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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t always that way, though.

We always knew who was running the place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we all know how that worked out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe even an upcoming ex-dividend position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That turnaround started on February 11, 2016.

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

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

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

That may be its saving grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: None

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

Weekend Update – September 20, 2015

This past Monday, prior to the market’s opening, I posted the following for Option to Profit subscribers:

“In all likelihood, at this point there are only two things that would make the market take any news badly.

The first is if no interest rate increase is announced.

Markets seem to have finally matured enough to understand that a rate hike is only a reflection of all of the good and future good things that are developing in our economy and are ready to move on instead of being paralyzed with fear that a rate hike would choke off anemic growth.

The second thing, though, is the very unlikely event of a rate hike larger than has been widely expected. That means a 0.5% hike, or even worse, a full 1% hike.

That would likely be met with crazed selling.”

Based on the way the market was trading this week as we were awaiting the FOMC Statement which was very widely expected to announce an interest rate increase, you would have been proud.

The proudness would have arisen as it seemed that the market was finally at peace with the idea that a small interest rate increase, the first in 9 years, wouldn’t be bad news, at all.

Finally, it seemed as if the market was developing some kind of a more mature outlook on things, coming to the realization that an interest rate hike was a reflection of a growing and healthy economy and was something that should be celebrated.

It always seemed somewhat ironic to me that the investing class, perhaps those most likely to endorse the concept of teaching a man how to fish rather than simply giving a handout, would be so aghast at the possibility of a cessation of a zero interest rate policy (“ZIRP”), which may have been tantamount to a handout.

The realization that ours was likely the best and most fundamentally sound economy in the world may have also been at the root of our recent disassociation from adverse market events in China.

So while the week opened with more significant weakness in China, our own markets began to trade as if they were now ready to welcome an interest rate increase and seeing it for what it really reflected.

All was well and in celebration mode as we awaited the news on Thursday.

As the news was being awaited, I saw the following Tweet. 

I don’t follow many people on Twitter, but Todd Harrison, the founder of Minyanville is one of those rare combinations of humility, great personal and professional successes, who should be followed.

I have an autographed copy of his book “The Other Side of Wall Street,” whose full title really says it all and is a very worthwhile read.

Like the beer pitchman, Todd Harrison doesn’t Tweet much, but when he does, it’s worth reading, considering and placing somewhere in your memory banks.

Many people in their Twitter profiles have a disclaimer that when they re-Tweet something it isn’t necessarily an endorsement.

When I re-Tweet something, it is always a reflection of agreement. There’s no passive – aggressiveness involved in the re-Tweet by saying “I endorse the re-Tweeting of this, but I don’t necessarily endorse its content.”

I believed, as Todd Harrison did, some 4 minutes before the FOMC statement release, that the knee jerk reaction to the FOMC decision wasn’t the one to follow.

But a funny thing happened, but not in a funny sort of way.

For a short while that knee jerk reaction would have been the right response to what should have been correctly viewed as disappointment.

What was wrong was a reversion back to a market wanting and believing that it was given another extension of the ZIRP handout. That took a market that had given up all of its substantial gains and made another reversal, this time going beyond the day’s previous gains.

With past history as a guide, going back to Janet Yellen’s predecessor, who introduced the phenomenon of the Federal Reserve Chairman’s Press Conference, the market kept going higher during the prepared statement portion of the conference and continued even higher as some clarification was sought on what was meant by “global concerns.”

Of course, everyone knew that meant China, although one has to wonder whether those global concerns also included the opinions held and expressed by Christine Legarde of the International Monetary Fund and others, who believe that it would be wrong for the FOMC to introduce an interest rate increase in 2015.

While some then began to wonder whether “global concerns” meant that the Federal Reserve was taking on a third mandate, it all turned suddenly downward.

With the exception of a very early Yellen press conference when she mischaracterized the FOMC’s time frame on rate increases and the market took a subsequent tumble, normally, Yellen’s dovish and dulcet tones are like a tonic for whatever may have been ailing the market/ This week, however, the juxtaposition of dovish and hawkish sentiments from the FOMC Statement, the subsequent press conference prepared statement and questions and answers may have been confusing enough to send traders back to their new found friend.

Logic.

Perhaps it was Yellen’s response that she couldn’t give a recipe to define what would cause the FOMC to act or perhaps it was the suggestion that the FOMC needn’t wait until their next meeting to act that sent markets sharply lower as they craved some certainty.

Or maybe it was a sudden realization that if markets had gone higher on the anticipation of a rate increase, logic would dictate that it go lower if no increase was forthcoming.

And so the initial response to the FOMC decision was the right response as the market may have shown earlier in the week that it was finally beginning to act in a mature fashion and was still capable of doing so as the winds shifted.

Perhaps the best question of that afternoon was one that pointed out an apparen

t inconsistency between expectations for full employment in the coming years, yet also expectations for inflation remaining below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

Good question.

Her answer “If our understanding of the inflation process is correct……we will see further upward pressure on inflation, may have represented a very big “if” to some and may have deflated confidence at the same time as a re-awakening was taking place that suggested that perhaps the economy wasn’t growing as strongly as had been hoped to support continued upward movement in the market.

That’s the downside to focusing on fundamentals.

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

As the market continues its uncertainty, even as it may be returning more to consideration of fundamentals, I continue to like the idea of going with some of the relative safety that may be found with dividends.

Last week I purchased more shares of General Electric (GE), hoping to capture both the dividend and the volatility enhanced premium. Those shares, however were assigned early, but having sold a 2 week option the ROI for the 3 days of holding reflected that additional time value and was a respectable 1.1%.

Even though I still hold some shares with an October 2, 2015 $25 expiration hanging over them, this week I find myself wanting to add shares of General Electric, once again, as was the case in each of the last two weeks.

Although there is no dividend in sight for another 3 months, the $25 neighborhood has been looking like a comfortable one in which to add shares as volatility has made the premiums more and more attractive and there may also be some short term upside to shares to help enhance the return.

A covered option strategy is at its best when the same stock can be used over and over again as a vehicle to generate premiums and dividends. For now, General Electric may be that stock.

Verizon (VZ) doesn’t have an upcoming dividend this week, but it will be offering one within the next 3 weeks. In addition to its recently increased dividend, the yield was especially enhanced by its sharp decline in share price at the end of the week as it gave some dour guidance for 2016.

There’s not too much doubt that the telecommunications landscape is changing rapidly, but if I had to put my confidence in any company within that smallest of sectors to survive the turmoil, it’s Verizon, as long as their debt load isn’t going to grow by a very unneeded and unwanted purchase of a pesky competitor that has been squeezing everyone’s margins.

I see Verizon’s pessimism as setting up an “under promise and over deliver” kind of scenario, as utilities typically find a way to thrive, but rarely want to shout up and down the streets about how great things are, lest people begin taking notice of how much they’re paying for someone else’s obscene profits.

Among those being considered that are going to be ex-dividend this week are Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and Green Mountain Keurig (GMCR).

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor and have a way to go to reach a breakeven on those shares which I purchased after its proposed buyout of another company fell through. I’ve held shares many times over the years and have become very accustomed to its significant and sizable moves, while somehow finding a way to return back to more normative pricing.

Following this past Friday’s decline its well below the $10 level that I’ve long liked for adding shares. With an ex-dividend date on Tuesday, if the trade is to be made, it will be likely done early in the week.

However, the other consideration is that Cypress Semiconductor is among the early earnings reporters and it will be reporting  on the day before its next option contract expires. For that reason, if considering a share purchase, I would probably look at a contract expiration beyond October, in the event of further price erosion.

Also going ex-dividend but not until Monday of the following week are Deere (DE) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

Like so many other stocks, they are badly beaten down and as a result are featuring an even more alluring dividend yield. However, their Monday ex-dividend date is something that can add to that allure, as any decision to exercise the option has to be made on the previous Saturday.

That presents opportunity to look at strategies that might seek to encourage early assignment through the sale of in the money call options utilizing expanded weekly options.

