Weekend Update – December 11, 2016

There are so many ways to look at most things.

Take a runaway train, for example.

The very idea of a “runaway train” probably evokes some thoughts of a disaster about to happen.

Following this past week’s 3.1% gain in the S&P 500, adding to the nearly 4.3% gain since the election result that most everyone thought to be improbable, the market may be taking on some characteristics of a runaway train.

But I don’t really think too much about the inevitable crash that ensues when the train does leave the tracks.

As every physics fan knows, the real challenge behind a runaway train is getting all of that momentum under control.

I don’t think about that, either, though.

What I do think about is trying to understand how to look at momentum.

Momentum, of course, is simply the product of the object’s mass and its velocity.

Mass, of course is nothing more than the force exerted by that object divided by its acceleration.

Acceleration, of course is nothing more than the derivative of an object’s velocity.

So, I like to look at momentum as an expression of the product of an object’s force and its velocity, while at the same time dividing by rate of change in that velocity.

In other words, depending upon how you look at things makes all the difference in the world.


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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t always that way, though.

We always knew who was running the place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we all know how that worked out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe even an upcoming ex-dividend position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That turnaround started on February 11, 2016.

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

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

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

That may be its saving grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: None

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

Weekend Update – October 11, 2015

If you’re a fan of “American Exceptionalism” and can put aside the fact that the Shanghai stock market has made daily moves of 6% higher in the past few months on more than one occasion, you have to believe that the past week has truly been a sign of the United States’ supremacy extending to its stock markets.

We are, of optiocourse, the only nation to have successfully convinced much of the world for the past 46 years that we put a man on the moon.

So you tell me. What can’t we do?

What we can do very well is turn bad news into good news and that appears to be the path that we’ve returned to, as the market’s climb may be related to a growing belief that interest rate hikes may now be delayed and the party can continue unabated.

While it was refreshing for that short period of time when news was taken at face value, we now are faced with the prospect of markets again exhibiting their disappointment when those interest rate hikes truly do finally become reality.

Once the market came to its old realizations it moved from its intra-day lows hit after the most recent Employment Situation Report and the S&P 500 rocketed higher by 6% as a very good week came to its end on a quiet note.

While much of the gain was actually achieved when the Shanghai markets were closed for the 7 day National Day holiday celebration, it may be useful to review just what rockets are capable of doing and perhaps looking to China as an example of what soaring into orbit can lead to.

Rockets come in all sizes and shapes, but are really nothing more than a vehicle launched by a high thrust engine. Those high thrust rocket engines create the opportunities for the vehicle. Some of those vehicles are designed to orbit and others to achieve escape velocity and soar to great heights.

And some crash or explode violently, although not by design.

As someone who likes to sell options the idea of a stock just going into orbit and staying there for a while is actually really appealing, but with stocks its much better if the orbit established is one that has come down from greater heights.

That’s not how rockets usually work, though.

But for any kind of orbiting to really be worthwhile, those premiums have to be enriched by occasional bumps along the path that don’t quite make it to the level of violent explosions.

It’s just that you never really know when those violent explosions are going to come and how often. Certainly Elon Musk didn’t expect his last two rocket launches to come to sudden ends.

In China’s case those 6% increases have been followed by some epic declines, but that’s not unusual whenever seeing large moves in either direction.

As we get ready to start earnings season for real this week we may quickly learn whether our own 6% move higher was just the first leg of a multi-stage rocket launch or whether it will soon discover that there is precious little below to offer much in the way of support.

Prior to that 6% climb it was that lack of much below that created a situation where many stocks had gone into orbit, taking a rest to regain strength for a bounce higher. That temporary orbit was a great opportunity to generate some option premium income, as some of the risk of a crash was reduced as those stocks had already migrated closer to the ground.

While I don’t begrudge the recent rapid rise it would be nice to go back into orbit for a while and refuel for a slower, but more sustainable ride higher.

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

There aren’t too many data points to go on since that turnaround last week, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been uncharacteristically missing from the party.

It seems as if it’s suddenly becoming fashionable to disparage Apple, although I don’t recall Tim Cook having given Elon Musk a hard time recently. With the opening of the movie, Steve Jobs, this week may or may not further diminish the luster.

Ever since Apple joined the DJIA on March 19, 2015 it has dragged the index 109 points lower, accounting for about 11% of the index’s decline, as it has badly lagged both the DJIA and S&P 500 during that period. The truth, however, is that upon closer look, Apple has actually under-performed both for most of the past 3 year period, even when selecting numerous sub-periods for study. The past 6 months have only made the under-performance more obvious.

With both earnings and an ex-dividend date coming in the next month, I would be inclined to consider an Apple investment from the sale of out of the money puts. If facing assignment, it should be reasonably easy to rollover those puts and continuing to do so as earnings approach. If, however, faced with the need to rollover into the week of earnings, I would do so using an extended weekly option, but one expiring in the week prior to the week of the ex-dividend date. Then, if faced with assignment, I would plan to take the assignment and capture the dividend, rather than continuing to attempt to escape share ownership.

In contrast to Apple, Visa (NYSE:V) which joined the DJIA some 2 years earlier, coincidentally having split its shares on the same day that Apple joined the index, actually added 49 points to the DJIA.

For Visa and other credit card companies there may be a perfect storm of the good kind on the horizon. With chip secured credit cards just beginning their transition into use in the United States and serving to limit losses accruing to the credit card companies, Visa is also a likely beneficiary of increasing consumer activity as there is finally some evidence that the long awaited oil dividend is finding its way into retail.

When it comes to bad news, it’s hard to find too many that have taken more lumps than YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS).

Despite a small rebound in YUM shares on Friday, that came nowhere close toward erasing the 19% decline after disappointing earnings from its China operations.

YUM Brands was a potential earnings related trade last week, but it came with a condition. That condition being that there had to be significant give back of the previous week’s gains.

Instead, for the 2 trading days prior to earnings, YUM shares went higher, removing any interest in taking the risk of selling puts as the option market was still anticipating a relatively mild earnings related move and the reward was really insufficient.

Now, even after the week ending bounce, YUM’s weekly option premium is quite high, especially factoring in its ex-dividend state. As discussed last week, the premium enhancement may be sufficient to look into the possibility of selling a deep in the money weekly call option and ceding the dividend in order to accrue the premium and exit the position after just 2 days, if assigned early.

You needn’t look to China to explain The Gap’s problems. Slumping sales under its new CEO and the departure of a key executive from a rare division that was performing have sent shares lower and lower.

The troubles were compounded late this past week when The Gap did, as fewer and fewer in retail are doing, and released its same store sales figures and they continued to disappoint everyone.

Having gone ex-dividend in the past week that lure is now gone for a few months. The good news about The Gap is that it isn’t scheduled to report news of any kind of news for another month, when it releases same store sales once again, followed by quarterly results 10 days later.

The lack of any more impending bad news isn’t the best of compliments. However, unlike a rocket headed for a crash the floors for a stock can be more forgiving and The Gap is approaching a multi-year support level that may provide some justification for a position with an intended short term time frame as its option premiums are increasingly reflecting its increased volatility.

Coach (NYSE:COH) has earnings due to be reported at the end of this month. It is very often a big mover at earnings and despite some large declines had generally had a history of price recovery. That, however, hasn’t been the case in nearly 2 years.

Over the past 3 years I’ve owned Coach shares 21 times, but am currently weighed down by a single lot that is nearly 18 months old. During that time period I’ve only seen fit to add shares on a single occasion, but am again considering doing so as it seems to be building upon some support and may be one of those beneficiaries of increased consumer spending, even as its demographic may be less sensitive to energy pricing.

With the risk comes a decent weekly option premium, but I might consider sacrificing some of that premium and attempting to use a higher priced strike and perhaps an extended weekly option, but being wary of earnings, even though I expect an upward surprise.

The drug sector has seen its share of bad news lately, as well and has certainly been the target of political opportunism and over the top greed that makes almost everyone cringe.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is ex-dividend this week and is nearly 20% lower from the date that the S&P 500 began its descent toward correction territory. Since its spin-off from Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), which is also ex-dividend this week, AbbVie has had more than its share of controversy, including a proposed inversion and the pricing of its Hepatitis C drug regimen.

Shares seem to have respected some price support and have returned to a level well below where I last owned them. With its equally respectable option premium and generous dividend, this looks like an opportune time to consider a position, but I would like it as a short term holding in an attempt to avoid being faced with its upcoming earnings report at the end of the month.

Finally, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reports earnings this week and had been on a tear until mid-August, when a broad brush took nearly every company down 10% or more.

Of course, even with that 10% decline, Icahn Enterprises (NASDAQ:IEP), would have been far better off not having sold its shares and incurring its own 13% loss in 2015.

With earnings coming this week I found it interesting that Netflix would announce a price increase for new customers in advance of earnings. In having done so, shares spiked nearly 10%.

The option market is implying a 14% price move, however, a 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a weekly put at a strike level 19% below Friday’s closing price.

That’s an unusually large cushion even as the option market has been starting to recover from a period of under-estimating earnings related moves in the past quarter.

While the safety net does appear wide, my cynical side has me believing that the subscription increase was timed to offer its own cushion for what may be some disappointing numbers. Given the emphasis on new subscriber acquisitions, I would believe that metric will come in strong, otherwise this wouldn’t be an opportune time for a price increase. However, there may be something lurking elsewhere.

With that in mind, I would consider the same approach as with YUM Brands last week and would only consider the sale of puts if preceded by some significant price pullback. Otherwise, I would hold off, but might become interested again in the event of a large downward move after earnings are released.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, The Gap, Visa

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double-Dip Dividend: AbbVie (10/13), YUM Brands (10/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Netflix (10/14 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 – June 28, 2015

To call the stock market of this past week “a dog” probably isn’t being fair to dogs.

Most everyone loves dogs, or at least can agree that others may be able to see some positive attributes in the species. It’s hard, however, to have similar equanimity, even begrudgingly so, toward the markets this week.

What started off strongly on Monday and somehow wasn’t completely disavowed the following day, devolved unnecessarily on Wednesday and without any strong reason for doing so.

In fact, it was a week of very little economic news. We were instead focused on societal news that likely made little to no impression on the markets as a whole, although one sector did stand out.

That sector was health care, as the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act was a re-affirmation of a key component of the legislation and delayed any need to come up with an alternative, while still allowing Presidential contenders to criticize it heading into election season.

That’s a win – win.

It also keeps the number of uninsured at their lowest levels ever and puts more money in the pockets of hospitals and insurers, alike.

That’s another win – win.

While those two are usually on the opposite sides of most health care related arguments investors definitely agreed that the Affordable Care Act was and will continue to be additive to their bottom lines.

There is no health care flag, however.

The “Rainbow Flag” got a big thumbs up last week as the Supreme Court re-affirmed the right to dignity and the universal right to have access to divorce courts. The Court’s decision and its impact on businesses and the economy was a topic of speculation that was designed to fill air time and empty columns in the business section, as it came on a quiet day to end the week.

The Confederate Flag, of course, got a big thumbs down, after 150 years of quiet and thoughtful deliberation over its merits and what it represented. The decision by major retailers to stop sales of items with the Confederate flag on them can only mean that their demand wasn’t very significant and those items will probably be sent overseas, just as is done with the tee shirts of the losing Super Bowl team, so we can expect to see lots of photos of strangely attired impoverished third world children in the future.

And that leaves Greece, the EU, the IMF and the World Bank. For those most part, those aren’t part of our societal concerns, but they do concern markets.

Just not too much this past week.

The European Union was very forward thinking in the design of its flag. Rather than being concrete and having the 12 stars represent its member nations, those stars are said to represent characteristics of those member states. In other words Greece could leave the EU and the flag remains unchanged. Although the symbolism of the stars being arranged in a circle to represent “unity” may have to come under some scrutiny.

The growing realization is that would likely not be the same for the EU itself, as an exit by Greece would ultimately be “de minimis.” Either way, we should get some more information this week, as IMF chief Christine Legarde’s June 30th line in the sand regarding Greece’s repayment is quickly approaching.

It may be too late for a proposed “Plan B” for Greece to prevent default, as the European Union is now in its 86th trimester.

Still, despite a week of little news, somehow it was another week of pronounced moves in both directions that ultimately managed to travel very little from home.

New and existing home sales data suggested a strengthening in that important sector and the revised GDP indicated that the first quarter wasn’t as much of a dog as we all had come to believe. But there really wasn’t enough additional corroborating data to make anyone jump to the conclusion that core inflation was now exceeding the same objective that Janet Yellen had just stated weren’t being met.

So any concerns about improving economic news shouldn’t have led anyone to begin expressing their fears of increased interest rates by selling their stocks.

But it did.

Wednesday’s sell-off followed the news that the revised 2015 first quarter GDP was only down by 0.2% and not the previously revised 0.7%.

That makes it seem as if nerves and expectations for a long overdue correction or even a long overdue mini-correction are ruling over common sense and rational thought.

As usual, the week’s poten

tial stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double-Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.

The coming week is a holiday shortened one and will have the Employment Situation Report coming on Thursday, potentially adding to interest rate nervousness if numbers continue to be strong.

After Micron Technology’s (NASDAQ:MU) earnings disappointment last week it may be understandable why a broad brush was used within the technology sector to drive prices considerably lower on Friday. However, it wasn’t Micron Technology that introduced the weakness. The past two weeks haven’t been particularly kind to the sector.

At a time that I’m under-invested in technology and otherwise very reluctant to commit new funds, the sector has a disproportionate share of my attention in competition for whatever little I’m willing to let go.

With Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) having also recently reported disappointing earnings and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) reporting in the next 3 weeks, it may be an interesting period.

While Micron Technology brought up concerns about PC sales, they are more dependent upon those than some others that have found salvation in laptops, tablets and mobile devices.

What was generally missing from Micron’s report, however, was placing the blame for lower revenues on currency exchange, unlike as was just done by Oracle. Micron focused squarely on decreasing product demand and pricing pressure.

That lack of adverse impact from currency exchange is a theme that I’m expecting as the upcoming earnings season begins. Whereas the previous earnings reports provided dour guidance on expectations of USD/Euro parity, the Dollar’s relative weakness in the most recent quarter may provide some upside surprises.

With share prices in Microsoft and Intel having dropped, this may be a good time to add positions in both, as they could both be significant beneficiaries of an improvement in currency exchange, as both await any bump coming from the introduction of Windows 10. I haven’t owned shares of Microsoft for a while and have been looking for a new entry point. At the same time, I do own shares of Intel and have been looking for an opportunity to average down and ultimately leave the position, or at least underwrite some of the paper losses with premiums on contracts written on an additional lot of shares.

While Seagate Technology doesn’t report its earnings until July 15th, following its weakness over the last 7 weeks, I’m considering the sale of puts in the weeks in advance of earnings. Those premiums are elevated and will become even more so during the actual week of earnings. In the event of an adverse price move, there might be a need to rollover the puts to try and avoid or delay assignment. However, at some point in the August 2015 option cycle the shares will be ex-dividend, so a shift in strategy, pivoting to share ownership maybe called for if still short the put options.

While Oracle and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) don’t report earnings for a while, both have upcoming ex-dividend dates that add to their appeal. In the case of Oracle, it’s ex-dividend date is on Monday of the following week, which opens the possibility of ceding the dividend to early assignment in exchange for getting two weeks of premium and the opportunity to recycle proceeds from an assignment into another income producing position.

Also going ex-dividend on the Monday of the following week is The Gap (NYSE:GPS). It is one of my favorite stocks, even though it rarely seems to be doing anything right these days.

Part of its allure is that it continues to provide monthly sales data and the uncertainty with those report releases consistently creates option premium opportunities usually seen only quarterly for most stocks as they prepare to release earnings.

As long as The Gap continues to trade in a range, as it has done for quite some time, there is opportunity by holding shares and serially selling calls, while collecting dividends, as the company attempts to figure out what it wants to be, as it closes stores, yet announces plans to take over the Times Square Toys ‘R Us location, for those NYC tourists that just have to jet a pair of khakis to remember their trip.

Finally, American Express (NYSE:AXP) goes ex-dividend this week. It has been extremely range bound ever since the initial shock of losing its co-branding relationship with Costco (NASDAQ:COST) in 2016.

My wife informed me this morning that after about 30 years of near exclusive use of American Express, she has replaced it with another credit card. While that’s not related to the Costco news, it is something that American Express will likely be experiencing more and more in the coming months. That may, of course, explain the spate of mailings I’ve recently received to entice continuing loyalty.

While that comes at a cost, that’s still tomorrow’s problem and the market has likely discounted the costs of the partnership dissolution, as well as the lost revenues.

I like the price range and I like the option premium and dividend opportunities for as long as they may persist, but my loyalty to shares may only go for a week at a time.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, Microsoft

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (6/30), Cisco (7/1), Oracle (7/6), The Gap (7/6)

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 – April 12, 2015

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

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

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

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

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

Weekend Update – March 15, 2015

Anyone who has seen the classic movie “Casablanca” will recall the cynicism of the scene in which Captain Renault says “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” seconds before the croupier hands him his winnings from earlier.

This week, the Chief Global Investment Strategist of Blackrock (NYSE:BLK) in attempting to explain a sell-off earlier in the week said “You’ve got the dollar up about 23 percent from the summer lows, and people are realizing this is starting to bite into earnings.”

No doubt that a stronger US Dollar can have unwanted adverse consequences, but exactly what people was Russ Koesterich referring to that had only that morning come to that realization?

How in the world could people such as Koesterich and others responsible for managing huge funds and portfolios possibly have been caught off guard?

Was he perhaps instead suggesting that somehow small investors around the nation suddenly all had the same epiphany and logged into their workplace 401(k) accounts in order to massively dump their mutual fund shares in unison and sufficient volume prior to the previous day’s closing bell?

Somehow that doesn’t sound very likely.

I can vaguely understand how a some-what dull witted middle school aged child might not be familiar with the consequences of a strengthening dollar, especially in an economy that runs a trade deficit, but Koesterich could only have been referring to those who were capable of moving markets in such magnitude and in such short time order. There shouldn’t be too much doubt that those people incapable of seeing the downstream impacts of a strengthening US Dollar aren’t the ones likely to be influencing market direction upon their sudden realization.

Maybe it just doesn’t really matter when it’s “other people’s money” and it is really just a game and a question of pushing a sell button.

This past week was another in which news took a back seat to fears and the fear of an imminent interest rate increase seems to be increasingly taking hold just at the same time as the currency exchange issue is getting its long overdue attention.

While there are still a handful of companies of importance to report earnings this quarter, the next earnings season begins in just 3 weeks. If Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is any reflection, there may be any number of companies getting in line to broadcast earnings warnings to take some of the considerable pressure off the actual earnings release.

The grammatically incorrect, but burning question that I would have asked Russ Koesterich during his interview would have been “And this comes to you as a surprise, why?”

In the meantime, however, those interest rate concerns seem to have been holding the stock market hostage as the previous week’s Employment Situation report is still strengthening the belief that interest rate increases are on the near horizon, despite any lack of indication from Janet Yellen. In addition, the past week saw rates on the 10 Year Treasury Note decrease considerably and Retail Sales fell for yet another month, even while gasoline prices were increasing.

The coming week’s FOMC meeting may provide some clarity by virtue of just occurring. With so many focusing on the word “patience” in the FOMC Statement, whether it remains or is removed will offer reason to move forward as either way the answer to the “sooner or later” question will be answered.

Still, it surprises me, having grown up believing the axiom that the stock market discounts events 6 months into the future, that it has come to the point that fairly well established economic cycles, such as the impact of changing currency exchange rates on earnings, isn’t something that had long been taken into account. Even without a crystal ball, the fact that early in this current earnings season companies were already beginning to factor in currency headwinds and tempering earnings and guidance, should at least served as a clue.

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

Years ago, before spinning off its European operations, Altria (NYSE:MO) was one of my favorite companies. While I have to qualify that, lest anyone believed that their core business was the reason for my favor, it was simply a company whose shares I always wanted to trade.

In academic medicine we used to refer to the vaunted “triple threats.” That was someone who was an esteemed researcher, clinician and teacher. There really aren’t very many of those kind of people. While Altria may represent the antithesis to what a triple threat in medicine is dedicated toward, it used to be a triple threat in its own right. It had a great dividend, great option premiums and the ability to have share appreciation, as well.

That changed once Phillip Morris (NYSE:PM) went on its own and the option premiums on the remainder of Altria became less and less appealing, even as the dividend stayed the course. I found less and less reason to own shares after the split.

However, lately there has been some life appearing in those premiums at a time that shares have fallen nearly 10% in just 2 weeks. With the company re-affirming its FY 2015 guidance just a week ago, unless it too has a sudden realization that its now much smaller foreign operations and businesses will result in currency exchange losses, it may be relatively immune from what may ail many others as currency parity becomes more and more of a reality.

Lately, American Express (NYSE:AXP) can’t seem to do anything right. I say that, as both my wife and I registered our first complaints with them after more than 30 years of membership. Fascinatingly, the events were unrelated and neither of us consulted

with the other, or shared information about the issues at hand, before contacting the company.

My wife, who tends to be very low maintenance, was nearly apoplectic after being passed to 11 different people, some of whom acted very “Un-American Express- like.”

The preceding is anecdotal and meaningless information, for sure, but makes me wonder about a company that received a premium for its use by virtue of its service.

With the loss of its largest co-branding partner to take effect in 2016, American Express has already sent out notices to some customers of its intent to increase interest rates on those accounts that are truly credit cards, but my guess is that revenue enhancements won’t be sufficient to offset the revenue loss from the partnership dissolution.

To that end the investing world will laud American Express for its workforce cutbacks that will certainly occur at some point, and service will as certainly decline until that point that the consumers go elsewhere for their credit needs.

That is known as a cycle. The sort of cycle that perhaps highly paid money managers are unable to recognize, until like currency headwinds, it hits them on the head.

Still, the newly introduced uncertainty into its near term and longer term prospects has again made American Express a potentially attractive covered option candidate, as it has just announced a dividend increase and a nearly $7 billion share buyback.

Based on its falling stock price, you would think that Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) hasn’t been able to do anything right of late, either.

Sometimes your fortunes are defined on the basis of either being at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. For the moment, Macao is the wrong place and this is the wrong time. However, despite the downturn of fortunes for those companies that placed their bets on Macao, somehow Las Vegas Sands has found the wherewithal to increase its quarterly dividend and is now at 5%, yet with a payout ratio that is sustainable.

The company also has operating and profit margins that would make others, with or without exposure to Macao envious, yet its shares continue to follow the experiences of the much smaller and poorer performing Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN). That probably bothers Sheldon Adelson to no end, while it likely delights Steve Wynn, who would rather suffer with friends.

With shares going ex-dividend this week and trading near its yearly low, it’s hard to imagine news from Macao getting much worse, particularly as China is beginning to play the interest rate game in efforts to stimulate the economy. The risk, however, is still there and is reflected in the option premium.

Given the risk – benefit proposition, I ask myself “WWSD?”

What would Sheldon Do?

My guess is that he would be betting on his company to do more than just tread water at these levels.

The Gap (NYSE:GPS) fascinates me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in one of their stores, but I know their brand names and occasionally make mental notes about the parking conditions in front of their stores. Those activities are absolutely meaningless, as are The Gap’s monthly sales reports.

I don’t think that I can recall any other company that so regularly alternates between being out of touch with what the consumer wants and being in complete synchrony. At least that’s how those monthly sales statistics are routinely interpreted and share prices goes predictably back and forth.

The good thing about all of the non-sense is that the opportunities to benefit from enhanced option premiums actually occurs up to 5 times in a 3 month period extending from one earnings report to the next, as the monthly same store sales reports also have enhanced premiums. With an upcoming dividend during the same week as the next same store sales report in early April 2015, this is a potential position that I’d consider selling a longer term option, in order to take advantage of the upcoming volatility, collect the dividend and perhaps have some additional time for the price to recoup if it reacts adversely.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) has been trading in a range lately that has simply been following interest rates for the most part. As it awaits a decision on its challenge to being designated as “systemically important” it probably is wishing for rate increases to come as quickly as possible so that it can put as much of its assets to productive use as quickly as possible before the inevitable constraints on its assets become a reality.

With interest rate jitters and uncertainty over the eventual judicial decision, MetLife’s option premiums are higher than is typically the case. However, in the world of my ideal youth, the stock market would have already discounted the probabilities of future interest rate increases and the upheld designation of the company as being systemically important.

With Intel’s announcement, this wasn’t a particularly good week for “old technology.” For Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) the difficulties this week were just a continuation since its disappointing earnings in January. After its earnings plunge and an attempted bounce back, it is now nearly 9% lower than at the depth of its initial January drop.

That continued drop in share price is finally returning shares to a level that is getting my attention. With its dividend, which is very generous and appears to be safe, still two months away, Seagate Technology may be a good candidate for the sale of put contracts and if opening such a position and faced with assignment, I would consider trying to rollover as long as possible, either resulting in an eventual expiration of the position or being assigned and then in a position to collect the dividend.

Finally, for an unprecedented fourth consecutive week, I’m going to consider adding shares of United Continental (NYSE:UAL) as energy prices have recaptured its earlier lows. Those lows are good for UAL and other airlines and by and large the share prices of UAL and representative oil companies have moved in opposite directions.

I had shares of UAL assigned again this past Friday, as part of a pairs kind of trade established a few weeks ago. I still hold the energy shares, which have slumped in the past few weeks, but would be eager to once again add UAL shares at any pullback that might occur with a bounce back in energy prices.

The volatility and uncertainty inherent in shares of UAL has made it possible to buy shares and sell deep in the money calls and still make a respectable return for the week, if assigned.

That’s a risk – reward proposition that’s relatively easy to embrace, even as the risk is considerable.

 

Traditional Stocks: Altria, American Express, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, United Continental

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (3/19)

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 – February 22, 2015


After setting a new high on the S&P 500 last week, the bull was asleep this holiday shortened trading week, having been virtually flat for the first 3 days of trading and having been devoid of the kind of intra-day volatility that has marked most of 2015.

That’s of course only if you ignore how the week ended, as this time the S&P 500 wasn’t partying alone, as the DJIA and other indexes joined in recording new record highs.

For the briefest of moments as the market opened for trading on Friday morning it looked as if that gently sleeping bull was going to slip into some kind of an unwarranted coma and slip away, as the DJIA dropped 100 points with no consequential news to blame.

However, as has been the case for much of 2015 a reversal wiped out that move and returned the market to that gentle sleep that saw a somnolent market add a less than impressive 0.1% to its record close from the previous week.

In a perfect example of why you should give up trying to apply rational thought processes to an irrational situation, the market then later awoke from that gentle sleep in a paroxysm of buying activity, as an issue that we didn’t seem to care about before today, took hold, thereby demonstrating the corollary to “It is what it is” by showing that it only matters when it matters.

That issue revolved around Greece and the European Union. The relationship of Greece and the EU seemed to be heading toward a potential dissolution as a new Greek government was employing its finest bluster, but without much base to its bravado. As it was all unfolding, this time around, as compared to the last such crisis a few years ago, we seemed content to ignore the potential consequences to the EU and their banking system.

While that situation was being played out in the news most analysts agreed it was impressive that US markets were ignoring the drama inherent in the EU dysfunction. The threat of contagion to other “weak sister”nations in the event of a member nation’s exit and the very real question of the continuing integrity of that union seemed to be an irrelevancy to our own markets.

Yet for some reason, while we didn’t care about the potential bad news, the market seemed to really care when the bluster gave way to capitulation, even though the result was reminiscent of the very finest in “kicking the can down the road” as practiced by our own elected officials over the past few governmental stalemates.

From that moment on, as the rumors of some sort of accord were being made known the calm of the week gave way to some irrational buying.

Of course, when that can was on our own shores, the result in our stock market was exactly the same when it was kicked, so the lesson has to be pretty clear about ever wanting to do anything decisive.

Next week, however, may bring a rational reason to do something to either spur that bull to new heights or to send it into retreat.

Forget about the impending congressiona

l testimony that Janet Yellen will be providing for 2 days next week as the impetus for the market to move. Why look for external stimulants in the form of economist-speak when you already have all of the ingredients that you need in the form of fundamentals, a language that you understand?

While “Fashion Week” was last week and exciting for some, the real excitement comes this week with the slew of earnings from major national retailers trying to sell all of those fashions. While their backward looking reports may not reflect the impact of decreased energy prices among their customers, their forward looking comments may finally bring some light to what is really going on in the economy.

With “Retail Sales” reports of the past two months, which also include gasoline purchases, having left a bad taste with investors, a better taste of things to come has already been telegraphed by some retailers in their rosy comments in advance of their earnings release.

This coming week could offer lots of rational reasons to move the market next week. Unfortunately, that could be in either direction.

With earnings reports back on center stage after a relatively quiet earnings week, stocks were mostly asleep, but, that was definitely not the case in other markets. If looking for a source of contagion there are lots of potential culprits.

Bond markets, precious metals and oil all continued their volatility. The 10 Year Treasury Bond, for example saw abrupt and large changes in direction this week and has seen rates head about 30% higher over the past couple of weeks after the FOMC sowed some doubt into their intentions and timing.

^TNX Chart

^TNX data by YCharts

While Janet Yellen may shed some light on FOMC next steps and their time frame, she is, to some degree held hostage by some of those markets, as traders move interest rates and energy prices around without regard to policy or to what they position they held deeply the day before.

For my part, I don’t mind the marked indecision in other markets as long as this current market in equities can keep moving forward a small step at a time in its sleep.

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

Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) after all of the

se years is sadly in the position of having to establish an identity for itself, although with a market capitalization of $42 billion lots of that sadness can be assuaged.

It’s difficult to think of another situation in which a CEO has seen shares rise nearly 180% during their tenure, in this case about 30 months, yet remain so highly criticized. However, after a storied history it is a little embarrassing to be best known as the company that once owned Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), although the billions received and the billions more to come help to ease some of that awkwardness.

With Alibaba’s next lock-up expiration coming on March 18, 2015, there’s potentially some downward pressure on Yahoo which still has a sizeable stake in Alibaba, However, as has been seen over the last few years the flooding of the market with new shares doesn’t necessarily result in the logical outcome.

In the meantime, while there is some concern over the impact of that event on Yahoo shares and as Alibaba has its own uncertainties beyond the lock-up expiration, option premiums in Yahoo have gotten a little richer as shares have already come down 11% since earnings were reported. After that decline either a covered call or put sale, as an intended very short term trade may be appropriate as waiting for Yahoo to find itself before you grow too old.

For as long as Jamie Dimon remains as its CEO and Chairman, JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) isn’t likely to have any identity problems. Despite not having anywhere near the returns of Yahoo during the period of his tenure and having paid out much more in regulatory fines than Yahoo received for its Alibaba shares, the criticism is scant other than by those who battle over the idea of “too big too faii” and the actual fine-worthy actions.

However, just as the CEO of Yahoo was able to benefit from an event outside of her control, which was the purchase of Alibaba by her predecessor years earlier, Dimon stands to benefit from what will eventually be a rising interest rate rate environment. Amid some confusion over the FOMC’s comments regarding the adverse impact of low rates, but also the adverse impact of raising them too quickly, rates resumed their climb after a quick 4% decline. While the financial sector wasn’t the weakest last weak, energy had that honor, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that interest rates will return to their recent low levels.

BGC Partners (NASDAQ:BGCP) is another company that has no such identity problems as much of its identity is wrapped up in its Chairman and CEO, who has just come to agreement with the board of GFI Group (NYSE:GFIG) in his takeover bid.

For the past 10 years BGC Partners has closely tracked the interest rate on the 10 Year Treasury Note, although notably during much of 2014 it did not. Recently, however, it appears that relationship is back on track. If so, and you believe that rates will be heading higher, the opportunity for share appreciation exists. In addition to that, however, is also a very attractive dividend and shares do go ex-dividend this week. With only a monthly option contract available and large gaps between strike levels, this is a position that may warrant a longer term time frame commitment.

Also going ex-dividend this week are McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) and SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK).

I often think about buying shares of McDonalds, but rarely do so. Most of the time that turned out to have been a bad decision if looking at it from a covered option perspective. From a buy and hold perspective, however, it has been more than 2 years since there have been any decent entry points and returns.

With a myriad of problems facing it and a new CEO to tackle them my expectation is that more bad news is unlikely other than at the next earnings release when it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the traditional use of charges against earnings to make the new CEO’s future performance look so much better by comparison. Between now and that date in 2 months, I think there will be lots of opportunity to reap option premiums from shares, as I anticipate it trading in a narrow range or higher. Getting started with a nice dividend this week makes the process more palatable than many have been finding the menu.

SanDisk is a company that was written off years ago as being nothing more than a company that offered a one time leading product that had devolved into a commodity. You don’t, however, see too many analysts re-visiting that opinion as they frequently offer buy recommendations on shares.

SanDisk is also a company that I’ve very infrequently owned, but almost always consider adding shares when I have cash reserves and need some more technology positions in my portfolio. After a week of lots of assignments both are now the case and while its dividend isn’t as generous as that of McDonalds, it serves as a good time for entry and offers a very attractive option premium even during a week that it goes ex-dividend.

Despite a 10% share price increase since earnings, it is still about 15% below its price when it warned on earnings just a week prior to the event and received a belated downgrade from “buy to hold.” WIth continuing upside potential, this is a position that I would consider either leaving some shares uncovered or using more than one strike level for call sales

Most often when considering a trade involving a company about to report earnings and selling put options, my preference is to avoid taking ownership of shares. Generally, put sales shouldn’t be undertaken unless willing to accept the potential liability of ownership, but sometimes you would prefer to only take the reward and not the risk, if you can get away with doing so.

Additionally, I generally look for opportunities where I can receive a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly put contract that is a strike level below the lower range of the implied move determined by the option market.

However, in the cases of Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS) that 1% ROI is right at the lower boundary, but I would still consider the prospect of put sales because I wouldn’t shy away from share ownership in the event of an adverse price move.

The Gap, which makes sharp moves on a regular basis as it still reports monthly sales, did so just a week earlier. It seems to also regularly find itself alternating in the eyes of investors who send shares higher or lower as if each month brings deep systemic change to the company. However, taking a longer term view or simply looking at its chart, it’s clear that shares have a way of just returning to a fleece-lik

e comfortable level in the $39-$41 range.

In the event of an adverse price movement and facing assignment, puts can be rolled over targeting the next same store sales week as an expiration date or simply taking ownership of shares and then using that same date as a time frame for call sales. If rolling over puts I would be mindful of an April ex-dividend date and would consider taking ownership of shares prior to that time if put contracts aren’t likely to expire.

Since I have room for more than a single new technology position this week, Hewlett Packard warrants a look, as what was once derisively referred to as “old tech” is once again respectable. While I would consider starting the exposure through the sale of puts, with an ex-dividend date coming up in just a few weeks, I’d be more inclined to take assignment in the event of an adverse price move after earnings.

Finally, there’s still reason to believe that energy prices are going to continue to confound most everyone. The coupling and de-coupling of oil to and from the stock market, respectively has become too unpredictable to try to harness. However, given the back and forth seen in prices over the past month as a floor may have been put in oil prices, there may be some opportunity in considering a pairs trade, such as Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) and United Continental (NYSE:UAL).

United Continental and other airlines have essentially been mirror images to the moves in oil, although not always for clearly understandable reasons, as the relative role of hedging can vary among airlines, although United has reportedly closed out its hedged positions and may be a more pure trading candidate on the basis of fuel prices..

While it’s not too likely that either of these stocks will move in the same direction concurrently, the short term volatility in their prices and the extremely appealing premiums may allow the chance to prosper in one while awaiting the other’s turn to do the same.

The idea is to purchase shares and sell calls of both as a coupled trade with the expectation that they would be decoupled as oil rises or falls and one position or another is either rolled over or assigned, as a result. The remaining position is then managed on its own merits or possibly even re-coupled.

As with earnings related trades that I make that are usually agnostic to the relative merits of the company, focusing only on the risk – reward proposition, this trade is not one that cares too much about the merits of either company. Rather, it cares about their responses to the unpredictable movements in oil price that have been occurring on daily and even on an intra-day basis of late.

Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan Chase, Marathon Oil

Momentum Stocks: United Continental Holdings, Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: BGC Partners (2/26), McDonalds (2/26), SanDisk (2/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Hewlett Packard (2/24 PM), The Gap (2/26 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 7, 2014

Trying to listen to the President put forth some statistics regarding the employment situation in the United States this past week was difficult, as my attention was captured by the festive holiday backdrop.

Holding a prominent position next to our nation’s flag was what appeared to be a symbol that perhaps reflected official endorsement of Bacchanalian celebrations, together with the more traditionally accepted holiday decorations. Enlarging the photo did nothing to re-direct my imagination.

The President’s exploring the good news contained in the Employment Situation Report and trumpeting the trend in employment statistics may have been his muted version of a Bacchanalian victory lap, of sorts.

Focusing on that background item for as long as I did in wonderment caused me to lose sight of what should probably be recognized, as Friday’s Employment Situation Report indicated the addition of more than 300,000 new jobs in the past month, as well as a substantial upward revision to the previous month.

I guess that I wasn’t alone in losing focus about what’s been going on in the economy, as later that day during one of their now ubiquitous polls, CNBC viewers were asked whether President Obama was good for the stock market.

I suppose the answer may depend on the criteria one uses to define “good.” as well as whether one believes that things would have been better without him or his economic policies, or whether their time frame is forward or backward looking. Continue reading “Weekend Update – December 7, 2014”

Weekend Update – November 23, 2014

About a month ago we got a much needed gift from Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard, who at the depths of a nearly 10% market decline gave some reason to believe that the Federal Reserve may not have been done with its tapering policy.

Since then, he’s back-peddled just a bit, appropriately, in light of the fact that tapering has now come to its planned end.

The market, however, never looked back and took full advantage of that market propelling gift.

Subsequently, a few weeks ago we got another little gift, this time from far away, as the Bank of Japan announced its own version of Quantitative Easing just in time to battle a 20 year period of economic stagnation.

Since then there haven’t been too many others coming to our shores bearing market moving gifts, as for now, it appears as if our own Federal Reserve won’t be acting as a primary catalyst for the stock market’s expansion. Once you get a taste for gifts it can be hard to go on without them continuing to stream in on a regular basis.

What Bullard and the Bank of Japan offered was probably what was in mind when the concept of “a little help from my friends” found its way to a sheet of music.

But what has anyone done for us lately?

This week was one of an almost comatose nature where not even an FOMC Statement release could jar the market. Having already matched a 45 year record of 5 consecutive days without a greater than 0.1% move, it seemed as if we were poised for some kind of an over the top reaction, but none was to be found.

That is, until our friends from China and the European Union decided to show their friendship and gave indications that central bank money was not a problem and would be there to support lagging economies, although the trickle down benefit of supporting equity markets seems like a welcome idea on this side of a couple of oceans.

The Bank of China’s announcement of a reduction in interest rates came as quite a surprise and at some point will get cynics wondering what is really going on in China that might require that kind of a boost from the central bank.

But that’s next week’s problem.

For today, that was a wonderful gift from the country that invented the term “capitalist roader,” perhaps as a sign of affection for what the United States represented. Amazingly, the manipulation of interest rates has seemingly replaced re-education as a means of effecting change.

While economic data from China has long been suspect, what should really be suspect is when Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank starts making comments about the lengths to which the ECB will go in order to achieve its mandate.

He has had a great record of hyperbole and has had an equally great ability for being able to move markets on the basis of what was consistently interpreted as a pledge to introduce a form of Quantitative Easing.

He has also been great at not following through with the unbridled support that he has consistently offered.

Was he being serious this time around? After a number of false starts and promises Draghi should have given some overt sign that this time was going to be different. I know that I can trust a man dressed for casual Friday more than I do one in a beautifully tailored Armani suit, so that could have been a good place to begin demonstrating how this time will be different.

For the U.S. stock market, it probably doesn’t really matter, as long as we can keep coming up with gifts from our other friends on a very regular basis. If not the EU, perhaps Russia will be next to grease our market climb through its central banking policies.

After that it gets a little fuzzy, but that’s a problem for 2015.

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

The most recent earnings season has had mixed news for retailers. The upper end continues to do well and there are signs of life in the middle range as well, however specialty retailers continue to struggle.

The Gap (NYSE:GPS) is one of those struggling as it awaits its new CEO after having released earnings this past week. However, in the past 2 years the Gap has been very much of a yo-yo, as it alternates regularly between disappointing sales news and optimistic forecasts. It does so monthly, so those ups and downs come more often than for many other retailers that have abandoned the practice of reporting monthly same store sales.

After this most recent decline, having just recently recovered from the loss encountered upon the announcement of the departure of its current CEO, along with some weak monthly sales reports, it looks as if is ready for yet another cycle of ups and downs. Because of its continuing to offer monthly reports, the Gap offers enhanced option premiums on a monthly basis, as well, in addition to respectable premiums the remainder of the time.

Companies that are part of the DJIA don’t usually offering a very compelling reason to try and capture an upcoming dividend along with the concurrent sale of a call option. Most often the option is appropriately priced and there is very little opportunity to try to exploit some inefficiency in that pricing, particularly when using an in the money strike.

This week, however, there may be some opportunity in both Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), which appropriately enough, tend to already go together.

While McDonald’s is recovering a bit from a recent share drop after some news of activist involvement in the company, it may finally make the run for the $100 level and stay there for more than just a couple of months. It’s dividend is attractive and as long as there is continuing activist interest its option premiums may continue to also be attractive, even in weeks when the dividend is offered.

Coca-Cola, on the other hand, is trading just slightly below its one year high, which isn’t generally a place that I like to enter a position. That however, can be said for many stocks as the market continually makes its own new highs.

With Warren Buffett lending his support, it’s not terribly easy for any activist activity to try and move this behemoth, which along with McDonald’s may be on the wrong side of food trends. Still those businesses are not going to unravel from one minute to the next. With a short term time frame in mind, Coca-Cola, even at these levels may offer a respectable award for the risk, particularly with the dividend in mind this week.

While Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) doesn’t go ex-dividend this week, it has quite a bit in common with Lorillard (NYSE:LO), which does.

Both are subjects of takeover bids and both are trading substantially lower than the current value of those bids, which are both comprised of cash and stock offers. It’s a little difficult to fully understand the relatively large gaps between their closing prices and the offer values, although regulatory and anti-trust obstacles may be playing roles.

Reportedly the Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) bid for Lorillard is progressing and is expected to be completed sometime in the first half of 2015. Meanwhile, Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) has essentially said “tell us what assets to sell and we’ll do it” to the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, as a current Halliburton shareholder, it also has a large anti-trust termination fee as part of the proposed deal.

As a result of the activity and uncertainty revolving around the proposed buy-out the option premiums in Baker Hughes are higher than they have been in many years, reflecting also some of the risk that a deal will not be completed. However, as with the businesses at Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, that doesn’t appear to be likely in the very near time frame, as there will likely be considerable time before the Department of Justice gets involved in a meaningful and overt fashion.

Lorillard, on the other hand, has not had any enhancements of its option premiums as a result of the planned buy-out by Reynolds American. That would indicate a degree of certainty that the deal will be completed, yet there is still a considerable gap between its current price and the value implied in the offer.

My shares of Lorillard were assigned this week, despite about three days attempting to roll the shares over in order to secure the very generous dividend, which is expected to continue after the takeover. The inability to rollover the shares is further reflection of the frustrations created by the extremely low volatility and larger than normal spreads between bid and ask prices, as option volume continues to be very light.

With still about a $5 gap between those prices, Lorillard has upside potential, but also carries the risk of unexpected regulatory action. If purchasing shares of Lorillard to capture the dividend and I likely try to use near or in the money options, in an attempt to serially collect small weekly premiums, while waiting for something definitive.

Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) also goes ex-dividend this week. The last time I purchased shares was on November 25, 2013, so it seems like it may be a good way to celebrate that anniversary

. Perhaps not to coincidentally, the last purchase was also dividend related.

Lexmark, once the printer division for International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), took a page out of IBM’s strategy and completely re-invented itself. In a realization that printers were nothing more than a commodity, it has become a service and solutions oriented provider and its stock price hasn’t regretted that decision.

It does trade with some volatility, though, and it offers a good option premium in reflection of that opportunity. While earnings are still two months away, it frequently has large earnings related moves that can be managed through the use of monthly option contracts, sometimes one cycle beyond the earnings date.

If looking for volatility, you may not need to look any further than Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX). While gold has been on an essentially uni-directional downward path for much of the past 6 months and it has been difficult to find any credible proponents of its ownership, it appears as if there may be a battle brewing for where it is headed next. That battle creates significantly improved option premiums, which had been in the doldrums for much of the past 6 months.

As with the underlying metal, the miners can have significant volatility and risk and should be considered for use only as part of the speculative portion of a portfolio and in proportion to the risk it may entail.

As with some fortunate companies in the bio-technology group, sometimes speculative ventures lead to tangible products. That is certainly the case for Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ:GILD).

After a brief uproar about the yearly cost of treatment with its extremely effective Hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, it has rebounded with ease. Congressional hearings that sought to get some spotlight for protecting the public’s interests resulted in a sharp and quick decline, but the reality has been that the costs of treatment pale in comparison to the costs of traditional treatment. Subsequently, Gilead keeps refining the protocols and adding to the profit margins, while achieving better patient outcomes for an incredibly prevalent chronic disease.

As expected, because of the continuing concerns about price and the manner in which Gilead’s price increase has been so closely associated with its Hepatitis C efforts, it is at risk for being overly reliant on a single drug or class of drugs., However, as with many suggested trades, the outlook tends to be very short term and hopefully avoids some of the risks associated with longer term cycles of ownership.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) did what it so often does after earnings. It made a large move, this time sharply lower this past Friday. With each earnings cycle and frequently in-between, questions arise regarding the business model and how GameStop can continue to survive in the current environment. That question has been asked for about a decade and GameStop has been one of the most heavily shorted stocks throughout that time.

GameStop tends to do well in the final month of the year, although it may simply be carried along for the ride, as the broad market tends to perform well at that time. Following its sharp decline, a reasonable way to consider participation would be through the sale of out of the money puts. If taking that route, this is a stock that I wouldn’t be adverse to owning if faced with possibl

e assignment, although there is usually sufficient activity and volume to be able to roll over those puts in an attempt to avoid assignment and wait out a bounce higher in shares, while continuing to collect premiums.

Finally, this is yet another week in which to consider the sale of Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) put contracts. While it wasn’t really in the news very much this week, other than announcing some less than spectacular enhancements to its messaging options, it has been developing some support in the $39 area and offers an excellent premium in recognition of the risk involved.

The risk is the unwanted assignment and then ownership of its shares. However, what makes Twitter an appealing put option sale trade is that in the event of the prospects of assignment, it may be relatively easy to rollover to a forward week and collect additional premium without taking ownership of shares.

At a time when for many stocks the bid and ask spreads are widening and volume is shrinking, Twitter isn’t really suffering those fates, which makes the possibility of avoiding assignment higher.

For the past 3 weeks I have been rolling over Twitter puts even when not facing assignment, occasionally adjusting the strike prices in an effort to achieve an additional 1% weekly ROI on the position. Doing so may be tempting fate, but in Twitter’s brief history as a publicly traded company it has shown the ability to both come well off its highs as well as to bounce well beyond its lows. All that’s necessary is the ability to put elation or frustration into suspended animation and play the numbers, without regard to the rumors and dysfunction that may be swirling.

Traditional Stocks: The Gap

Momentum: Baker Hughes, GameStop, Gilead, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: Coca-Cola (11/26), Lexmark (11/26), Lorillard (11/26), McDonald’s (11/26)

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.