Weekend Update – March 6, 2016

Depending upon what kind of outlook you have in life, the word “limbo” can conjure up two very different pictures.

For some it can represent a theologically defined place of temporary internment for those sinners for whom redemption was still possible. 

In simple terms it may be thought of as a place between the punishing heat and torment of hell below and the divineness and comfort of heaven above.

Others may just see an image reminding them of a fun filled Caribbean night watching a limber individual dancing underneath and maybe dangerously close to a flaming bar that just keeps getting set lower and lower.

Both definitions of “limbo” require some significant balancing to get it just right.

For example, you don’t get entrance into the theologically defined “Limbo” if the preponderance of your sins are so grievous that you can’t find yourself having died in “the friendship of God.” Instead of hanging around and waiting for redemption, you get a one way ticket straight to the bottom floor.

It may take a certain balance of the quantity and quality of both the good and the bad acts that one has committed during their mortal period to determine whether they can ever have a chance to move forward and upward to approach the pearly gates of heaven.

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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 – February 9, 2014

Everything is crystal clear now.

After three straight weeks of losses to end the trading week, including deep losses the past two weeks everyone was scratching their heads to recall the last time a single month had fared so poorly.

What those mounting losses accomplished was to create a clear vision of what awaited investors as the past week was to begin.

Instead, it was nice to finish on an up note to everyone’s confusion.

When you think you are seeing things most clearly is when you should begin having doubts.

Who saw a two day 350 point gain coming, unless they had bothered to realize that this week was featuring an Employment Situation Report? The one saving grace we have is that for the past 18 months you could count on a market rally to greet the employment news, regardless of whether the news met, exceeded or fell short of expectations.

That’s clarity. It’s confusing, but it’s a rare sense of clarity that comes from being so successful in its ability to predict an outcome that itself is based upon human behavior.

As the week began with a 325 point loss in the DJIA voices started bypassing talk of a 10% correction and starting uttering thoughts of a 15-20% correction. 10% was a bygone conclusion. At that point most everyone agreed that it was very clear that we were finally being faced with the “healthy” correction that had been so long overdue.

When in the middle of that correction nothing really feels very healthy about it, but when people have such certainty about things it’s hard to imagine that they might be wrong. With further downside seen by the best and brightest we were about to get healthier than our portfolios might be able to withstand.

It was absolutely amazing how clearly everyone was able to see the future. What made things even more ominous and sustaining their view was the impending Employment Situation Report due at the end of the week. Following last month’s abysmal numbers, ostensibly related to horrid weather across the country, there wasn’t too much reason to expect much in the way of an improvement this time around. Besides, the Nikkei and Russian stock markets had just dipped below the 10% threshold that many define as a market correction and as we’re continually reminded, it’s an inter-connected world these days. It wasn’t really a question of “whether,” it was a matter of “when?”

Then there was all that talk of how high the volatility was getting, even though it had a hard time even getting to October 2013 levels, much less matching historical heights. As everyone knows, volatility comes along with declining markets so the cycle was being put in place for the only outcome possible.

After Monday’s close the future was clear. Crystal clear.

Instead, the week ended with an 0.8% gain in the S&P 500 despite that plunge on Monday and a highly significant drop in volatility. The market responded to a disappointing Employment Situation Report with what logically or even using the “good news is bad news” kind of logic should not have been the case.

Now, with a week that started by confirming the road to correction we were left with a week that supported the idea that the market is resistant to a classic correction. Instead of the near term future of the markets being crystal clear we are left beginning this coming week with more confusion than is normally the case.

If it’s true that the market needs clarity in order to propel forward this shouldn’t be the week to commit yourself. However, the only thing that’s really clear about our notions is that they’re often without basis so the only reasonable advice is to do as in all weeks – look for situational opportunities that can be exploited without regard to what is going on in the rest of the world.

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

If you’re looking for certainty, or at least a company that has taken steps to diminish uncertainty, Microsoft (MSFT) is the one. With the announcement of the appointment of Satya Nadella, an insider, to be its new CEO, shares did exactly what the experts said it wouldn’t do. Not too long ago the overwhelming consensus was that the appointment of an outsider, such as Alan Mullaly would drive shares forward, while an insider would send shares tumbling into the 20s.

Microsoft simply stayed on its path with the news of an inside candidate taking the reigns. Regardless of its critics, Microsoft’s strategy is more coherent than it gets credit for and this leadership decision was a quantum leap forward, certainly far more important than discussions of screen size. With this level of certainty also comes the certainty of a dividend and attractive option premiums, making Microsoft a perennial favorite in a covered option strategy.

The antithesis of certainty may be found in the smallest of the sectors. With the tumult in pricing and contracts being promulgated by T-Mobile (TMUS) and its rebel CEO John Legere, there’s no doubt that the margins of all wireless providers is being threatened. Verizon (VZ) has already seen its share price make an initial response to those threats and has shown resilience even in the face of a declining market, as well. Although the next ex-dividend date is still relatively far away, there is a reason this is a favorite among buy and hold investors. As long as it continues to trade in a defined range, this is a position that I wouldn’t mind holding for a while and collecting option premiums and the occasional dividend.

Lowes (LOW) is always considered an also ran in the home improvement business and some recent disappointing home sales news has trickled down to Lowes’ shares. While it does report earnings during the first week of the March 2014 option cycle, I think there is some near term opportunity at it’s current lower price to see some share appreciation in addition to collecting premiums. However, I wouldn’t mind being out of my current shares prior to its scheduled earnings report.

Among those going ex-dividend this week are Conoco Phillips (COP), International Paper (IP) and Eli Lilly (LLY). In the past month I’ve owned all three concurrently and would be willing to do so again. While International Paper has outperformed the S&P 500 since the most recent market decline two weeks ago, it has also traded fairly rangebound over the past year and is now at the mid-point of that range. That makes it at a reasonable entry point.

Conoco Phillips appears to be at a good entry point simply by virtue of a nearly 12% decline from its recent high point which includes a 5% drop since the market’s own decline. With earnings out of the way, particularly as they have been somewhat disappointing for big oil and with an end in sight for the weather that has interfered with operations, shares are poised for recovery. The premiums and dividend make it easier to wait.

Eli Lilly is down about 5% from its recent high and I believe is the next due for its turn at a little run higher as the major pharmaceutical companies often alternate with one another. With Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) having recently taken those honors, it’s time for Eli Lilly to get back in the short term lead, as it is for recent also ran Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that was lost to assignment this past week and needs a replacement, preferably one offering a dividend.

Zillow (Z) reports earnings this week. In its short history as a publicly traded company it has had the ability to consistently beat analyst’s estimates and then usually see shares fall as earnings were released. That kind of doubled barrel consistency warrants some consideration this week as the option market is implying an 11% move this week. While that is possible, there is still an opportunity to generate a 1% ROI for the week if the share price falls by anything less than 16%.