While Caterpillar (CAT) and others are feeling the pain of China’s economic slowdown, that’s not the case for Deere, but as is often the case, there are sympathy pains that become all too real.

Dow Chemical, on the other hand has continued to suffer from the belief that its fortunes are closely tied to oil prices. It;s CEO refuted that barely 9 months ago and subsequent earnings reports have borne out his contention, yet Dow Chemical continues to suffer as oil prices move lower.

If looking for a respite from dividends, both Bank of America (BAC) and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) may be worth a look this week.

The financial sector was hard hit the past few days and Bank of America was additionally in the spotlight regarding the issue of whether its CEO should also hold the Chairman’s title.

As with Jamie Dimon before him who successfully faced the same shareholder issue and retained both designations, no one is complaining about the performance of Brian Moynihan.

Even as I sit on some more expensive shares that have options sold on them expiring in two weeks, I have no reason to complain.

Following a second consecutive day of large declines, Bank of America is trading near its support that has seemed to hold up well under previous assault attempts. As with other stocks that have suffered large declines, there is greater ability to attempt to capitalize on price gains without giving up much in the way of option premiums.

Bed Bath and Beyond reports earnings this week and has seen its price in steady decline for the past 4 months. Unlike others that have had a more precipitous decline as they’ve approached the pleasure of a 20% decline, Bed Bath and Beyond has done it in a gradual style.

While those intermediate points along the drop down may represent some resistance on the way back up, that climb higher is made easier when the preceding decline
wasn’t vertical.

When considering an earnings related trade I usually look for a weekly return of 1% or greater by selling put options at a strike price that’s below the bottom range implied by the option market. The preference is that the strike price that provides that return be well below that lower boundary, The lower, the better the safety cushion.

For Bed Bath and Beyond the implied move is about 6.3%, but there is no safety cushion below a $56.50 strike level to yield that 1% return. Therefore, instead of selling puts before earnings, I would consider, as has been the predominant strategy of the past two months, of considering the sale of puts after earnings are announced, but only if there is a significant price decline.

Finally, Green Mountain Keurig is going ex-dividend this coming week, but it hardly qualifies as being among the relatively safe universe of stocks that I would prefer owning right now.

I usually like to think about opening a position in Green Mountain Keurig through the  sale of puts. However, with the ex-dividend date this week that would be like subsidizing someone who was selling those puts for the dividend related price decline.

Other than the dividend, there’s is little that I could say to justify a long term position on Green Mountain and even have a hard time justifying a short term position.

However, Green Mountain’s ex-dividend day is on Friday and expanded weekly options are available.

I would consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of deep in the money expanded weekly calls in an attempt to see those shares assigned early.

As an example, with Green Mountain closing at $56.74 on Friday, the October 2, 2015 $54.50 call option would have delivered a premium of $3.08.

For a rational option buyer to consider early exercise on Thursday, the price of shares would have to be above $54.79 and likely even higher than that, due to the inherent risk associated with owning shares, even if only for minutes on Friday morning after taking their possession.

However, if assigned early, there would be a 1.5% ROI for the 4 days of holding even if the shares fell somewhat less than 3.4%.

Their coffee and their prospects for continued marketplace success may both be insipid, but I do like the tortured logic and odds of the dividend related trade as we look ahead to a week where logic seeks to re-assert itself.

 

Traditional Stock: General Electric, Verizon

Momentum Stock: Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (9/22), Deere (9/28), Dow Chemical (9/28), Green Mountain Keurig (9/25)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Bed Bath and Beyond (9/24 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 – August 23, 2015

It wasn’t too long ago that China did what it continues to believe that it does best.

It dictated and restricted behavior.

You really can’t blame them, as for the past 67 years the government has done a very good job of controlling everything within its borders and rarely had to give up much in return.

This time it believed that it could control natural market forces with edicts and with the imposition of a very market un-natural prohibition against selling shares in a large number of stocks.

In the immediate aftermath of that decision nearly 2 months ago, the Shanghai Index had actually fared quite well, especially when you consider that in the month prior that index had taken a free fall and dropped 30% over the course of 27 days.

A subsequent 21% rebound over 15 days after the introduction of new “rules” to inactivate gravitational pull, likely re-inforced the belief that the government was omnipotent and emboldened it as it went forth with a series of rapid and significant currency devaluations, even while sending confusing signals when it moved in to support its currency.

I’ve often wondered about people who engage in risky behaviors, such as free fall jumping. What goes on in their mind, besides the obvious thrill, that tells them they can battle nature and natural laws and be on the winning side?

As with lots of things in life, we have the tendency to project in a very optimistic way. A single victory against all odds suddenly becomes the expected outcome in the future, as if nature and its forces had never heard of the expression “fool me once, shame on me….”

Given China’s track record in getting what it wants they can’t be blamed for believing that they are bigger than the laws that govern markets.

When you believe that you are right or invincible, you don’t really think about such pesky matters as consistency and the likelihood that things will eventually catch up with you.

While it may not be unusual to place some restrictions on trading when things are looking dire, the breadth of the Chinese stock trading restrictions was really broad. The suggestion that those responsible for rampant speculation and “malicious” short selling might suffer anirreversible form of punishment simply sought to ensure that any remaining miscreants severed their alliance with their normal behavior.

But when you’re on a streak and no one questions you, what reason is there to not continue in the same path that got you there? It’s just like not selling your stock positions and pocketing the gains.

Since those restrictions were imposed the Shanghai Index has actually gone 1% higher, which is considerably better than our own S&P 500 which has declined 5% after today’s free fall.

So clearly erecting a dam, even if on the wrong side of the natural flow, has helped and the score is Chinese Government 1, Natural Forces 0.

Except of course if you drill down to the past few days and see a drop of about 13%, while the S&P 500 has gone down 6%.

When the dam breaks, it’s not just the baby in the bath water that’s going to get wet, but more on that, later. That downdraft that we felt on our shores blew in from China as we got sucked in by the vacuum created from their free fall.

As with other instances of trying to do battle with nature there may be the appearance of a victory if you have a very, very short timeframe, but at some point the dam is going to burst and only time can really get things back under control enough to allow an opportunity to rebuild.

This past week was the worst in over 4 years as the S&P 500 fell 5.8%. At this point people are looking at individual stocks and are no longer marveling about how many are in correction territory, but rather how many are approaching or are in bear territory.

I haven’t kept track, but 2015 has been a year in which it seems that the most uttered phrase has been “and the markets have now given up all of their gains for the year.”

While I don’t spend too much time staring at charts and thinking about technical factors, you would have had a very difficult time escaping the barrage of comments about the market having dipped below its 200 Day Moving Average.

The level that I had been keeping my eye on as support was the 2045 level on the S&P 500 and that was breached in the final hour of trading on Thursday, leaving the 2000 level the next likely stop.

That too was left behind in the dust, as is the usual case when in free fall.

As mentioned earlier in the month, those technicals were showing a series of lower highs and higher
lows, which is often interpreted as meaning that a break-out is looming, but gives no clue as to the direction.

Now we know the direction, not that it helps any after the fact.

While the DJIA ended the week down a bit more than 10% off from its all time highs, allowing this to now be called a “correction,” the broader S&p 500 is only 7.8% lower. While many elected to sell on their way out in the final hour of the week, I wasn’t, but don’t expect to be very actively buying next week, without some sign of a functioning parachute or at least some very soft land at the bottom.

Buying is something that I will probably leave to those people who are more daring than I tend to be.

However, even they seem to have been a little more careful as this most recent sell-off hasn’t shown much in the way of enticing dare devils to buy on the substantial dips.

Even people prone to enjoying the thrill of a nice free fall are exercising some abundance of caution. While I prefer not to join them on the way down, I don’t mind keeping their company for now.

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

I succumbed a little to the sell off late in the week on Thursday and purchased some shares of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) in the final hour, right before another leg downward in a market that at that point was already down nearly 300 points.

That simply was a lesson in the issue that faces us all when prices seem to be so irrationally low. Distinguishing between a value priced stock and one that is there to simply suck money out of your pocket isn’t terribly easy to do.

