Weekend Update – September 18, 2016

 

Everyone has been there at one time or another in their lives.

Maybe several times a day.

There is rarely a shortage of things and events that don’t serve or conspire to make us crazy.

Recurring threats of a government shutdown; the 2016 Presidential campaign; the incompetence in the executive suites of Twitter (TWTR) and pumpkin flavored everything, for example.

I add the FOMC to that list.

Although his annual Twitter campaign against pumpkin flavored everything has yet to start this year, there is scant evidence that Marek Fuchs, a wonderful MarketWatch columnist, has actually gone crazy.

However, as opposed to the hyperbole that typically characterizes the situation when someone is claiming to be made “crazy,” traders may be actually manifesting something bordering on the insane as members of the Federal Reserve toy with the fragile flowers they are in real life.

The alternating messages that have come from those members, who at one time, not too long ago, were barely seen, much less heard, have unsettled traders as the clock is ticking away toward this coming week’s FOMC Statement release.

Couple their deeply seated. but questionably held opinions regarding the timing of an interest rate increase, with the continuing assertion that the FOMC will be “data dependent,” and a stream of conflicting data and if you are prone to be driven crazy, you will be driven crazy.

Or, at the very least, prone to run on sentences.

Continue reading on Seeking Alpha

 

 

Weekend Update – July 24, 2016

“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

That old saying has some truth to it.

Maybe a lot of truth.

When you think about stocks all day long everything seems to be some sort of an indicator as I look for a rational explanation to what is often a prelude to an irrational outcome.

Reducing the intricate character of what is found in nature to a mathematical sequence is both uplifting and deflating.

When the very thought of uplifting and deflating conjures up an image of a stock chart it may be time to re-evaluate things.

When you start seeing the beauty in nature as a series of peaks and troughs and start thinking about Fibonacci Retracements, it is definitely time to step back.

Sometimes stepping back is the healthy thing to do, but as the market has been climbing it’s most recent mountain that has repeatedly taken the S&P 500 to new closing highs, it hasn’t taken very many breaks in its ascent.

You don’t have to be a technician, nor a mountain climber to know that every now and then you have to regroup and re-energize.

You also don’t have to be a mountain climber to know that standing on the edge of a cliff is fraught with danger, just as each step higher adds to risk, unless there’s a place to rest.

Continue reading on Seeking Alpha

Weekend Update – July 10, 2016

 I still have a fascination with license plates and the bumper stickers put on their cars.

The license plate thing these days is more geared toward trying to decipher the message contained on someone’s vanity plates.

That often takes a combination of having a very open mind as to the intended grouping of letters and numbers and to the message.

Of course, the exercise isn’t complete until then driving past the car driver and either giving them a thumbs up or a shoulder shrug.

The bumper sticker thing is more just a question of reading and then trying to imagine what the person in the car will look like once going past them.

For example, in my experience, those with the “Choose Civility” bumper sticker tend to be very rude drivers, but they don’t look rude.

What both fascinations have in common is that as I get older, the distance that I need to get within range to be able to read the plates and the bumper stickers is increasingly getting smaller and smaller.

That brings some danger, but sometimes it’s really hard to resist.

When I say “sometimes,” I mean that I can never resist and it is the reason that my wife won’t let me drive when we’re together.

I need to be within range.

Continue reading on Seeking Alpha

 

 

Weekend Update – January 24, 2016

With the early part of the Republican primaries having focused on one candidate’s hair, it reminded me of that old complaint that people sometimes made that their hair had a mind of its own.

For better or worse the political hair jokes have pretty much finally run their course as the days tick down to a more substantive measure of a candidate’s character and positions on more weighty matters.

While it was nice seeing some gains for the week and finally having some reason to not curse 2016, there’s no mistaking the reality that the stock market hasn’t had much of a mind of its own after the first 14 trading days of the new year.

Bad hair days would have been a lot easier to take than the bad market days that have characterized much of the past  6 weeks.

The combination of China and the price of oil have led the market down and up on a daily basis and sometimes made it do flips during the course of a single trading day.

With the price of oil having climbed about 23% during the week from its multi-year lows, the market did what it hadn’t been able to do in 2016 and actually put together back to back daily gains. Maybe it was entirely coincidental that the 48 hours that saw the resurgence in the price of crude oil were the same 48 hours that saw the market string consecutive gains, but if so, that coincidence is inescapable.

While that’s encouraging there’s not too much reason to believe that the spike in the price of oil was anything more than brave investors believing that oil was in a severely over-sold position and that its recent descent had been too fast and too deep.

That pretty much describes the stock market, as well, but what you haven’t seen in 2016 is the presence of those brave souls rushing in to pick up shares in the same belief.

Of the many “factoids” that were spun this week was that neither the DJIA nor the NASDAQ 100 had even a single stock that had been higher in 2016. That may have changed by Friday’s closing bell, but then the factoid would be far less fun to share.

Instead, oil has taken the fun out of things and has dictated the direction for stocks and the behavior of investors. If anything, stocks have been a trailing indicator instead of one that discounts the future as conventional wisdom still credits it for doing, despite having put that quality on hiatus for years.

That was back when the stock market actually did have a mind of its own. Now it’s more likely to hear the familiar refrain that many of us probably heard growing up as we discovered the concept of peer pressure.

“So, if your best friend is going to jump out of the window, is that what you’re going to do, too?”

With earnings not doing much yet to give buyers a reason to come out from hiding, the coming week has two very important upcoming events, but it’s really anyone’s guess how investors could react to the forthcoming news.

There is an FOMC announcement scheduled for Wednesday, assuming that the nation’s capital is able to dig out from under the blizzard’s drifts and then the week ends with a GDP release.

With a sudden shift in the belief that the economy was heading in one and only one direction following the FOMC’s decision to increase interest rates, uncertainty is again in the air.

What next week’s events may indicate is whether we are back to the bad news is bad news or the bad news is good news mindset.

It’s hard to even make a guess as to what the FOMC might say next week.

“My bad” may be an appropriate start with the economy not seeming to be showing any real signs of going anywhere. With corporate revenues and unadulterated earnings not being terribly impressive, the oil dividend still not materializing and retail sales weak, the suggestion by Blackrock’s (BLK) Larry Fink last week that there could be layoffs ahead would seem to be the kind of bad news that would be overwhelmingly greeted for what it would assuredly represent.