While I’m not entirely comfortable looking for volatility among potential new positions two that do have some appeal are Coach (COH) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

Coach is a frequent candidate for consideration and I generally like it more when it’s being maligned. After last week’s blow-out earnings report by Michael Kors (KORS) the obvious next thought becomes how their earnings are coming at the expense of Coach. While there may be truth to that and has been the conventional wisdom for nearly 2 years, Coach has been able to find a very comfortable trading range and has been able to significantly increase its dividend in each of the past 4 years in time for the second quarter distribution. It’s combination of premiums, dividends and price stability, despite occasional swings, makes it worthy of consistent consideration.

I’ve been waiting for a while for another opportunity to add shares of Morgan Stanley. Down nearly 12% in the past 3 weeks may be the right opportunity, particularly as some European stability may be at hand following the European Central Bank’s decision to continue accommodation and provide some stimulus to the continent, where Morgan Stanley has interests, particularly being subject to “net counterparty exposure.” It’s ride higher has been sustained and for those looking at such things, it’s lows have been consistently higher and higher, making it a technician’s delight. I don’t really know about such things and charts certainly aren’t known for their clarity being validated, but its option premiums do compel me as do thoughts of a dividend increase that it i increasingly in position to institute.

Finally, if you’re looking for certainty you don’t have to look any further than at Chesapeake Energy (CHK) which announced a significant decrease in upcoming capital expenditures, which sent shares tumbling on the announcement. Presumably, it takes money to make money in the gas drilling business so the news wasn’t taken very well by investors. A very significant increase in option premiums early in the week suggested that some significant news was expected and it certainly came, with some residual uncertainty remaining in this week’s premiums. For those with some daring this may represent the first challenge since the days of Aubrey McClendon and may also represent an opportunity for shareholder Carl Icahn to enter the equation in a more activist manner.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, Microsoft, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Coach, Morgan Stanley,

Double Dip Dividend: Conoco Phillips (ex-div 2/13), International Paper (ex-div 2/12), Eli Lilly (ex-div 2/12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (2/12 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 – January 19, 2014

As you get older you realize certain truths and realities and they aren’t always warm and fuzzy.

One of those realities is that often many years of marriage come to an end once the children have left the household. Without the diversion of children always in need comes the realization that there is nothing of substance to hold together a failing foundation. Sometimes the realization is there, but swept under the rug as other events take precedence, but you always know that someday reality can no longer be delayed.

With my youngest child having graduated college that appears to be the story that we’ve heard on multiple occasions from like aged acquaintances and friends. Like most everything else in life there are parallels to the stock market.

We now find ourselves in a market faced with certain realities but without the diversions offered by European monetary crises, sequestration, fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, quantitative easing, credit downgrades and budgetary deadlines. Those diversions conveniently removed focus from the very foundation upon which stocks find their fair price and to which markets have traditionally responded.

All that is now left behind is earnings and it’s not a pretty prospect.

Perhaps in a manner similar to those in long standing unions who suddenly suffer from improved judgment following a youth blinded by the superficial, the market went through a period of not being terribly discerning and always finding reason to go higher. Interpreting economic news to be something other than what it is has its counterpart in idealizing the idea more than the hard facts.

The reality that is being faced is that of earnings and the failing of earnings to support an ongoing rise in the stock market.

Early suggestions that this earnings season would result in a 6% increase could only be the result of optics as publicly held shares have diminished through massive stock buybacks. However, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that the abysmal state of retail earnings has to have some meaning with regard to the ability of individuals to find discretionary spending within their reality.

As with the past two quarters with the big money financial centers reporting positive earnings, there is little reason to believe that will extend to the other members of the S&P 500 as they begin their reporting in earnest this week.

I’m prepared for the reality, but I still like the fantasy, so I expect to continue playing along this week, just a little more mindful of the obstacles that have a lot of catching up to do.

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

Among those reporting earnings this week is Coach (COH) which had fallen 6.2% last week, in preparation for what has become a near regular occurrence in the past 18 months upon earnings. While its most recent past has been to shed significant value when all is bared the option market is expecting an implied move of nearly 10%, in addition to the recent weakness. While Coach has had its competitive challenges it has somehow been able to find a fairly well defined trading range, punctuated with some significant moves and periods of recovery or occasionally, decline. In 2013, I traded Coach for all earnings reports, three of which were through the sale of puts. Despite the dramatic moves following all of last year’s earnings reports, predominantly lower, Coach has been and may continue to be an erratic position that offers acceptable reward for defined risk.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) also reports earnings this week. Just a few months ago, prior to its last report, it did what many have been doing of late and offered some earnings warnings and saw shares plummet more than 20%, leaving virtually nothing more to fall. Like Coach, Cypress Semiconductor has a habit of seeing its share price gravitate back toward a set level with some regularity. Having already fallen approximately 4% in the past two weeks. While the option market is implying a 9% move this week as earnings are announced, I think that it will be much less pronounced and more likely to have some upside potential. After having shares assigned this past Friday, rather than selling puts,as I often do when earnings are at hand, I am considering the purchase of shares and sale of calls on only a portion of shares or at both the $10 and $11 levels to potentially capitalize on share appreciation.

Anadarko (APC) had a brief spike in price this past week, nearly three weeks after plummeting upon news that it might be facing a $14 billion judgment in a case involving a company that it had purchased several years ago. The spike came as Anadarko stated that it believed the judge in the case set damages that were punitive, rather than remedial and believed that the appropriate amount was more in the $2 billion range. It will likely take a long time to come to some resolution, but even at $14 billion there is certainty and the ability to move forward. As shares seem to be creating a new base I think this is a good entry point, as well as a good point to add shares to start the process of offsetting the paper losses from older shares.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK), while trading in a range of late, has also been trading with relatively large daily and intra-day moves. As a result shares enjoy generous option premiums that reflect the volatility, despite having traded in a very stable range for the past 5 months. Offering expanded weekly options I would consider selecting an expiration prior to the scheduled February 20, 2014 earnings report date.

Having already announced earnings Unitedhealth Group (UNH) added to its recent losses and is now down approximately 5% since its recent high. It appears to have some price support a dollar lower than its current price, which may be a good thing considering the unknowns that await as more news trickles in regarding registration demographics and utilization among newly enrolled health care policy holders. While I never move into a position with the idea that it will be a long term holding, I don’t hold too much concern for that unwanted possibility as it’s as likely to recover from any price drops as most anything else and could easily be justified as being a core holding.

The potential dividend choices this week share a “household theme” covering aspects of the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom, but represent different ends of the consumer spectrum when defensive investing is foremost.

While Clorox (CLX) and Colgate Palmolive (CL) may be best known for consumer staples and nothing terribly ostentatious, Williams Sonoma (WSM) offers products that are every bit as critical to some. Those who would sacrifice anything to ensure that they can purchase an oversized block of Mediterranean pink salt have money every bit as valuable as those that like bright white shirt collars and bright white teeth.

