor got in the way.

But that’s just one of the problems with too much openness, particularly when markets aren’t always prepared to rationally deal with unexpected information or even informed opinion. Sometimes the information or the added data is just noise that clutters the pathways to clear thinking.

Yet some people want even more information.

On the second day of Yellen’s testimony she was subjected to the questioning of those who are perennially in re-election mode. Yellen was chided for not being more transparent or open in detailing her private meetings. It seemed odd that such non-subtle accusations or suggestions of undue influence being exerted upon her during such meetings would be hurled at an appointed official by a publicly elected one. That’s particularly true if you believe that an elected official has great responsibility for exercising transparency to their electorate.

Good luck, however, getting one to detail meetings, much less conversations, with lobbyists, PAC representatives and donors. You can bet that every opacifier possible is used to make the obvious less obvious.

But on second thought, do we really need even more information?

I still have a certain fondness for the old days when only an elite few had timely information and you had to go to the library to seek out an updated copy of Value Line in the hopes that someone else hadn’t already torn out the pages you were seeking.

Back then the closest thing to transparency was the thinness of those library copy pages, but back then markets weren’t gyrating wildly on news that was quickly forgotten and supplanted the next day. That kind of news just didn’t exist.

You didn’t have to worry about taking the dog out for a walk and returning to a market that had morphed into something unrecognizable simply because a Federal Reserve Governor had offered an opinion in a speech to businessmen in Fort Worth.

Too much information and too easy access and the rapid flow of information may be a culprit in all of the shifting sands that seem to form at the base of markets and creating instability.

I liked the opaqueness of Greenspan during his tenure at the Federal Reserve. During that time we morphed from investors largely in the dark to investors with unbelievable access to information and rapidly diminishing attention spans. Although to be fair, that opaqueness created its own uncertainty as investors wouldn’t panic over what was said but did panic over what was meant.

If I had ever had a daughter I would probably apply parental logic and suggest that it might be best to “leave something to the imagination.” I may be getting old fashioned, but whether it’s visually transparent or otherwise, I want some things to be hidden so that I need to do some work to uncover what others may not.

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

It’s difficult to find much reason to consider a purchase of shares of Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK), but exactly the same could have been said about many companies in the energy sector over the past few months. There’s no doubt that a mixture of good timing, luck and bravery has worked out for some willing to take the considerable risk.

What distinguishes Chesapeake Energy from so many others, however, is that it has long been enveloped in some kind of dysfunction and melodrama, even after severing ties with its founder. Like a ghost coming back to haunt his old house the legacy of Aubrey McClendon continues with accusations that he stole confidential data and used it for the benefit of his new company.

Add that to weak earnings, pessimistic guidance, decreasing capital expenditures and a couple of downgrades and it wasn’t a good week to be Chesapeake Energy or a shareholder.

While it’s hard to say that Chesapeake Energy has now hit rock bottom, it’s certainly closer than it was at the beginning of this past week. As a shareholder of much more expensive shares I often like to add additional lower cost lots with the intent of trying to sell calls on those new shares and quickly close out the position to help underwrite paper losses in the older shares. However, I’ve waited a long time before considering doing so with Chesapeake.

Now feels like the right time.

Its elevated option premiums indicate continuing uncertainty over the direction its shares will take, but I believe the risk-reward relationship has now begun to become more favorable as so much bad news has been digested at once.

It also wasn’t a very good week to be Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) as it well under-performed other large money center banks in the wake of concerns regarding its capital models and ability to withstand upcoming stress tests. It’s also never a good sign when your CEO takes a substantial pay cut.

If course, if you were a shareholder, as I am, you didn’t have a very good week, either, but at least you had the company of all of those analysts that had recently upgraded Bank of America, including adding it to the renowned “conviction buy” list.

While I wouldn’t chase Bank of America for its dividend, it does go ex-dividend this week and is offering an atypically high option premium, befitting the perceived risk that continues until the conclusion of periodic stress testing, which will hopefully see the bank perform its calculations more carefully than it did in the previous year’s submission to the Federal Reserve.

After recently testing its 2 year lows Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) has bounced back a bit, no doubt removing a little of the grin that may have appeared for those having spent the past 20 months with a substantial short position and only recently seeing the thesis play out, although from a price far higher than when the thesis was originally presented.

While it’s difficult to find any aspect of Caterpillar’s business that looks encouraging as mining and energy face ongoing challenges, the ability to come face to face with those lows and withstand them offers some encouragement if looking to enter into a new position. Although I rarely enter into a position with an idea of an uninterrupted long term relationship, Caterpillar’s dividend and option premiums can make it an attractive candidate for longer term holding, as well.

Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) is a fairly unexciting stock that I’ve been excited about re-purchasing for more than a year. I generally like to consider adding shares as it’s about to go ex-dividend, as it is this week, however, I had been also waiting for its share price to become a bit more reasonable.

Those criteria are in place this week while also offering an attractive option premium. Having worked in hospitals for years Baxter International products are ubiquitous and as long as human health can remain precarious the market will continue to exist for it to dominate.

Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) has certainly seen its share of ups and downs over the past few months with very much of the downside being predicated on weakness in Macao. While those stories have developed the company saw fit to increase its dividend by 30%. Given the nature of the business that Las Vegas Sands is engaged in, you would think that Sheldon Adelson saw such an action, even if in the face of revenue pressures, as being a low risk proposition.

Since the house always wins, I like that vote of confidence.

Following a very quick retreat from a recent price recovery I think that there is more upside potential in the near term although if the past few months will be any indication that path will be rocky.

This week’s potential earnings related trades were at various times poster children for “down and out” companies whose stocks reflected the company’s failing fortunes in a competitive world. The difference, however is that while Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) still seems to be mired in a downward spiral even after the departure of its CEO, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) under its own new CEO seems to have broken the chains that were weighing it down and taking it toward retail oblivion.

As with most earnings related trades I consider the sale of puts at a strike price that is below the lower range dictated by the implied move determined by option premiums. Additionally, my preference would be to sell those puts at a time that shares are already heading noticeably lower. However, if that latter condition isn’t met, I may still consider the sale of puts after earnings in the event that shares do go down significantly.

While the options market is implying a 12.6% move in Abercrombie and Fitch’s share price next week a 1% ROI may be achieved even if selling a put option at a strike 21% below Friday’s close. That sounds like a large drop, but Abercrombie has, over the years, shown that it is capable of such drops.

Best Buy on the other hand isn’t perceived as quite the same earnings risk as Abercrombie and Fitch, although it too has had some significant earnings moves in the recent past.