As the sell off continued the following day to bring the August 2015 option cycle to its end the financial sector continued to be hit very hard as interest rates continued their decline.

It wasn’t very long ago that the 10 Year Treasury was ready to hit 2.5% and many were looking at that as being the proverbial “hand writing on the wall,” but in the past month those rates have fallen more than 40% and suddenly that wall is as clean as that baby that is continually mentioned as having been thrown out with the bath water, which coincidentally may be the second most uttered phrase of late.

After committing some money to Bank of America, I’m actually considering adding more financial sector positions in the expectation that the decline in interest rates will be coming to an end very soon as there’s some reason to believe that the FOMC’s dependence on data may be lip service.

Generally, the association between interest rates and the performance of stocks in the financial sector is reasonably straight forward. With some limitations, an increasing interest rate environment increases the margins that such companies can achieve when they put their own money to work.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is a good example of that relationship and its share price has certainly followed interest rates lower in the past few weeks, just as it dutifully followed those rates higher.

The decline in its shares has been swift and has finally brought them back to the mid-point of the range of the past dozen purchases. While that decline has been swift, the range has been fairly consistent and as the lower end of that range is approached there’s reason to consider braving some of the prevailing winds.

With the swiftness of the decline and with the broader market exhibiting volatility, the option premiums now associated with MetLife are recapturing some of the life that they had earlier in this year and all throughout 2014.

I often like to consider adding shares of MetLife right before an ex-dividend date, but I find the current stock price level to be compelling reason enough to consider a position and perhaps consider a longer term option contract to ride out any storm that may continue to be ahead.

Blackstone (NYSE:BX) hasn’t exactly followed that general rule, but lately it has fallen back in line with that very general rule, as it has plunged in share price since its earnings report and news of some insider selling.

As an example of how easy it has been to be too early in expressing optimism, I thought that Blackstone might be ready for a purchase just 2 weeks ago, but since then it has fallen 12%, although having had nothing but positive analyst comments directed toward it during those weeks. It, too, seems to have been caught in a significant downdraft and continued uncertainty in its near term fortunes are reflected in the very rich option premiums it’s now offering.

My major concern with Blackstone at the moment is whether its dividend, now at an 8.4% yield, can be sustained.

At a time when uncertainty is the prevailing mood, there’s some comfort that could come from having dividends accrue, as long as those dividends are safe.

While it’s dividend isn’t huge, at 2.5% and very safe, Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) again looks inviting as it followed other media companies lower this week and is now at a very appealing part of its trading range.

They have no worries about exchange rates, the Chinese economy or any of those “stories du jour” that have everyone’s attention.

Having reached an agreement with DISH Network earlier in the week to allow retransmission of its signal it saw shares plummet the following day.

Sinclair Broadcasting is ubiquitous around the nation but not exactly a household name, even in its home turf in the Mid-Atlantic. It offers only monthly options and has generally been a longer holding for me, having owned shares on six occasions in the past 15 months.

Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) was one of the early and very pronounced casualties of this most recent earnings season and it has shown no sign of recovery. The market didn’t even cheer as Lexmark announced workforce reductions.

What Lexmark has done since earnings hasn’t been encouraging as its total decline has been in excess of 30%, with a substantial portion of that coming after the initial wave of selling upon earnings being released.

Lexmark also only offers monthly options and it has a dividend yield that’s both enticing and unnerving. The good news is that expected earnings for the next quarter are sufficient to cover the dividend, but there has to be some concern going forward, as Lexmark has found itself in the same situation as its one time parent IBM (NYSE:IBM) having pivoted from its core business and perhaps needing to do so again.

With virtually no exposure to China you might have thought that Deere (NYSE:DE) would have had somewhat of an easier time of things as reporting its earnings for the past quarter.

If so, you would have been wrong, but getting it right hasn’t been the norm of late, regardless of what company is being considered.

The drop seen in Deere shares definitely came as a surprise to the options markets and to most everyone else as they became yet another to beat on earnings, but to miss on revenues.

As is the general theme, as volatility is climbing, at nearly its highest level in 3 years, the premiums are welcoming greater risk taking, even as they provide some cushion to risk.

Following its loss on Friday, even Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is now among those in correction, having sustained that decline over the past 2 weeks. With some significant exposure in China it may be understandable why Starbucks was a full participant in the market’s weakness.

Like many other stocks, the sudden decline in the context of a market decline that has led to a surge in volatility, option premiums are beginning to look better and better.

As volatility increases, which itself is a reflection of increasing risk, there is the seeming paradox of more of that risk being mollified through the sale of in the money options. The cushion provided by those in the money options increases as the volatility increases, so that the relative risk is reduced more than an upward moving market.

Starbucks, after a prolonged period of very mediocre option premiums is now beginning to show some of the reason why option sellers prefer high volatility. It’s not only for the increased premium, but also for the premium on that premium which allows greater reward even when willing to see shares assigned at a loss.

As an example, at Starbuck’s closing price of $52.84, the weekly $52 option sale would have delivered a premium of $1.64, which would net $0.80, a 1.5% yield, if shares were assigned, even if those shares fell 1.6%.

Those kind of risk and reward end points on otherwise low risk stocks haven’t been seen in a few years and is very exciting for those who do sell options on a regular basis.

Finally, not many companies have had their obituaries prepared for release as frequently as GameStop (NYSE:GME) has had to endure for many years.

Somehow, though, even as we think that the model for gaming distribution is changing there exists a strong core of those still yearning for physicality, even if in a virtual world.

GameStop reports earnings this week and it is no stranger to strong moves. The option market, however is implying only an 8.8% move, which seems substantial, but as this most recent earnings season will attest, may be under-stated.

For those bold enough to consider the sale of puts before earnings, a 1% ROI can be achieved if shares fall less than 12.1%.

As with a number of other earnings related trades over the past few months, I’m not so bold as to consider the trade in advance of earnings, but might consider selling puts after earnings in the event of a large move downward.

Lately, that has been a better formula for balancing reward and risk, although it may result in some lost opportunities in the event that shares don’t plummet beyond the strike prices implied by the option market. That, however, can be a small price to pay when the moves have so frequently been out-sized in their magnitude and offering a reward that ends up being dwarfed by the risk.

Considering that GameStop has fallen only 4.6% from its highs, it may be under additional pressure in the event of even a mild disappointment or less than optimistic guidance.

While it may be premature to begin the flow of tears and recount the good memories of GameStop and a youth wasted, I would be cautious about discounting the concerns entirely as far as the market’s reaction may be concerned.

Traditional Stock: Blackstone, Deere, General Electric, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Lexmark (8/26 $0.36), Sinclair Broadcasting (8/28 $0.16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – July 20, 2014

While I don’t necessarily believe that space aliens will descend upon us with laser rays blazing, there’s reason to increasingly believe that possibility as we learn more and more about the existence of conditions elsewhere in the universe that may be compatible with sustaining life.

Still, even with that knowledge, I don’t let it control my life and quite frankly will probably never do anything that in any way is impacted by the thought of an encounter with an alien.

The principle reason for not elevating the alarm level is that there is no point in history to serve as an example. The pattern of life on earth has been so far devoid of such occurrences, as best we know. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

However, I just don’t completely discount the possibility, because I believe that it’s of a very low probability. Besides, the vaporization process would be so swift that there would be no time for remorse or regrets. At least that’s what I expect.

By the same token I don’t expect a complete meltdown in the market, even though I know it has and can, likely occur again. Despite its probability of occurrence and my belief of that probability, I’m not really prepared for one if it were to occur, even with the extraordinarily low cost of portfolio protection. The chances of a complete meltdown, as we know, is probably more likely to occur in the near term than the prospect of laser waving aliens in our lifetimes.

For all practical purposes one is a real probability and the other isn’t, yet they aren’t necessarily placed into different risk categories at the moment.

This week’s events, however, served as a reminder that the unexpected should always be expected. With the nice rebound on Friday from Thursday’s news of the tragic downing of the civilian Malaysian airplane, the lesson may be lost, however.