More importantly, at least for me, they have all recently under-performed the S&P 500 and all trade with a low beta at a time that I want to balance risk and still generate a reasonable income stream from premiums and dividends. While both Clorox and Colgate Palmolive have earnings reports due in the February option cycle, WIlliams Sonoma, which tends to trade with more volatility upon earnings, does not report until the end of the March 2014 cycle.

Finally, for those who really seek reckless adventure, perhaps only frolicking in a landfill brimming with its products offers more excitement than considering shares of LED light bulb maker Cree (CREE) in advance of earnings. The last time I considered an earnings related trade in Cree I didn’t recommend the purchase or sale of puts to my subscribers, but did make the put sale for my personal account. However, I did so only after earnings, believing that the 16% drop offered sufficient protection to make an out of the money put sale with relative impunity.

Like some other stocks this past week that continued to fall even days after earnings plunges, that’s what Cree did. Rolling over the puts on a few occasions, eventually taking assignment and then selling calls until its final assignment at a strike level 5% higher than the original put strike price made it worthwhile, but more thrilling than necessary.

So unnecessary that I may be ready to do so again.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate Palmolive (ex div 1/22), Clorox (ex-div 1/27), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/21 PM), Coach (1/22 AM), Cypress Semiconductor (1/22 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 – January 5, 2014

There’s a lot to be said in support of those who practice a strategy of surrounding themselves with those that suffer by comparison of whatever attribute is under consideration.

Most of us intuitively know what needs to be done if we want to make ourselves or our actions look good when under scrutiny.

The mutual fund industry had done it for years. It’s all about what you compare yourself to, although looking good raises expectations for even more of the same and most of us also know how that often works out.

As observers it’s only natural that we make our assessments on the basis of comparison to whatever standard is available. Among our many human foibles is that we often tend to be superficial and are just as likely to forego deeper analyses when faced with pleasing circumstances. We also want to go with the perceived winners in the belief that they will always be winners. Certainly the investing experience doesn’t bear out that strategy. Yesterday’s winner isn’t necessarily tomorrow’s champion.

Fresh on the heels of a 31% gain in the S&P 500, 2014 is going to have a difficult time in comparison. While maybe hoping that 2015 is going to be an abysmal year in the meantime 2014 has to contend with the obvious stress of the obligatory comparisons.

For the individual investor 2013 has ended with so many stocks at or near their highs that it’s actually very difficult to find that lesser entity for comparison purposes. Everything just looks so good that nothing really looks good, especially going forward, which is the only direction that counts. Looking at chart after chart brings up strikingly similar patterns with very little able to stand out on the basis of its own beauty. Comparing onesupermodelto the next is likely to be an empty exercise for many reasons, but ultimately it becomes clear that there are no distinguishing factors to make anyone stand out.

Without comparisons our own minds get numb. We need differences to appreciate the reality of any situation. When so many stock charts begin to look so similar it becomes difficult to discern where to start when looking for new positions.

While another human tendency is the desire to go with winners this time of the year introduces a traditional concept that looks in the opposite direction for its rewards. This is the time of the year when theDogs of the Dow Theorygets so much attention. In a year that so many stocks are higher the comparison to those that have truly underperformed is really heightened.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum andPEEcategories this week (see details). With earnings season beginning once again this week attention must also be diverted into the consideration of those reports when adding new positions and when selecting the time frame for hedging options. For that reason I’m looking increasingly at option time frames that offer some buffer in time between expiration dates and earnings dates, perhaps making greater use of expanded options and forward month expirations, as well.

This week’s potential selections varied widely in performance compared to the S&P 500 during 2013. While noDogs of the Dowcandidates are offered, some were dogs in their own right regardless of what they were being compared to at the time. But as always, since I like to hedge my bets and play on both sides of prevailing sentiment, there may be room for both outperformers and underperformers as 2014 gets underway.

While General Electric’s (GE) 33.5% gain for 2013 was laudable it essentially mirrored the S&P 500 for the year. An analyst downgrade on Friday had virtually no impact, although shares did fall nearly 2% the previous day to start the New Year. Increasingly shedding its dependence on financial divisions that helped to bring it to $6 just 5 years ago, GE may now be wondering if this wouldn’t be a good time to emphasize that division, as interest rates are beginning to rise. But even a stagnant GE in 2014 when considered in the context of its dividend and option premiums offers a good place to invest if the aim is to outperform the S&P 500.

Barclays (BCS) is one of those in the financial sector that had greatly lagged the S&P 500 in 2013. With significant international exposure it shouldn’t be too surprising that it might better reflect the lesser fortunes experienced by the European markets, among others. I already own shares and will consider adding more as it appears that there will be a move higher which I expect will be confirmed by improved earnings when reported during the February 2014 option cycle, which may also see a dividend payment.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) has long been a favorite stock upon which to sell covered calls or enter ownership through the sale of puts. It outperformed the S&P 500 by nearly the amount that Barclays underperformed for the year, but after some recent weakness that reduced shares by 7% its chart has started looking less like the crowd. While certainly not in thelosercategory it’s potential looks better to me than those that haven’t taken the time for the share price to take a breather of late.

As long as in comparison mode, last January Family Dollar Store (FDO) dropped 12% upon earnings release, which followed a 9% drop the previous month. The option market isn’t expecting a repeat of that performance, perhaps because shares are already down 11% since its September high. Instead a 5.9% implied move is priced into option contracts. The sale of out of the money puts at a strike price at the lower end of the implied move could return 0.9% for the effort. That is just below my typical threshold for making such a trade, but if looking for a relativedog,” this may be the one ready for a rebound.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that recently broke out of its reliable trading range. Once that happens I lose interest in reacquiring shares, having already owned it on eight occasions in 2013. What I don’t lose is interest in seeing shares return to that range. Following an earnings related share fall the price rebounded beyond where it started is descent. However, a recent downgrade has started nudging shares back toward the upper edge of the range that has proved to be a good entry point. While no one really has any good idea of what awaits the Chinese economy and by extension, Joy Global’s fortunes, it has proven to be a resilient stock and offers an option premium to go along with its frequent alternations in price direction.

It has been a long time since I had own any communications stocks until a recent TMobile holding. While both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T)were core holdings during the recovery stages in 2009, I haven’t found them very appealing for much of the recovery. However, both do go exdividend this week and the cellphone services sector is certainly livening up a bit. But beyond that, for the first time in a long time there were glimpses of these shares offering meaningful option premiums during their exdividend week that seemed to warrant their consideration once again. In fact, I didn’t wait until Monday and purchased shares of Verizon after weakness on Friday and may elect to accompany those shares with its rival’s shares, as well.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) was a selection just a few weeks ago but went unrequited as news broke regarding activist investor coercion regarding potential spinoff plans for its low growth Red Lobster chain. Shares go exdividend this week and earnings pressure is still two months away. Although a $55 strike would require challenging its 52 week high, this is a potential trade that I would consider using a forward month contract, such as the February 2014, in anticipation of some increasing pressure from the investment community and activists intent on reengineering.

