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 – January 18, 2015

This was really a wild week and somehow, with all of the negative movement, and despite futures that were again down triple digits in the previous evening’s futures trading, the stock market somehow managed to move to higher ground to bring a tumultuous week to its end.

Actually, the reason it did so is probably no mystery as the market seems to have re-coupled with oil prices, for good or for bad.

Still it was a week when stocks, interest rates, precious and non-precious metals, oil and currencies were all bouncing around wildly, as thus far, is befitting for 2015.

The tonic, one would have thought could have come from the initiation of another earnings season, traditionally led by the major banks. However “the big boys” suffered on top and bottom lines, citing disappointing results in fixed income and currency trading, as well as simply being held hostage by a low interest rate environment for their more mundane activities, like pumping money into the economy through loans.

Even worse, the unofficial spokesperson for the interest of those “too big to fail,” Jamie Dimon, seemed passively resigned to the reality that the Federal government was in charge and could do with systemically important institutions whatever it deemed appropriate, such as breaking them up.

The first sign of troubles came weeks ago as trader bonus cuts were announced. While declines in trader revenue were expected, the bonus cuts suggested that the declines were steeper than expected, particularly when the bonus cuts were greater than had only recently been announced.

Of course, that leads to the question: “If a banker can’t make money, then who can?”

That’s a reasonable question and has some basis in earnings seasons past and may provide some insight into the future.

For those who follow such things, the past few years have seen a large number of such earnings seasons start off with good news from the financial sector, only to have lackluster or disappointing results from the rest of the S&P 500, propped up by rampant buybacks.

What is rare, however, is to have the financials disappoint , yet then seeing the remainder of the market report good or better than expected earnings, particularly as the rate of increase of buybacks may be decreasing.

That is now where we stand with the second week of earnings season ready to begin when the market re-opens on Tuesday.

While there was already some clue that the major money center banks were not doing as well as perhaps expected, as bonuses were cut for many, the expectation has been that the broader economy, especially that reflecting consumer spending, would do well in an environment created by sharply falling energy prices.

Among gyrations this week were interest rates which only went lower on the week, much to the chagrin of those whose fortunes are tied to the certainty of higher rates and in face of expectations for increases, given growing employment, wage growth and the anticipated increase in consumer demand.

Funny thing about those expectations, though, as we got off to a bad start on the surprising news that retail sales for December 2014 didn’t seem to reflect any increased consumer spending, as most of us had expected, as the first dividend to come from falling energy prices.

While faith in the integrity and well being of our banking system is a cardinal tenet of our economy, it is just another representation of the certainty that investors need. That certainty was missing all of this past week as events, such as the action by the Swiss National Bank were unexpected, oil prices bounced by large leaps and falls without ob

vious provocation, copper prices plunged and gold seemed to be heating up.

How many of those did anyone expect to all be happening in a single week? Yet, on Friday, in a reversal of the futures, markets surged adding yet another of those large gains that are typically seen in bearish cycles.

Still, the coming week has its possible antidotes to what has been ailing us all through 2015. There are more earnings reports, including some more from the oil services sector, which could put some pessimism to rest with anything resembling better than expected news, such as was offered by Schlumberger (SLB) this past Friday, which also included a very unexpected dividend increase.

Also, this may finally be the week that Mario Draghi belatedly brings the European Central Bank into the previous decade and begins a much anticipated version of “quantitative easing.”

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. Additional earnings related trades may be seen in an accompanying article.

Among those big boys with disappointing stories to tell was JP Morgan Chase (JPM). In a very uncharacteristic manner, CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon didn’t exude optimism and confidence, instead seemingly accepting whatever fate would be assigned by regulators. Of course, some of that resignation comes in the face of likely new assaults on Dodd-Frank, which could only be expected to benefit Dimon and others.

Whether banks and large financial institutions are under assault or not may be subject to debate, but the assault on JP Morgan’s share price is not, as it has fallen about 11% over the past two weeks, despite a nice gain on Friday.

While still above its 52 week low, unless interest rates continue their surprising descent and go lower than 1.8% for a while, this appears to be a long sought after entry point for shares. The volatility in the financial sector is so high that even with an upcoming 4 day trading week the option premium is very rich, reflecting the continuing uncertainty.

More importantly, may be the distinction that Dimon made between good and bad volatility, with JP Morgan having been subject to the bad kind of late.

The bad kind is when you have sustained moves higher or lower and the good kind is when you see a back and forth, often with little net change. The latter is a trader’s dream and it are the traders that make it rain at JP Morgan and others. That good kind of volatility is also what option writers hope will be coming their way.

So far, 2015 is sending a signal that it may be time to take the umbrellas out of storage.

MetLife (MET), with its 30 day period to challenge its designation as a “systemically important” financial institution, decided to make that challenge. As interest rates went even lower this week, momentarily breaching the 1.8% level, MetLife’s shares continued its decline.

If Dimon is correct in his resignation that nothing can really be done when regulators want to express their whims, then we should have already factored that certainty into MetLife’s share price. It too, like JP Morgan, had a nice advance on Friday, but is still about 11% lower in the past 2 weeks and has an upcoming dividend to consider, in addition to earnings a week afterward.

Intel (INTC), a stellar performer in 2014, joined the financials in reporting disappointing earnings this past week. While it did get swept along with just about everything else higher in the final hour of trading, it had already begun its share recovery after hitting its day’s low in the first 30 minutes of trading.

After 2 very well received earnings reports the past quarters, it may have been too much to expect a third successive upside surprise. However, the giant that slid into somnolence as the world was changing around it has clearly reawakened and could make a very good covered option trade once again if it repeatedly faces upside resistance a

t $37.50.

I’m not quite certain how to characterize The Gap (GPS). I don’t know whether it’s fashionable, just offers value or is a default shopping location for families.

What I do know is that among my frequent holdings it has a longer average holding period than most others, despite having the availability of weekly options. That’s because it consistently jumps up and down in price, partially due to its habit of still reporting same store sales each month and partially for reasons that escape my ability to grasp.

Yet, it still trades in a fairly narrow range and for that reason it is a stock that I always like to consider on a decline. Because of its same store sales reports it offers an enhanced option premium on a monthly basis in addition to its otherwise average premium returns, but it also has an acceptable dividend for your troubles of holding it for any extended period of time.

As a Pediatric Dentist, you would think that I would own Colgate-Palmolive (CL) on a regular basis. However, I tend to put option premium above any sense of professional obligation. In that regard, during a sustained period of low volatility, Colgate-Palmolive hasn’t been a very appealing alternative investment. However, with volatility creeping higher, and with shares going ex-dividend this week, the premium is getting my attention.

Together with its recent 6% price decline and its relative immunity from oil prices, the time may have arrived to align professional and premium interests. However, if shares go unassigned, consideration has to be given to selecting an option expiration for a rollover trade that offers some protection in the event of an adverse price move after earnings, which are scheduled for the following week.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Cree (CREE), eBay (EBAY) and SanDisk (SNDK).

Cree is an example of a company that regularly has an explosive move at earnings and may present some opportunity if considering the sale of puts before, or even after earnings, in the event of a large decline.

I have experience with both in the past year and the process, as well as the result can be taxing. My most recent exploit having sold puts after a large decline and eventually closing that position at a loss, and both the process and the result were less than enjoyable.

That’s not something that I’d like to do again, but seeing the ubiquity of its products and the successive earnings disappointments in the past year, I’m encouraged by the fact that Cree hasn’t altered its guidance, as it has in the past in advance of earnings.

I generally prefer selling puts into a price decline, however Cree advanced by nearly 4% on Friday and reports earnings following Tuesday’s close. In the event of a meaningful decline in price before that announcement I would consider the sale of puts. The option market believes that there can be a move of 10.1% upon earnings release, however a 1% ROI can potentially be achieved even when selling a put contract at a strike that is 14.2% below Friday’s close.

Alternatively, in the event of a large drop after earnings, consideration can be given toward selling calls in the aftermath, although if past history is a guide, when it comes to Cree, what has plunged can plunge further.

SanDisk recently altered its guidance and saw its share price plunge nearly 20%. For some reason, so often after such profit warnings are provided before earnings, the market still seems surprised after earnings are released and send shares even lower.

While I’m interested in establishing a position in SanDisk, I’m not likely to do so before earnings are announced, as the option market is implying a price move of 7% and in order to achieve a 1% ROI the strike level required is only 7.5% below Friday’s closing price. That offers inadequate cushion between risk and reward. Because I expect a further decline, I would want a greater cushion, so would prefer to wait until earnings are released.

While Cree and SanDisk are volatile and, perhaps speculative, eBay is a very different breed. However, it is still prone to decisive moves at earnings and it has recently diffused disappointing earnings reports with announcements, such as the existence of an Icahn position or comments regarding a PayPal spin-off.

As opposed to most put sale, where I usually have no interest in taking ownership of shares, eBay is one that, if I sell puts and see an adverse move, would consider taking assignments, as it has been a very reliable covered call stock for the past few years, as its shares have traded in a very narrow range.

Despite a gain on Friday that trailed the market’s advance, it is about 6% below where I last had shares assigned and would be interested in initiating another new position before it becomes a less interesting and less predictable company upon its planned PayPal spin-off.

I tend to like Best Buy (BBY) when it is down or has had a large decline in shares. It has done so on a regular basis since January 2014 and did so again this past week, almost a year to the day of its nearly 33% drop.

This time it was a pin being forced into the bubble that its shares had recently been experiencing as the reality behind its sales figures indicated that margins weren’t really in the equation. Undertaking a “sales without profits” strategy like its brickless and mortarless counterpart isn’t a formula for long term success unless you have very, very deep pockets or a surprisingly disarming and infectious laugh, such as Jeff Bezos possesses.

While possibly selling all of those GoPro (GPRO) devices and other items over the holidays at little to no profit may not have been in Best Buy’s best interests, it may have helped others, for at least as long as that strategy can be maintained.

However, Best Buy has repeatedly been an acceptable buy after gaps down in its share price, although consideration can also be given to the sale of put contracts, as its price is still a bit higher than I would like to see for a re-entry.

Finally, there are probably a large number of reasons to dislike GoPro. For me, it may begin with the fact that I’m neither young, photogenic nor athletic. For others it may have to do with secondary offerings or the bent rules around its lock-up expiration. Certainly there will be those that aren’t happy about a 50% drop from its high just 3 months ago, which includes the 31% decline occurring in the days after the lock-up expiration.

While it has been on a downtrend after the most recent lock-up expiration, despite having traded higher in the days before and immediately afterward, the impetus for this week’s large decline appears to be the filing of a number of patents by Apple (AAPL) which many have construed as potentially offering competition to GoPro in the hardware space, all while GoPro is already seeking to re-invent itself or at least shift from a hardware company to a media company.

I don’t know too much about Apple and I know even less about GoPro, but Apple’s long history has shown that it doesn’t necessarily pounce into markets where there already seems to be a product that is being well received by consumers.

It prefers to pick on the weak and defenseless, albeit the ones with good ideas.

Apple has done incredibly well for itself in recognizing new technologies that might be in much greater demand if the existing products didn’t suffer from horrid design and engineering. Having a fractured manufacturer base with no predominant player has also been an open invitation to Apple to meld its design and marketing prowess and capture markets.

Whatever GoPro may suffer from, I don’t think that anyone has accused the GoPro product line of either of those shortcomings. so this most recent and pronounced decline may be unwarranted. However, GoPro does report earnings in the following week, so I would consider the potential risk associated with a position unlikely to be assigned this week. For that reason I would consider either the purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or the sale of deep out of the money puts, utilizing a weekly contract and keeping fingers crossed and strapping on for the action ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, GoPro

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate-Palmolive (1/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/20 PM), eBay (1/21 PM), SanDisk (1/21 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 – December 21, 2014

What a week.

There were enough events to form the basis for a remake of the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

The range of those events this past was stunning.

Oil prices stabilizing, The Colbert Show finalizing; North Korean cyber-attack, Cuban Revolution roll back; Ruble in freefall, speculators facing margin call; FOMC removing “considerable time,” markets having a memorable climb.

Russia didn’t start the fire, but they could have flamed it.

Deep down, maybe not so deep down, there are many who wouldn’t feel too badly if its President, Vladimir Putin, began to start reeling from the precipitous decline in oil prices, as many also believe as does Eddy Elfenbein, of “Crossing Wall Street” who recently tweeted:

The problem is that it can be a precarious balance for the Russian President between the need to support his ego and the need to avoid cutting off one’s own nose while spiting an adversary.

While Putin pointed a finger at “external forces” for causing Russia’s current problems stemming from economic sanctions and plunging energy and commodity prices, thus far, ego is winning out and the initial responses by the Bank of Russia. Additionally, comments from Putin indicate a constructive and rational approach to the serious issues they face having to deal with the economic burdens of their campaigns in Ukraine and Crimea, the ensuing sanctions and the one – two punch of sliding energy and metals prices.

Compare this week’s response to the economic crisis of 1998, as many are attempting to draw parallels. However, in 1998 there was no coherent national strategy and the branches of Russian government were splintered.

No one, at least not yet, is going to defy a decree from Putin as was done with those from Yeltsin nearly a generation ago when he had no influence, much less control over Parliament and unions.

While the initial response by the Bank of Russia, increasing the key lending rate by 65% is a far cry from the strategies employed by our own past Federal Reserve Chairmen and which came to be known as the Greenspan and Bernanke puts, you can’t spell “Putin” without “put” an the “Putin Put” while a far cry from being a deliberate action to sustain our stock markets did just that last week.

Putin offered, what sounded like a sober assessment of the challenges facing Russia and a time frame for the nation to come out from under what will be pronounced recession. Coming after the middle of the night surprise rate hike that saw the Ruble plunge and international markets showing signs of panic, his words had a calming effect that steadied currency and stock markets.

Somehow, the urge to create chaos as p

art of a transfer of pain has been resisted, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season. Who would have guessed that the plate of blinis and vodka left out overnight by the dumbwaiter would have been put to good use and may yet help to rescue this December and deliver a Santa Clause Rally, yet?

No wonder Putin has been named “Russia’s Man of the Year” for the 15th consecutive year by the Interfax news agency. It’s hard to believe that some wanted to credit Janet Yellen for this week’s rally, just for doing her part to create her own named put by apparently delaying the interest rate hikes we’ve come to expect and dread.

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

I know that if anyone chose to designate me as being “systemically important,” I would feel honored, but after that glow had worn off I would start wondering what the added burden of that honor was going to be.

That’s what MetLife (NYSE:MET) is facing as it has 30 days to respond to its designation as being a systemically important financial institution, which carries with it significantly increased regulatory oversight.

I can see why they might want to resist the designation, especially when it knows that better and more profitable days are ahead, as interest rates rises are actually going to be more likely as employment and GDP continue to increase, buoyed by low energy prices. Most would agree that with increased regulation comes decreased profit.

MetLife, like most every other stock had inexplicably been taken lower as the energy sector held the stock market hostage. Also, like most other stocks, it had a substantial recovery this week to end the week a little higher than I would like to consider entering into a position. However, on any further drop back toward $52.50 it appears to again be a good candidate for a covered call strategy.

It’s only appropriate that during the holiday season thoughts turn to food. Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) may stand in sharp contrast to Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), but they may all have a place in a portfolio, but for different reasons.

Dunking Brands just reported earnings and shares plunged toward its 52 week lows. In doing so it reminded me of the plight of Whole Foods earlier in the year.

While a horrible winter was part of Whole Foods’ successive disappointing quarterly earnings reports, so too was their national expansion effort. That effort began to deliver some rewards after the most recent earnings report, but in the interim there were many questioning whether Whole Foods was being marginalized by growing competition.

Instead, after its most recent earnings report shares gapped up higher to the point at which they had gapped down earlier in the year, as shares now appear to be solidifying at a new higher baseline.

I don’t ordinarily think about a longer term position when adding shares, but if adding to my existing Whole Foods position, I may consider selling February 2015 call options that would encompass both the upcoming earnings report and a dividend, while also seeking some modest capital gains from the underlying shares.

Where Dunkin Donuts reminds me of Whole Foods is in its national expansion efforts and in also having now returned successive disappointing earnings while investing for the future. Just as I believe that will be a strategy with long term benefits for Whole Foods, I think Dunkin Brands will also turn their earnings story around as the expansion efforts near their conclusion.

Coca Cola represents an entirely different story as the clock is ticking away on its hope to withstand activist efforts. Those efforts appear as if they will have an initial primary focus on a CEO change.

While it may not be appropriate to group Coca Cola with Dunkin Brands and Whole Foods, certainly not on the basis of nutritional value, that actually highlights part of its problem. Like Russia, so tied to energy and mining, Coca Cola is tied to beverages and has little to no diversification in its portfolio. At the moment a large part of its product portfolio is out of favor, as evidenced by my wife, who when shopping for Thanksgiving guests said “we don’t need soda. No one drinks soda, anymore.”

That may be an exaggeration and while the long term may not be as bright for Coca Cola as some of its better diversified rivals, in the short term there is opportunity as pressure for change will mount. In the interim there will always be the option premiums and the dividends to fall back upon.

I had shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) assigned this past week and that left me without any shares for the coming week. That’s an uncommon position for me to be in, as eBay has been a favorite stock for years as it has traded in a fairly well defined range.

That range was disrupted, in a good way, by the entrance of Carl Icahn and then by the announcement of its plans to spin off its profitable PayPal unit, while it still has value.

My most recent lot assigned was the highest priced lot that I had ever owned and was also held for a significantly longer time period than others. Ordinarily I like to learn from my mistakes and wouldn’t consider buying shares again at this level, but I think that eBay will continue moving higher, hopefully slowly, until it is ready to spin off its PayPal division.

The more slowly it moves, occasionally punctuated by price drops or spikes, the better it serves as part of a covered options strategy and in that regard it has been exemplary.

While eBay doesn’t offer a dividend, and has had very little share appreciation, it has been a very reliable stock for use in a covered option strategy and should continuing being so, until the point of the spin-off.

If last week demonstrated anything, it was that the market is now able to decouple itself from oil prices, whereas in previous weeks almost all sectors were held hostage to energy. This week, by the middle of the week the market didn’t turn around and follow oil lower, as futures prices started dropping. By the same token when oil moved nicely higher to close the week, the market essentially yawned.

Energy sector stocks were a different story and as is frequently the case their recovery preceded the recovery in crude prices. Despite some nice gains last week there may be room for some more. Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is well off from its highs, with that decline preceding the plunge felt within the sector. While its proposed buyout of Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) helped send it 10% higher that surge was short lived, as its descent started with details of the penalty Halliburton would pay if the deal was not completed.

While there has to be some regulatory concern the challenge of low prices and decreased drilling and exploration probably reinforces for Halliburton the wisdom of combining with Baker Hughes.

During its period of energy price uncertainty, coupled with the uncertainty of the buy out, Halliburton is offering some very enticing option premiums, both as part of a covered call trade or the sale of puts.

In addition to some stability in energy prices, there’s probably no greater gift that Putin himself could receive than higher prices for gold and copper. Just as Russia has been hit by the double hardship of reliance on energy and metals it has become clear that there isn’t too much of an economy as we may know it, but rather an energy and mining business that simply subsidizes everything else.

Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) can probably empathize with Russia’s predicament, as the purchase of Plains Exploration and Production was intended to protect it from the cycles endured by copper and gold.

Funny how that worked out, unless you are a current shareholder and have been waiting for the acquisition strategy to bear some fruit.

While it hasn’t done that, gold may be approaching a bottom and with it some of Freeport’s troubles may get diminished. At its current level and the lure of a continuing dividend and option premiums it is getting to look appealing, although it still carries the risks of a world not valuing or needing its products for some time to come.

However, when the perceived value returns and the demand returns, the results can be explosive for Freeport’s shares to the upside, just as it has dragged it much lower in a shirt period of time.

Finally, I’ll never be accused of leading a lifestyle that would lend itself to documentation through the use of a GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) product, but its prospects do have my heart racing more than usual this week.

I generally stay away from IPO stocks for at least 6 months, so as to get an idea of how it may trade, especially when earnings are part of the equation. Pragmatically, another issue is the potential impact of lock-up expiration dates, as well.

GoPro, in its short history as a publicly traded company has already had a storied life, including its key underwriter allowing some shares that were transferred into a charitable trust to be disposed of prior to the lock-up expiration date. Additionally, a secondary offering has already occurred at a price well above this past week’s closing price and also represented a fairly large sale by insiders.

Will the products and the lifestyle brand that GoPro would like to develop may be exciting, so far its management of insider shares hasn’t been the kind that inspires confidence, as shares are now about 42% below their high and 25% below their secondary issue pricing.

What could be worse?

Perhaps this week’s lock-up expiration on December 23, 2014.

The option market is treating the upcoming lock-up expiration as if it was an earnings event and there is a nearly 9% implied move for the week in anticipation. For those accustomed to thrill seeking there’s still no harm in using a safety harness and you can decide what strike puts on the sale of puts provides the best combination of excitement and safety.

I tend to prefer a strike price outside of the range identified by the option market that can offer at least a 1% ROI. That could mean accepting up to a 12.8% decline in price in return for the lessened thrill, but that’s thrill enough for me for one week.

Happy Holidays.

 

Traditional Stocks: Coca Cola, Dunkin Brand Group, eBay, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum: Freeport McMoRan, GoPro, Halliburton

Double Dip Dividend: none

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.