The options market is implying a 7% move in shares and a 1% ROI could potentially be achieved at a strike 8.1% below Friday’s close. While that’s an acceptable risk-reward proposition, given the share’s recent climb, I would prefer to wait until after earnings before considering a trade.

In this case, if Best Buy shares fall significantly after earnings, approaching the boundary defined by the implied move, I would consider selling puts, rolling over, if necessary to the following week. However, with an upcoming dividend, I would then consider taking assignment prior to the ex-dividend date, if assignment appeared likely.

Finally, I end how I ended the previous week, with the suggestion of the same paired trade that sought to take advantage of the continuing uncertainty and volatility in energy prices.

I put into play the paired trade of United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL) and Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) last week in the belief that what was good news for one company would be bad news for the other. But more importantly was the additional belief that the news would be frequently shifting due to the premise of continuing volatility and lack of direction in energy prices.

The opening trade of the pair was initiated by first adding shares of Marathon Oil as it opened sharply lower on Monday morning and selling at the money calls.

As expected, UAL itself went sharply higher as it and other airlines have essentially moved opposite

ly to the movements in energy prices over the past few months. However, later that same day, UAL gave up most of its gains, while Marathon Oil moved higher. A UAL share price dropped I bought shares and sold deep in the money calls.

In my ideal scenario the week would have ended with one or both being assigned, which was how it appeared to be going by Thursday’s close, despite United Continental’s price drop unrelated to the price of oil, but rather related to some safety concerns.

Instead, the week ended with both positions being rolled over at premiums in excess of what I usually expect when doing so.

Subsequently, in the final hour of trading, shares of UAL took a precipitous decline and may offer a good entry point for any new positions, again considering the sale of deep in the money calls and then waiting for a decline in Marathon Oil shares before making that purchase and selling near the money calls.

While the Federal Reserve may be data driven it’s hard to say what exactly is driving oil prices back and forth on such a frequent and regular basis. However, as long as those unpredictable ups and downs do occur there is opportunity to exploit the uncertainty and leave the data collection and interpretation to others.

I’m fine with being left in the dark.

 

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Marathon Oil

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Las Vegas Sands, United Continental Holdings

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (3/4), Baxter International (3/9)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (3/4 AM), Best Buy (3/4 AM)

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 – November 30, 2014

An incredibly quiet and uneventful week, cut short by the Thanksgiving Day holiday, saw the calm interrupted as a group of oil ministers from around the world came to an agreement.

They agreed that couldn’t agree, mostly because one couldn’t trust the other to partner in concerted actions what would turn out to be in everyone’s best interests.

If you’ve played the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game you know that you can’t always trust a colleague to do the right thing or to even do the logical thing. The essence of the game is that your outcome is determined not only by your choice, but also by the choice of someone else who may or may not think rationally or who may or may not believe that you think rationally.

The real challenge is figuring out what to do yourself knowing that your fate may be, to some degree, controlled by an irrational partner, a dishonest one or one who simply doesn’t understand the concept of risk – reward. That and the fact that they may actually enjoy stabbing you in the back, even if it means they pay a price, too.

Given the disparate considerations among the member OPEC nations looking out for their national interests, in addition to the growing influence of non-OPEC nations, the only reasonable course of action was to reduce oil production. But no single nation was willing to trust that the other nations would have done the right thing to maintain oil prices at higher levels, while still obeying basic laws of supply and demand, so the resulting action was no action. The stabbing in the back was probably in the minds of some member nations, as well.

If the stock market was somehow the partner in a separate room being forced to make a buying or selling decision based on what it thought the OPEC members would do, a reasonable stock market would have expected a reduction in supply by OPEC members in support of oil prices. After all, reasonable people don’t stab others in the back.

That decision would have resulted in either buying, or at least holding energy shares in advance of the meeting and then being faced with the reality that those OPEC members, hidden away, whose interests may not have been aligned with those of investors, made a decision that made no economic sense, other than perhaps to pressure higher cost producers.

And so came the punishment the following day, as waves of selling hit at the opening of trading. Not quite a capitulation, despite the large falls, because panic was really absent and there was no crescendo-like progression, but still, the selling was intense as many headed for the exits.

While fleeing, the question of whether this decision or lack of decision marked the death of the OPEC cartel, meaning that oil would start trading more on those basic laws and not being manipulated by nations always seeking the highest reward.

The more religious and national tensions existing between member nations and the more influence of non-member nations the less likely the cartel can act as a cartel.

The poor UAE oil minister at a press conference complained that it wasn’t fair for OPEC to be blamed for low oil prices, forgetting that once you form a cartel the concept of fairness is already taken off of the table, as for more than 40 years the cartel has unfairly squeezed the world for every penny it could get.

With the belief that the death of OPEC may be at hand comes the logical, but mistaken belief that the ensuing low oil prices would be a boon for the stock market. That supposition isn’t necessarily backed up by reality, although logic would take your mind in that direction.

As it happens, rising oil prices, especially when due to demand outstripping supply makes for a good stock market, as it reflects accelerating economic growth. Falling oil prices, if due to decreased demand is certainly not a sign of future economic activity. However, we are now in some uncharted territory, as falling prices are due to supply that is greater than demand and without indication that those falling prices are going to result in a near term virtuous cycle that would send markets higher.

What we do know is that creates its own virtuous cycle as consumers will be left with more money to spend and federal and state governments will see gas taxes revenues increase as people drive more and pay less.

The dilemma now facing investors is whether there are better choices than energy stocks at the moment, despite what seems to be irrationally low pricing. The problem is that those irrational people in the other room are still in control of the destinies of others and may only begin to respond in a rational manner after having experienced maximum pain.

As much as I am tempted to add even more energy stocks, despite already suffering from a disproportionately high position, the lesson is clear.

When in doubt, don’t trust the next guy to do the right thing.

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

When Blackstone (NYSE:BX) went public a number of years ago, just prior to the financial meltdown, imagine yourself being held an a room and being given the option of investing your money in the market, without knowing whether the privately held company would decide to IPO. On the surface that might have sounded like a great idea, as the market was heading higher and higher. But the quandary was that you were being asked to make your decision without knowing that Blackstone was perhaps preparing an exit strategy for a perceived market top and was looking to cash out, rather than re-invest for growth.

Had you known that the money being raised in the IPO was going toward buying out one of the founders rather than being plowed back into the company your decision might have been different. Or had you known that the IPO was an attempt to escape the risks of a precariously priced market you may have reacted differently.

So here we are in 2014 and Blackstone, which is the business of buying struggling or undervalued businesses, nurturing them and then re-selling them, often through public markets, is again selling assets.

Are they doing so because
they perceive a market peak and are securing profits or are they preparing to re-invest the assets for further growth? The dilemma faced is across the entire market and not just Blackstone, which in the short term may be a beneficiary of its actions trying to balance risk and reward by reducing its own risk.

The question of rational behavior may be raised when looking at the share price response to Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) on Friday. In a classic case of counting chickens before they were hatched I was expecting my shares to be assigned on Friday.

While I usually wait until Thursday or Friday to try to make rollovers, this past shortened week I actually made a number of rollovers on Tuesday, which were serendipitous, not having expected Friday’s weakness. The rollover trade that didn’t get made was for Dow Chemcal, which seemed so likely to be assigned and would have offered very little reward for the rollover.

Who knew that it would be caught up in the energy sell-off, well out of proportion to its risk in the sector, predominantly related to its Kuwaiti business alliances? The question of whether that irrational behavior will continue to punish Dow Chemical shares is at hand, but this drop just seems like a very good opportunity to add shares, both as part of corporate buybacks as well as for a personal portfolio. With my shares now not having been assigned, trading opportunities look beyond the one week horizon with an eye on holding onto shares in order to capture the dividend in late December.

The one person that I probably wouldn’t want to be in the room next to me when I was being asked to make a decision and having to rely on his mutual cooperation, would be John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS). He hasn’t given too much indication that he would be reluctant to throw anyone under the bus.

However, with some of the fuss about a potential buyout now on hiatus and perhaps the disappointment of no action in that regard now also on hiatus, shares may be settling back to its more sedate trading range.

That would be fine for me, still holding a single share lot and having owned shares on 5 occasions in the past year. Its option volume trading is unusually thin at times, however, and with larger bid – ask spreads than I would normally like to see. At its current price and now having withstood the pressures of its very aggressive pricing campaigns for about a year, I’m less concerned about a very bad earnings release and see upside potential as it has battled back from lower levels.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) may also have had some of the takeover excitement die down, particularly as its most likely purchaser has announced its own plans to split itself into two new companies. Yet it has been able to continue trading at its upper range for the year.

EMC isn’t a terribly exciting company, but it has enough movement from buyout speculation, earnings and speculation over the future of its large VMWare (NYSE:VMW) holding to support an attractive option premium, in addition to an acceptable dividend.

I currently own sh

ares of both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS). They both are ex-dividend this coming week. Beyond that they also have in common the fact that I’ve been buying shares and selling calls on them for years, but most recently they have been mired at a very low price level and have been having difficulty breaking resistance at $38 and $51, respectively.

While they have been having difficulty breaking through those resistance levels they have also been finding strength at the $35 and $45 levels, respectively. Narrowing the range between support and resistance begins to make them increasingly attractive for a covered option trade, especially with the dividend at hand.

I’ve been sitting on some shares of General Motors (NYSE:GM) for a while and they are currently uncovered. I don’t particularly like adding shares after a nice rise higher, as General Motors had on Friday, but at its current price I think that it is well positioned to get back to the $35 level and while making that journey, perhaps buoyed by lower fuel prices, there is a nice dividend next week and some decent option premiums, as well. What is absolutely fascinating about the recent General Motors saga is that it has been hit with an ongoing deluge of bad news, day in and day out, yet somehow has been able to retain a reasonably respectable stock price.

Finally, it’s another week to give some thought to Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). That incredibly dysfunctional company that has made a habit of large price moves up and down as it tries to break away from the consumer irrelevancy that many have assigned it.

Abercrombie and Fitch recently gave some earnings warnings in anticipation of this week’s release and shares tumbled at that time. If you’ve been keeping a score card, lately the majority of those companies offering warnings or revising guidance downward, have continued to suffer once the earnings are actually released.

The options market is anticipating a 9.1% price move this week in response to earnings. However, it would still take an 11.8% decline to trigger assignment at a strike level that would offer a 1% ROI for the week of holding angst.

That kind of cushion between the implied move and the 1% ROI strike gives me reason to consider the risk of selling puts and crossing my fingers that some surprise, such as the departure of its always embattled CEO is announced, as a means of softening any further earnings disappointments.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Dow Chemical, EMC Corp, General Motors

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Coach (12/3), Mosaic (12/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (12/3 AM)

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 – November 9, 2014

Pity the poor hedge fund manager.

For the second consecutive year hedge fund managers are, by and large, reportedly falling far short of their objectives and in jeopardy of not generating their performance fees. 

We all know that those mortgages aren’t going to pay themselves, so their choices are clear.

You can close up shop, disown the shortfalls and try to start anew; you can keep at business as usual and have your under-performance weigh you down in the coming year; or you can roll the dice.

In 2013 it may have been easy to excuse lagging the S&P 500 when that index was nearly 30% higher while you were engaging in active management and costly complex hedging strategies. This year, however, as the market is struggling to break a 10% gain, it’s not quite as easy to get a bye on a performance letdown.

The good news, however, is that the 2014 hurdle is not terribly far out of reach. Despite setting new high after new high, thus far the gains haven’t been stupendous and may still be attainable for those hoping to see daylight in 2015.

The question becomes what will desperate people do, especially if using other people’s money knowing that half of all hedge funds have closed in the past 5 years. Further more funds were closed in 2013 and fewer opened in 2014 than at any point since 2010. It has been a fallow pursuit of alpha as passivity has shown itself fecund. Yet, assets under management continue to grow in the active pursuit of that alpha. That alone has to be a powerful motivator for those in the hedge fund business as that 2% management fee can be substantial.

So I think desperation sets in and that may also be what, at least in part, explained the November through December outperformance last year as the dice were rolled. Granted that over the past 60 years those two months have been the relative stars, that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the past 15 years as hedge funds have become a part of the landscape.

Where it has been the case has been in those years that the market has had exceptionally higher returns which usually means that hedge funds were more likely to lag behind and in need of catching up and prone to rolling the dice.

While the hedging strategies are varied, very complex and use numerous instruments, rolling the dice may explain what appears to be a drying up in volume in some option trading. As that desperation displaces the caution inherent in the sale of options motivated buyers are looking at intransigent sellers demanding inordinately high premiums. With the clock ticking away toward the end of the year and reckoning time approaching, the smaller more certain gains or enhancements to return from hedging positions may be giving way to trying to swing for the fences.

The result is an environment in which there appears to be decreased selling activity, which is especially important for those that have already sold option contracts and may be interested in buying them back to close or rollover their positions. In practice, the environment is now one of low bids by buyers, reflecting low volatility but high asking prices by sellers, often resulting in a chasm that can’t be closed.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the chasm on may stocks closed only in the final minutes of the week’s trading when it’s painfully obvious that a strike price won’t be reached. Only then, and again, a sign of desperation, do ask prices drop in the hopes of making a sale to exact a penny or two to enhance returns.