Finally, a study in comparative contrasts are Walter Energy (WLT) and Icahn Enterprises (IEP). While Icahn Enterprises was nearly 145% higher for the year Walter Energy dropped nearly 54%.

While Carl Icahn may get more done on the basis of brute force investing and schoolyard tactics, Walter Energy now relies on the power of redemption and grace, and maybe just a little on business cycles.

A quick look at the comparative charts shows what a difference time can make, as Walter Energy greatly outperformed Icahn Enterprises prior to this year and how Icahn Enterprises had been simply a market performer until the past year.

Interestingly in the past month Walter Energy has risen about 15% while Icahn Enterprises has fallen a similar amount.

IEP Chart

This past year no one has received more attention for his investing and activism than Carl Icahn. This week yet another company Hertz (HTZ) acknowledged that it was in the Icahn crosshairs, as it adopted a poison pill provision to keep him at bay. Icahn Enterprises, a tangled web of holding companies and investment activities shows little sign of slowing down as long as the market remains healthy. With the ability to raise stock prices with a simple Tweet, Carl Icahn may be more in control of his destiny than the market was intended to allow.

With a healthy dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle and an attractive option premium, Icahn Enterprises may be a good choice for someone with a little daring to spare, as the ascent has been steep.

Walter Energy, on the other hand, has been slowly working its way higher, although still having a long way to go to erase its past year’s loss. While there is certainly no guarantee that last year’s loser will be this year’s darling, Walter Energy certainly is the former. It has, however, for the daring, offered excellent option premiums even for deep in the money options, that do mitigate some of the risk inherent in ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Icahn Enterprises, Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (exdiv 1/8), Darden (exdiv 1/8), Verizon (exdiv 1/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Store

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 10, 2013

Is there life after momentum slows?

There was no shortage of stocks taking large price hits last week, as earnings season had already begun its slowdown phase. However, for some of the better known momentum stocks the slightest mis-steps were all the reason necessary to flee with profits.

For those who live long enough, it should never come as a surprise that some things are just destined to slow down.

Momentum fits into that category, although based on the past week it’s more of a question of falling down than slowing down for some.

After the fact, no one seemed to be surprised.

In a week that saw a decrease in the ECB’s main lending rate that was widely described as being a “surprise'” later in the day came reports that most economists expected the cut. The market clearly didn’t, however, as the economists may have neglected to pass on their views.

And then there was a surprisingly large increase in non-farm payroll jobs. Somehow everyone was taken off guard and the market responded by interpreting good news as good news and finished the week with a flourish.

What surprised me, however, was that there was such a disconnect between the anticipated numbers and the actual report, which covered the period of the government shutdown. The disconnect had to do with methodology, as forecasts didn’t take into account that government statistics considered furloughed employees to be employed, since they were to receive back, through legislative action.

Oops.

In effect, Friday’s rally was based on a misunderstanding of methodology. It will also certainly be interesting to see what impact Ben Bernanke’s statement after the market’s close may have on Monday’s trading.

I think the unemployment rate probably understates the degree of slack in the labor market. I think the employment-population ratio overstates it somewhat, because there are important downward trends in participation

Unfortunately, Friday’s gains complicate the goal of finding bargain priced stocks in the coming week, but with a little water having been thrown on the fire there may be opportunity yet.

Everyone, including me, likes to look for clues and cues that have predictive value. Parallels are drawn at every opportunity to what we know from the past in the expectation that it can foretell the future.

For some the sudden increase in IPOs coming to market and the sudden fall of many momentum stocks heralds a market top. In hindsight, if it does occur, it will be regarded as “no surprise.” If it doesn’t occur within the attention span of most paying attention it will simply be conveniently ignored.

For others the reversal of fortune may represent values and not value traps.

But no matter what the case there is life after momentum slows. It’s just a question of accommodation to new circumstances.

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

eBay (EBAY) like so many stocks that I consider tends to trade in a range. While eBay is often criticized for being “range bound” there is some comfort in knowing that it is less likely to offer an unwanted surprise than many other stocks. My shares were assigned this past week and are now trading at the upper range of where I may normally initiate a position. However, having owned shares on ten separate occasions this year I would be anxious to do so again on the slightest of pullbacks.

Although hardly a momentum stock, Mondelez (MDLZ) had some earnings woes this past week, although it did recover a bit, perhaps simply being carried along by a rallying market. Shares are still a little higher than I would like for an entry point, but I expect that as a short term selection it will match market performance, while in a market turn-down it will exceed performance.

Fastenal (FAST) is another fairly sedate company, yet its stock often has some large moves. I see Fastenal as a leading indicator of economic activity, but also very sensitive to the economy. I think its most recent price weakness will be reversed as the impact of a resolution of the government’s shutdown trickles down to the economy. I currently own shares with a contract set to expire this week, but at this price am considering doubling down on what in essence can be a weekly option contract during the final week of the November 2013 cycle.

Deere (DE) is another range bound stock, that in hindsight I should have bought on numerous occasions over the past few months. Good option premiums, a good dividend and not facing some of the same external pressures as another favorite, Caterpillar (CAT), makes Deere a perennially good selection within its sector.

I currently ow
n shares of both Eli Lilly (LLY) and International Paper (IP), both of which go ex-dividend this week. Unlike many other stocks that I discuss, I have not owned either on multiple occasions this year and my current shares are now below their cost. Both emerged unscathed after recent earnings reports, although both are down considerably from their recent highs and both have considerably under-performed the S&P 500 from the time for its first in a series of market highs on May 21, 2013. That latter criterion is one that I have been using with some regularity as the market has continued to reach new highs in an effort to identify potential late comers to the party.

Which finally brings me to the momentum stocks that have my attention this week, some of which may be best approached through the sale of put options and may be best avoided in a weakening market.

Much has been said of the “ATM effect” on Facebook (FB), as speculation that investors were selling Facebook shares to raise money to buy Twitter (TWTR) shares. Following an abrupt reversal during its conference call when there was a suggestion that adolescents were reducing their Facebook use shares have just not regained their traction. Sometimes it’s just profit taking and not driven by the allure of a newer stock in town. But assuming that the “ATM effect” has some validity and with a large gap between the Twitter IPO price and its 7% lower price on its first full day of trading, I can’t imagine now taking the opportunity to sell Facebook in order to purchase Twitter shares. On its own merits Facebook may be a momentum stock that has a cushion of protection until its next earnings report, unless an errant comment gets in the way, again.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) is much higher than the level at which I last owned shares at $21. Waiting for a return has been fruitless and as a result, rather than having owned shares on 15 occasions, as in 2012, thus far, I’ve only had five bouts of ownership. With the melodrama surrounding its founder and ex-CEO in its past, Chesapeake may begin trading a bit more on fundamentals rather than hopes for a return to its glory days. at such, its price action may be less unidirectional than it has been over the past four months. After last week’s earnings report related drop, while still higher than I would like, I think there may be reason to consider a new entry, perhaps through the sale of put options.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is a stock that has been testing my patience through the year. More precisely, however, I’ve had no real issue with Freeport McMoRan’s leadership, in fact, given metal prices, it has done quite well. What I don’t understand is how it has been taking so long for markets to appreciate its strategic initiatives and long term strategies. For much of the year my shares have been non-performing, other than for dividend payments, but with a recent run higher some are generating option premium income streams. Despite the run higher, I am considering adding more shares as the entire metals complex has been showing strength and some stability, as well.