When the FOMC raised interest rates the market had finally come around to believing that a rise in rates was good news, as it had to reflect an improving economic situation. If the next realization is that the improving situation would last for only a month, you might think the reception would be less than effusive.

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

Last week was the first week since 2008 or 2009 that I made no trades at all and had no ex-dividend positions. No new positions were opened, nor were any call or put rollovers executed.

Other than a few ex-dividend positions this week, I’m not certain that it will be any different from last week. I haven’t opened very many new positions of late, having to go back nearly 2 months for a week with more than a single new position having been opened.

Unlike much of the past 6 years when market pullbacks just seemed like good times to get good stocks at better prices, the past few months have been offering good prices that just kept getting better and better.

If you had been a buyer, those better and better prices were only seen that way by the next series of prospective buyers, who themselves probably came to bemoan how less they could have paid if only they waited another day or two. 

The gains of the final two days of last week make me want to continue the passivity. Anyone having chased any of those precious few days higher lately has ended up as disappointed as those believing they had picked up a bargain.

At some point it will pay to chase stocks higher and at some point it will pay to run after value.

I’m just not convinced that two days of gains are enough to  signal that value is evaporating.

The biggest interests that I have for the week are both earnings related trades. Both Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB) report earnings this week.

If you’re looking for a stock in bear market correction over the past 6 months, you don’t have to go much further then Apple (AAPL). Along with some of his other holdings, Apple has punished Carl Icahn in the same manner as has been occurring to mere mortals.

Of course, that 21% decline is far better than the 27% decline fro just a few days ago before Apple joined the rest of the market in rally mode.

Interestingly, the option market doesn’t appear to be pricing in very much uncertainty with earnings upcoming this week, with an implied move of only 6.2%

Since a 1% ROI can only be achieved at a strike level that’s within that range, I wouldn’t be very excited in the sale of out of the money puts prior to earnings. The risk – reward proposition just isn’t compelling enough for me. However, if Apple does drop significantly after earnings then there may be reason to consider the sale of puts.

There is some support at $90 and then a few additional support levels down to $84, but then it does get precarious all the way down to $75.

Apple hasn’t been on everyone’s lips for quite a while and we may not get to find out just how little it has also been on people’s wrists. Regardless, if the support levels between $84 and $90 are tested after earnings the put premiums should still remain fairly high. If trying this strategy and then faced with possible assignment of shares, an eye has to be kept on the announcement of the ex-dividend date, which could be as early as the following week.

While Apple is almost 20% lower over the past 6 months, Facebook has been virtually unchanged, although it was almost 30% higher over the past year.

It;s implied move is 6.8% next week, but the risk – reward is somewhat better than with Apple, if considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, as a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly option could be obtained outside of the range defined by the option market. As with Apple, however, the slide could be more precarious as the support levels reflect some quick and sharp gains over the past 2 years.

For those that have been pushing a short strategy for GameStop (GME), and it has long been one of the most heavily of shorted stocks for quite some time, the company has consistently befuddled those who have had very logical reasons for why GameStop was going to fall off the face of the earth.

Lately, though, they’ve had reason to smile as shares are 45% lower, although on a more positive note for others, it’s only trailing the S&P 500 by 2% in 2016. They’ve had some reasons to smile in the past, as well, as the most recent plunge mirrors one from 2 years ago.

As with Apple and Facebook, perhaps the way to think about any dalliance at this moment, as the trend is lower and as volatility is higher, is through the sale of put options and perhaps considering a longer time outlook.

A 4 week contract, for example, at a strike level 4.6% below this past Friday’s close, could still offer a 3% ROI. If going that route, it would be helpful to have strategies at hand to potentially deal with an ex-dividend date in the March 2016 cycle and earnings in the April 2016 cycle.

One of the companies that I own that is going ex-dividend this week is Fastenal (FAST). I’ve long liked this company, although I’m not enamored with my last purchase, which I still own and was purchased a year ago. As often as is the case, I consider adding shares of Fastenal right before the ex-dividend date and this week is no different.

What is different is its price and with a 2 day market rally that helped it successfully test its lows, I would be interested in considering adding an additional position.

With only monthly options available, Fastenal is among the earliest of earnings reporters each quarter, so there is some time until the next challenge. Fastenal does, however, occasionally pre-announce or alter its guidance shortly before earnings, so surprises do happen, which is one of the reasons I’m still holding shares after a full year has passed.

In the past 6 months Fastenal has started very closely tracking the performance of Home Depot (HD). While generally Fastenal has lagged, in the past 2 months it has out-performed Home Depot, which was one of a handful of meaningfully winning stocks in 2015.

Finally, Morgan Stanley (MS) is also ex-dividend this week.

Along with the rest of the financials, Morgan Stanley’s share price shows the disappointment over the concern that those interest rate hikes over the rest of the year that had been expected may never see the light of day.

This week’s FOMC and GDP news can be another blow to the hopes of banks, but if I was intent upon looking for a bargain this week among many depressed stocks, I may as well get the relationship started with a dividend and a company that I can at least identify the factors that may make it move higher or lower.

Not everything should be about oil and China.

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks:  GameStop

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (1/27 $0.30), Morgan Stanley ($0.15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Apple (1/26 PM), Facebook (1/27 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 – January 24, 2016

With the early part of the Republican primaries having focused on one candidate’s hair, it reminded me of that old complaint that people sometimes made that their hair had a mind of its own.

For better or worse the political hair jokes have pretty much finally run their course as the days tick down to a more substantive measure of a candidate’s character and positions on more weighty matters.

While it was nice seeing some gains for the week and finally having some reason to not curse 2016, there’s no mistaking the reality that the stock market hasn’t had much of a mind of its own after the first 14 trading days of the new year.

Bad hair days would have been a lot easier to take than the bad market days that have characterized much of the past  6 weeks.

The combination of China and the price of oil have led the market down and up on a daily basis and sometimes made it do flips during the course of a single trading day.

With the price of oil having climbed about 23% during the week from its multi-year lows, the market did what it hadn’t been able to do in 2016 and actually put together back to back daily gains. Maybe it was entirely coincidental that the 48 hours that saw the resurgence in the price of crude oil were the same 48 hours that saw the market string consecutive gains, but if so, that coincidence is inescapable.

While that’s encouraging there’s not too much reason to believe that the spike in the price of oil was anything more than brave investors believing that oil was in a severely over-sold position and that its recent descent had been too fast and too deep.