So those hedge fund managers may be more likely to be disingenuous in their hedging efforts as they seek to bridge their own chasms over the next few weeks and they could be the root behind a flourish to end the year.

Other than a continuing difficulty in executing persona trades, I hope they do catch up and help to propel the market even higher, but I’m not certain what may await around the corner as January is set to begin.

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

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and am continually amazed at the gyrations its price sees without really going very far. In return for watching the shares of this provider of ubiquitous components go up and down, you can get an attractive option premium that reflects the volatility, but doesn’t really reflect the reality. In addition, if holding shares long enough, there is a nice dividend to be had, as well. Selling only monthly call options, I may consider the use of a December 2014 option and may even consider going to the $11 strike, rather than the safer $10, borrowing a page from the distressed hedge fund managers.

I had my shares of Intel (INTC) assigned early this week in order to capture the dividend. I briefly had thoughts of rolling over the position in order to maintain the dividend, but in hindsight, having seen the subsequent price decline, I’m happy to start anew with shares.

Like the desperate hedge fund managers, I may be inclined to emphasize capital gains on this position, rather than seeking to make most of the profit from option sales, particularly as the dividend is now out of the equation.

I may be in the same position of suffering early assignment on existing shares of International Paper (IP) as it goes ex-dividend this week. With a spike in price after earnings and having a contract that expires at the end of the monthly cycle, I had tried to close the well in the money position, but have been faced with the paucity of reasonable ask prices in the pursuit of buying back options. However, even at its current price, International Paper may be poised to go even higher as it pursues a strategy of spin-offs and delivery of value to its investors.

With decent option premiums, an attractive dividend and the chance of further price appreciation, it remains a stock that I would like to have in my portfolio.

Mosaic (MOS) is a stock that I have had as an inactive component of my portfolio after having traded it quite frequently earlier in the year at levels higher than its current price and last year as well, both below and above the current price. It appears that it may have established some support and despite a bounce from that lower level, I believe it may offer some capital appreciation opportunities, as with Intel. As opposed to Intel, however, the dividend is still in the equation, as shares will go ex-dividend on December 2, 2014. With the availability of expanded weekly options there are a mix of strategies to be used if opening this position.

It seems as if there’s barely a week that I don’t consider adding shares of eBay (EBAY). At some point, likely when the PayPal division is spun off, the attention that I pay to eBay may wane, but for now, it still offers opportunity by virtue of its regular spikes and drops while really going nowhere. That t

ypically creates good option premium opportunities, especially at the near the money strikes.

I currently own shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) a company that has quietly become the largest owner of local television stations in the United States. It is now trading at about the mid-point of its lows and where it had found a comfortable home, prior to its price surge after the Supreme Court’s decision that this past week finally resulted in Aereo shutting down its Boston offices and laying off employees, as revenue has stopped.

Sinclair Broadcasting will be ex-dividend early in the December 2014 option cycle and offers a very attractive option. It reported higher gross margins and profits last week, as short interest increased in its shares the prior week. I think that the price drop in the past week is an opportunity to initiate a position or add to shares.

Mattel (MAT) is a company that I haven’t owned in years, but am now attracted back to it, in part for its upcoming dividend, its option premium and some opportunity for share appreciation as it has lagged the S&P 500 since its earnings report last month.

However, while holiday shopping season is approaching and thoughts of increased discretionary consumer spending may create images of share appreciation, Mattel has generally traded in a very narrow range in the final 2 months of the year, which may be just the equation for generating some reasonable returns if factoring in the premiums and dividend.

Twitter (TWTR) continues to fascinate me as a stock, as a medium and as a source of so many slings and arrows thrown at its management.

Twitter has always been a fairly dysfunctional place and with somewhat of a revolving door at its highest levels before and after the IPO. While it briefly gained some applause for luring Anthony Noto to become its CFO, the spotlight heat has definitely turned up on its CEO, Dick Costolo.

Last week I sold Twitter puts in the aftermath of its sharp decline upon earnings release. While the puts expired, I did roll some over to a lower strike price as the premium was indicating continued belief in the downside momentum.

This week I’m considering adding to the position, and selling more puts, especially after the latest round of criticisms being launched at Costolo. At some point, something will give and restore confidence. It may come from the Board of Directors, it  may come from Costolo himself or it may even come from activists who see lots of value in a company that could really benefit from the perception of professional management.

I’m not certain how many times I’ve ended a weekly column with a discussion of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF), but it’s not a coincidence that it frequently warrants a closing word.

Abercrombie and Fitch has been one of my most rewarding and frustrating recurrent trades over the years. At the moment, it’s on the frustrating end of the spectrum following Friday’s revelations regarding sales that saw a 17% price drop. That came the day after an inexplicable 5% rise, that had me attempting to rollover an expiring contract but unable to find a willing seller for the expiring leg.

Over the course of a cumulative 626 days of ownership, spanning 21 individual transactions, my Abercrombie and Fitch activity has had an annualized return of 32% and has seen some steep declines in the process, as occurred on Friday.

This has been an unnecessarily “in the news” kind of company whose CEO has not weathered well and for whom a ticking clock may also be in play. Over the past years each time the stock has soared it has then crashed and when crashing seems to resurrect itself.

Earnings are expected to be reported the following week and premiums will be enhanced as a result. While I currently have an all too expensive open lot of shares I’m very interested in selling puts, as had been done on nine previous occasions over those 626 days. In the event assignment looks likely I would attempt to rollover those puts which would then benefit from enhanced premiums and likely be able to be rolled to a lower strike.

However, if then again faced with assignment, I would consider accepting the assignment, as Abercrombie and Fitch is due to go ex-dividend sometime early in the December 2014 option cycle. However, I would also be prepared for the possibility of the dividend being cut as its payout ratio is unsustainable at current earnings.

 

 

Traditional Stocks:  Cypress Semiconductor, eBay, Intel, Mattel, Mosaic, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/13)

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 – October 26, 2014

It’s too bad that life doesn’t come with highly specific indicators that give us direction or at least warn us when our path isn’t the best available.

Parents are supposed to do that sort of thing, but in real life the rules are pretty simple. You don’t go swimming for 30 minutes after a meal, you don’t kill people and you don’t swallow your chewing gum.

The seven additional commandments are really just derivative of those critically important first three.

Knowing the difference between right and wrong gives one the ability to change direction when getting too close to what is known to be on the wrong side of what society finds acceptable. Most people get the concept and also apply it to their personal safety.