Finally, while I’ve said before that I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, a recent experience with Tesla (TSLA) was perhaps a good reason to at least acknowledge that charts can allow you to look at the past.

While it’s probably always a good week to be Elon Musk, relatively speaking last week wasn’t so good, as both Tesla and Solar City (SCTY) were treated harshly after earnings were released. The spin put around another reported car fire that its resultant heat could be garnered to power several mud huts didn’t give shares much of a boost, perhaps because that might have cannibalized SolarCity sales, with the two companies likely having much overlap in ownership.

Tesla reported earnings last week and took a drubbing through successive days.

A reader of last week’s article asked:

“George, what are your thoughts on a sale of Puts on TSLA which reports Tuesday?”

My response was:

“TSLA isn’t one that I follow, other than watching in awe.

But purely on a glance at this week’s option pricing the implied volatility is about 12% and you can get a 1% ROI on a strike that’s about 17% lower, currently $135

It looks as if it may have price support in the $134-$139 range, but it’s hard to know, because its ascent has been so steep that there may not be much of a real resting point.

In a very speculative portion of my portfolio I might be able to find some money to justify that trade.”

As it turned out Tesla closed the week at $137.95 and now has my attention. You do have to give some credit to its chart on that one. WIth disappointment over its sales, supply chain issues and reports of car fires and even Elan Musk suggesting that “Tesla’s stock price is more than we have any right to deserve,” it has fallen by nearly 21% from the time of that comment, barely 2 weeks prior to earnings. Although to be entirely fair shares did fully recover from a 7.5% decline in the aftermath of the statement in advance of earnings.

While still not knowing where the next resting point may be in the $119-$122 range, representing as much as another 13% price drop. With earnings out of the way to
enhance option premiums the risk-reward proposition isn’t as skewed toward reward. However, for those looking to recapture of bit of their own momentum, despite the realization that the end may be near, a put sale can return an ROI of approximately 1.4% at a strike price nearly 6% below Friday’s close is not breached.

The nice thing about momentum slowing is that if you fall the floor isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, eBay, Fastenal, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan, Tesla

Double Dip Dividend: Eli Lilly (ex-div 11/13), International Paper (ex-div 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.

Disclosure: I am long CAT, CHK, DE, FAST, FCX, IP, LLY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Weekend Update – May 19, 2013

Shades of 1999.

I’m not certain that I understand the chorus of those claiming that our current market reminds them of 1999.

Mind you, I’m as cautious, maybe much more so than the next guy and have been awaiting some kind of a correction for more than 2 months now, but I just don’t see the resemblance.

Much has also been made of the fact that the S&P 500 is now some 12% above its 200 Day Moving Average, which in the past has been an untenable position, other than back when sock puppets were ruling the markets. Back then that metric was breached for years.

Back in 1999 and the years preceding it, the catalyst was known as the “dot com boom” or “dot com bubble” or the “dot com bust,” depending on what point you entered. The catalyst was clear, perhaps best exemplified by the ubiquitous sock puppet and the short lived PSINet Stadium, back then home to the world Champion Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens survived, perhaps even thrived since then, while PSINet was a casualty of the excesses of the era. When it was all said and done you could stuff PSINet’s assets into a sock.

During the height of that era the catalyst was thought to be in endless supply. But in the current market, what is the catalyst? Most would agree that if anything could be identified it would likely be the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing.

But as last week’s rumor of its upcoming end and then an article suggesting that the Federal Reserve already has an exit plan, the catalyst is clearly not thought to be unending. Unless the economy is much worse than we all believe it to be the fuel will be depleted sooner rather than later.

Now if you’re really trying to find a year comparable to this one, look no further than 1995, when the market ended the year 34% higher and never even had anything more than a 2% correction.

If llke me, and you’re selling covered options; let’s hope not.

For me, this Friday marked the end of the May 2013 option cycle. As I had been cautious since the end of February and transitioned into more monthly option contract sales, I am faced with a large number of assignments. Considering that the market has essentially been following a straight line higher having so many assignments isn’t the best of all worlds.

While I now find myself with lots of available cash the prevailing feeling that I have is that there is a need to protect those assets more than before in anticipation of some kind of correction, or at least an opportunity to discover some temporary bargains.

This week I have more than the usual number of potential new positions, however, I’m unlikely to commit wholeheartedly to their purchase, as I would like to maintain about a 40% cash position by the end of next week. I’m also more likely to continue looking at monthly option sales rather than the weekly contracts.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or the “PEE” category (see details). Additionally, although the height of earnings season has passed there may still be some more opportunity to sell well out of the money puts prior to earnings on some reasonably high profile names..

There’s no doubt that the tone for the week was changed by the down to earth utterances of David Tepper, founder of the Appaloosa Hedge Fund. He has a long term enviable record and when he speaks, which isn’t often, people do take notice. Apparently markets do, as well.

However, among the things that he mentioned was that he had lightened up on his position in Apple (AAPL). It didn’t take long for others to chime in and Apple shares fell substantially even when the market was going higher. Although I was waiting for Apple to get back into the $410-420 range, the rebound in share price following news of reduced positions by high profile investors is a good sign and I believe warrants consideration toward the purchase of new shares.

I recently purchased shares of Sunoco Logistics (SXL) in order to capture its generous and reliable dividend. My shares were assigned this past Friday, but I’m willing to repurchase, even at a higher price and even with a monthly option contract to tie me down. In the oil services business it is a lesser known entity and trades with low volume, however, it will share in sector strength, just in a much more low profile manner.

Pfizer (PFE) is another stock that was recently purchased in order to capture it’s dividend and premium and was also assigned this past week. However, it is among the “defensive” stocks that I think would fare relatively well regardless of near term market direction. Like many others that do offer weekly options, my inclination is to consider the selling monthly contracts for the time being.

While healthcare has certainly already had its time in the sun in 2013 and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) has had its share of that glory, after some recent tumult in its price and most recently its next day reversal of a strong move the previous day, I find the option premium appealing. However, as opposed to Pfizer, which I’m more inclined to consider a monthly option, Bristol Myers has too much downside potential for me to want to commit for longer periods.

Although I already own shares of Petrobras (PBR) and am not a big fan of adding additional shares after such a strong climb hig
her off of its rapidly achieved lows, Petrobras recently and quietly had quite an achievement. WHile everyone was talking about Apple’s $17 Billion bond offering that had about $50 Billion in bids, Petrobras just closed an $11 Billion offering with more than $40 Billion in bids.

Caterpillar (CAT), which I also currently own, is a perennial member of my portfolio. To a very large degree it has been recently held hostage to rumors of contraction and slowing in the Chinese economy. It has, however, shown great resiliency at the current price level and has been an excellent vehicle upon which to sell call options.

As shown in the table above, I’ve owned shares of Caterpillar on 11 separate occasions in less than a year. While the price has barely moved in that period, the net result of the in and out trades, as a result of share assignments has been a gain in excess of 35%.

The more ambiguity and equivocation there is in understanding the direction of the Chinese economy the better it has been to own Caterpillar as it just bounces around in a fairly well defined price range, making it an ideal situation for covered call strategies.

Continuing the theme of shares that I currently own, but am considering adding more shares, is British Petroleum (BP). With much of its Deepwater Horizon liabilities either behind it or well defined, shares appear to have a floor. However, in the past year, that has already been the case, as my experience with British Petroleum ownership has paralleled that of Caterpillar in both the number of separate times owning shares and in return – only better.

Of course, better than either Caterpillar or British Petroleum has been Chesapeake Energy (CHK). I’ve owned it 18 times in a year. It too has had much of its liability removed as Aubrey McClendon has left the scene and it is already well known that Chesapeake will be selling assets under a degree of duress. With its turnaround on Thursday and dip below $20, I am ready to add even more shares.

I’ve probably not owned Conoco Phillips (COP) as much as I would have imagined over the past year probably As a result of owning British Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy so often. Shares do go ex-dividend this week which always adds to the appeal, particularly when I’m in a defensive mode.

Salesforce.com (CRM) was a recommendation last week. I did make that purchase and subsequently had shares assigned. This week it reports earnings and as many of the earnings related trades that I prefer, it offers what I believe to be a good option premium even in the event of a large downward move. In this case a 1% return for the week may be achieved if share price doesn’t exceed 8%

Sears Holdings (SHLD) always seems like a ghost town when I enter one of its stores, although perhaps a moment of introspection would indicate that I drive shoppers away. I’m aware of other story lines revolving around Sears and its real estate holdings, but tend not to think in terms of what has been playing out a s a very, very long term potential. Instead, I like Sears as a hopefully quick earnings trade.

In a week that saw beautiful price action from Macys (M), Kohls (KSS) and others, perhaps even Sears can pull out good numbers and even provide some positive guidance. However, what appeals to me is a put sale approximately 8% below Friday’s close that could offer a 4% ROI for the month or shorter.

Another retailer, The Gap (GPS), has certainly been an example of the ability to arise from the ashes and how a brand can be revitalized. Along with it, so too can its share price. The Gap reports earnings this week and has already had an impressive price run. As opposed to most other earnings related trades, I’m not looking for a significant downward move and the market isn’t expecting such a move either. Based on some of the strong retail earnings announced this past week I think The Gap may be an outright purchase, but I would be more likely to look at a weekly option sale and hope for quick assignment of shares.

TIVO (TIVO) is one of those technologies that I’ve never adopted. Maybe that’s because I never leave the house and the television is always on and I rarely see a need to change the station. But here, too, I believe TIVO offers a good short term opportunity even if shares go down as much as 20% following Monday’s earnings release. In the event that shares go appreciably higher, it is the ideal kind of earnings trade, in that coming during the first day of a monthly option contract, it could likely be quickly closed out and the money then used for another investment vehicle.

Om the other hand, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) is definitely one of those technologies that I’ve adopted, especially when having lived in New England. Fast forward 20 years and they are now everywhere in the Mid-Atlantic and spreading across the country as their new offerings also spread waists around the country. Going ex-dividend this coming week and offering a nice monthly option premium, I may bite at more than a jelly donut. However, it is trading at the upper end of its recent price range, like all too many other stocks.

Finally, Carnival (CCL) hasn’t exactly been the recipient of much good news lately. Although it’s up from its recent woes and lows. It does report earnings at the end of the June 2013 option cycle, but it also goes ex-dividend in the first week of the cycle, in addition to a offering a reasonable option premium

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers, Caterpillar, Pfizer, Sunoco Logistics

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Chesapeake Energy, Petrobras

Double Dip Dividend: Carnival Line (ex-div 5/22), Conoco Phillips (ex-div 5/22), Dunkin Brands (ex-div 5/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Salesforce.com (5/23 PM), Sears Holdings (5/23 AM), The Gap (5/23 PM), TIVO (5/20 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

 
 

Weekend Update – April 14, 2013

Increasingly modern science is helping to bring great clarity to an understanding of the very essence of our universe’s existence. Yet there remain some questions that will likely forever escape our ability to comprehend.

Some questions, such as the perennial “what is the meaning of life?” do not have a “Higgs-Boson” to provide a unifying hypothesis and can simultaneously provide contentment as well as contention.

I prefer to ask a very basic question that rarely has an answer. “What were they thinking?” Sometimes I ask a variant of that question – “What was I thinking?” Lately I’ve been asking the latter quite a bit.

What perplexes me, though, is how such two groups of smart people can convincingly commit themselves to opposite sides of an investment or so convincingly change their allegiances. I suppose that same observation can be applied toward the issue of nations going to war and then pursuing peace. The reasons aren’t always clear, yet the convictions are rock solid.

In this case, it’s one of my long time favorites and most recently under-performing stocks, Microsoft (MSFT) that is at the center of my attention. It happens to report earnings this coming week and any significant price changes ahead of earnings reflect conviction and large bets to back up that conviction.

For many, Microsoft has been an under-performer for a decade. I don’t look at it quite like that because of its option premiums and dividends while trading in a reasonably narrow price range. Lately, however, I haven’t been selling options as regularly as I had over nearly a decade of nearly continual share ownership. That’s because that price range had significantly narrowed and was well below my cost.

But this week really got my attention as shares skyrocketed, at least by Microsoft’s standards, about 6% over 2 days and surpassed $30. You may remember that $30 level, because that was just a bit above the level that many “smart” people finally publicly declared their love of the shares, just in tome to get in before a pronounced course reversal.

That was over a year ago. The price course higher was slow and under the radar. It’s rise, just as what happens to a frog in a pot of water that is slowly heated to the boiling point, went totally unrecognized by those that get paid for the opinions. The subsequent retreat, however was faster, but not of epic proportion.

But it was different this week. On no real news earlier in the week, shares surged. I don’t really recall the last time Microsoft had that kind of move higher without very positive news to propel it. I would assume, given it is a Dow Jones Index stock that it took the money of many smart people to make it rise as high and as quickly as it had done. I guess there was conviction behind the buying ahead of earnings. What else could account for the very high profile movement?

Then, just as quickly, actually even more quickly, the “smartest guys in the room” at Goldman Sachs (GS) downgraded Microsoft from “Neutral” to “Sell,” causing shares to fall 5% at time that the overall market was reaching for yet another new high. To be fair, Goldman Sachs tempered its conviction, having started at “Neutral” and not regressing downward to its “Conviction Sell” category.

Yet the market reacted with great conviction while I sat and asked the age old questions, happily having sold $29 calls earlier in the monthly cycle, finally getting back in that game as shares once again started a slow, below the radar ascent.

The reversals of late are frequent and very often without obvious catalyst, such as may be seen with shares of Baidu (BIDU) and Whole Foods (WFM). Then again, there weren’t necessarily catalysts to send them downward, either.

Sometimes reversing direction may take on a personal nature, as I’ve been bearish for more than a month and reluctant to commit to new positions while building cash and using longer term option contracts, where possible as often as possible. There does come a point when you begin to wonder what carries the greater cost. Missing out on further advances or chasing those advances. Although we don’t experience annual 20-30% gains very often, they do happen and they do have to start someplace. Maybe 10% over the first three months of the year is that place.

What’s missing though, is the conviction. My certainty of a correction was greater that is my current uncertainty. Having been wrong thus far shouldn’t be part of the equation, but it is hard to ignore.

For my personal trades I continue to be inclined to consider the increased safety of longer term monthly contracts, as I continue to expect some market correction, but I’m getting tired of waiting and missing out on some short term opportunities. Whatever convictions I may have or be evolving toward, I want to hedge those convictions.

In other words, I either have no convictions or am very flexible on them.

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

Walgreen (WAG) is one of those stocks that I regret having sold covered call options u
pon. It was also one of those rare instances in the past year that I waited to sell the options because I believed that shares would recover quickly from a precipitous drop. What i didn’t realize was just how great the recovery would be. Lately, the recoveries seem to be less quick and less robust, as the market appears to be more wary of mis-steps, even while in the midst of general enthusiasm. Despite impressive gains for the year, well ahead of the Health Care Index SPDR (XLV), Walgreen continues to be well poised to navigate through any health care model.

EMC Corp (EMC) in recent years has been defined by its wildly successful spin-off, VMWare (VMW). Following VMWare’s most recent disappointing guidance EMC has been defined by that guidance. I currently own shares and have also had other share lots assigned in the past few months. EMC reports earnings during the first week of the May 2013 option cycle, but appears to have developed support in the $23 level. I may consider adding shares or selling puts in advance of earnings, even though I am over-invested in the Technology sector and it has been under-performing.

McGraw Hill (MHP) continues its share rehabilitation after being put in the crosshairs of those that blame its actions for the past fiscal crisis. Whether it can successfully implement the famed “I was just doing my job” defense or not, it is still well below its previous trading levels.

Now that my cardiac rehabilitation has been completed, I don’t think I’ll ever need to don a pair of sneakers again. Fortunately, Footlocker (FL) can draw upon a population that isn’t very much like me and also sees fashion in pieces of rubber and cloth that are assembled far away by those that couldn’t qualify to work at FoxConn. It goes ex-dividend this week and although there is not a terribly large advantage to selling the option and attempting to also secure the dividend, it may be a good opportunity in a week that the general market is not showing large gains

As Chesapeake Energy (CHK) re-approached the $20 level that was my signal to purchase shares again after having owned numerous lots over the course of 2012. With much of the drama gone and the well deserved condemnation of telegraphing their need to sell assets at levels approaching distressed pricing, I think shares will actually even offer long term prospects, not just as a conduit for generating option premium income.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that is very responsive to rumors concerning the Chinese economy, As much as Caterpillar (CAT) is increasingly levered to Chinese growth, Joy Global is much more so and has correspondingly larger moves upon news. Although I own Caterpillar and Deere (DE) at the moment, and those heavy movers are a little out of favor, with Joy Global near its yearly low and with earnings still a few weeks away, I may be tempted to pick up shares and capitalize on its always high option premium.

As the financial sector has been alternating between ups and downs in response to hypothetical stress tests and real stresses, none has been more responsive than Bank of America (BAC). After JP Morgan (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) reported earnings on Friday, April 12, 2013, it will be Bank of America’s turn next week. Having owned shares several times already this year, its shares have shown great resilience during that period. Although current option pricing doesn’t seem to be expecting a significant drop after earnings are released, it certainly is possible. However, the resilience provides me some reason to believe that even with a drop it won’t take an undue length of time to see shares ultimately assigned. The presence of extended weekly options on Bank of America also offers an expansion of strategies and premium price points.

Finally, Align Technology (ALGN) is just an incredible profit center for dentists that use the product. Speaking as a one time practicing dentist, basically an idiot can perform an increasingly wide range of orthodontic services utilizing the technology. It is one of the first stocks that I started following in order to validate the “PEE” thesis. Shares are very capable of large earnings related moves, but most recently the put premiums have become a little less welcoming, However, anything less than a 10% drop in share price can still result in a 1.3% ROI for the week. If you don’t mind the fact that its shares have dropped by 30% in the past in the aftermath of earnings that can be a good risk-reward offering, at least for some.

Traditional Stocks: EMC, McGraw Hill, Walgreen

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Footlocker (ex-div 4/17)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Align Technology (4/18 PM), Bank of America (4/17 AM), Microsoft (4/18 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

Weekend Update – February 3, 2013

On Wednesday evening, Bloomberg Rewind host, Matt Miller tweeted that he was interviewing Wilbur Ross in a live segment in a few moments and was soliciting questions for one of the century’s greatest investors and serial turnaround artists.

Never really needing a reason to Tweet, I was nonetheless pleased that my question was chosen, but I especially liked the ultimate answer. I simply wanted to know if the cool and calm demeanor that Wilbur Ross always displays when on television was ever belied by emotion that got in the way of a business or management decision.

The answer was, to me, at least, incredibly profound and absolutely reflective of the persona that we get to see when he makes appearances. Ross said that in takeovers things often do not go as planned, but you have to “roll with the punches.” He further went on to point out that emotions conspire to work against you in making decisions and taking actions. He was calm and collected in his response and barely showed any facial grimacing or twitching when the question was being asked.

I, on the other hand was twitching, contorting and breathing rapidly at the mere use of my question. I do the same with every tick up and down of every stock I own.

My initial thought was that was probably among the best pieces of advice that could ever be given, but it was just too bad that human nature so reflexively intervenes.

One of the things that I like about buying stocks and then selling calls is that it takes so much of the emotion out of the equation. It also frees you from being held hostage to each and every dive that shares can take for no rational reason. This week alone we watched Petrobras (PBR) drop nearly 10% as it announced fuel increases that Deutsche Bank (DB) described as a “positive” action and Chesapeake Energy (CHK) surge 10% on news that their founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon, would be leaving in 3 months. In the case of Chesapeake Energy that surge was dissipated in just a day, although that may have been as irrational as the initial move.