That pretty much describes the stock market, as well, but what you haven’t seen in 2016 is the presence of those brave souls rushing in to pick up shares in the same belief.

Of the many “factoids” that were spun this week was that neither the DJIA nor the NASDAQ 100 had even a single stock that had been higher in 2016. That may have changed by Friday’s closing bell, but then the factoid would be far less fun to share.

Instead, oil has taken the fun out of things and has dictated the direction for stocks and the behavior of investors. If anything, stocks have been a trailing indicator instead of one that discounts the future as conventional wisdom still credits it for doing, despite having put that quality on hiatus for years.

That was back when the stock market actually did have a mind of its own. Now it’s more likely to hear the familiar refrain that many of us probably heard growing up as we discovered the concept of peer pressure.

“So, if your best friend is going to jump out of the window, is that what you’re going to do, too?”

With earnings not doing much yet to give buyers a reason to come out from hiding, the coming week has two very important upcoming events, but it’s really anyone’s guess how investors could react to the forthcoming news.

There is an FOMC announcement scheduled for Wednesday, assuming that the nation’s capital is able to dig out from under the blizzard’s drifts and then the week ends with a GDP release.

With a sudden shift in the belief that the economy was heading in one and only one direction following the FOMC’s decision to increase interest rates, uncertainty is again in the air.

What next week’s events may indicate is whether we are back to the bad news is bad news or the bad news is good news mindset.

It’s hard to even make a guess as to what the FOMC might say next week.

“My bad” may be an appropriate start with the economy not seeming to be showing any real signs of going anywhere. With corporate revenues and unadulterated earnings not being terribly impressive, the oil dividend still not materializing and retail sales weak, the suggestion by Blackrock’s (BLK) Larry Fink last week that there could be layoffs ahead would seem to be the kind of bad news that would be overwhelmingly greeted for what it would assuredly represent.

When the FOMC raised interest rates the market had finally come around to believing that a rise in rates was good news, as it had to reflect an improving economic situation. If the next realization is that the improving situation would last for only a month, you might think the reception would be less than effusive.

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

Last week was the first week since 2008 or 2009 that I made no trades at all and had no ex-dividend positions. No new positions were opened, nor were any call or put rollovers executed.

Other than a few ex-dividend positions this week, I’m not certain that it will be any different from last week. I haven’t opened very many new positions of late, having to go back nearly 2 months for a week with more than a single new position having been opened.

Unlike much of the past 6 years when market pullbacks just seemed like good times to get good stocks at better prices, the past few months have been offering good prices that just kept getting better and better.

If you had been a buyer, those better and better prices were only seen that way by the next series of prospective buyers, who themselves probably came to bemoan how less they could have paid if only they waited another day or two. 

The gains of the final two days of last week make me want to continue the passivity. Anyone having chased any of those precious few days higher lately has ended up as disappointed as those believing they had picked up a bargain.

At some point it will pay to chase stocks higher and at some point it will pay to run after value.

I’m just not convinced that two days of gains are enough to  signal that value is evaporating.

The biggest interests that I have for the week are both earnings related trades. Both Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB) report earnings this week.

If you’re looking for a stock in bear market correction over the past 6 months, you don’t have to go much further then Apple (AAPL). Along with some of his other holdings, Apple has punished Carl Icahn in the same manner as has been occurring to mere mortals.

Of course, that 21% decline is far better than the 27% decline fro just a few days ago before Apple joined the rest of the market in rally mode.

Interestingly, the option market doesn’t appear to be pricing in very much uncertainty with earnings upcoming this week, with an implied move of only 6.2%

Since a 1% ROI can only be achieved at a strike level that’s within that range, I wouldn’t be very excited in the sale of out of the money puts prior to earnings. The risk – reward proposition just isn’t compelling enough for me. However, if Apple does drop significantly after earnings then there may be reason to consider the sale of puts.

There is some support at $90 and then a few additional support levels down to $84, but then it does get precarious all the way down to $75.

Apple hasn’t been on everyone’s lips for quite a while and we may not get to find out just how little it has also been on people’s wrists. Regardless, if the support levels between $84 and $90 are tested after earnings the put premiums should still remain fairly high. If trying this strategy and then faced with possible assignment of shares, an eye has to be kept on the announcement of the ex-dividend date, which could be as early as the following week.

While Apple is almost 20% lower over the past 6 months, Facebook has been virtually unchanged, although it was almost 30% higher over the past year.

It;s implied move is 6.8% next week, but the risk – reward is somewhat better than with Apple, if considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, as a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly option could be obtained outside of the range defined by the option market. As with Apple, however, the slide could be more precarious as the support levels reflect some quick and sharp gains over the past 2 years.

For those that have been pushing a short strategy for GameStop (GME), and it has long been one of the most heavily of shorted stocks for quite some time, the company has consistently befuddled those who have had very logical reasons for why GameStop was going to fall off the face of the earth.

Lately, though, they’ve had reason to smile as shares are 45% lower, although on a more positive note for others, it’s only trailing the S&P 500 by 2% in 2016. They’ve had some reasons to smile in the past, as well, as the most recent plunge mirrors one from 2 years ago.

As with Apple and Facebook, perhaps the way to think about any dalliance at this moment, as the trend is lower and as volatility is higher, is through the sale of put options and perhaps considering a longer time outlook.

A 4 week contract, for example, at a strike level 4.6% below this past Friday’s close, could still offer a 3% ROI. If going that route, it would be helpful to have strategies at hand to potentially deal with an ex-dividend date in the March 2016 cycle and earnings in the April 2016 cycle.

One of the companies that I own that is going ex-dividend this week is Fastenal (FAST). I’ve long liked this company, although I’m not enamored with my last purchase, which I still own and was purchased a year ago. As often as is the case, I consider adding shares of Fastenal right before the ex-dividend date and this week is no different.

What is different is its price and with a 2 day market rally that helped it successfully test its lows, I would be interested in considering adding an additional position.

With only monthly options available, Fastenal is among the earliest of earnings reporters each quarter, so there is some time until the next challenge. Fastenal does, however, occasionally pre-announce or alter its guidance shortly before earnings, so surprises do happen, which is one of the reasons I’m still holding shares after a full year has passed.

In the past 6 months Fastenal has started very closely tracking the performance of Home Depot (HD). While generally Fastenal has lagged, in the past 2 months it has out-performed Home Depot, which was one of a handful of meaningfully winning stocks in 2015.

Finally, Morgan Stanley (MS) is also ex-dividend this week.

Along with the rest of the financials, Morgan Stanley’s share price shows the disappointment over the concern that those interest rate hikes over the rest of the year that had been expected may never see the light of day.

This week’s FOMC and GDP news can be another blow to the hopes of banks, but if I was intent upon looking for a bargain this week among many depressed stocks, I may as well get the relationship started with a dividend and a company that I can at least identify the factors that may make it move higher or lower.

Not everything should be about oil and China.

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks:  GameStop

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (1/27 $0.30), Morgan Stanley ($0.15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Apple (1/26 PM), Facebook (1/27 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 – October 18, 2015

You have to be impressed with the way the market has rallied back from the morning of the most recent Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks earlier.

At the low point of that morning when the market seemed appropriately disappointed by the very disappointing numbers and the lowered revisions the S&P 500 had sunk to a point more than 11% below its recent high.

At its peak point of return since that low the S&P 500 was only 4.9% below its summer time high.

The difficulty in sustaining a large move in a short period of time is no different from the limitations we see in ourselves after expending a burst of energy and even those who are finally tuned to deliver high levels of performance.

When you think about a sprinter who’s asked to run a longer distance or bringing in a baseball relief pitcher who’s considered to be a “closer” with more than an inning to go, you see how difficult it can be to reach deep down when there’s nothing left to reach for.

Sometimes you feel as if there’s no choice and hope for the best.

You also can see just how long the recovery period can be after you’ve been asked to deliver more than you’ve been capable of delivering in the past. It seems that reaching deep down to do your best borrows heavily from the future.

While humans can often take a break and recharge a little markets are now world wide, inter-connected and plugged into a 24/7 news cycle.

While it may be boring when the market takes a rest by simply not moving anywhere, it can actually expend a lot of energy if it moves nowhere, but does so by virtue of large movements in off-setting directions.

We need a market that can now take a real rest and give up some of the histrionics, even though I like the volatility that it creates so that I can get larger premiums for the sale of options.

The seminal Jackson Browne song puts a different spin on the concept of “running on empty,” but the stock market doesn’t have the problems of a soulless wanderer, even though, as much as it’s subject to anthropomorphism, it has no soul of its own.

Nor does it have a body, but both body and soul can get tired. This market is just tired and sometimes there’s no real rest for the weary.

After having moved up so much in such a short period of time, it’s only natural to wonder just what’s left.

The market may have been digging deep down but its fuel cells were beginning to hit the empty mark.

This week was one that was very hard to read, as the financial sector began delivering its earnings and the best news that could come from those reports was that significantly decreased legal costs resulted in improved earnings, while core business activities were less than robust.

If that’s going to be the basis for an ongoing strategy, that’s not a very good strategy. Somehow, though, the market consistently reversed early disappointment and drove those financials reporting lackluster top and bottom lines higher and higher.

You can’t help but wonder what’s left to give.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) may be on very different ends of the scale, but they’ve both known some very bad days this year.

For American Express it came with the news that it was no longer going to be accepted as the sole credit card at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores around the nation. While that was bad enough, the really bad news came with the realization of just how many American Express card holders were actually holders of the Costco co-branded card.

There was a great Bloomberg article this week on some of the back story behind the American Express and Costco relationship and looks at their respective cultures and the article does raise questions about American Express’ ability to continue commanding a premium transaction payment from retailers, as well as continuing to keep their current Costco cardholders without the lure of Costco.

What American Express has been of late is a steady performer and the expectation should be that the impact of its loss of business in 2016 has already been discounted.

American Express reports earnings this week, but it’s option premiums aren’t really significantly enhanced by uncertainty.

Normally, I look to the sale of puts to potentially take advantage of earnings, but with American Express I might also consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of calls and then strapping on for what could be a bumpy ride.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand only recently starting accepting American Express cards and that relationship was seen as a cheapening of the elite American Express brand, but we can all agree that money is money and that may trump everything else.

Apparently, however, investors didn’t seem to realize that Wal-Mart’s well known plan to increase employee salaries was actually going to cost money and they were really taken by surprise this week when they learned just how much.

What’s really shocking is that some very simple math could have spelled it out with some very reasonable accuracy since the number of workers eligible to receive the raise and the size of the raise have been known for months.

It reminds me of the shock expressed by Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca” as he says “I’m shocked to find gambling is going on in here,” as he swoops up his winnings.

Following the decline and with a month still to go until earnings are reported, this new bit of uncertainty has enhanced the option premiums and a reasonable premium can possibly be found even when also trying to secure some capital gains from shares by using an out of the money strike price.

The Wal-Mart news hit retail hard, although to be fair, Target’s (NYSE:TGT) decline started as a plunge the prior day, when it fell 5% in the aftermath of an unusually large purchase of short term put options.

While I would look at Target as a short term trade, selling a weekly call option on shares, in the hope that there would be some recovery in the coming week, there may also be some longer term opportunities. That’s because Target goes ex-dividend and then reports earnings 2 days later during the final week of the November 2015 option cycle.

DuPont (NYSE:DD), Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) don’t have very much in common, other than some really large share plunges lately, something they all share with American Express and Wal-Mart.

But that’s exactly the kind of market it has been. There have been lots of large plunges and very slow recoveries. It’s often been very difficult to reconcile an overall market that was hitting all time highs at the same time that so many stocks were in correction mode.

DuPont’s plunge came after defeating an activist in pursuit of Board seats, but the announcement of the upcoming resignation of its embattled CEO has put some life back into shares, even as they face the continuing marketplace challenges.

Dupont will report earnings the following week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the November 2015 option cycle.

While normally considering entering a new position with a short term option sale, I may consider the use of a monthly option in this case in an effort to get a premium reflecting its increased volatility and possibly also capturing its dividend, while hoping for some share appreciation, as well.

Seagate Technology is simply a mess at a time that hardware companies shouldn’t be and it may become attractive to others as its price plunges.

Storage, memory and chips have been an active neighborhood, but Seagate’s recent performance shows you the risks involved when you think that a stock has become value priced.

I thought that any number of times about Seagate Technology over the course of the past 6 months, but clearly what goes low, can go much lower.

Seagate reports earnings on October 30th, so my initial approach would likely be to consider the sale of weekly, out of the money puts and hope for the best. If in jeopardy of being assigned due to a price decline, I would consider rolling the contract over. The choice of time frame for that possible rollover will depend upon Seagate’s announcement of their next ex-dividend date, which should be sometime in early November 2015.

With that dividend in mind, a very generous one and seemingly safe, thoughts could turn to taking assignment of shares and then selling calls in an effort to keep the dividend.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn’t really taken the same kind of single day plunge of some of those other companies, but its slow decline is finally making Jim Chanos’ much publicized 2 year short position seem to be genius.

It’s share price connection to Chinese economic activity continues and lately that hasn’t been a good thing. Caterpillar is both ex-dividend this week and reports earnings. That’s generally not a condition that I like to consider, although there are a number of companies that do the same and when they are also attractively priced it may warrant some more attention.

In this case, Caterpillar is ex-dividend on October 22nd and reports earnings that same morning. That means that if someone were to attempt to exercise their option early in order to capture the dividend, they mist do so by October 21st.

Individual stocks have been brutalized for much of 2015 and they’ve been slow in recovering.

Among the more staid selections for consideration this week are Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) and Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

I’ve always liked Fastenal and have always considered it a company that quietly reflects United States economic activity, both commercial and personal. At a time when so much attention has been focused on currency exchange and weakness in China, you would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that it was a perfect time to pick up or add shares of a company that is essentially immune to both, perhaps benefiting from a strong US Dollar.

Well, if you weren’t wrong, I have been and am already sitting on an expensive lot of uncovered shares.

With only monthly option contracts and earnings already having been reported, I would select a slightly out of the money option strike or when the December 2015 contracts are released possibly consider the slightly longer term and at a higher strike price, in the belief that Fastenal has been resting long enough at its current level and is ready for another run.

Colgate-Palmolive is a company that I very infrequently own, but always consider doing so when its ex-dividend date looms.

I should probably own it on a regular basis just to show solidarity with its oral health care products, but that’s never crossed my mind.

Not too surprisingly, given its business and sector, even from peak to trough, Colgate-Palmolive has fared far better than many and will likely continue to do so in the event of market weakness. While it may not keep up with an advancing market, that’s something that I long ago reconciled myself to, when deciding to pursue a covered option strategy.

As a result of it being perceived as having less uncertainty it’s combined option premium and dividend, if captured, isn’t as exciting as for some others, but there’s also a certain personal premium to be paid for the lack of excitement.

The excitement may creep back in the following week as Colgate reports earnings and in the event that a weekly contract has to be rolled over I would considered rolling over to a date that would allow some time for price recovery in the event of an adverse price move.

Reporting earnings this week are Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Other than the controversy surrounding its high technology swim suits at the last summer Olympics, Under Armour hasn’t faced much in the way of bad news. Even then, it proved to have skin every bit as repellent as its swim suits.

The news of the resignation of its COO, who also happened to serve as CFO, sent shares lower ahead of earnings.

The departure of such an important person is always consequential, although perhaps somewhat less so when the founder and CEO is still an active and positive influence in the company, as is most definitely the case with under Armour.

However, the cynic sees the timing of such a departure before earnings are released, as foretelling something awry.

The option market is implying a price move of about 7.5%, while a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained through the sale of puts 9% below Friday’s closing price.

For me, the cynic wins out, however. Under Armour then becomes another situation that I would consider the sale of puts contracts after earnings if shares drop strongly after the report, or possible before earnings if there is a sharp decline in its advance.

I’m of the beli

ef that Google’s new corporate name, “Alphabet” will be no different from so many other projects in beta that were quietly or not so quietly dropped.

There was a time that I very actively traded Google and sold calls on the positions.

That seems like an eternity ago, as Google has settled into a fairly stodgy kind of stock for much of the past few years. Even its reaction to earnings reports have become relatively muted, whereas they once were things to behold.

That is if you ignore its most recent earnings report which resulted in the largest market capitalization gain in a single day in the history of the world.

Now, Alphabet is sitting near its all time highs and has become a target in a way that it hasn’t faced before. While it has repeatedly faced down challenges to its supremacy in the world of search, the new challenge that it is facing comes from Cupertino and other places, as ad blockers may begin to show some impact on Alphabet’s bread and butter product, Google.

Here too, the reward offered for the risk of selling puts isn’t very great, as the option market is implying a 6% move. That $40 move in either direction could bring shares down to the $620 level, at which a barely acceptable 1% ROI for a weekly put sale may be achieved.

With no cushion between what the market is implying and where a 1% ROI can be had, I would continue to consider the sale of puts if a large decline precedes the report or occurs after the report, but I don’t think that I would otherwise proactively trade prior to earnings.

Finally, VMWare (NYSE:VMW) also reports earnings this week.

If you’re looking for another stock that has plunged in the past week or so, you don’t have to go much further than VMWare, unless your definition requires a drop of more than 15%.

While it has always been a volatile name, VMWare is now at the center of the disputed valuation of the proposed buyout of EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC), which itself has continued to be the major owner of VMWare.

I generally like stocks about to report earnings when they have already suffered a large loss and this one seems right.

The option market is implying about a 5.2% move next week, yet there’s no real enhancement of the put premium, in that a 1% ROI could be obtained, but only at the lower border of the implied move.

The structure of the current buyout proposal may be a factor in limiting the price move that option buyers and sellers are expecting and may be responsible for the anticipated sedate response to any news.

While that may be the case, I think that the downside may be under-stated, as has been the case for many stocks over the past few months, so the return is not enough to get me to take the risk. But, as also has been the case for the past few months, it may be worthy considering to pile on if VMWare disappoints further and shares continue their drop after earnings are released.

That should plump up the put premium as there might be concern regarding the buyout offer on the table, which is already suspect.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, DuPont, Target, Wal-Mart

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, YUM Brands

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (10/22 $0.71), Colgate-Palmolive (10/21 $0.38), Fastenal (10/23 $0.28),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alphabet (10/22 PM), Under Armour (10/22 AM), VMWare (10/20 PM)

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

Weekend Update – July 19, 2015

There’s a lot of confusion over who was responsible for the idea that time is merely an illusion and that it is “nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once.”

The first part of the idea is certainly thought provoking and is beyond my ability to understand. The second part may be some attempt at a higher plane of humor in an attempt to explain the significance of what is beyond the capability of most people.

In essence, if you thought that the time frame described during the first seven days of creation was compressed, some physicists would suggest that it all actually happened all at once and if you had the appropriate vehicle traveling at sufficient speed you would know that first hand.

The humorous quip has been attributed to Albert Einstein, Woody Allen and others. It has also been attributed to theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who was one of Einstein’s last collaborators, which itself indicates a relative time in Einstein’s career, so it may be unlikely that Wheeler would have described himself in those terms, if he was a real believer.

You might believe that Wheeler’s single degree of separation from Einstein would suggest hat perhaps the true source of the concept would then be Einstein himself. However, Wheeler maintained that he actually saw it scrawled on a men’s room wall in an Austin, Texas cafe, that in theory would have occurred at the same time that Einstein saw the famous Theory of Relativity equation scrawled on the men’s room wall of a Dusseldorf beer garden.

The idea, though, flows from Einstein’s earlier works on time, space and travel and may have been an inspiration to some well read patron while making room for the next idea inducing purchase of a large quantity of beer, wine or spirits.

This past week may have been an example of time forgetting its role, as we saw an avalanche of important news and events that came upon us in quick succession to begin the week. The news of an apparent agreement to the resolution of the Greek debt crisis and the announcement of a deal on Iran’s march toward developing a nuclear weapon came in tandem with the non-event of a melt down of the Chinese stock market.

The majority of the 2.4% weekly gain seen in the S&P 500 was over by the time we could blink, as the rest of the week offered little of anything, but saw a continuing successful test of support in the S&P 500, nearly 5% lower, as it moved to be in a position to now test resistance.

With the near simultaneous occurrence of those important events, the real question may be whether or not they themselves are illusory or at least short-lived.

Time may be the key to tell whether the events of this week were justifiable in creating a market embrace of a rosy future.

We’ve lived through past Greek debt crises before, so there is probably little reason to suspect that this will be the last of them for Greece or even the last we’ll see in the Eurozone. When and where the next flash point occurs is anyone’s guess, but German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments regarding Greece’s place in the EU continues to leave some uncertainty over the sanctity of that union and their currency.

With an Iranian deal now comes the effort to block it, which itself has a 60 day time limit for Congressional opponents to do their best to defeat the proposal and then overcome a Presidential veto. While it’s not too likely that the latter will become reality, there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine the agreement that probably contributed to continuing weakness in the energy sector in fears that Iranian oil would begin flooding markets sooner than is plausible.

The Chinese attempts at manipulating their stock markets have actually worked far longer than I would have predicted. Here too, time is in play, as there is a 6 month moratorium on the sale of some stocks and by some key individuals. That’s a long time to try and hold off real market dynamics and those forces could very well yet undermine the Chinese government’s “patriotic fight” to save its stock market.

The role that those three may have played in moving the market higher last week may now become potential liabilities until they have stood the test of time.

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

The coming week is very short on scheduled economic news, but will be a very busy one as we focus on fundamentals and earnings.

While there are lots of earnings reports coming this week the incredibly low volatility, after flirting with higher levels just 2 weeks ago, has resulted in few opportunities to try and exploit those earnings reports.

As again approaching all time highs and being very reluctant to chase new positions, I would normally focus on relatively safe choices, perhaps offering a dividend to accompany a premium from having sold call options.

This week, the only new position that may fulfill those requirements is Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) which offers only monthly options and reported earnings last week.

It has been mired in a narrow price range since its January 2015 earnings report and is currently trading at the low end of that range. Having just reported earnings in line with estimates is actually quite an achievement when considering that Fastenal has been on a hiring spree in 2015 and has significantly added costs, while revenues have held steady, being only minimally impacted by currency exchange rates.

Their business is a very good reflector of the state of the economy and encompasses both professional construction and weekend warrior customers. They clearly believe that their fortunes are poised to follow an upswing in economic activity and have prepared for its arrival in a tangible way.

At the current price, I think this may be a good time to add shares, capture a dividend and an option premium. I may even consider going out a bit further in time, perhaps to the November 2014 option that will take in the next earnings report and an additional dividend payment, while seeking to use a strike price that might also provide some capital gains on shares, such as the $45 strike.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) isn’t offering a dividend this week, although it will do so later in the August 2015 option cycle. However, before getting to that point, earnings are scheduled to be announced on July 28th.

Following what many shareholders may derisively refer to as the “successful” effort to defeat Nelson Peltz’s bid for a board seat, shares have plummeted. The lesson is that sometimes victories can be pyrrhic in nature.

Since that shareholder vote, which was quite close by most proxy fight standards, shares have fallen about 15%, after correcting for a spin-off, as compared to a virtually unchanged S&P 500.

However, if not a shareholder at the time, the current price may just be too great to pass up, particularly as Peltz has recently indicated that he has no intention of selling his position. While DuPont does offer weekly and expanded weekly option contracts, I may consider the sale of the August monthly contract in an attempt to capture the dividend and perhaps some capital gains on the shares, in addition to the premium that will be a little enhanced by the risk associated with earnings.

The remainder of this week’s limited selection is a bit more speculative and hopefully offers quick opportunities to capitalize by seeing assignment of weekly call options or expiration of weekly puts sold and the ability to recycle that cash into new positions for the following week.

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), of course, will be in everyone’s sights as it begins trading without PayPal (Pending:PYPL) as an integral part. Much has been made of the fact that the market capitalization of the now independent PayPal will be greater than that of eBay and that the former is where the growth potential will exist.

The argument of following growth in the event of a spin-off is the commonly made one, but isn’t necessarily one that is ordained to be the correct path.

I’ve been looking forward to owning shares of eBay, as it was a very regular holding when it was an absolutely mediocre performer that happened to offer very good option premiums while it tended to trade in a narrow and predictable range.

What I won’t do is to rush in and purchase shares in the newly trimmed down company as there may be some selling pressure from those who added shares just to get the PayPal spin-off. For them, Monday and Tuesday may be the time to extricate themselves from eBay, the parent, as they either embrace PayPal the one time child, if they haven’t already sold their “when issued” shares.

However, on any weakness, I would be happy to see the prospects of an eBay again trading as a mediocre performer if it can continue to have an attractive premium. Historically, that premium had been attractive even long before murmurings or demands for a PayPal spin-off became part of the daily discussion.

Following a downgrade of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), which is no stranger to falling in and out of favor with analysts, the opportunity looks timely to consider either the sale of slightly in the money puts or the purchase of shares and sale of slightly out of the money calls.

The $2 decline on Friday allowed Best Buy shares to test a support level and is now trading near a 9 month low. With earnings still a month away, shares offer reasonable premiums for the interim risk and sufficient liquidity of options if rollovers may be required, particularly in the event of put sales.

The arguments for and against Best Buy’s business model have waxed and waned over the past 2 years and will likely continue for a while longer. As it does so, it offers attractive premiums as the 2 sides of the argument take turns in being correct.

Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) will report earnings on July 31st. In the meantime, that gives some opportunity to consider the sale of out of the money puts.

While I generally prefer not to be in a position to take assignment in the event of an adverse price reaction and would attempt to rollover the puts, in this case with an upcoming ex-dividend date likely to be the week after earnings are released, I might consider taking the assignment if faced with that possibility and then subsequently selling calls, perhaps for the week after the ex-dividend date in an effort to capture that dividend and also attempt to wait out any price recovery.

Like Best Buy, Seagate Technology has been in and out of favor as its legitimacy as a continuing viable company is periodically questioned. Analysts pretend to understand where technology and consumer preferences are headed, but as is the case with most who are in the “futurist” business, hindsight often offers a very punishing report card.

Finally, GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) reports earnings this week. During its brief time as a publicly traded company it has seen plenty of ups and downs and some controversy regarding its lock-up provisions for insiders.

It is also a company whose main product may be peaking in sales and it has long made a case for seeking to re-invent itself as a media company, in an effort to diversify itself from dependence on consumer cycles or from its product going the commodity route.

The option market is implying a 9.9% movement in shares next week as earnings are reported. However, a 1% ROI may possibly be achieved if selling a weekly put at a strike that is 13.3% below this past Friday’s closing price.

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

Traditional Stocks: DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GoPro (7/21 PM)

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

Weekend Update – May 10, 2015

Many years ago people were fascinated by the movie “The Three Faces of Eve.”

It was the story of a woman afflicted with what was known at the time as “Multiple Personality Disorder,” although many incorrectly believed that the story was one characteristic of an individual with schizophrenia.

For her performance of all 3 characters, none of whom was aware of any of the others, Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for “Best Actress.” Yet 30 years later, in a sign of an unjust society, neither Eddie Murphy nor Arsenio Hall received any notice whatsoever from The Academy for each portraying 4 distinct characters.

While there’s still hope that such acting genius may someday be rewarded, there’s very little hope of being able to understand just what face the market will be showing from day to day.

Doug Kass, a well known hedge fund manager is fond of Tweeting that the market has no memory from day to day and that observation, while not seeming to be offering a diagnosis, has it well characterized.

Lack of memory for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness is one of the cardinal signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder and this market, however one wishes to characterize it, may have the same affliction as was suffered by Eve. But as long as it keeps reaching new record highs, it too will keep winning awards for its performance.

While some may say that the market is “acting schizophrenic,” they neither know the distinction between that malady and Dissociative Identity Disorder, nor understand the use of adverbs. While volatility may also be a hallmark of the disorder the rapid alternations between market plunges and surges are doing nothing to enhance volatility. In fact, for all of the uncertainty, volatility remains within easy striking distance of its 52 week low and was virtually unchanged last week.

In a week with very little economic news scheduled until this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report and with most key companies having already reported earnings, there was little reason to expect many large moves. However, as has been the case in recent weeks, there hasn’t always been the requirement of an identifiable reason for the market making a large move. What has also been the case is that so often the very next day brought about a reversal of fortune or mis-fortune of the previous day and another subsequent Doug Kass Tweet.

Those Kass market memory Tweets are fairly common and I do believe that he recalls having sent them on many previous occasions. While I offer him no diagnosis based on those Tweets, they do perfectly sum up the market that we’ve come to know.

The problem is that which just don’t know which market will be showing up from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour.

I wonder if Eve had that same problem?

Compounding the inherent uncertainty occurs when an otherwise dependable and reliable source seems to turn on you.

Mid-week we got to see a Janet Yellen face that we had only seen once previously. It was the face that unlike its more commonly visible counter-part, wasn’t the one that sought directly or indirectly to calm and prop up stock markets.

During her tenure, especially during her post-FOMC Statement release press conferences, most of us have come to appreciate the boost of confidence Janet Yellen has supplied markets, as well as having an appreciation for the manner in which she balances pragmatic and social concerns with monetary policy.

But this week instead it was that Yellen character that questions stock market value, almost in the same way as a predecessor pointed a finger at “frothy exuberance.”

While not quite as bad as the racy and wild side of Eve that tried to murder her child, the value questioning side of Janet Yellen sent markets for a tumble. But just as after her 2014 comments about “substantially stretched” valuation metrics in bio-technology companies, the impact may be short lived, as it was this week.

Perhaps some thanks for that should go to the auspiciously timed release of the Employment Situation Report that avoided creating either a “bad news is good news” or “good news is bad news” by delivering numbers that were right in line with expectations.

Of course, when considering how much contra-distinction there has been in recent monthly Employment Situation Reports one might be excused for believing that they too suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder and it may be injurious to one’s portfolio health to base too many actions on any given month’s data.

This coming week is another very slow one for economic news. While earnings season is now winding down the catalyst or the retardant for the market to get to the next new set of highs may be the slew of national retailers reporting earnings this week.

Some 6 months ago those retailers were among those optimistically talking about how they would benefit from increased consumer spending as a result of lower energy prices.

About that….

Those same retailers may be putting on a different face when reporting this week if those gains haven’t materialized, as there are no indications that the GDP has grown as expected.

To the contrary, actually.

Only one of the major retailers will report before this Wednesday’s Retail Sales Report, but it was the CEO of that company, Terry Lundgren, who was initially among the most optimistic regarding the prospects for Macys (NYSE:M) and who months later made the very astute observation that the energy savings experienced by consumers hadn’t accumulated sufficiently to create the feeling of actually having more discretionary cash to spend.

Sooner or later the projections for significant growth in GDP will have to be written off as just the rants of economists who had surrendered their better judgment to their racy and wild alternate egos and who can’t be blamed for their actions.

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

After the last two weeks, I think, that even after a previous lifetime of toiling away for a paycheck and not really appreciating its significance, I finally understand the meaning of “TGIF.”

The strong recoveries seen in each of the past two Fridays helped to rescue some weeks that were turning out to be fairly dour.

The downside, however, is that when the coming week is about to begin, so many of the stocks that you had been eying for a purchase were up sharply to end the previous week.

There are probably worse problems to have in life, so I won’t dwell too long on that one, but that is where this past Friday’s 267 point gain in the DJIA has us beginning the new week.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) has quietly become the largest television station operators in the United States. While seemingly the only topics discussed these days are about streaming signals, satellites and cable there’s still life left in terrestrial television. The family controlled company certainly believes in the future of traditional television broadcasting as over the past several years the company has actively amassed new stations around the country.

Following an initial move higher after it reporting earnings shares gave up some ground and are now about 9% below its recent high from last month, at which time I had my previous shares assigned.

I purchased shares on 5 occasions in 2014 and have been waiting for a chance to do so in 2015. With its recent decline and with this being the final week of a monthly option cycle, I would consider once again adding shares in the hopes of a quick assignment. However, if not assigned, shares are then ex-dividend May 28th and I would consider selling either June or the July 2015 options on those shares.

Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) has suffered of late.

It literally started 2015 off by being named one of the worst run companies of 2014 on New Years Day. Its shares continued to stumble even after its CEO unexpectedly resigned a few weeks later as the lure of its Barbie was waning in a world of electronic toys more welcomingly embraced by some of its competitors.

More recently some of the negativity that characterized 2015 had abated as the market actually embraced the smaller than expected loss at the most recent earnings report. While some of the gains have been since digested, Mattel may have now seen what the near term bottom looks like.

With earnings now out of the way for a short while and an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I am considering adding shares, but bypassing the week remaining on the monthly May 2015 contract and going directly to the June contract and banking on some share gains and not just option premiums and dividends for the effort.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is one of those stocks that I always like to own, as it is an assuming kind of company that tends to reflect what is going on in the economy and is relatively immune from currency exchange issues

.

Most recently, after having positively reacted to earnings it failed to climb back toward where it had been at the time of its January earnings report. However, it does appear as if it is building a base to make that assault. As with Sinclair Broadcasting and Mattel, Fastenal only offers monthly options, so any potential purchase this week paired with an option sale could look at the May 15, 2015 contracts, effectively making it a weekly contract, or go directly to the June 2015 expirations, especially if believing that there is some capital appreciation in store for shares.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:TEVA) have both spent a lot of time in the news lately and both are ex-dividend this week.

DuPont is one stock that came to mind when bemoaning the strong gains seen this past Friday, as it was definitely a beneficiary of broad market strength. It continues to be embroiled in a fight with activists which may have profound ramifications with how investors look at and value a company’s intellectual and research pursuits.

The question of how valuable research activities are to a company if they are part of a separate company is one that pits short term and long term outlooks against one another. Although I tend to trade for the short term, and while I believe that Nelson Peltz is generally a positive influence on the companies in which he has taken a significant financial stake, I disagree with the idea of splitting off assets that are at the core of developing intellectual property.

However, as long as the fighting continues, there is opportunity to see shares climb even higher. It is precisely because of the uncertainty that comes along with the ongoing conflict that DuPont is offering an exceptionally high option premium, particularly in a week that it is ex-dividend.

The world of pharmaceutical companies was once so staid. Every self respecting portfolio was required to own shares in a high dividend paying blue chip pharmaceutical company, many of whom have been swallowed up over the years in the process of creating even larger and less responsive behemoths.

From nothingness, generic drug companies and bio-pharmaceutical companies are becoming their own behemoths and are recently at center stage with seemingly daily merger and acquisition activity.

Teva has joined the crowd seeking to grow through acquisition and may be willing to fight for the opportunity to grow. Of course, its target may have some other ideas, including possibly seeking to purchase Teva itself.

Like DuPont, the uncertainty in the air has it offering a very appealing option premium even in a week that shares are ex-dividend. With shares having recently declined by about 10% in the past month, it’s possible that some of the downside risk that may be associated with a fight or a failed conquest attempt has already been discounted.

Zillow (NASDAQ:Z) reports earnings this week having declined about 25% since its last earnings report. Its CEO, a darling of cable business news blamed the prolonged regulatory process encountered during its proposed purchase of its competitor Trulia, for leaving the company “trending a couple quarters behind where we’d like to be.”

But that comment was from last month, so the expectation would be that the market is prepared for whatever may come their way as earnings are reported this week.

That kind of logic is fine until faced with counter-examples, such as SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) which despite warning upon warning, still managed to surprise everyone. Of course, the same could be said for early 2014 when markets seemed to be surprised by how bad weather impacted earnings after having heard nothing but how weather was effecting sales for months.

In this case the option market is implying an 8.1% move for Zillow after earnings are reported. That’s fairly mild after the past 2 weeks of having seen declines on the order of 25% coming from companies that couldn’t place many excuses for its performance at the feet of currency exchange woes.

Finally, it takes a lot for me to consider a new stock and to think about putting it into portfolio rotation. It’s even more difficult to do that with a company that has less than 6 months of public trading behind it.

I recently found my second ever blog article, one from 8 years ago, which was about peer lending re-posted on an aggregator site. At the time, I looked at peer lending as a potential means of diversifying one’s portfolio, especially with the aim of generating income streams.

While the early leader of the concept is still around, it was LendingClub (NYSE:LC) that finally brought it to the equity markets.

Its earnings last week, despite being slightly better than the consensus, did nothing to stem the downward price spiral since the IPO. The stock’s close tracking of the 10 Year Treasury Note broke down in March, but I believe that with the stock approaching its IPO price that concordance with interest rates will soon be re-established.

If that proves to be the case and there is a suggestion that the bond market may now be on the right path in predicting the inevitable rise in rates, the LendingClub and its shares are likely to prosper.

Like an unusual number of stocks presented this week, LendingClub also offers only monthly options. However, without a dividend to consider, I would look at any potential purchase of shares as a short term trade and would sell the May 2015 options, which are offering a very attractive premium as the possibility of further share price declines are being factored in by the options market.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Mattel, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: LendingClub

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (5/13), Teva Pharmaceuticals (5/15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (5/12 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 12, 2015

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

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

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

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

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

Weekend Update – February 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, we will have hindsight to guide us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ther the option is exercised early or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ty to accumulate premiums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal

Momentum Stocks: Activision Blizzard, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF

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

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

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