In stock investing it’s not that simple, although there are lots of rules and all kinds of advance warning signals that may or may not work, depending on whether you were giving or receiving the information. As opposed to adolescents who eventually become adults and lose the “it can never happen to me” mentality, investors often feel a sense of immunity from what may await just beyond that point that others would avoid.

It would have been really, really nice if there was some kind of warning system that both alerted us to an upcoming decline and especially the fact that it would be abruptly followed by a reversal.

Much has been said about the various kinds of recoveries that can be seen, but if this most recent bounce higher will in fact be the recovery to the nearly 9% drop on an intra-day basis, then it is certainly of the “V-shape” variety.

This week came word that by a very large margin the activity in personal 401(k) retirement accounts had been to move out of equities, after the declines, and into fixed income instruments, after those interest rates had seen a 15% increase.

What may really complicate things is that there really is no society to provide guidance and set the boundaries. There are short sellers who like to see movement in one direction and then there are the rest of us, although we can all change those roles at any moment in time that seems to suit us.

For those that depended on the “key reversal” of a few weeks ago as a sign to buy or dipping below the 200 day moving average as a sign to sell, the past few weeks have frustrating.

On the other hand, news of rampant selling in 401(k) accounts may offer precisely the kind of prognostic indicator that many have been looking for, as being a perfectly contrarian signal and indication that the time to buy had come once again.

But what caused the sudden change that created the “V shape?”

Technicians and chart watchers will point to the sudden reversal seen on October 15th in the early afternoon as the DJIA had fallen more than 400 points. However, that 260 point mid-day reversal was lost, almost in its entirety at the following morning’s opening bell.

However, we may also want to thank serendipity that IBM (IBM) and Coca Cola (KO) didn’t report their earnings last week, and that reports of a New York City Ebola patient didn’t surface until market and contagion fears had abated.

It wasn’t until the afternoon following that 400 point drop that St. Louis Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard suggested that the Federal Reserve should consider delaying its ending of Quantitative Easing.

If you were looking for a turning point, that was it.

Even those that are critical of the Federal Reserve for its QE policies have been happy to profit from those very same policies. The suggestion that QE might continue would be a definite reason to abandon fear and buy what appear to be bargain priced stocks, especially as the fixed income side’s sudden 15% increase in rates made bonds less of a bargain..

I was either flatfooted or disbelieving in the sudden climb higher, not having made any new purchases for the second consecutive week. I was almost ready to make some purchases last Thursday, following what Wednesday’s decline, but that was followed by a 120 point gap up the following morning. Instead of adding positions I remained content to watch fallen asset values recapture what had been lost, still in the belief that there was another shoe to drop while en-route perhaps to a “W-shape”

That other shoe may come on Wednesday as the FOMC releases its monthly statement. Lately, that has been a time when the FOMC has given a boost to markets. This time, however, as we continue so consumed by the nuances or changes in the wording contained in the statement, there could be some disappointment if it doesn’t give some indication that there will be a continuing injection of liquidity by the Federal Reserve into markets.

If Bullard was just giving a personal opinion rather than a glimpse into the majority of opinion by the voting members of the FOMC there may be some price to be paid.

While there will be many waiting for such a word confirming Bullard’s comments to come there also has to be a sizable faction that would wonder just how bad things are if the Federal Reserve can’t leave the stage as planned.

Welcome back to the days of is good news bad news.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections ar

e classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.

While the move higher this week was more than impressive, there’s still no denying that these large moves higher only happen in downturns. The question that will remain to be answered is whether the very rapid climb higher from recent lows will have any kind of sustainability.

For the coming week I expect another quiet one, at least personally. The markets may be anything but quiet, as they certainly haven’t been so for the past few weeks, but trying to guess where things may go is always a dicey prospect, just seemingly more so, right now.

Despite what may be continuing uncertainty I have increased interest in earnings related and momentum stocks in the coming week.

Among those is Joy Global (JOY) a stock whose fortunes are closely aligned with Chinese economic growth. Those prospects got somewhat of a boost as Caterpillar (CAT) delivered better than expected earnings during a week that was a cavalcade of good earnings, despite some high profile disappointments. While the S&P 500 advanced 4.1% for the week and Caterpillar rose 4.6%, Joy Global may just be warming up following only a 2.1% climb higher, but still trading well below its mean for the past year.

In that year it has generally done well in recovering from any downward moves in price and after two months in that kind of trajectory may be ready to finally make that recovery.

With “old technology” continuing to do well, EMC Corp (EMC) held up surprisingly well after its majority owned VMWare (VMW) fell sharply after its own earnings were announced. EMC typically announces its earnings the morning after VMWare announces and while showing some impact from VMWare’s disappointment, rapidly corrected itself after its own earnings were released.

EMC has simply been a very steady performer and stands to do well whether staying as an independent company, being bought out pr merged, or spinning off the large remainder of its stake in VMWare. Neither its dividend nor option premium is stunning, but there is a sense of comfort in its stability and future prospects.

Halliburton (HAL) has been trading wildly of late and is well below the cost of my most recent lot of shares. WHile the entire energy sector has fallen on some hard times of late, there’s little reason to believe that will continue, even if unusually warm weather continues. Halliburton, as have others, have been down this path before and generally investors do well with some patience.

That will be what I practice with my more expensive lot. However, at its current price and volatility, Halliburton, with its just announced dividend increase offers an exceptional option premium that is worthy of consideration, as long as patience isn’t in short supply.

Another stock having required more patience than usual has been Coach (COH). It reports earnings this week and as has been the case over the past 3 years it wouldn’t be unusual to see a large price move in shares.

The options market is expecting a 7% move in shares, although in the past the moves have been larger than that and very frequently to the downside. Lately, however, Coach seems to have stabilized as it has gotten a reorganization underway and as its competitor in the hearts and minds of investors, Michael Kors (KORS) has also fallen from its highs and stagnated.

The current lot of shares of Coach that I purchased were done so after it took a large earnings related decline and I didn’t believe that it would continue doing so. This time around, I’m likely to wait until earnings are announced and if shares suffer a decline I may be tempted to sell puts, with the objective of rolling over those puts into the future if assignment appears to be likely.

For those that like dabbling in excitement, both Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) announce their earnings this week.

< span style="font-size: medium;">I recently came off an 8 month odyssey that began with the sale of a Twitter put, another and another, but that ultimately saw assignment as shares dropped about $14. During that period of time, until shares were assigned, the ROI was just shy of 25%. I wouldn’t mind doing that again, despite the high degree of maintenance that was required in the process.

The options market’s pricing of weekly options is implying a price movement of about 13% next week. However, at current premiums, a drop of anywhere less than 18% could still deliver a weekly ROI of about 1.2%. I look at that as a good return relative to the risk undertaken, albeit being aware that another long ride may be in store. Since Twitter is, to a large degree, a black box filled with so many unknowns, especially regarding earnings and growth prospects, even that 18% level below could conceivably be breached.

Facebook seems to have long ago quieted its critics with regard to its strategy and ability to monetize mobile platforms. In the 2 years that it has been a publicly traded company Facebook has almost always beaten earnings estimates and it very much looks like a stock that wants to get to $100.

The option market is implying a much more sedate 7.5% in price movement upon earnings release and the decline cushion is only about 9.5% if one is seeking a 1% ROI.

Both Facebook and Twitter are potentially enticing plays this coming week and the opportunities may be available before and after earnings, particularly in the event of a subsequent share decline. If trying to decide between one or the other, my preference is Twitter, as it hasn’t had the same upside move, as Facebook has had and I generally prefer selling puts into price weakness rather than strength.

After some disappointing earnings Ford Motor (F) goes ex-dividend this week. Everyone from a recent Seeking Alpha reader who commented on his Ford covered call trade to just about every talking head on television is now touting Ford shares.

Normally, the latter would be a sign to turn around and head the other way. However, despite still being saddled with shares of a very beleaguered General Motors (GM), I do like the prospects of Ford going forward and after a respite of a few years it may be time to buy shares again. The dividend is appealing and more importantly, appears to be safe and the option premiums are enough to garner some interest as shares are just slightly above their yearly low.

Finally, I don’t know of anyone that has anything good to say about Abercrombie and FItch (ANF), regardless of what the perspective happens to be. It, along with some other teen retailers received some downgrades this past Friday and its shares plummeted.

I have lost count of how often that’s been the case with Abercrombie and FItch shares and I’ve come to expect them to rise and plunge on a very regular basis. If history is any guide Abercrombie and Fitch will be derided for being out of touch with consumers and then will surprise everyone with better than expected earnings and growth in one sector or another.

I’ve generally liked to jump on any Abercrombie post-plunge opportunity with the sale of puts and while I’d be inclined to roll those over in the event of likely assignment, I wouldn’t be adverse to taking possession of shares in advance of its earnings and ex-dividend date, which are usually nearly concurrent, with earnings scheduled for November 20t, 2014.

Traditional Stocks: EMC, Halliburton

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Ford (10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/28 AM), Facebook (10/28 PM), Twitter (10/27 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 – June 1, 2014

I read an excellent article by Doug Kass yesterday. Most of all it explained the origin and definition of the expression “Minsky Moment” that had suddenly come into vogue and received frequent mention late this past week.

I enjoy Kass’ perspectives and opinions and especially admire his wide range of interests and willingness to state his positions without spinning reality to conform to a fantasy.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the expression was finding its way back to use as Paul McCulley, late of PIMCO, who had coined the phrase, was being re-introduced to the world as the newest PIMCO employee, by a beaming Bill Gross.

The basic tenet in the Kass article was that growing complacency among investors could lead to a Minsky Moment. By definition that is a sudden collapse of asset values which had been buoyed by speculation and the use of borrowed money, although that didn’t appear to be the basis for the assertion that investors should prepare for a Minsky Moment.

Kass, however, based his belief in the possibility of an impending Minsky Moment on the historically low level of market volatility, which he used as a proxy for complacency. In turn, Kass simply stated that a Minsky Moment “sometimes occurs when complacency sets in.”

You can argue the relative foundations of those suppositions that form the basis for the belief that it may be opportune to prepare for a Minsky Moment. Insofar as it is accurate to say that sometimes complacency precedes a Minsky Moment and that volatility is a measure of complacency, then perhaps volatility is an occasional predictor of a sudden and adverse market movement.

Volatility is a complex concept that has its basis in a purely statistical and completely unemotional measure of dispersion of returns for an investment or an index. However, it has also been used as a reflection of investor calm or anxiety, which as far as I know has an emotional component. Yet volatility is also used by some as a measure the expectation of a large movement in one direction or another.

Right now, the low volatility indicates that there has been little dispersion of price, or put another way there has been very little variation in price in the recent past. Having gone nearly 2 years without a 10% correction most would agree, without the need for statistical analysis, that the variation in stock price has been largely in a single direction.

However, few will argue that volatility is a forward looking measure.

Kass noted that “fueled by new highs and easy money, market observers are now growing more optimistic.”

Coincidentally enough, on the day before the Kass article appeared, I wrote in my Daily Market Update about complacency and compared it to the 1980s and 2007.

Of course, that was done through the lens of an individual investor with money on the line and not a “market observer.”

While I’m very mindful of volatility, especially as low volatility drives down option premiums, it doesn’t feel as if the historic low volatility is reflective of individual investor complacency. In fact, even among those finding the limelight, there is very little jumping up and down about the market achieving new daily highs. The feeling of invincibility is certainly not present.

Anyone who remembers 1987 will recall that there was a 5 year period when we didn’t know the meaning of a down market. Complacency is when you have a certain smugness and believe that things will only go your way and risk is perceived to be without risk.

Anyone who remembers 2007 will also recall how bored we became by new daily record highs, almost as if they were entitlements and we just expected that to keep being the new norm.

I don’t know of many that feel the same way now. What you do hear is that this is the least liked and respected rally of all time and the continuing expectation for some kind of reversal.

That doesn’t sound like complacency.

While the Volatility Index may be accurately portraying market prices that have demonstrated little variation over a finite time frame, I don’t believe that it remotely reflects individual investor sentiment.

As opposed to earlier times when new market highs were seen as preludes to even greater rewards you may be hard pressed to find those who believe that the incremental reward actually exceeds the risk of pursuing that reward.

Put me in that latter camp.

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

One stock that I really haven’t liked very much has been Whole Foods (WFM). I say that only because it has consistently been a disappointment for me and has reflected my bad market timing. WHile I often like to add shares in positions that are showing losses and using a “Having a Child to Save a Life” strategy, I’ve resisted doing so with Whole Foods.

However, it finally seems as if the polar vortex is a thing of the past and the market has digested Whole Foods’ expansion and increased cap-ex and its strain on profits. But that’s a more long term perspective that I rarely care about. Instead, it appears as if shares have finally found a floor or at least some stability. At least enough so to consider trying to generate some income from option sales and perhaps some capital gains on the underlying shares, as well, as I believe there will be some progress toward correcting some of its recent price plunge.

Mosaic (MOS) which goes ex-dividend th

is week is one stock that I’ve been able to attenuate some of the pain related to its price drop upon news of the break-up of the potash cartel, through the use of the “Having a Child to Save a Life” strategy. Shares have slowly and methodically worked their way higher since that unexpected news, although have seen great resistance at the $50 level, where it currently trades.

While I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, Mosaic, if able to push past that resistance may be able to have a small gap upward and for that reason, if purchasing shares, I’m not likely to write calls on the entire position, in anticipation of some capital gain on shares, in addition to the dividend and option premiums.

Holly Frontier (HFC) also goes ex-dividend this week. Like so many stocks that I like to consider, it has been recently trading in a range and has occasional paroxysms of price movement. Those quick and unpredictable moves keep option premiums enticing and its tendency to restrict its range have made it an increasingly frequent target for purchase. It is currently trading near the high of my comfort level, but that can be said about so many stocks at the moment, as they rotate in and out of favor with one another, as the market reaches its own new highs.

Lowes (LOW) us one of those companies that must have a strong sense of self-worth, as it is always an also-ran to Home Depot (HD) in the eyes of analysts, although not always in the eyes of investors. It, too, seems to now be trading in a comfortable range, although that range has been recently punctuated by some strong and diverse price moves which have helped to maintain the option premiums, despite overall low market volatility.

MasterCard (MA) was one of the early casualties I experienced when initially beginning to implement a covered call strategy. I never thought that it would soar to the heights that it did and my expectations for it to drop a few hundred points just never happened, unless you don’t understand stock splits.

For some reason, while Apple (AAPL) shares never seemed too expensive for purchase, MasterCard did feel that way to me although at its peak it wasn’t very much higher than Apple at its own peak. Also, unlike Apple which will start trading its post-split shares this week, that split isn’t likely to induce me to purchase shares, while the split in MasterCard was a welcome event and re-introduced me to ownership.

With a theme of trading in a range and having its price punctuated by significant moves, MasterCard has been a nice covered option trade and I would be welcome to the possibility of re-purchasing shares after a recent assignment. With some of the uncertainty regarding its franchise in Russia now resolved and with the hopes that consumer discretionary spending will increase, MasterCard is a proverbial means to print money and generate option income.

I was considering the purchase of shares of Joy Global (JOY) on Friday and the sale of deep in the money weekly calls in the hope that the shares would be assigned early in order to capture its dividend, as Friday would have been the last day to have done so. That would have prevented exposure to the coming week’s earnings release.

Instead, following a nearly 2% price drop I decided to wait until Monday, foregoing the modest dividend in the hope that a further price drop would occur before Thursday’s scheduled earnings.

With its reliance on Chinese economic activity Joy Global may sometimes offer a better glimpse into the reality of that nation that official data. With its share price down approximately 6% in the past month and with my threshold 1% ROI currently attainable at a strike level that is outside of the lower boundary defined by the implied move, the sale of put contracts may have some appeal.

If there may be a poster child for the excesses of a market that may perhaps be a sign of an impending Minsky Moment, salesforce.com (CRM) should receive some consideration. Although there are certainly other stocks that have maintained a high profile and have seen their fortunes wax and wane, salesforce.com seems to go out of its way to attract attention.

Following a precipitous recent decline in price over the past few days shares seemed to be on the rebound. This past Friday morning came word of an alliance with Microsoft (MSFT), a company that salesforce.com’s CEO, Marc Benioff, has disparaged in the past.

While that alliance still shouldn’t be surprising, after all, it is all about business and personal conflict should take a back seat to profits, what was surprising was that the strong advance in the pre-open trading was fairly quickly reversed once the morning bell was rung.

With a sky high beta, salesforce.com isn’t a prime candidate for consideration at a time when the market itself may be at a precipice. However, for those with some room in the speculative portion of their portfolio, the sale of puts may be a reasonable way to participate in the drama that surrounds this stock. However, I would be inclined to consider rolling over put options in the event that assignment looks likely, rather than accepting assignment.

Finally, everyone seems to have an opinion about Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). Whether its the actual clothing, the marketing, the abhorrent behavior of its CEO or the stock, itself, there’s no shortage of material for casual conversation. Over the past two years it has been one of my most frequent trades and has sometimes provided some anxious moments, as it tends to have price swings on a regular basis.

Abercrombie reported earnings last week and I had sold puts in anticipation. Unlike most times when I sell puts my interest is not in potentially owning shares at a lower price, but rather to simply generate an option premium and then hopefully move on without shares nor obligation. However, in the case of Abercrombie, if those put contracts were to have fallen below their strike levels, I was prepared to take delivery of shares.

While rolling over such puts would have been a choice, Abercrombie does go ex-dividend this week and its ability to demonstrate price recovery and essentially arise from ashes it fairly well demonstrated.

My preference would have been that Abercrombie had a mild post-earnings
loss, as it is near the higher end of where i would consider a purchase, but it’s an always intriguing and historically profitable position, despite all of the rational reasons to run fro ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, MasterCard, Whole Foods

Momentum: salesforce.com

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (6/3), Holly Frontier (6/4), Mosaic (6/3),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (6/5 AM)

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 25, 2014

This was a good week, every bit as much as it was an odd one. 

You almost can’t spell “good” without “odd.”

We tend to be creatures that spend a lot of time in hindsight and attempting to dissect out what we believe to be the important components of everything that surrounds us or impacts upon us.

Sometimes what’s really important is beyond our ability to  see or understand or is just so counter-intuitive to what we believe to be true. I’m always reminded of the great Ralph Ellison book, “The Invisible Man,” in which it’s revealed that the secret to obtaining the most pure of white paints is the addition of a drop of black paint.

That makes no sense on any level unless you suspend rational thought and simply believe. Rational thought has little role when it calls for the suspension of belief.

This past week there was no reason to believe that anything good would transpire.

Coming on the heels of the previous week, which saw a perfectly good advance evaporate by week’s end there wasn’t a rational case to be made for expecting anything better the following week. That was especially true after the strong sell-off this past Tuesday.

Rational thought would never have taken the antecedent events to signal that the market would alter its typical pattern of behavior on the day of an FOMC statement release. That behavior was to generally trade in a reserved and cautious fashion prior to the 2 PM embargo release and then shift into chaotic knee-jerks and equally chaotic post-kneejerk course corrections.

Instead, the market advanced strongly from the opening bell on that day, erasing the previous day’s losses and had no immediate reaction to the FOMC release and then in an orderly fashion moved mildly higher after the words were parsed and interpreted.

The trading on that day and its timing were entirely irrational. It was odd, but it was good.

Ordinarily it would have also been irrational to expect a rational response to the minutes that offered no new news, as in the past real news was not a necessary factor for irrational buying or selling behavior.

The ensuing rational behavior was also odd, but it, too, was good.

As another new high was set to end the week there should be concern about approaching a tipping point, especially as the number of new highs is on the down trend. However, the market’s odd behavior the past week gives me reason to be optimistic in the short term, despite a belief that the upside reward is now considerably less than the downside risk in the longer term. 

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

This was a week in which those paid to observe such things finally commented on the disappointing results coming from retailers, despite the fact that the past two or three quarters have been similar and certainly not reflective of the kind of increased discretionary spending you might expect with increasing employment statistics.

With some notable exceptions, such as LuLuLemon (LULU) and Family Dollar Store (FDO) I’ve enjoyed being in and out of retailers, although I think I’d rather be maimed than actually be in and out of anyone’s actual store.

This week a number of retailers have appeal, either on their merits or because there may be some earnings related trades seeking to capitalize on their movements. Included for their merits are in the list are Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), eBay (EBAY), Nike (NKE) and The Gap (GPS), while Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) and Kors (KORS) report earnings this week.

After a disappointing earnings report Bed Bath and Beyond has settled into a trading range and gas seemed to establish some support at the $60 level. Along with so many others that have seen their shares punished after earnings the recovery of share price seems delayed as compared to previous markets. For the option seller that kind of listless trading can be precisely the scenario that returns the best results.

eBay has also stagnated. With Carl Icahn still in the picture, but uncharacteristically quiet, especially after the announcement of a repatriation of some $6 billion in cash back to the United States and, therefore, subject to taxes, there doesn’t seem to be a catalyst for a return to its recent highs. That suits me just fine, as I’ve liked eBay at the $52 level for quite a while and it has been one of my more frequent in and out kind of trades. At present, I do own two other lots of shares and three lots is my self imposed limit, but for those considering an initial entry, eBay has been seen as a mediocre performer in the eyes of those expecting upward price movement, but a superstar from those seeking premium income through the serial sale of option contracts week in and out. If you’re the latter kind, eBay can be as rewarding as the very best of the rest.

The Gap reported earnings on Friday and exhibited little movement. It’s currently trading at the high end of where I like to initiate positions, but it, too, has been a very reliable covered option trade. An acceptable dividend and a fair option premium makes it an appealing recurrent trade. The only maddening aspect of The Gap is that it is one of the few remaining retailers that oddly provides monthly same store sales and as a result it is prone to wild price swings on a regular basis. Those price swings, however, tend to be alternating and do help to keep those option premiums elevated.

You simply take the good with the odd in the case of The Gap and shrug your shoulders when the market response is adverse and just await the next opportunity when suddenly all is good again.

Despite all of the past criticism and predictions of its irrelevance in the marketplace Abercrombie and Fitch continues to be a survivor.  This past Friday was the second anniversary of the initial recommendation of taking a position for Option to Profit subscribers, although I haven’t owned shares in nearly 5 months. Since that in

itial purchase there have been 18 such recommendations, with a cumulative 71.5% return, despite shares having barely moved during that time frame.

Always volatile, especially when earnings are due, the options market is currently implying a 10.2% move in price. For me, the availability of a 1% ROI from selling put contracts at a strike level outside of the lower boundary of that implied range gets my interest. In this case shares could fall up to 13.9% before assignment is likely and still deliver that return.

Kors, also known as “Coach (COH) Killer” also reports earnings this week. It has stood out recently because it hasn’t been subject to the same kind of selling pressure as some other “momentum” stocks. The option market is implying a price movement of 7.4%, while a 1% ROI from put sales may be obtained at a strike level currently 8.8% below Friday’s closing price. However, while Abercrombie and Fitch has plenty of experience with disappointing earnings and has experienced drastic price drops, Kors has yet to really face those kinds of challenges. In the current market environment earnings disappointments are being magnified and the risk – reward proposition with an earnings related trade in Kors may not be as favorable as for that with Abercrombie.

In the case of Kors I may be more inclined to consider a trade after earnings, particularly considering the sale of puts if earnings are disappointing and shares plummet.

After last week’s brief ownership of Under Armour (UA) this week it may be time to consider a purchase of Nike, which under-performed Under Armour for the week. Shares also go ex-dividend this week and have been reasonably range-bound of late. It isn’t a terribly exciting trade, but at this stage of life, who really needs excitement? I also don’t need a pair of running shoes and could care less about making a fashion statement, but I do like the idea of its consistency and relatively low risk necessary in order to achieve a modest reward.

Transocean (RIG) is off of its recent lows, but still has quite a way to go to return to its highs of earlier in the year. Going ex-dividend this week, the 5.7% yield has made the waiting on a more expensive lot of shares to recover a bit easier. As with eBay, I already have two lots of shares, but believe that at the current level this is a good time for initial entry, perhaps considering a longer term option contract and seeking capital gains on shares, as well. As with most everything in business and economy, the current oversupply or rigs will soon become an under supply and Transocean will reap the benefits of cyclicality.

Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) also goes ex-dividend this week. It is an important player in my area and has become the largest operator of local television stations in the nation, while most people have never heard the name. It is an infrequent purchase for me, but I always consider doing so as it goes ex-dividend, particularly if trading at the mid-point of its recent range. CUrrently shares a little higher than I might prefer, but with only monthly options available and an always healthy premium, I think that even at the current level there is good opportunity, even if shares do migrate to the low end of its current range.

Finally, Joy Global (JOY), one of those companies whose fortunes are closely tied to Chinese economic reports, has seen a recent 5% price drop from its April 2014 highs. While it is still above the price that I usually like to consider for an entry, I may be interested in participating this week with either a put sale of a buy/write.

Among the considerations are events coming the following week, as shares go ex-dividend early in the week and then the company reports earnings later in the week.

While my preference would be for a quick one week period of involvement, there always has to be the expectation of well laid out plans not being realized. In this case the sale of puts that may need to be rolled over would benefit from enhanced earnings related premiums, but would suffer a bit as the price decrease from the dividend may not be entirely reflected in the option premium. That’s similar to what is occasionally seen on the call side, when option premiums may be higher than they rightfully should be, as the dividend is not fully accounted.

Otherwise, if beginning a position with a buy/write and not seeing shares assigned at the end of the week, I might consider a rollover to a deep in the money call, thereby taking advantage of the enhanced premiums and offering a potential exit in the event that shares fall with the guidelines predicted by the implied volatility. Additionally, it might offer the chance of early assignment prior to earnings due to the Monday ex-dividend date, thereby providing a quick exit and the full premium without putting in the additional time and risk.

 

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, eBay, The Gap

Momentum: Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Nike (5/29 $0.24), Sinclair Broadcasting (5/28 $0.15), Transocean (5/28 $0.75)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (5/29 AM), Kors (5/28 AM)

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.