One thing that we seem to have forgotten how to do in the past 5 years is to expect the unexpected. Instead our expectations have been fueled by the relentless climb higher and a feeling of invincibility. To a large degree that feeling has been justified as every attempt to fight back against the gains has been stymied in quick and due course.

I probably wasn’t alone in having that invincible feeling way back in 2007. The vaporization process was fairly swift then, as well.

Even when faced with challenges that in the past would have sent markets tumbling, such as international conflict, we haven’t seen the application of age old adages such as “do not stay long going into a weekend of uncertainty.” This Friday’s market rebound was another example in a long string of uncertainty being expected to not lead to the unexpected.

In essence with the certainty of an ever climbing market having become the new reality there’s been very little reason to exercise caution, or at least to be prepared to act in a cautious manner in the expectation that perhaps the unexpected will occur.

Our minds are wired to like and identify patterns. That’s certainly the strategic basis for stock trading for many. Predictability brings a degree of comfort, but too much comfort brings complacency. The prevailing pattern simply argues against the unexpected, so we have discounted its probability and to a large degree its possibility.

While we may be correct in discounting complete market meltdowns, as their occurrence is still relatively uncommon, that complacency has us discounting intermediate sized moves that can easily come from the unexpected. The world is an increasingly complex and inter-connected place and as seen in the past week there needn’t be advanced warning signs for any of an infinite number of unexpected events to occur.

We did get lucky this past week, but we probably expected the luck to continue if the unexpected did strike. What would really be unexpected would be to draw a lesson from our fragility standing near market highs.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. With many companies reporting earnings this coming week a companion article, “Taking a Gamble with Earnings,” explores some additional potential trades.

As Thursday’s trading was coming to its close at the lows of the session more and more stocks were beginning to return to what seemed to be more reasonable trading levels.

The problem, of course, is dealing with the unexpected and trying to predict what comes next when there are really no data points to characterize what we’ve seen. Someday when we look back at these events and the market impact we may see a pattern, but at the moment the question will be “which pattern?” Is it one that’s simply a blip and short-lived as the event itself is self-limiting or is the pattern consistent with the beginning stages of what is to become an ongoing and escalating series of events that serve to erode confidence and place continuing strains on the market?

In other words, did we just witness a typical over-reaction and subsequent rebound or are we ready to witness a correction?

I think its the former, but it opens the possibility of additional incidents and escalation of hostilities in a part of the world that is far more meaningful to the world’s economies than unheralded internecine conflicts occurring in so many other places.

Interestingly, with that kind of backdrop, this week, while we begin to sort out what the short term holds, “Momentum” kind of stocks, particularly those with little to no international exposure in the hotbed areas, may be more conservative choices than the more Traditional selections.

While I like British Petroleum (BP), General Electric (GE) and Deere (DE) this week, predominantly due to their recent price drops, there is certainly reason to be wary of their exposure to parts of the world in conflict.

British Petroleum certainly has known interests in Russia and could be at unique risk, however, I believe that we will be seeing a lesser chest thumping Russia in the n

ear term as there is some reason to believe that existing sanctions and perhaps expanded ones are beginning to get attention at the highest levels. Above all, pragmatism would dictate not injuring the source of hard currency.

I’ve been waiting a while to re-purchase shares of British Petroleum and certainly welcome any opportunity, even if still at a price higher than my last entry. With earnings scheduled to be reported July 29, 2014 and a healthy dividend sometime during the August 2014 option cycle there may be opportunities over the coming weeks with these shares to generate ongoing income.

General Electric reported its earnings this past Friday and also announced the impending IPO of its consumer finance business. The market was unimpressed on both counts.

I haven’t owned shares of General Electric with the frequency that it deserved. With a generous and increasing dividend, price stability, low beta and decent option premiums, it certainly has had the appeal for ownership, perhaps even using longer term option contracts to better  lock in some of those dividends. While it has significant international exposure the recent price weakness makes entry a little less risky, but even with the quality and size of General Electric unexpected bumpy rides can be possible when uncontrollable events create investor fear.

Deere is simply finally down to the price level that in the past was my upper range for purchase. With Caterpillar (CAT) reporting earnings later this week and trading near its 52 week high, there is room on the downside, as well as some trickle down to Deere shares. However, with Joy Global’s (JOY) recent performance, my anticipation is that Caterpillar’s Chinese related revenues will be enough to satisfy traders and offer some protection to Deere, as well.

On the Momentum side of the equation this week are Best Buy (BBY), Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and YUM Brands (YUM).

While Las Vegas Sands and YUM Brands certainly have international exposure, at the moment if you had to choose where to place your overseas bets, China may be relatively insulated from the unexpected elsewhere in the world.

Both companies are coming off weak earnings reports and the markets reacted accordingly. Both, however, have been very resilient to declines and finding substantive support levels in the past. With some shares of Las Vegas Sands recently assigned at current levels I would look for opportunity to re-purchase them. It’s volatility offers generous option premiums and the availability of expanded weekly options makes it easier to consider rollover opportunities in the event of unexpected price drops in order to wait out any price rebound, which has been the expected pattern.

YUM Brands is, like Deere, finally approaching the upper range of where I have purchased shares in the past. While I would like to see them even lower, I think that due to its dependence on the Chinese economy and market it may be a relative out-performer in the event of internationally induced market weakness.

Best Buy, unlike YUM Brands and Las Vegas Sands, has recently been on an upward price trajectory. I liked it much better when it was trading in the $26 range, but I believe it still has further upside potential in its slow climb back after unexpectedly bad earnings news 6 months ago. It too has an attractive option premium and a dividend and despite its recent price climb higher has come down nearly 5% in the past two weeks.

I have never purchased shares of Pandora (P) before, but love its product. At the moment I don’t particularly have any great desire to own shares, but Pandora does report earnings this week and is notable for its 10.8% implied price move. In the meantime a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike price that is 16.4% below the current price. Those are the kind of characteristics that I like to see when considering what may otherwise be a risk laden trade.

Pandora has certainly shown itself capable of making very large earnings related moves and it is also certainly in the cross hairs of other and bigger players, such as Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). However, even a scathing critic, TheStreet’s Rocco Pendola, has recently commented that its crushing defeat at the hands of those behemoths is not guaranteed.

Expected, maybe, but not guaranteed.

Facebook (FB) is also reporting earnings this coming week and in the two years that it has done so has predominantly surprised to the upside as it has quickly lived up to its vow to monetize its mobile strategy.

With an implied price move of 7.6% the strike level necessary to generate a 1% ROI through the sale of puts is 8.7% below Friday’s closing price. While shares can certainly make a move much larger than what is expected by the option market, in the event of an adverse move Facebook has some qualities that makes it an easier put option position to manage in the effort to avoid assignment.

It trades expanded weekly options and it does so with liquidity and volume, thereby having relatively narrow bid and ask spreads, even for deep in the money options.

Sooner or later, though, the expectation must be that earnings expectations won’t be met. I wouldn’t discount that possibility, although I think the options market may have done so a bit, so in this case I would be more inclined to consider the sale of puts after earnings, if share price drops on a disappointing report.

Finally, Apple reports earnings this week. It doesn’t really fulfill the criteria that I used when considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, in that it doesn’t appear that a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike level outside of the range defined by the option market when calculating the “implied move.”

It’s probably useless trying to speculate on sales numbers or guidance. Based on its usual earnings related responses in the past, you would be justified in believing that the market had not expected  the news. However, this quarter the implied move is on the small side, at only 4.5%, suggesting that not much in the way of a surprise is expected next week.

With the current option pricing, the sale of Apple puts doesn’t meet my criteria, but I would again be interested in considering either the sale of puts after earnings, if the market’s response is negative or the outright purchase of shares and sale of calls, in anticipation of an ex-dividend date coming up in early August.

Sometimes it’s just
easier dealing with the expected.

Traditional Stocks:  British Petroleum, Deere, General Electric

Momentum: Best Buy, Las Vegas Sands, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/22 PM), Facebook (7/23 PM), Pandora (P)

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 23, 2014

When this past week was all said and done, it was hard to discern that anything had actually happened.

Sure, there was an Olympics being staged and fomenting revolution in Ukraine, but it was a week when even the release of FOMC minutes failed to be news. Earnings season was winding down, the weather was in abeyance and the legislative docket was reasonably non-partisan.

I could have spent last week watching the grass grow if it hadn’t been covered in a foot of snow.

In its own way, despite the intermediate and alternating moves approaching triple digits, the past week was a perfect example of reversion to the mean. For those that remember 2011, it was that year in a microcosm.

The coming week promises to be no different, although eight members of the Federal Reserve are scheduled to speak. While they can move markets with intemperate or unfiltered remarks, which may become more meaningful as “hawks” assume more voting positions, most people will likely get their excitement from simply reading the just released 2008 transcripts of the Federal Reserve’s meetings as the crisis was beginning to unfold. While you can learn a lot about people in times of crisis, other than potential entertainment value the transcripts will do nothing to add air to the vacuum of the past week. What they may contain about our new Chairman, Janet Yellen, will only confirm her prescience and humor, and should be a calming influence on investors.

As a covered option investor last week was the way I would always script things if anyone would bother opening the envelope to read what was inside. While I have no complaints about 2012 or 2013, as most everyone loves a rising market, 2011 was an ideal market as the year ended with no change. Plenty of intermediate movement, but in the end, signifying nothing other than the opportunity to seemingly and endlessly milk stocks for their option premiums that were nicely enhanced by volatility.

Although I’ve spent much of the past year expecting, sometimes even waiting at the doorstep for the correction to come, the past few weeks have been potentially dangerous ones as I’ve had optimism and money to spend. That can be a bad combination, but the past 18 months have demonstrated a pattern of failed corrections, at least by the standard definition, and rebounds to new and higher highs.

While there may be nothing to see here, there may be something to see there as the market may again be headed to new neighborhoods.

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). A companion article this week explores some additional earnings related trades.

In a week that Wal-Mart (WMT) again disappointed with its earnings report, once again the market failed to follow its lead. In the past year Wal-Mart has repeatedly disappointed, yet the market has disconnected form its leadership, other than for a brief two hours of panic a few months ago when Wal-Mart announced some increasing inventory levels. That panic quickly resolved once Wal-Mart explained their interpretation of inventory levels.

However, one does have to wonder under what economic circumstances does Wal-Mart not meet expectations? Is the economy thriving and people are moving to other retailers, such as Target (TGT) or even Sears (SHLD) or are they moving to Family Dollar Store (FDO)? WHile it is possible that Wal-Mart may simply be suffering from its own bad economic and internal forecasting, there isn’t much reason to be sanguine about retailing. My money is on Family Dollar.

One source that I use for information lists Family Dollar as going ex-dividend this week, however, I haven’t found that to be corroborated anywhere else and historically the first quarter ex-dividend date is in the second week of March. If shares do go ex-dividend this week I would have significant enthusiasm for adding shares, but even in the absence of that event I’m inclined to make that purchase.

Coming off two successive weeks of garnering more than the usual number of dividends, this week is relatively slim pickings. Weyerhauser (WY) and Molson Coors (TAP) both go ex-dividend this week, but both are near the bottom of my list for new purchases this week.

While I like Molson Coors, at the moment the product holds some more appeal than the stock, which is trading near its yearly high point. However, with earnings now out of the way and Canadians around the world celebrating Olympic victories, what better way to show solidarity than to own shares, even if just for a week? Other than potential technical indicators which may suggest an overbought condition, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that in a flat or higher moving market during the coming week, Molson Coors shares will decline mightily. With shares as the body and a head composed of a nice premium and dividend, it just may be time to indulge.

Weyerhauser is a perfectly boring stock. Often, i mean that in a positive sense, but in this case I’m not so certain. I’ve owned shares since May 2013 and would be happy to see them assigned. Despite Weyerhauser offering a dividend this week, my interests are more aligned with re-establishing a position in International Paper (IP). In addition to offering a weekly option, which Weyerhauser does not, its options liquidity and pricing is superior. While it is trading near its yearly high, it has repeatedly met resistance at that level. As a result, while eager to once again own shares, I would be much more willing to do so even with just a slight drop in price.

While offering only a monthly option is a detriment as far as Weyerhauser is concerned, it may be a selling point as far as Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes. I like to consider adding shares when it is near a strike price as it was after Friday’s close. Shares can be volatile, but it tends to find its way back, especially when home is $10. WHile earnings aren’t due until April 17, 2014, that is just one day before the end of the monthly cycle. Therefore, if purchasing shares of Cypress at this time, I would be prepared to set up for ownership through the May 2014 cycle in the event that shares aren’t assigned when the March cycle comes to an end, in order to avoid being caught in a vortex if a disappointment is at hand. The dividend and the premiums will provide some solace, however.

Although I had shares of Fastenal (FAST) assigned this past week and still own some more expensive shares, this company, which I believe is a proxy for economic activity, has been a spectacular covered call trade and has lent itself to serial ownership as it has reliably traded in a defined range. It doesn’t report earnings until April 10, 2014, but it does have a habit of announcing altered guidance a few weeks earlier. That can be annoying if it comes at the end of an option cycle and potentially removes the chance of assignment or even anticipated rollover, but it’s an annoyance I can live with. After two successive quarters of reduced guidance my expectation is for an improved outlook.

I haven’t owned shares of Deere (DE) for a few months as it had gone on a ride higher, just as Caterpillar (CAT), another frequent holding, is now doing. Deere is now trading at the upper range of where I typically am interested in establishing a position, but after a 7% decline, it may be time to add shares once again. It consistently offers an option premium that has appeal and in the event of longer than anticipated ownership its dividend eases the wait for assignment.

While I would certainly be more interested in Starbucks (SBUX) if its shares were trading at a lower level, sometimes you have to accept what may be a new normal. I had nearly a year elapse before coming to that realization and missed many opportunities in that time with these shares. It does, however, appear that the unbridled move higher has come to an end and perhaps shares are now more likely to be range bound. As with the market in general it’s that range that others may view as mediocrity of performance that instead may be alternatively viewed as the basis for creating an annuity through the collection of option premiums and dividends.

I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense, so it’s unlikely that I would ever own any Deckers (DECK) products at the right time. One minute they sell cool stuff, the next minute they don’t and then back again. Just like the story of most stocks themselves.

What is clear is that they have become cool retailers again and impressively, shares have recovered from a recent large decline. With earnings due to be announced this week the option market is implying a 12.3% potential movement in shares. In the meantime, if you can set your sights on a lowly 1% ROI for the week’s worth of risk a 16.3% drop can still leave you without the obligation to purchase the shares if having sold puts.

Less exciting, at least in terms of implied moves, is T-Mobile (TMUS). It also reports earnings this week and there has to be some thought to what price T-Mobile is paying and will be paying for its very aggressive competitive stance. While its CEO John Legere, may be a hero to some for taking on the competition, that may very quickly fade with some disappointing earnings and cautionary guidance. the option market is pricing a relatively small move of 8.7%, while current option pricing can return a 1% ROI on a strike level 9.5% lower than Friday’s close. Although that’s not much of a margin of difference, I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts if shares drop substantively on Monday in advance of Tuesday morning’s announcement. Alternatively, if not selling puts in advance of earnings and shares do significantly fall following earnings, there may be potential to do the put sale at that time.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) reports earnings this week. It is one of the most frustrating and exhilirating of stocks and I currently own two lots. My personal rule is to never own more than three, so I still have some room to add shares, or more likely sell puts in advance of its earnings. Abercrombie and FItch is a nice example of how dysfunction and lowered expectations can create a stock that is so perfectly suited for a covered option strategy. Its constant gyrations create enhanced option premiums that are also significantly impacted by its history of very large earnings related price changes.

For those that have long invested in shares the prospect of a sharp decline upon earnings can’t come as a surprise. However, with a 10.7% implied price move this coming week, one can still achieve a 1% ROI if shares fall less than 15.3%, based on Friday’s closing price.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Family Dollar Store, Fastenal, International Paper, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

Double Dip Dividend: Molson Coors (ex-div 2/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/26 AM), Deckers (2/27 PM), T-Mobile (2/25 AM)

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

Weekend Update – November 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 – September 29, 2013

“There’s always a calm before the storm” is a fairly well known saying that doesn’t always accurately define a sequence of events.

Are all storms preceded by a period of calm? Is calm always followed by a storm?

The predictive capability of a period of calm hasn’t necessarily been validated among meteorological circles.

Being a meteorologist, however, is very similar to being a stock analyst or a market technician. No one really expects you to get it right, because you get it wrong so often. Besides, you would have to be a fool to fully predicate your actions on their prognostications. Neither group tends to publicly sit down and review the signals that had them sending the wrong messages.

Other than that meteorologists often get their wardrobes provided at no cost, while market analysts often get unlimited supplies of antacids. Meteorologists, though often wrong, are still very often beloved by their audience. I’m not certain the same can be said for stock analysts.

This past week was a forgettable one in just about all aspects. It was a week of calm, at least as far as potentially market moving news tend to go. Yet even in the midst of a sea of calm, the market was down over 1% and was unable to hold the 1700 level on the S&P 500, bringing us back to a level last seen about 10 days ago, when all was sunny.

While meteorologists often look to macro events, such as “El Nino,” or even global warming, the macro events that may move our markets are many and varied, but none seem to have paid a call this week. In fact, even factors that in the past sent chills of fear and uncertainty into the hearts of investors, such as a government shutdown or impending default on US obligations, have thus far barely elicited a yawn.

The perfect storm of good news and absence of bad news has simply continued. Aalthough this week was one of relative calm it’s hard to not notice dark clouds on the horizon, most of which are preceded by the fear of “what if.” What if tapering begins? What if the government is shut down? What if there is a government default?

Maybe that’s why Goldman Sachs (GS) just recommended the use of portfolio protective puts and that sentiment was quickly echoed by many that had access to a microphone. Coming in advance of the beginning of the new earnings season it reminds us that the just completed earnings season had few reasons to believe that growth was the trend at hand.

Of course, one could also be of the opinion that with everyone rallying to secure their protective puts this could be the perfect time to prepare for another market move higher.

In an effort to hedge the hedge, I am continuing to keep my cash reserves at relatively high levels but am still confident that with each week there are reasonably attractive trades that have a degree of safety and can create current income streams to help offset any market weakness.

If there is calm ahead, I prefer to look for stocks this week that are somewhat boring and have been trading in a reasonably narrow range. That kind of calm is just the tonic for covered option strategies.

This week the potential stock selections are restricted to the “Traditional” category, as no appealing choices were found in the Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

On an otherwise bad day to end the week, Microsoft (MSFT) danced to its own drummer, as Steve Ballmer, the outgoing CEO performed one of his characteristic morale raising dances at what is likely to be the final annual company wide meeting at which he presides. Reportedly, the day’s bump in share price came as the rumor regarding Ford (F) CEO Alan Mulally made the rounds indicating that his interest in assuming the position at Microsoft was strengthening. While it seems difficult to understand the synergy it may simply be another example of the market’s appetite for an anti-Ballmer. But without regard to immediate stories regarding transition in leadership, Microsoft just continues to offer a good combination of option premiums and dividends at this level, as it further commits itself toward creating its own ecosystem, perhaps not with an eye on increasing marketshare, but rather on retaining the loyalty of customers who might otherwise feel the lure of the competition.

While it was a good day for Microsoft it wasn’t a very good day for Intel (INTC). While the past years have seen close correlation between the fortunes of Intel and Microsoft, they certainly diverged this week. Part of the reason was some concern regarding a delay in the start of “Intel TV,” a web based television service which was thought to be a remedy for its poorly diversified revenue sources. Intel has demonstrated some resilience in the $22.50 range and like Microsoft offers a good combination of option premiums and dividends.

I liked Dow Chemical (DOW) enough to buy it last week in the hopes of capturing its dividend and option premium. However, a late afternoon spike in its share price right before going ex-dividend resulted in early assignment of shares. Following Friday’s sharp price decline, it”s right back to where it started. Still attractive, but without the dividend. It stands in sharp distinction to many of the companies that I’ve been considering over the past two months in that it s current share price is higher than where it stood at a recent market top on May 21, 2013 when the market reacted to FOMC minutes and a Ben Bernanke press conference by embarking on a quick 4% decline.

While I liked Deere (DE) last week and almost always find myself liking it, I didn’t purchase shares last week in an attempt to capture the dividend. Sometimes, especially for stocks above $50 the nearest strike prices are too far away from the current share price to offer a premium that offers sufficient reward for the risk undertaken. That was the case last week. However, if the lower prices to close the week hold at the open of this week and remain near the strike, I think the timing may be just right to add shares of Deere.

As far as boring stocks go, Mondelez (MDLZ) is boring in everything other than its name. Even Nelson Peltz’s self-serving attempts to move share price by discussing why he believed it was an ideal take-over target for Pepsi (PEP) did nothing to stir share price in any meaningful or sustained way. That kind of price stability is ideally suited for a covered option strategy.

Retail has been a difficult sector recently, especially teen retail. However, just as Mondelez can make boring become interesting, so too can The Gap (GPS) make boredom the new chique. Well down from a brief earnings fueled rise, shares appear to have support at the $40 level and won’t face the challenge of earnings until mid-way through the November 2013 option cycle. In the interim, it also goes ex-dividend during the October 2013 cycle.

Following its recent earnings related drop Darden Restaurants (DRI) is trading at a much more appealing level. From a covered option trader’s perspective the strike prices below the $50 level, graduated in single dollars is much more attractive and offers many more opportunities than the sparser ones available above $50. While Darden may also be a boring kind of pick it’s interest level is also enhanced by a very nice dividend that comes during the October cycle.

Finally, Barclays (BCS) may have qualified as a “Momentum” selection based on its recent price movements but once the dust settles it should start trading in a more sedate manner. In addition to various legal worries and the backdrop of lethargic European economies, Barclays recently announced the need to meet increased capital reserve requirements. Doing so through the issuance of stock is never a great way to see shares appreciate. However, the issuance of “rights” to existing shareholders entitling them to purchase shares at approximately a 40% discount helped to drive up share price

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Deere, Darden, Dow Chemical, Intel, Microsoft, Mondelez, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Weekend Update – September 22, 2013

Generally, when you hear the words “perfect storm,” you tend to think of an unfortunate alignment of events that brings along some tragedy. While any of the events could have created its own tragedy the collusion results in something of enormous scale.

For those that believe in the wisdom that can be garnered from the study of history, thus far September 2013 has been at variance with the conventional wisdom that tell us September is the least investor friendly month of the year.

What has thus far made this September different, particularly in contrast to our experience this past August, has been a perfect storm that hasn’t come.

Yet, but the winds are blowing.

Barely three weeks ago we were all resolved to another bout of military action, this time in Syria. History does tend to indicate that markets don’t like the period that leads up to hostilities.

Then we learned that the likely leading contender to assume the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, Larry Summers, withdrew his name from consideration of the position that has yet to confirm that its current Chairman will be stepping down. For some reason, the markets didn’t like prospects of Larry Summers being in charge but certainly liked prospects of his being taken out of the equation.

Then we were ready to finally bite the bullet and hear that the Federal Reserve was going to reduce their purchase of debt obligations. Although they never used the word “taper” to describe that, they have made clear that they don’t want their actions to be considered as “tightening,” although easing on Quantitative Easing seems like tightening to me.

There’s not too much guidance that we can get from history on how the markets would respond to a “taper,” but the general consensus has been that our market climb over the past few years has in large part been due to the largesse of the Federal Reserve. Cutting off that Trillion dollars each year might drive interest rates higher and result in less money being pumped into equity markets.

What we didn’t know until the FOMC announcement this past Wednesday was what the market reaction would be to any announcement. Was the wide expectation for the announcement of the taper already built into the market? What became clear was that the market clearly continues to place great value on Quantitative Easing and expressed that value immediately.

As long as we’re looking at good news our deficit is coming down fast, employment seems to be climbing, the Presidents of the United States and Iran have become pen pals and all is good in the world.

The perfect storm of good news.

The question arises as to whether any eventual bad news is going to be met with investors jumping ship en masse. But there is still one thing missing from the equation. One thing that could bring us back to the reality that’s been missing for so long.

Today we got a glimpse of what’s been missing. The accelerant, if you will. With summer now officially over, at least as far as our elected officials go, the destructive games have been renewed and it seems as if this is just a replay of last year.

Government shutdowns, debt defaults and add threats to cut off funding for healthcare initiatives and you have the makings of the perfect storm, the bad kind, especially if another domino falls.

Somewhat fortuitously for me, at least, the end of the September 2013 option cycle has brought many assignments and as a result has tipped the balance in favor of cash over open positions.

At the moment, I can’t think of a better place to be sitting as we enter into the next few weeks and may find ourselves coming to the realization that what has seemed to be too good to be true may have been true but could only last for so long.

While I will have much more cash going into the October 2013 cycle than is usually the case and while I’m fully expecting that accelerant to spoil the party, I still don’t believe that this is the time for a complete buying boycott. Even in the middle of a storm there can be an oasis of calm.

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).

After Friday’s loss, I have a difficult time in not being attracted to the idea of adding shares of Caterpillar (CAT). It has been everyone’s favorite stock to deride for its dependence on the Chinese economy and for its lack of proactive leadership in the past year. Jim Chanos publicly proclaimed his love for Caterpillar as his great short thesis for the coming year. Since it has trailed the S&P 500 by 16% on a year to date basis there may be good reason to believe that money goes into Caterpillar shares to die.

However, it has been a perfect stock with which to apply a serial covered option strategy. In 13 trades beginning July 2012, for example, it has demonstrated a 44.9% ROI, by simply buying shares, collecting dividends and premiums and then either re-purchasing shares or adding to existing shares. In that same time the index was up 28%, while Caterpillar has lost 3%.

It’s near cousin Deere (DE) also suffered heavily in Friday’s market and has also been an excellent covered option trade over the past year. Enhancing its appeal this week is that it goes ex-dividend. I currently own shares, but like Caterpillar, in smaller number than usual and purchases would provide the additional benefit of averaging down cost, although I rarely combine lots and sell options based on average cost.

Also going ex
-dividend this week is Dow Chemical (DOW). This has been one of those companies that for years has been one of my favorite to own using the covered option strategy. However, unlike many others, it hasn’t shown much propensity to return to lower price levels after assignment. I don’t particularly like admitting that there are some shares that don’t seem to obey the general rule of gravity, but Dow Chemical has been one of those of late. I also don’t like chasing such stocks particularly in advance of what may be a declining market. However, with the recent introduction of weekly options for Dow Chemical I may be more willing to take a short term position.

YUM Brands (YUM) is similar in that regard to Dow Chemical. I’ve been waiting for it to come down to lower price levels, but just as it had at those lower levels, it proved very resilient to any news that would send its shares downward for a sustained period. As with Caterpillar, YUM Brands is tethered to Chinese news, but even more so, as in addition to economic reports and it’s own metrics, it has to deal with health scares and various food safety issues that may have little to no direct relationship to the company. YUM Brands does help to kick off the next earnings season October 8th and also goes ex-dividend that same week.

Continuing along with that theme, UnitedHealth Group (UNH) just hasn’t returned to those levels at which I last owned shares. In fact, in this case it’s embarrassing just how far its shares have come and stayed. What I can say is that if membership in the Dow Jones Index was responsible, then perhaps I should have spent more time considering its new entrants. However, with the Affordable Care Act as backdrop and now it being held hostage by Congressional Republicans, shares have fallen about 6% in the past week.

Mosaic (MOS) is among the companies that saw its share price plummet upon news that the potash cartel was collapsing. Having owned much more expensive shares at that time, I purchased additional shares at the much lower level in the hope that their serial assignment or option premium generation would offset some of the paper losses on the older shares. Although that has been successful, I think there is continuing opportunity, even as Mosaic’s price slowly climbs as the cartel’s break-up may not be as likely as originally believed.

If you had just been dropped onto this planet and had never heard of Microsoft (MSFT) you might be excused for believing this it was a momentum kind of stock. Between the price bounces that came upon the announcement of the Nokia (NOK) purchase, CEO Ballmer’s retirement, Analyst’s Day and the announcement of a substantial dividend increase, it has gyrated with the best of them. Those kinds of gyrations, while staying within a nicely defined trading range are ideal for a covered option strategy.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes ex-dividend this week. This is a stock that I frequently want to purchase but am most likely to do so when its purchase price is near a strike level. That’s especially true as volatility is low and there is less advantage toward the use of in the money options. With a nice dividend, healthy option premiums, good leadership and product ubiquity, this stock has traded reliably in the $10-12 range to also make it a very good covered option strategy stock selection.

Every week I feel a need to have something a little controversial, as long as there’s a reasonable chance of generating profit. The challenge is always in finding a balance to the risk and reward. This week, I was going to again include Cliffs Natural Resources, as I did the previous week, however a late plunge in share price, likely associated with reports that CHinese economic growth was not going to include industrial and construction related growth, led to the need to rollover those shares. I would have been happy to repurchase shares, but not quite as happy to add them.

Fortunately, there’s always JC Penney (JCP). It announced on Friday that it was seeking a new credit line, just as real estate concern Vornado (VNO) announced its sale of all its JC Penney stake at $13. Of course the real risk is in the company being unable to get the line it needs. While it does reportedly have nearly $2 billion in cash, no one wants to see starkly stocked shelves heading into the holidays. WHether through covered options or the sale of put options, JC Penney has enough uncertainty built into its future that the premium is enticing if you can accept the uncertainty and the accompanying risk.

Finally, I had shares of MetLife (MET) assigned this past week as it was among a handful of stocks that immediately suffered from the announcement that there would be no near term implementation of the “taper.” The thesis, probably a sound one was that with interest rates not likely to increase at the moment, insurance companies would likely derive less investment related income as the differential between what they earn and what they pay out wouldn’t be increasing.

As that component of the prefect storm is removed one would have to believe that among the beneficiaries would be MetLife.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, MetLife, Microsoft, UnitedHealth Group

Momentum Stocks
: JC Penney, Mosaic, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (ex-div 9/24), Deere (ex-div 9/26), Dow Chemical (ex-div 9/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – September 8, 2013

Employment Situation Report, Taper, new Yahoo! (YHOO) logo, Syria.

Not a line from a new, less catchy Billy Joel song, but a transition week going from the quietude of summer, which was mostly focused on fundamentals to the event driven and emotional rest of the year when the world seems to be perennially on fire, jumping from crisis to crisis.

In a few days traffic in my part of the country returns back to its normal heinous condition as our nation’s elected officials return from a much deserved 37 day vacation that they were unable to truncate by a few days to address some outstanding issues.

Just to be clear, it’s the electorate that deserved the break, but now they’re back and we can settle into our more normal state of dysfunction, while decreasing our focus on such mundane things as earnings. For the record, I don’t get out onto the roads very much anymore, having given up gainful employment for a life of ticker watching, but it’s not as easy to escape the results of having exercised our democratic rights.

Continue reading “Seems Like Old Times” on Seeking Alpha

 

Weekend Update – August 11, 2013

I like to end each week taking a look at the upcoming week’s economic calendar just to have an idea of what kind of curveballs may come along. It’s a fairly low value added activity as once you know what is in store for the coming week the best you can do is guess about data releases and then further guess about market reactions.

Just like the professionals.

That’s an even less productive endeavor in August and this summer we don’t even have much in the way of extrinsic factors, such as a European banking crisis to keep us occupied in our guessing. In all, there have been very few catalysts and distractions of late, hearkening back to more simple times when basic rules actually ruled.

In the vacuum that is August you might believe that markets would be inclined to respond to good old fundamentals as histrionics takes a vacation. Traditionally, that would mean that earnings take center stage and that the reverse psychology kind of thinking that attempts to interpret good news as bad and bad news as good also takes a break.

Based upon this most recent earnings season it’s hard to say that the market has fully embraced traditional drivers, however. While analysts are mixed in their overall assessment of earnings and their quality, what is clear is that earnings don’t appear to be reflective of an improving economy, despite official economic data that may be suggesting that is our direction.

That, of course, might lead you to believe that discordant earnings would put price pressure on a market that has seemingly been defying gravity.

Other than a brief and shallow three day drop this week and a very quickly corrected drop in May, the market has been incredibly resistant to broadly interpreting earnings related news negatively, although individual stocks may bear the burden of disappointing earnings, especially after steep runs higher.

But who knows, maybe Friday’s sell off, which itself is counter to the typical Friday pattern of late is a return to rational thought processes.

Despite mounting pessimism in the wake of what was being treated as an unprecedented three days lower, the market was able to find catalysts, albeit of questionable veracity, on Thursday.

First, news of better than expected economic growth in China was just the thing to reverse course on the fourth day. For me, whose 2013 thesis was predicated on better than expected Chinese growth resulting from new political leadership’s need to placate an increasingly restive and entitled society, that kind of news was long overdue, but nowhere near enough to erase some punishing declines in the likes of Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF).

That catalyst lasted for all of an hour.

The real surprising catalyst at 11:56 AM was news that JC Penney (JCP) was on the verge of bringing legendary retail maven Allen Questrom back home at the urging of a newly vocal Bill Ackman. The market, which had gone negative and was sinking lower turned around coincident with that news. Bill Ackman helped to raise share price by being Bill Ackman.

Strange catalyst, but it is August, after all. In a world where sharks can fall out of the sky why couldn’t JC Penney exert its influence, especially as we’re told how volatile markets can be in a light volume environment? Of course that bump only lasted about a day as shares went down because Bill Ackman acted like Bill Ackman.The ensuing dysfunction evident on Friday and price reversal in shares was, perhaps coincidentally mirrored in the overall market, as there really was no other news to account for any movement of stature.

With earnings season nearly done and most high profile companies having reported, there’s very little ahead, just more light volume days. As a covered option investor if I could script a market my preference would actually be for precisely the kind of market we have recently been seeing. The lack of commitment in either direction or the meandering around a narrow range is absolutely ideal, especially utilizing short term contracts. That kind of market present throughout 2011 and for a large part of 2012 has largely been missing this year and sorely missed. Beyond that, a drop on Fridays makes bargains potentially available on Mondays when cash from assigned positions is available.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend and Momentum, with no “PEE” selections this week. (see details).

For an extended period I’ve been attempting to select new positions that were soon to go ex-dividend as a means to increase income, offset lower option premiums and reduce risk, while waiting for a market decline that has never arrived.

This week, I’m more focused on the two selections that are going ex-dividend this coming week, but may have gotten away after large price rises on Thursday.

Both Cliffs Natural Resources and Microsoft (MSFT) were beneficiaries of Chinese related ne
ws. In Cliffs Natural’s case it was simply the perception that better economic news from China would translate into the need for iron ore. In Microsoft’s case is was the introduction of Microsoft Office 365 in China. Unfortunately, both stocks advanced mightily on the news, but any pullback prior to the ex-dividend dates would encourage me to add shares, even in highly volatile Cliffs, with which I have suffered since the dividend was slashed.

A bit more reliable in terms of dividend payments are Walgreens (WAG), Chevron (CVX) and Phillips 66 (PSX).

Although I do like Walgreens, I’ve only owned it infrequently. However, since beginning to offer weekly options I look more frequently to the possibility of adding shares. Despite being near its high, the prospect of a short term trade in a sector that has been middling over the past week, with a return amplified by a dividend payment, is appealing.

Despite being near the limit of the amount of exposure that I would ordinarily want in the Energy Sector, both Chevron and Phillips 66 offer good option premiums and dividends. The recent weakness in big oil makes me gravitate toward one of its members, Chevron, however, if forced to choose between just one to add to my portfolio, I prefer Phillips 66 due to its greater volatility and enhanced premiums. I currently own Phillips 66 shares but have them covered with September call contracts. In the event that I add shares I would likely elect weekly hedge contracts.

If there is some validity to the idea that the Chinese economy still has some life left in it, Joy Global (JOY), which is currently trading near the bottom of its range offers an opportunity to thrive along with the economy. Although the sector has been relatively battered compared to the overall market, option premiums and dividends have helped to close that gap and I believe that the sector is beginning to resemble a compressed spring. On a day when Deere (DE) received a downgrade and Caterpillar was unable to extend its gain from the previous day, Joy Global moved strongly higher on Friday in an otherwise weak market.

Oracle (ORCL) is one of the few remaining to have yet reported its earnings and there will be lots of anticipation and perhaps frayed nerves in advanced for next month’s report, which occurs the day prior to expiration of the September 2013 contract.

You probably don’t need the arrows in the graph above to know when those past two earnings reports occurred. Based Larry Ellison’s reaction and finger pointing the performance issues were unique to Oracle and one could reasonably expect that internal changes have been made and in place long enough to show their mark.

Fastenal (FAST) is just a great reflection of what is really going on in the economy, as it supplies all of those little things that go into big things. Without passing judgment on which direction the economy is heading, Fastenal has recently seemed to established a lower boundary on its trading range after having reported some disappointing earnings and guidance. Trading within a defined range makes it a very good candidate to consider for a covered option strategy

What’s a week without another concern about legal proceedings or an SEC investigation into the antics over at JP Morgan Chase (JPM)? While John Gotti may have been known as the “Teflon Don,” eventually after enough was thrown at him some things began to stick. I don’t know if the same fate will befall Jamie Dimon, but he has certainly had a well challenged Teflon shell. Certainly one never knows to what degree stock price will be adversely impacted, but I look at the most recent challenge as just an opportunity to purchase shares for short term ownership at a lower price than would have been available without any legal overhangs.

Morgan Stanley (MS), while trading near its multi-year high and said to have greater European exposure than other US banks, continues to move forward, periodically successfully testing its price support.

With any price weakness in JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley to open the week I would be inclined to add both, as I’ve been woefully under-invested in the Finance sector recently.

While retailers, especially teen retailers had a rough week last week, Footlocker (FL) has been a steady performer over the past year. A downgrade by Goldman Sachs (GS) on Friday was all the impetus I needed and actually purchased shares on Friday, jumping the gun a bit.

Using the lens of a covered option seller a narrow range can be far more rewarding than the typical swings seen among so many stocks that lead to evaporation of paper gains and too many instances of buying high and selling low. Some pricing pressure was placed on shares as its new CEO was rumored a potential candidate for the CEO at JC Penney. However, as that soap opera heats up, with the board re-affirming its support of their one time CEO and now interim CEO, I suspect that after still being in limbo over poaching Martha Stewart products, JC Penney will not likely further go where it’s unwelcome.

Finally, Mosaic (M
OS
) had a good week after having plunged the prior week, caught up in the news that the potash cartel was falling apart. Estimates that potash prices may fall by 25% caused an immediate price drop that offered opportunity as basically the fear generated was based on supposition and convenient disregard for existing contracts and the potential for more rationale explorations of self-interest that would best be found by keeping the cartel intact.

The price drop in Mosaic was reminiscent of that seen by McGraw Hill FInancial (MHFI) when it was announced that it was the target of government legal proceedings for its role in the housing crisis through its bond ratings. The drop was precipitous, but the climb back wonderfully steady.

I subsequently had Mosaic shares assigned in the past two weeks, but continue to hold far more expensively priced shares. I believe that the initial reaction was so over-blown that even with this past week’s move higher there is still more ahead, or at least some price stability, making covered options a good way to generate return and in my case help to whittle down paper losses on the older positions while awaiting some return to normalcy.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Footlocker, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Chevron (ex-div 8/15), Phillips 66 (ex-div 8/14), Walgreen (ex-div 8/16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.