Recently, large adverse moves impacted shares of Tiffany (TIF) and YUM Brands (YUM) as downgrades, stories, rumors, a smattering of data and a myriad of other factors took their turns at poking holes in whatever support existed for share price. Of course, they weren’t alone in the cross hairs of the barrage of often transiently irrelevant “facts.”

But by and large, if you sell covered options you can roll with the punches. Instead of feeling the anguish when your stock takes a hit it’s similar to seeing road-kill. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy, but for the most part you realize that in the big picture it’s all just a blip. Those options that someone else was kind enough to buy from you protect you from having to suffer through the anguish and gives you a chance to get over the initial emotional reaction so that when it is time to make a decision, such as at the end of the option period, you can do so with a far less clouded mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little Wilbur Ross inside of all of us? Maybe even better would be to be his sole heir, though.

As everyone seemed to be giddy about the fact that the DJIA briefly crossed 140000 for the first time since 2007, I reminded myself of how short a period of time it remained there and then saw that the slopes of the periods preceding the 2007 and 2013 tops are remarkably similar. If anything, maybe a bit more steep this time around?

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Fortunately for me that was the time I learned to start going with the punches and had already started protecting my stocks with calls and then used the premiums generated to purchase more shares during the ensuing drops.

Not that history is ever in a position to repeat itself, but we’ve seen this before.

As always, this week’s potential stock positions are all intended as part of a covered option strategy, whether through the sale of covered calls or puts. The selections fall into the usual categories of Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividends or “PEE” stocks (see details).

As the market found itself celebrating jobs on Friday, one sector that was left behind was retail. Among my favorites this year has been The Gap (GPS). They’re mundan
e, not terribly innovative, but they are ubiquitous and always a safe fashion choice. Although its next support level appears to be 10% lower it does offer an appealing enough option premium to accept that risk of wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo.

Murphy Oil (MUR) just took a large hit after announcing earnings. More and more I question the extreme earnings related reactions. What seems to separate some stocks from one another is the rapidity at which they recover from those reactions. The faster the recovery the easier it is to call it an over-reaction. Otherwise, if I own such shares and they don’t rebound quickly, it’s just a case of them being under-appreciated. In Murphy Oil’s case, I think it was a welcome over-reaction.

Southwestern Energy (SWN) has been lagging behind some of its sector mates thus far in 2013, but that situation is reversed if looking at the one year comparisons. It reports earnings early in the March 2013 option cycle and I believe may be poised to challenge its 52 week high.

I’m somewhat reluctant to consider adding Intel shares (INTC) this week. The only lure is the dividend that comes along with it as it goes ex-dividend on February 5, 2013. My reluctance stems from the fact that if I add shares my Intel position will be too large and it has been a disappointingly under-performing asset in the months I’ve held shares, having waited a long time for something of a rebound. While I don’t expect $24 or $25 any day soon, I’m comfortable with $21, a dividend and some option premiums. At least that would ease some of the paper cuts on my wrists.

Starbucks (SBUX) another favorite is a reluctant choice this week, as well, but only because of its strong gain in Friday’s trading and the fact that its option contracts are spread a bit too far apart. With more and more options being offered at strike prices in $1 and even $0.50 gradations the $2.50 and $5 differences seen with some stocks makes them less appealing, especially if selling options to optimize income production over share gains. What’s really needed is for more people to read these articles and drive up the option trading voliume as they realize what an opportunity exists.

Chesapeake Energy has been in the news quite a bit this year, but for all of the wrong reasons. AS usual, its high profile story this week concerned its founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon. The market quickly added 10% to share value upon learning that McClendon will be leaving the company in April 2013. It quickly gave that gain up during the course of the rest of this week. This is a position, that if I decide to enter, would likely be done on the basis of selling put options. That has been a common theme as I’ve re-entered Chesapeake Energy positions over the years.

What again distinguishes this week’s target stocks is that there is greater emphasis on risk, specifically earnings related risk, as Friday’s jobs data numbers fueled a strong week ending rally that further added to already high stock prices, making bargains harder to find.

Acme Packet (APKT) was one of the first earnings related situations that I described in an article entitled “Turning Hatred into Profits” that sought to create income from either disappointment or reaffirmation. It’s share price is higher now than it was the last time around, but I think that a 1% or more ROI for the chance that it’s share price may go down 10% or less after earnings is a reasonable risk-reward venture. If it works again, I may even try to understand what it is that Acme Packet does the next time earnings season rolls around.

Baidu (BIDU) has been on my lists for the past 2 months or so and has been purchased several times. Under the best and calmest of circumstances it is a volatile stock and is sometimes a frustrating one to match strike price premiums with anticipated objectives because the price moves so quickly. As it gets ready to report earnings, it too can easily move 10% in either direction, yet still meet my threshold of 1% ROI for the level of risk taken.

When it comes to stocks that are capable of making big moves in either direction on any given day and especially on earnings, there aren’t many that are better at doing so than Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). This is certainly a stock that has required “going with punches” over the past few years, but it has been a mainstay of my speculative slice of my portfolio for quite a while. I typically think in terms of 25% moves when it comes to earnings. In this case I’m looking at about a 25 to 1 proposition. A 25% drop for securing a 1% profit for one week. If not, then it’s just back to the usual Green Mountain “grind” and selling calls until shares are assigned.

While Herbalife (HLF) has been having all of the fun and getting all of the attention, poor NuSkin (NUS) has been ignored. But, it too, reports earnings this week. I have no opinion on whether NuSkin or any other company are engaged in questionably ethical business practices, I just see it as a vehicle to throw off option premium with relatively little risk, despite it’s overall risky persona. It
‘s not a stock that I would want to hold for very long, so the availability of only monthly options is of some concern.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was one of the most early and most frequent members of my covered call strategy. It always feels strange when I don’t have shares. As it gets ready to report earnings this coming week I’m reminded why it so often makes numerous and sizable movements, especially in response to earnings. It has a bad habit of giving pessimistic guidance, but after a long courtship you learn to accept that failing because even if punished after conference calls it always seems to get right back up.

Finally, Panera Bread (PNRA) reports earnings next week. It too is highly capable of having large earnings related movements. Its CEO has lots of Howard Schultz-like characteristics in that he truly knows the business and every intricate detail regarding his company. Interestingly, it went up almost 4% just 2 trading days before earnings are released. That kind of investor “commitment” before a scheduled event always concerns me, but I’m not yet certain just how much it scares me.

Traditional Stocks: Murphy Oil, The Gap, Southwestern Energy

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 2/5), Starbucks (ex-div 2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Acme Packet (2/4 PM), Baidu (2/4 PM), Panera Bread (2/5 PM), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (2/6 PM), NuSkin (2/6 AM), Riverbed Technology (2/7 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy