Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

The "What If" game is about as fruitless as it gets, but is also as much a part of human nature as just about anything else.

How else could I explain having played that game at a high school reunion?

That may explain the consistent popularity of that simple question as a genre on so many people’s must read lists as the New Year begins.

Historical events lead themselves so beautifully to the "What If" question because the cascading of events can be so far reaching, especially in an interconnected world.

Even before that interconnection became so established it didn’t take too much imagination to envision far reaching outcomes that would have been so wildly different around the world even a century or more later.

Imagine if the Union had decided to cede Fort Sumpter and simply allowed the South to go its merry way. Would an abridged United States have been any where near the force it has been for the past 100 years? What would that have meant for Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel and every other corner of the world?

Second guessing things can never change the past, but it may provide some clues for how to approach the future, if only the future could be as predictable as the past.

Looking back at 2015 there are lots of "what if" questions that could be asked as we digest the fact that it was the market’s worst performance since 2008.

In that year the S&P 500 was down about 37%, while in 2015 it was only down 0.7%. That gives some sense of what kind of a ride we’ve been on for the past 7 years, if the worst of those years was only 0.7% lower.

But most everyone knows that the 0.7% figure is fairly illusory.

For me the "what if" game starts with what if Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and a handful of others had only performed as well as the averages.

Of course, even that "what if" exercise would continue to perpetuate some of the skew seen in 2015, as the averages were only as high as they were due to the significant out-performance of a handful of key constituent components of the index. Imagining what if those large winners had only gone down 0.7% for the year would still result in an index that wouldn’t really reflect just how bad the underlying market was in 2015.

While some motivated individual could do those calculations for the S&P 500, which is a bit more complex, due to its market capitalization calculation, it’s a much easier exercise for the DJIA.

Just imagine multiplying the 10 points gained by Microsoft , the 30 pre-split points gained by Nike (NKE), the 17 points by UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the 26 points by McDonalds (MCD) or the 29 points by Home Depot (HD) and suddenly the DJIA which had been down 2.2% for 2015, would have been another 761 points lower or an additional 4.5% decline.

Add another 15 points from Boeing (BA) and another 10 from Disney (DIS) and we’re starting to inch closer and closer to what could have really been a year long correction.

Beyond those names the pickings were fairly slim from among the 30 comprising that index. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better and the NASDAQ 100, up for the year, was certainly able to boast only due to the performances of Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet and Facebook (FB).

Now, also imagine what if historically high levels of corporate stock buybacks hadn’t artificially painted a better picture of per share earnings.

That’s not to say that the past year could have only been much worse, but it could also have been much better.

Of course you could also begin to imagine what if the market had actually accepted lower energy and commodity prices as a good thing?

What if investors had actually viewed the prospects of a gradual increase in interest rates as also being a good thing, as it would be reflective of an improving, yet non-frothy, economy?

And finally, for me at least, What if the FOMC hadn’t toyed with our fragile emotions and labile intellect all through the year?

Flat line years such as 2015 and 2011 don’t come very often, but when they do, most dispense with the "what if" questions and instead focus on past history which suggests a good year to follow.

But the "what if" game can also be prospective in nature, though in the coming year we should most likely ask similar questions, just with a slight variation.

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

What if money is running dry to keep the buyback frenzy alive?

Or, what if corporate earnings actually reflect greater consumer participation?

You may as well simply ask what if rational thought were to return to markets?

But it’s probably best not to ask questions when you may not be prepared to hear the answer.

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

For those, myself included, who have been expecting some kind of a resurgence in energy prices and were disbelieving when some were calling for even further drops only to see those calls come true, it’s not really clear what the market’s reaction might be if that rebound did occur.

While the market frequently followed oil lower and then occasionally rebounded when oil did so, it’s hard to envision the market responding favorably in the face of sustained oil price stability or strength.

I’ve given up the idea that the resurgence would begin any day now and instead am more willing to put that misguided faith into the health of financial sector stocks.

Unless the FOMC is going to toy with us further or the economy isn’t going to show the kind of strength that warranted an interest rate increase or warrants future increases, financials should fare well going forward.

This week I’m considering MetLife (MET), Morgan Stanley and American Express (AXP), all well off from their 2015 highs.

MetLife, down 12% during 2015 is actually the best performer of that small group. As with Morgan Stanley, almost the entirety of the year’s loss has come in the latter half of the year when the S&P 500 was performing no worse than it had during the first 6 months of the year.

Both Morgan Stanley and MetLife have large enough option premiums to consider the sale of the nearest out of the money call contracts in an attempt to secure some share appreciation in exchange for a somewhat lo0wer option premium.

In both cases, I think the timing is good for trying to get the best of both worlds, although Morgan Stanley will be among the relatively early earnings reports in just a few weeks and still hasn’t recovered from its last quarter’s poorly received results, so it would help to be prepared to manage the position if still held going into earnings in 3 weeks.

By contrast, American Express reports on that same day, but all of 2015 was an abysmal one for the company once the world learned that its relationship with Costco (COST) was far more important than anyone had believed. The impending loss of Costco as a branded partner in the coming 3 months has weighed heavily on American Express, which is ex-dividend this week.

I would believe that most of that loss in share has already been discounted and that disappointments aren’t going to be too likely, particularly if the consumer is truly making something of a comeback.

There has actually been far less press given to retail results this past holiday season than for any that I can remember in the recent and not so recent past.

Most national retailers tend to pull rabbits out of their hats after preparing us for a disappointing holiday season, with the exception of Best Buy (BBY), which traditionally falls during the final week of the year on perpetually disappointing numbers.

Best Buy has already fallen significantly in th e past 3 months, but over the years it has generally been fairly predictable in its ability to bounce back after sharp declines, whether precipitous or death by a thousand cuts.

To my untrained eye it appears that Best Buy is building some support at the $30 level and doesn’t report full earnings for another 2 months. Perhaps it’s its reputation preceding it at this time of the year, but Best Buy’s current option premium is larger than is generally found and I might consider purchasing shares and selling out of the money calls in the anticipation of some price appreciation.

Under Armour (UA) is in a strange place, as it is currently in one of its most sustained downward trends in at least 5 years.

While Nike, its arch competitor, had a stellar year in 2015, up until a fateful downtrend that began in early October, Under Armour was significantly out-performing Nike, even while the latter was some 35% above the S&P 500’s performance.

That same untrained eye sees some leveling off in the past few weeks and despite still having a fairly low beta reflecting a longer period of observation than the past 2 months, the option premium is continuing to reflect uncertainty.

With perhaps some possibility that cold weather may finally be coming to areas where it belongs this time of the year, it may not be too late for Under Armour to play a game of catch up, which is just about the only athletic pursuit that I still consider.

Finally, Pfizer (PFE) has been somewhat mired since announcing a planned merger, buyout, inversion or whatever you like to have it considered. The initially buoyed price has fallen back, but as with Dow Chemical (DOW) which has also fallen back after a similar merger announcement move higher, it has returned to the pre-announcement level.

I view that as indicating that there’s limited downside in the event of some bad news related to the proposed merger, but as with Dow Chemical, Best Buy and Under Armour, the near term option premium continues to reflect perceived near term risk.

Whatever Pfizer;’s merger related risk may be, I don’t believe it will be a near term risk. From the perspective of a call option seller that kind of perception in the face of no tangible news can be a great gift that keeps giving.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (1/6 $0.29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – October 25, 2015

There’s an old traditional Irish song “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” that has had various interpretations over the years.

The same title was used for a book about President John F. Kennedy, but in that case, it was fairly clear that the title was referring to the short time in which we had a chance to get to know the 35th President of the United States, whose life was cut down in its prime.

But in either case, both song and book are generally a combination of sadness over hopes dashed, although the song somehow finds a way to reflect the expression of some positive human traits even in the face of betrayal and tragedy.

While hardly on the same level as the tragedies expressed by song and written word, I hold a certain sadness for the short lived period of volatility that was taken from us far too soon.

The pain is far greater when realizing just how long volatility had been away and just how short a chance some of us had to rejoice in its return.

Even though rising volatility usually means a falling market and increasing uncertainty over future market prospects, it drives option premiums higher.

I live on option premiums and don’t spend very much time focusing on day to day price movements of underlying shares, even while fully cognizant of them.

When those premiums go higher I’m a happy person, just as someone might be when receiving an unexpected bonus, like finding a $20 bill in the pockets of an old pair of pants.

Falling prices leads to volatility which then tends to bring out risk takers and usually brings out all sorts of hedging strategies. In classic supply and demand mode those buyers are met by sellers who are more than happy to feed into the uncertainty and speculative leanings of those looking to leverage their money.

Good times.

But when those premiums dry up, it’s like so many things in life and you realize that you didn’t fully appreciate the gift offered while it was there right in front of you.

I miss volatility already and it was taken away from us so insidiously beginning on that Friday morning when the bad news contained in the most recent Employment Situation Report was suddenly re-interpreted as being good news.

The final two days of the past week, however, have sealed volatility’s fate as a combination of bad economic news around the world and some surprising good earnings had the market interpreting bad news as good news and good news as good news, in a perfect example of having both your cake and the ability to eat that cake.

With volatility already weakened from a very impressive rebound that began on that fateful Friday morning, there then came a quick 1-2-3 punch to completely bring an end to volatility’s short, yet productive reign.

The first death blow came on Thursday when the ECB’s Mario Draghi suggested that European Quantitative easing had more time to run. While that should actually pose some competitive threat to US markets, our reaction to that kind of European news has always been a big embrace and it was no different this time around.

Then came the second punch striking a hard blow to volatility. It was the unexpectedly strong earnings from some highly significant companies that represent a wide swath of economic activity in the United States.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) painted a healthy picture of spending in the technology sector. After all, what prolonged market rally these days can there be without a strong and vibrant technology sector leading the way, especially when its a resurgent “old tech” that’s doing the heavy lifting?

In addition, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) painted a healthy picture among advertisers, whose budgets very much reflect their business and perceived prospects for future business. Finally, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) reflected that key ingredient in economic growth. That is the role of the consumer and those numbers were far better than expected.

As if that wasn’t enough, the real death blow came from the People’s Bank of China as it announced an interest rate cut in an effort to jump start an economy that was growing at only 7%.

Only 7%.

Undoubtedly, the FOMC, which meets next week is watching, but I don’t expect that watching will lead to any direct action.

Earlier this past week my expectation had been that the market would exhibit some exhilaration in the days leading up to the FOMC Statement release in the anticipation that rates would continue unchanged.

That expectation is a little tempered now following the strong 2 day run which saw a 2.8% rise in the S&P 500 and which now has that index just 2.9% below its all time high.

While I don’t expect the same unbridled enthusiasm next week, what may greet traders is a change in wording in the FOMC Statement that may have taken note of some of the optimism contained in the combined earnings experience of Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon as they added about $80 billion in market capitalization on Friday.

If traders stay true to form, that kind of recognition of an economy that may be in the early stages of heating up may herald the kind of fear and loathing of rising interest rates that has irrationally sent markets lower.

In that case, hello volatility, my old friend.

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

As is typically the case when the market closes on some real strength for the week, it’s hard to want to part with cash on Monday when bargains may have disappeared.

Like volatility, those bargains are only appreciated when they’re gone. Even though you may have a strong sense that they’ll be back, the waiting is just so difficult sometimes and it’s so easy to go against your better judgment.

Although the market has gone higher in each of the past 4 weeks, the predominant character of those weeks had been weakness early on and strength to close the week. That’s made a nice environment for adding new positions on some relative weakness and having a better chance of seeing those positions get assigned or have their option contracts rolled and assigned in a subsequent week.

Any weakness to begin the coming week will be a signal to part with some of that cash, but I do expect to be a little tighter fisted than I have in the past month.

If you hold shares in EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC), as I do, you have to wonder what’s going on, as a buyout offer from privately held Dell is far higher than EMC’s current price.

The drag seems to be coming from VMWare (NYSE:VMW), which still has EMC as its majority owner. The confusion had been related to the implied value of VMWare, with regard to its contribution to the package offered by Dell.

Many believed that the value of VMWare was being over-stated. Of course, that belief was even further solidified when VMWare reported earnings that stunned the options market by plunging to depths for which there were no weekly strikes. That’s what happens when Microsoft and Amazon, both with growing cloud based web storage services, start offering meaningful competition.

With VMWare’s decline, EMC shares followed.

EMC isn’t an inherently volatile stock, however, the recent spike higher upon news of a Dell offer and the sharp drop lower on VMWare’s woes have created an option premium that’s more attractive than usual. With EMC now back down to about $26, much of the Dell induced stock price premium has now evaporated, but the story may be far from over.

Ford Motors (NYSE:F) reports earnings on Tuesday morning and is ex-dividend the following day.

Those situations when earnings and dividends are in the same week can be difficult to assess, but despite Ford’s rapid ascent in the past month, I believe that it will continue to follow the same trajectory has General Motors (NYSE:GM).

There are a number of different approaches to this trade.

For those not interested in the risk associated with earnings, waiting until after earnings can still give an opportunity to capture the dividend. Of course, that trade would probably make more sense if Ford shares either decline or remain relatively flat after earnings. If so, the consideration can be given to seeking an in the money strike price as would ordinarily be done in an attempt to optimize premium while still trying to capture the dividend.

For those willing to take the earnings risk, rather than selling an in the money option in advance of the ex-dividend date, I would sell an out of the money option in hopes of capturing capital gains, the option premium and the dividend.

I sold Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) puts last week and true to its natur

e, even when the sector isn’t in play, it tends to move up and down in quantum like bounces. However, with its competition on the prowl for acquisitions, Seagate Technolgy may have been a little more volatile than normal in an already volatile neighborhood.

I would again be interested in selling puts this week, but only if shares show any kind of weakness, following Friday’s strong move higher. If doing so and the faced with possible assignment, I would likely accept assignment, rather than rolling over the put option, in order to be in a position to collect the following week’s dividend.

I had waited a long time to again establish a Seagate Technology position and as long as it can stay in the $38-$42 range, I would like to continue looking for opportunities to either buy shares and sell calls or to sell put contracts once the ex-dividend date has passed.

So with the company reporting earnings at the end of this week and then going ex-dividend in the following week, I would like to capitalize on the position in each of those two weeks.

Following its strong rise on Friday, I would sell calls on any sign of weakness prior to earnings. With an implied price move of 6.6% there is not that much of a cushion of looking for a weekly 1% ROI, in that the strike price required for that return is only 7.4% below Friday’s closing price.

However, in the event of opening weakness that cushion is likely to increase. If selling puts and then being faced with assignment at the end of the week, I would accept that assignment and look for any opportunity to sell call contracts the following week and also collect the very generous dividend.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) reports earnings this week and health care and pharmaceuticals are coming off of a bad week after having had a reasonably good year, up until 2 months ago.

AbbVie, though, had its own unique issues this year and for such a young company, having only been spun off 3 years, it has had more than its share of news related to its products, product pricing and corporate tax strategy.

This week, though, came news calling into question the safety of AbbVie’s Hepatitis C drug, after an FDA warning that highlighted an increased incidence of liver failure in those patients that already had very advanced liver disease before initiating therapy.

I had some shares of AbbVie assigned the previous week and was happy to have had that be the case, as I would have preferred not being around for earnings, which are to be released this week.

As it turns out, serendipity can be helpful, as no investor would have expected the FDA news nor its timing. However, with that news now digested and the knee jerk reaction now also digested, comes the realization that it was the very sickest people, those in advanced stages of cirrhosis were the ones most likely to require a transplant or succumbed to either their disease or its treatment.

With the large decline prior to earnings I’m again interested in the stock. Unlike most recent earnings related trades where I’ve wanted to wait until after earnings to decide whether to sell puts or not, this may be a situation in which it makes some sense to be more proactive, even with some price rebound having occurred to close the week.

The option market is implying only a 5.1% price move next week. Although a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained at a strike level just outside the bounds defined by the option market, I would be more inclined to purchase shares in advance of earnings and sell calls, perhaps using an extended option expiration date, taking advantage of some of its recent volatility and possibly using a higher strike price.

Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA) also reports earnings this week and like much of what is reported from China, Ali Baba may be as much of a mystery as anything else.

The initial excitement over its IPO has long been gone and its founder, Jack Ma, isn’t seen or heard quite as much as when its shares were trading at a significant premium to its IPO price.

Having just climbed 32% in the past month I’d be reluctant to establish any kind of position prior to the release of earnings, especially following a 6.6% climb to close out this week.

Even if a sharp decline occurs in the day prior to earnings, I would still not sell put options prior to the report, as the option market is currently implying only an 8.5% move at a time when it has been increasingly under-estimating the size of some earnings related price moves.

However, in the event of a significant price decline after earnings some consideration can be given to selling puts at that time.

Finally, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) was my most frequent trade of 2014 and very happily so.

2015, however, has been a very different situation. I currently have a single lot of puts at a far higher price that I’ve rolled over to January 2016 in an attempt to avoid assignment of shares and to wait out any potential stock recovery.

That wait has been far longer than I had expected and January 2016 is even further off into the future than I ever would have envisioned.

With the announcement that Jack Dorsey was becoming the CEO, there’s been no shortage of activity that is seeking to give the appearance of some kind of coherent strategy to give investors some reason to be optimistic about what comes next.

What may come next is something out of so many new CEO playbooks. That is to dump all of the bad news into the first full quarter’s earnings report during their tenure and create the optics that enables them to look better by comparison at some future date.

With Twitter having had a long history of founders and insiders pointing fingers at one another, it would seem a natural for the upcoming earnings report to have a very negative tone. The difference, however, is that Dorsey may be creating some good will that may limit any downside ahead in the very near term.

The option market is implying a move of 12.1%. However, a 1% ROI could be potentially delivered through the sale of put contracts at a strike price that’s nearly 16% below Friday’s close.

That kind of cushion is one that is generally seen during periods of high volatility or with individual stocks that are extremely volatile.

For now, though, I think that Twitter’s volatility will be on hiatus for a while.

While I think that there may be bad news contained in the upcoming earnings release, I also believe that Jack Dorsey will have learned significantly from the most recent earnings experience when share price spiked only to plunge as management put forward horrible guidance.

I don’t expect the same kind of thoughtless presentation this time around and expect investor reception that will reflect newly rediscovered confidence in the team that is being put together and its strategic initiatives.

Ultimately, you can’t have volatility if the movement is always in one direction.

Traditional Stocks: EMC Corp

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Ford (10/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: AbbVie (10/30 AM), Ali Baba (10/27 AM), Ford (10/27 AM), Seagate Technology (10/30 AM), Twitter (10/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – 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 – September 14, 2014

Two weeks ago the factors that normally move markets were completely irrelevant. Instead, investors focused much of their attention on the tragic story that ended with the passing of Joan Rivers, while allowing the market to go on auto-pilot.

The fact that economic and geo-political news was ignored during that week wasn’t really much of a concern as markets went on to secure their fifth straight weekly gain.

This past week was essentially another one where the the typical kind of news we look to was irrelevant, at least as far as gaining our attention. This week most of our efforts focused on the unfortunate story of a talented, but abusive football player and the introduction of new products from Apple (AAPL).

There was a time, not so very long ago, when that football player was considered a soft spoken role model. In fact, somewhere is a photo of my wife, in a Baltimore Ravens jersey, and he at a charitable event, one of many that he attended and supported.

Amazingly, as the home Baltimore Ravens played their game on Thursday night, there were reportedly many female fans wearing the jersey of that abusive player, even though there were plenty of offers and incentives to exchange such jerseys in for pizza, drinks and other items.

The memory of the past is apparently more relevant than the reality of the present, sometimes.

There was a time, also not so very long ago, that Apple’s fate was the same as the fate of the markets, except that when Apple went higher, the market lagged and when Apple went lower, the market outpaced in the decline. Now, its ability to lead is less evident and so its place in the week’s news was mostly as a products release event, rather than as a marking moving event.

Those days of past are now irrelevant and Apple’s reality is tied and the market routinely part ways.

Unfortunately, that football player’s brutish actions made the new iPhone 6’s planned publicity campaign appear to be ill-conceived. Equally unfortunate was that this past week’s irrelevancies weren’t sufficient to allow markets to return to auto-pilot and instead snapped that weekly winning streak, as fears of liquidity may have captured investor’s attention.

Weeks filled with irrelevancy are likely to come to an end as the coming week is filled with lots of challenges that could easily build upon the relatively mild losses that broke that successive streak of weekly gains.

In the coming week there is an FOMC statement release as well as the Chairman’s press conference. Many are expecting some change in wording in the FOMC statement that would indicate a willingness to commence interest rate increases sooner than originally envisioned. That could have an adverse impact on equity markets as a drying up of liquidity could result.

Perhaps even more of a impetus for decreased liquidity is the planned Ali Baba (BABA) IPO. Likely to be the largest ever for US markets, the money to pay for those shares has to be coming from someplace and could perhaps have contributed to this week’s preponderance of selling. It’s not too likely that a lot of money will be coming off the sidelines for these share purchases, so it’s reasonable to expect that funds have been and will be diverted.

Unfortunately, the IPO comes at the end of the week, so I don’t expect much in the way of discretionary spending to buy markets before that, unless some nice surprise in the way the FOMC’s statement is interpreted.

Let’s not also forget this week’s referendum on Scotland’s independence. No one knows what to expect and a nervous market doesn’t like surprises, nor sudden adverse shifts in currency rates.

It’s hard to know whether these events will be more relevant than some of the irrelevancies of preceding weeks, but they certainly represent upcoming challenges.

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

This is a week that I don’t have too much interest in earnings or in “momentum” kind of stocks, unless there’s also a dividend involved in the equation. Having watched some well known and regarded companies take their knocks during this past week, yet fully aware that the market is not even 2% below its recent high level, there’s not too much reason to be looking for risk.

As volatility rises concurrent with the market dropping, the option premiums themselves should show evidence of the perceived increased risk and can once again make even the most staid of stocks start looking appealing.

With my personal cash reserves at lower levels than I would like, I’m not eager to make many new purchases this week, despite what appear to be some relative bargains.

While the market was broadly weak I was fortunate in having a few positions assigned and may be anxious to re-purchase those very same positions at any sign of weakness or even if they stay near their Friday closing prices.

Those stocks were British Petroleum (BP), T-Mobile (TMUS) and Walgreen (WAG). Although they’re not included in this week’s listing, they may be among the first potential purchases that I look toward completing and may be satisfied being an onlooker for the rest of the week.

Among other stocks that may warrant some interest are those that have under-performed the S&P 500 since the beginning of the summer, a completely arbitrary measure that I have been using for the past few weeks, particularly during the phase of the market’s continuing climb.

^SPX ChartGeneral Electric (GE) is

one of those staid stocks whose option premiums of late have been extraordinarily low. It goes ex-dividend this week and is starting to look a little bit more inviting. Having now spun off some of its financial assets and made preparations to sell its appliances divisions to my old bosses at Electrolux (ELUXY), General Electric is slowly refocusing itself and while not having looked as a stellar performer, it has greatly out-paced the S&P 500 since the bottom of the financial crisis in 2009. In hindsight it is a position that I’ve owned far too infrequently over those years.

Dow Chemical (DOW) and DuPont (DD) have both lagged the S&P 500 over the past two months, much of it having come in the past week. Those drops have brought shares back to levels that I would entertain share re-purchases.

The option premium pricing may indicate some greater risk in Dow Chemical, however both companies have some activists interests that may help to somewhat offset any longer term pressures.

I’ve been waiting for Verizon (VZ) shares to drop for a while and while it has done so in the past week, it’s still not down to the $47.50 level that I my eyes on. However, its current level may offer sufficient attraction to re-enter a position in advance of its upcoming, and increased dividend.

Without a doubt the mobile telephone sector has been an active one of late and I suspect that T-Mobile’s very aggressive strategy to acquire customers will soon show up in everyone’s bottom line and not in the way most would like. However, with strong price support at $45, a combination of option premiums and dividends could help ownership of Verizon shares offset those pressures while awaiting assignment of shares.

While Intel (INTC) hasn’t followed the pattern of the preceding selections and has performed well since the beginning of summer, it did give back enough ground in the past week to return to a level that interests me. On the downside is the credible assertion that perhaps shares of Intel have accelerated too much in the past few months and can be an easy target for any profit taking. WHile that may certainly be true, by all appearances the once moribund Intel has new life and I suspect will be reflected in earnings, should the goal of short term ownership turn into something longer.

As with Verizon, and hopefully General Electric, as its option premiums could still stand to improve, the combination of a strong dividend yield and option premiums can be helpful in waiting out any unexpectedly large and sudden price declines.

Given the mediocrity of performance by eBay (EBAY) over the past couple of years, it may be hard for anyone to find much relevance in the company, except for that potential jewel, PayPal. I purchased more shares last week and did expect that there might be some downside pressure if Apple announced a new payment system, as had been widely expected. Moving higher into the upcoming Apple event shares did go strikingly lower once details of “Apple Pay” became known. The use, however, of an expanded weekly option provided a rich premium related to the uncertainty surrounding the Apple event and time to dig out of any hole.

The bounce back came sooner than expected as some rumors regarding Google’s (GOOG) interest in eBay made their rounds. Whether valid or not, there’s not too much question that the pressure to consider a spin off of the PayPal unit is ramping up and may, in fact, be seen as necessary by eBay if it perceives any erosion on PayPal’s value as a result of a successful Apple Pay launch. In such a case, it’s far better to spin off that asset while it is still in its ascendancy, rather than to await some evidence of erosion. That is known as the “take the money and run” strategy and may serve eBay’s interests well, despite earlier assertions that PayPal functioned best and provided greatest value as an eBay subsidiary division.

While Visa (V) has announced its alignment with Apple, MasterCard (MA) always seems to be somewhat left out or at least not in a proactive position in the changing payments landscape. Yet even while it has ceded much of the debit card arena to Visa, it continues to be a very steady performer trading in a reasonably narrow range and offering an equally reasonable premium for the risk of owning shares. While selling those options also gives up the potential for upside share appreciation, that upside potential has been limited since the stock split. Much in the way as with eBay, the consideration of a covered option trade may be warranted and a means to generate returns from a position that has little net movement.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is the lone momentum stock for the week and it has a dividend this week that warrants some consideration. Having been brutalized in the last few weeks as the gaming sector, particularly those with interests in Macao have seen significant price erosion it appears to be developing some support in the $62.50 level. While I wish I knew that with certainty, what I do know with some degree of confidence is that when Las Vegas Sands does find that level of support it has consistently been a very good covered options position.

Finally, I jumped the gun with one of this week’s selections, having purchased shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) on Friday afternoon. I particularly like this company for non-investing reasons because it has been a fertile breeding ground for innovation in an number of different areas. However, by the same token, the same broad thinking that allows it to serve as an incubator also has its CEO spend too much time in the spotlight on policy related issues, when all I really want is for its share price to grow and to return to profitability.

In this case I was eager to purchase shares again in anticipation of its upcoming dividend early in the October 2014 option cycle. However, I also wouldn’t mind early assignment, having sold a deep in the money option. EIther way, the prospects of a satisfactory return look good, as even if not assigned early, there is a potential ROI of 2.5% even if shares fall nearly 5% from the purchase price.

The one caveat, if you find such things to be relevant, is that earnings will be released just two days before the end of the October cycle so there may be reason to consider rolling this forward at that point that the November 2014 options are available for sale.

Of course, all relevancy is in the eye of the

beholder and sometimes it is nice to not have any weighty issues to consider. After this coming week we may find ourselves wishing for those mindless days glued to “Access Hollywood” rather than the stock ticker.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, Dow Chemical, DuPont, eBay, Intel, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (9/18), Las Vegas Sands (9/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – July 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expected, maybe, but not guaranteed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes it’s just
easier dealing with the expected.

Traditional Stocks:  British Petroleum, Deere, General Electric

Momentum: Best Buy, Las Vegas Sands, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: none

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

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

Weekend Update – April 7, 2013

I’m was beginning to feel like one of those Pacific Island soldiers that never found out World War II had ended and remained ever-presently vigilant for an impending attack that never came.

Amazingly, some held up their vow to defend for decades while I’m having difficulty after a bit more than a month waiting for a correction. Nothing big, just in line with this same time period in 2012, as I see lots of similarities to that time, not only in the parallel nature of the charts, but also in my own less than stellar performances, having been selling covered options as religiously as a sentinel keeps an eye on the horizon.

Having weathered the acute shock value of Cyprus, decreasing economic growth in China, currency manipulation in Japan and digested the initial uncertainty of the Korean Peninsula, it looked as if any sentinel for a sell-off would be a lonely soldier.

Now faced with a disappointing employment situation there’s opportunity to wonder over the weekend whether the pole has been sufficiently greased or whether this is simply the very quick mini sell-off of April 2012 that occurred just as Apple (AAPL) hit its high, then quickly recovered, just in time to lead to a 9% sell-off.

Apple had came off its April high by 5% at that point that the greater market downturn began, which is that same point that Google (GOOG) was down from its recent high point, at the close of Thursday’s trading (April 4, 2013). Coincidentally, that was the day before today’s sell-off. For those that have believed that Google has rotated into market leadership, having wrestled the position away from Apple, that may be a cause for concern. as does the fact that Google has traded below that dreaded 50 Day Moving Average.

I don’t know much about those kind of technical factors, but I do recognize that sometimes there is a basis for deja vu being more than just a feeling. What actually exists over the horizon is still anyone’s guess, but unlike those lonely soldiers you can feel relatively assured that at some point an unwelcome visitor will appear and wreak some havoc on the market. From my perspective that comes along every 52 months, so I’m not quite ready to accept that the time has come to drop defenses, but there may be room to let the guard down a bit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (see details). Additionally, for the first time in a few weeks there is a somewhat greater emphasis on Momentum stocks, as a coming downslide might reasonably be expected to unduly impact upon issues that have thrived recently, particularly the more defensive stocks. However, I am still inclined to consider monthly contracts over weekly ones, simply for a little extra breathing room while continuing to await a market heading in a southerly direction.

One Momentum stock that has also thrived up until very recently is YUM Brands (YUM). It also happens to go ex-dividend this week and has already given back much of its gains in the absence of any news. In the past it has demonstrated itself very capable of bouncing back from both real news and speculation regarding its forward prospects. Simultaneously being held hostage to the Chinese economy and also proving to be independent of swirling winds, YUM Brands serves as a model of what can be achieved in a marketplace where the playing field is anything but level.

A real signal that something is evolving, at least from my perspective, is that I no longer classify AIG (AIG) as a Momentum stock. Over the past year, had I followed by frequent suggestions that AIG might be an appropriate covered call position, I think I could have limited my portfolio to a single stock. Robert Ben Mosche, it’s CEO is the poster child for leadership and focus. With some recent share weakness, I think it may be time to add it back to a portfolio in need of income and reasonable price stability.

A couple of months ago I made an earnings related trade in F5 Networks (FFIV) that worked out nicely. Having sold puts just prior to earnings, F5 surpassed expectations and the trade was closed in 4 days. Thursday evening after the closing bell, F5 release disappointing guidance that saw its shares fall more than 15%.

I hate guidance that comes out weeks before earnings and catches me off-guard. In the past I’ve seen Cummins Engine (CMI) and Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) seem t
o regularly upset happy shareholders with that kind of timed guidance. Despite the fact that analysts seem to be in agreement that this is solely an F5 issue, it indiscriminately drags down the sector, perhaps offering opportunities.

In this case, I think the opportunities are now in both Cisco (CSCO) and Riverbed Technology (RVBD), both unduly hit in the aftermath of F5 and just a couple of weeks ago by Oracle’s (ORCL) disappointing earnings, which were also agreed to be an Oracle specific shortcoming. I currently own shares of Riverbed and would even consider adding to the position ahead of earnings later in the month.

Western Refining (WNR) returns to the list from last week, as an unrequited purchase. It is, possibly another example of how the market acts indiscriminately and emotionally. Following Valero’s (VLO) moaning about the costs of upcoming EPA initiatives for cleaner gas the market punished the entire sector, despite the fact that the EPA suggested that the costs of compliance were minimal for most refiners. The market made no distinction and assumed that all refiners would be subject to additional costs similar to the $300-400 million suggested by Valero. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the fortitude to pick up shares of Western Refining as it briefly dipped below $30 or Phillips 66 (PSX) as it fell about 10%. It didn’t stay there very long and certainly never confirmed the worst case scenario that Valero so openly shouted.

MetLife (MET) also returns from last week, which was another week of hesitancy to commit cash in favor of building reserves. There were, however, a number of times that I was ready to part with some of the cash, but ultimately resisted. As opposed to Western Refining, MetLife’s shares went down even further, so those decisions to embrace inaction may have balanced one another out. I continue to believe that shares will benefit from an increasingly healthy housing market, although that is far from MetLife’s core and highest profile business.

The financial sector was hit quite hard this past week. Since I owned shares of both Morgan Stanley (MS) and JP Morgan (JPM), I was acutely aware of their duress. However, in addition to JP Morgan and Wells Fargo (WFC) releasing earnings this Friday and perhaps representing some opportunity, Bank of America (BAC), whose shares I had assigned just a week ago has given up much of its recent run-up higher and is becoming attractive again.

Finally, Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) s one of my favorite stores, but not one of my favorite stocks. It has had a bit of a price rise on some buy-out speculation and it has demonstrated past ability to disappoint on earnings. Already down about 4% from its very recent high, I would be comfortable owning shares at $60 and would consider a 1.5% ROI for a 2 week holding period to be a decent reward while anticipating less than a 5% decline in share price in the after-math of earnings.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Bank of America, Riverbed Technology, Western Refining,

Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (ex-div 4/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: JP Morgan (4/12 AM), Pier 1 (4/11 AM), Wells Fargo (4/12 AM)

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

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