Weekend Update – March 22, 2015

The past week has to be one to make most people pause and try to understand the basis for what we just experienced.

In a week otherwise devoid of any meaningful news there was a singular event in the middle of the week and then a little bit of follow-up to help clarify that event.

That event was the release of this month’s FOMC Statement and the subsequent clarifying event was the press conference held by its Chair, Janet Yellen.

In its aftermath, I am more confused than ever.

Not so much about where interest rates are headed, nor when, but more about the thought processes that propel markets when expectations are so clearly defined and what our continuing expectations should be.

Most everyone who follows markets knows that the great debate of late has not been whether the FOMC was going to begin the process of raising interest rates, but when they were going to begin that process. Somehow, we believed that the answer to that question was going to come when we learned whether the word “patience” would continue to characterize the FOMC’s timetable with regard to its effort to “normalize the stance of monetary policy.”

Most had taken positions that the first rate increase would come either as early as this June or perhaps as late as September. The continuing use of the word “patience” was perceived as a sign that interest rate increases wouldn’t occur until sometime after June 2015.

So you have to excuse some confusion when the market reversed course by more than 300 points as it learned that the word “patience” was eliminated, but also received news that the FOMC didn’t foresee an interest rate increase before their next meeting in April 2015.

April?

That could mean that an increase by the May meeting was still on the table and the last time I looked, May came before June, especially if you believe a more hawkish approach is warranted.

Presumably, it was the fear of interest rate increases coming as early as June that was a source for recent market weakness.

As I parsed the words I couldn’t understand the way in which the news was initially embraced. While I expected that regardless of the wording outcome the market would find reason to move forward, I certainly didn’t expect the reaction that ensued, especially since the signal was so mixed and really offered nothing to get excited about, nor to fear.

No rate increase likely in April? That’s the best the FOMC could do?

But in a world where even the slightest of interest rate increases is feared, despite the past evidence suggesting that it should be embraced, the very thought of an increase possibly coming before June should have sent buyers heading for the exits.

Yet it was more than good enough, at least for a couple of hours, and actually represented the first in 7 trading sessions where the market reversed course intra-day, having had triple digit moves in opposite directions each and every one of those days.

Now clearly that has to inspire confidence for whatever is to come next.

It’s a good thing that I don’t believe very much in chart analysis, because it would otherwise be very tempting to notice that the previous 7 trading sessions shows a clear pattern of lower highs and higher lows when looking at the net change and an even more compelling series of higher highs and higher lows when looking at the DJIA closing levels.

Yet, at the same time, it has been nearly 4 weeks ever since the DJIA has been able to string together as little as 2 consecutive days of gains.

Perhaps not to coincidentally the last time the market was able to do that was on the occasion of Janet Yellen’s two day mandated congressional testimony during which time she re-iterated a dovish position regarding the initiation of interest rate increases. But barely 2 days later suspicion of her intentions set in as the Vice-Chairman of the FOMC, Stanley Fischer struck a more hawkish tone that just a week later seemed to be validated by the Employment Situation Report.

Despite the fact that there has been no other corroborating evidence to drive the data that the FOMC insists that it values, the market lost its forward momentum from February until Janet Yellen once again took center stage.

Why people just didn’t believe her all along is a mystery, just as it is a mystery that they again chose to believe her.

How long will the trust in her comforting words last this time?

Perhaps Friday’s GDP release, coming on the same day as a scheduled speech by Stanley Fischer will give us some idea of the staying power of the dove when faced with a circling hawk.

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

“PEE” categories.

It was neither a good week to be DuPont (NYSE:DD) nor eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) as both received analyst downgrades and saw their shares fall significantly when compared to the S&P 500 over the previous 7 sessions.

DuPont’s downgrade came amid worries of problems in its agricultural and chemical segments, along with concerns about the kind of currency headwinds that we’re likely to be hearing much more about in the coming weeks as the next earnings season gets ready to begin.

While those are all important issues, certainly important enough to see DuPont’s shares fall nearly 9% relative to the S&P 500 in the past week, there was lots of activist related news that may be setting the stage for a more contentious kind of fight than Nelson Peltz usually gets himself into. However, it is that activist position that the analyst recognized as a risk to his overall negative outlook as Peltz took to the media last week to be both more accommodating in his requests to DuPont, but also to voice his frustrations.

In the meantime the recent drop in share price is similar to other such drops seen in the past year that have been at levels representing higher lows and that have set the stage for climbs to higher highs.

While Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) may be suffering from some of the same issues as DuPont and has the added liability of oil interests in Kuwait, it is at least seemingly at peace with its own activist investors, or at the very least the relations are not overtly adverse at the moment.

Dow Chemical has been very much tied to energy prices these past few months even as its CEO Andrew Liveris has clearly stated that on a net basis the decrease in energy prices is beneficial to Dow Chemical, as it pays more for energy input than it depends on revenue from energy outputs.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and are attractively priced, although as long as energy is under pressure and as long as Liveris’ contention goes ignored, the shares will be under pressure. I currently own shares and Dow Chemical was for a long time a staple in my portfolio, both as a long term holding and as a frequent trading vehicle. At the current price I think a new position could be used as either a longer term holding or a serial trade.

eBay has been absent from my portfolio for a couple of months as I’ve grown too uneasy with it flirting near the $60 level to consider re-purchasing shares. Even the $57.50 level puts me at unease, but a recent downgrade calling into question the value of its PayPal unit in light of increasing competition, most recently from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was welcome and did bring shares closer to the upper level at which I had some comfort.

Shares recovered nicely from the initial reaction to the downgrade, but still trailed the S&P 500 by 5% over the past 7 trading sessions.

In the past I have very much liked owning eBay when it was mired in a tight range, yet still delivered appealing option premiums due to the occasional earnings related surprises. The story changed once activism entered the picture and shares started moving beyond the 2 year price range in the belief that PayPal had great value beyond what was already reflected in eBay’s price.

With each passing day, however, the luster of PayPal may be diminishing, even as it still remains an extremely valuable brand and service.

As it sits at the upper end of where I would consider taking a position, I would be very interested in either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts on any further drop in price. If selling puts this is one position that I wouldn’t mind taking assignment on in the event of an adverse price move, but would still look at the possibility of simply rolling over those puts to forward weeks.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is increasingly becoming an interesting company. While it certainly has some challenges as it’s chief revenue generating drug goes off patent next year, it has certainly been actively pursuing other lucrative areas, including management of Hepatitis C and cancer therapy, with its planned purchase of Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ:PCYC).

While shares have recovered somewhat from its recent low following an analyst downgrade, they are still nearly 8% lower YTD, but the company is certainly not standing still. In addition to upside potential, the shares offer attractive option premiums and an upcoming dividend that’s well ahead of that offered by its one time parent.

I’m not much of a video gamer even though I can get easily get sucked in by useless activities of a repetitive nature. My guess is that a combination of lack of skill, lack of attention span and allegiance to pinball have kept me indifferent to much of the last 25 years of home entertainment.

This week, however, GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) have my attention.

I was actually happy to see my shares of GameStop get assigned this past week ahead of earnings this week. The timing was good as its generous dividend was captured without having to think about the risk of its upcoming earnings.

GameStop is a company that many have written off for years, pointing toward its paleolithic business model, the challenges of brick and mortar as well as streaming competition and the always large short interest looming over shares.

But somehow it continues to confound everyone.

With shares about 10% higher in March the option market is implying a price move of 7.8% upon earnings release. Meanwhile a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained even if shares fall almost 10% following the news. As with eBay, GameStop is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning if puts were at risk of being assigned. However, I’d be much more willing to sell puts if there was some price weakness heading into earnings. Otherwise, I would wait until after earnings and again consider the sale of puts in the event of a large price drop.

The last time I purchased Activision was after its own large price drop following earnings this past February when the company announced record earnings but provided weak forward guidance.

Shares, however, recovered quickly as Activision announced a large share buyback and increased dividend. Since then the shares have been trading in a fairly tight range and they are ex-dividend this week.

That dividend, however, is an annual one and on that basis is paltry. However, if shares end up being a short term holding the dividend yield can be very attractive, especially taken together with the option premiums available when selling calls.

Finally, LuLuLemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings this week and appears to be back in favor with shoppers as the company appears to be sufficiently distanced from its founder. Time may have been the best of all remedies to their particular problem as shares have shown great recovery.

The option market is implying an earnings related move of 8% and a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained when selling puts at a strike level 10.1% below Friday’s closing price. In the past, LuLuLemon has had some very significant earnings moves, with 15-20% moves not being out of the norm.

However, unlike a number of other stocks mentioned this week, LuLuLemon had nicely out-performed the S&P 500 over the past 7 trading sessions. For that reason I would be inclined to wait until after earnings are released and would consider either a sale of puts or a buy/write in the event of a large price drop.

Traditional Stocks: AbbVie, DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Activision (3/26), Dow Chemical (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/26 PM), LuLuLemon (3/26 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.

Hits: 7

Weekend Update – February 8, 2015

There’s not too much doubt that this past week had a character that was very different from nearly every week that had preceded it thus far in 2015, which has been predominated by sad faces.

The problem encountered in January and helping to create a sea of sad faces is that we were all expecting to begin seeing evidence of an improving economy. That kind of anticipation timed along with what we often believe to be a traditionally positive January market easily set the stage for disappointment.

The narrative that seemed so logical and convincing included more jobs, higher wages and newfound personal wealth due to slashed energy prices. The problem, though, was that when the time came for corroborating data to take the narrative into the realm of non-fiction it just wasn’t on the same page.

Retail Sales weren’t what we were expecting and neither was the GDP. Manufacturing data was falling and the early results from earnings season were less than stellar, as good news failed to materialize or coalesce into a coherent story in support of the narrative.

However, this past week caught glimpses of good news to come, as some prominent national retailers provided improved guidance that was finally in line with the theory that we had come to accept as gospel. Finally there was some indication that lower energy prices were going to result in more discretionary spending. What was especially encouraging was that the improvement on the retail side was no longer being confined to the more luxurious end of the spectrum.

I preferred this week’s “happy face” version of 2015, even if the week did end on a little bit of a down note after a day that featured a near flawless “Employment Situation Report,” that included some sizeable revisions to previous months.

In a perfect example of the concept that “as an investor and a consumer you can not have your cake and eat it, too” the market went higher, but so did 10 Year Treasury rates and energy prices, but within reason that can be a good trade-off.

2015 has been pretty dizzying thus far. All you have to do is take a look at an S&P 500 chart since having reached market highs at the end of December 2014. It doesn’t take long to realize that market tests have been coming at a far greater frequency or on a more compressed time frame than they had been coming in almost 3 years.

The good news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those selling. The bad news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those buying.

The activity seen in 2015 will lead some to believe that it demonstrates the market’s resilience, while others will be less optimistic and point out that large moves higher, as have been commonplace in 2015 are typically seen in or approaching bear markets.

Fortunately, we will have hindsight to guide us.

Until that point that hindsight kicks in there is the problem of deciding whether it’s a smiling face or a
sad face that awaits in the near future.

With the otherwise under-appreciated JOLT Survey, which Janet Yellen has said held increasing importance as it may indicate workforce optimism and another Retail Sales report coming this week, there may be more reason to add to the trickle of evidence that may validate last week’s happy faces.

Of course, while official government reports and data are certainly meaningful, despite a propensity toward revision, the really meaningful data may start coming in just a few weeks. At that time the major retailers begin to release their earnings. Perhaps more importantly than those earnings ending in December 2014, they will have also had 2 additional months of observation to either validate or negate the narrative and also provide changed forward guidance.

I have my “happy face” mask within easy reach, although the sad face is never far away.

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

One of the reasons that I like Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) so much is that it is prone to large and decisive movements, but is otherwise a fairly staid stock that has a nice habit of seeing its price revert toward the mean.

Fastenal reported good earnings just a few weeks ago, but this past week reported weaker than expected January sales resulting in another of those decisive movements that rippled through to its competitors, as well.

The hindsight tool indicates that over the past few years these kind of drops from about the $45 level have proven to be a good time to purchase or add shares. While only offering a monthly options contract there are now only 2 weeks remaining on the February 2015 cycle. However, during the 10 occasions that I have owned shares in the past 18 months I’ve held them through only a single monthly option cycle just once, so it does tend to be a longer holding.

While “old tech” was weak last weak and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been weak since releasing its earnings, a nearly 10% drop seems excessive, but a welcome return to a price level last seen 6 months ago.

Among my favorite kind of option contract sales, but ones that I only infrequently get to execute, are for those going ex-dividend on a Monday. In such cases, early assignment has to occur on the previous Friday. If selling an option contract expiring the same week as the ex-dividend date and shares are assigned early to capture the dividend, the contract seller won’t get the dividend, but does get an additional week of premium and a return of cash from the assignment which can then be re-invested to generate more income.

Microsoft shares go ex-dividend on Tuesday February 17th, the day after the Presidents Day holiday. That means if an option contract is to be exercised early it must be done on the preceding Friday and may offer one of those opportunities to benefit whe

ther the option is exercised early or not.

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) also goes ex-dividend this week. While oil was nearly 10% higher for the week and may reasonably be expected to undergo some short term profit taking, as too many have foregone their bearish sentiment, Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to decrease its capital expenditures is just another in the steps necessary to nudge the supply-demand equilibrium toward a balance favoring price.

The process, however, unless there is an unexpected event or change in policy, such as Saudi Arabia cutting production in exchange for Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, is a slow one. I would, therefore, look at a holding in Royal Dutch Shell to be of a longer term nature and the absence of weekly options removes some of the risk of short term volatility.

However, if it’s volatility that you’re looking for, then Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) may be just the thing, as precious metals has seen a very clear increase in its volatility and has trickled down to the level of the miners.

Over the past 2 months this has been one of my favorite trades as I’ve rolled over existing positions numerous times, sometimes more than once in a week and even electing to rollover when assignment was nearly certain in order to keep deriving income from the holding.

As seen this past week and nearly every week in the past 2 months these shares can move up and down very quickly, but for those who believe that precious metals or some proxy should be in the speculative portion of their portfolio, this may be a suitable addition, especially as uncertainty abounds in stocks, bonds, currencies and metals.

While I only have room for one energy sector position, Marathon Oil also goes ex-dividend this week and has reasons to be considered.

While its dividend is far below that of Royal Dutch Shell, it has also suffered a far greater decline from its recent high level. While I think that decline near its end, it does have earnings to report on February 18, 2015, a week after its ex-dividend date.

Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), unlike Royal Dutch Shell does offer weekly option contracts providing opportunities to focus on either or both events by selecting different expiration dates. In the case of Marathon, as we’ve seen with many others in the energy sector reporting their earnings, the reality has been better than the fears and shares have done well in the aftermath. With that in mind I look at Marathon as potentially offering a good dividend and upside potential from earnings, in addition to an option premium that;’s enhanced by the upcoming earnings as well as the added volatility surrounding energy names.

International Paper (NYSE:IP) also is ex-dividend this week and while it is near its 52 week high and 20% higher from its earnings release in October 2014, its near term prospects don’t appear to hold a return to that level. Instead, I think that there is still room for some capital appreciation, or at least continuing to trade in its recent range, while offering the opportuni

ty to accumulate premiums.

The company has been very shareholder friendly with spin-offs, increasing share buybacks and dividend increases in each of the past 5 years. That’s a nice combination for those who need something to offset the lack of excitement in its actual businesses.

After announcing record earnings, but weak forward guidance, shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) briefly suffered a sharp fall. However, when there was some opportunity to really evaluate the increased share buyback announced and the increased dividend analysts dismissed the importance of the lowered guidance and shares recovered.

Other than experiencing some currency headwinds, margins on its products are expected to increase as it its share of digital download revenues. After all, what is a “millennial” going to spend their newly found cash on if not gaming? In return, Activision may have some upside share potential supported by its buyback and a nice option premium to help atone for the adventure that may await with share ownership.

Finally, what’s a day without the report of a new cyber-hack and the theft of personal data? Last week’s report of a massive and successful attack of a healthcare insurer, that made away with personally identifying data and not just credit card numbers, may be the start of massive headaches for many in the 14 states served by that insurer who may find that joining the witness protection program and changing their name and date of birth may be the best remedy.

While retaining FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE) after the hack isn’t terribly different from closing the barn door a little too late, it certainly raises the profile of companies in the cyber-security arena even higher.

FireEye reports earnings this week and if you only looked at a 6 month chart you would think that it had done well in scratching its way back toward its August 2014 level. However, a look beyond 6 months shows just how far shares have fallen in the past year.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move upon earnings and based on past history that may be an under-estimate of what may be possible. However, one may be able to obtain a 1% ROI by selling a weekly put option at a strike level that is about 15.7% Friday’s closing price.

However, since shares are already up about 12% in the past week, I would consider the sale of puts only if there is a meaningful price decline prior to earnings, or if that doesn’t occur, if there is a significant decline after earnings, as FireEye has disappointed in the past and it’s a fickle stock market that has to decide whether the past is more important than the future.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal

Momentum Stocks: Activision Blizzard, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper , Marathon Oil (2/11), Microsoft (2/17), Royal Dutch Shell (2/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: FireEye (2/11 PM)

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

 

Hits: 10

 
%d bloggers like this: