Weekend Update – February 21, 2016

 If you can remember as far back at the 1970s and even the early part of the 1980s, it still has to be hard to understand how we could possibly live in a world where we would want to see inflation.

It’s hard to think that what we thought was bad could actually sometimes be good medicine.

But when you start thinking about the “lost decades” in Japan, it becomes clear that there may be a downside to a very prolonged period of low interest rates.

Sometimes you just have to swallow a bitter pill.

And then, of course, we’re all trying to wrap our minds around the concept of negative interest rates. What a great deal when bank depositors not only get to fund bank profits by providing the capital that can be loaned out at a higher rate of interest than is being received on those deposits, but then also get to pay banks for allowing them to lend out their money.

For savers, that could mean even more bad medicine in order to make the economy more healthy, by theoretically creating more incentive for banks to increase their lending activity.

From a saver’s perspective one dose of bad medicine could have you faced with negative interest rates in the hope that it spurs the kind of economic growth that will lead to inflation, which always outpaces the interest rates received on savings.

That is one big bitter pill.

While the Federal Reserve has had a goal of raising interest rates to what would still be a very reasonable level, given historical standards, the stock market hasn’t been entirely receptive to that notion. The belief that ultra-low interest rates have helped to spur stock investing, particularly as an alternative to fixed income securities makes it hard to accept that higher interest rates might be good for the economy, especially if your personal economy is entirely wrapped up in the health of your stocks.

In reality, it’s a good economy that typically dictates a rise in interest rates and not the other way around.

That may be what has led to some consternation as the recent increase in interest rates hasn’t appeared to actually be tied to overt economic growth, despite the repeated claims that the FOMC’s decisions would be data driven.

Oil continued to play an important role in stock prices last week and was a good example of how actions can sometimes precede rational thought, as oil prices surged on the news of an OPEC agreement to reduce production. The fact that neither Iran nor Venezuela agreed to that reduction should have been a red flag arguing against the price increase, but eventually rational thought caught up with thought free reflexes.

While oil continued to play an important role in stock prices, there may have been more to account for the recovery that has now seen February almost completely wipe out it’s  2016 DJIA loss of  5.6%.

What may have also helped is the belief, some of which came from the FOMC minutes, that the strategy that many thought would call for small, but regular interest rate increases through 2016 may have become less likely.

The stock market looked at any reason for an increase in interest rates as being bad medicine. So it may not have been too surprising that the 795 point three day rise in the DJIA came to an abrupt stop with Fridays release of the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) which may provide the FOMC with the data to justify another interest rate increase.

Bad medicine, for sure to stock investors.

But the news contained within the CPI may be an extra dose of bad medicine, as the increase in the CPI came predominantly from increases in rents and healthcare costs.

How exactly do either of those reflect an economy chugging forward?

That may be on the mind of markets as the coming week awaits, but it may be the kind of second thought that can get the market back on track to continue moving higher, similar to the second thoughts that restored some rational action in oil markets last week.

You might believe that a rational FOMC wouldn’t increase interest rates based upon rents and healthcare costs if there is scant other data suggesting a heating up of the economy, particularly the consumer driven portion of the economy.

While rents may have some consumer driven portion, it’s hard to say the same about healthcare costs.

Ultimately, the rational thing to do is to take your medicine, but only if you’re sick and it’s the right medicine.

If the economy is sick, the right medicine doesn’t seem to be an increase in interest rates. But if the economy isn’t sick, maybe we just need to start thinking of increasing interest rates as the vitamins necessary to help our system operate more optimally.

Hold your nose or follow the song’s suggestion and take a spoonful of sugar, but sooner or later that medicine has to be taken and swallowed.

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

It’s not so easy to understand why General Motors (GM) is languishing so much these days.

As bad as the S&P 500 has been over the past 3 months, General Motors has been in bear territory, despite continuing good sales news.

What has been especially impressive about General Motors over the past few years is how under its new leadership its hasn’t succumbed or caved in as legal issues and potentially very damaging safety related stories were coming in a steady stream.

I already own some shares of General Motors, but as its ex-dividend date is approaching in the next few weeks, I’m considering adding shares, but rather than selling weekly options, would be more inclined to sell the monthly March 2016 option in an effort to pocket a more substantial premium, the generous dividend and perhaps some capital gains in those shares.

I wrote about Best Buy (BBY) last week and a potential strategy to employ as both earnings and its ex-dividend date were upcoming.

This week is the earnings event, but the ex-dividend date has yet to be announced.

The strategy, however, remains the same and still appears to have an opportunity to be employed.

With an implied move of 8% next week, there may be an opportunity to achieve a weekly 1% ROI by selling put options at a strike 10% below Friday’s closing price.

The risk is that Best Buy has had earnings related moves in the past that have surprised the seer
s
in the options market. However, if faced with assignment, with one eye fixed on any upcoming announcement of its ex-dividend date, one can either seek to rollover those puts or take ownership of shares in order to secure its dividend and subsequently some call options, as well.

Alternatively, if a little risk adverse, one can also consider the sale of puts after earnings, in the event that shares slide.

Also mentioned last week and seemingly still an opportunity is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). It, too, announces earnings this week and has yet to announce its upcoming ex-dividend date.

Its share price was buoyed last week as the broader market went higher, but then finished the week up only slightly for the week.

Since the company only has monthly option contracts available, I would look at any share purchase in terms of a longer term approach, in the event that shares do go lower after earnings are announced.

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent history is that of its shares not staying lower for very long, so the use of a longer term contract at a strike envisioning some capital appreciation of shares could give a very satisfactory return, with relatively little angst. As a reminder, Sinclair Broadcasting isn’t terribly sensitive to oil prices or currency fluctuations and can only benefit from a continued low interest rate environment.

It’s hard now to keep track of just how long the Herbalife (HLF) saga has been going on. My last lot of shares was assigned 6 months ago at $58 and I felt relieved to have gotten out of the position, thinking that some legal or regulatory decision was bound to be coming shortly.

And now here we are and the story continues, except that you don’t hear or read quite as much about it these days. Even the most prolific of Herbalife-centric writers on Seeking Alpha have withdrawn, particularly those who have long held long belief in the demise of the company.

For those having paid attention, rumors of the demise of the company had been greatly exaggerated over the past few years.

While that demise, or at least crippling blow to its business model may still yet come to be a reality, Herbalife reports earnings this week and I am once again considering the sale of put options.

With an implied move of 14.3%, based upon Friday’s closing the price, the options market believes that the lower floor on the stock’s price will be about $41.75.

A 1.4% ROI on the sale of a weekly option may possibly be obtained at a strike price that is 20.4% below Friday’s close.

For me, that seems to be a pretty fair risk – reward proposition, but the risk can’t be ignored.

Since Herbalife no longer offers a dividend, if faced with the possibility of share ownership, I would try to rollover the puts as long as possible to avoid taking possession of shares.

While doing so, I would both hold my breath and cross my fingers.

Finally, as far as stocks go, Corning (GLW) has had a good year, at least in relative terms. It’s actually about 1.5% higher, which leaves both the DJIA and S&P 500 behind in the dust.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and I’m reminded that I haven’t owned those shares in more than 5 years, even as it used to be one of my favorites.

With its recently reported earnings exceeding expectations and with the company reportedly on track with its strategic vision, despite declining LCD glass prices, it is offering an attractive enough premium to even gladly accept early assignment in a call buyer’s attempt to capture the dividend.

With the ex-dividend date on Tuesday, an early assignment would mean that the entire premium would reflect only a single day of share ownership and the opportunity to deploy the ensuing funds from the assignment into another position.

However, even if not assigned early, the premiums for the weekly options may make this a good position to consider rolling over on a serial basis if that opportunity presents itself.

Those kind of recurring income streams can offset a lot of bitterness.

Traditional Stocks:  General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend:   Corning (2/23 $0.135)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:   BBY (2/25 AM), Herbalife (2/26 PM, Sinclair Broadcasting (2/24 AM)

 

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

Weekend Update – August 2, 2015

Like many people I know who have seen the coming attractions for “Vacation,” I’m anxious to see the film having laughed out loud on the two occasions that I saw the coming attractions.

That’s one of the benefits of diminishing short term memory and ever lower standards for what I find entertaining.

My wife and I usually rotate over who gets to select the next movie we see, although it usually works out to a 3 to 1 ratio in her favor. We tend to like different genres. But on this one, we’re both in agreement.

I’m under no illusions that the upcoming “vacation” being taken by the Federal Reserve and its members will have anywhere near the hijinks that the scripted “Vacation” will likely have.

For a short while the usually very visible and very eager to share their opinion members of that august institution will not garner too much attention and the stock market will be left to its own devices to try and interpret the meaning of incoming economic data in a vacuum.

The greatest likelihood is that the Federal Reserve Governors and the members of the FOMC will also be busily evaluating the economic data that will continue to accrue during the remainder of the summer, even as they have a much abridged speaking schedule in August.

I count only 3 scheduled appearances for August, which means less opportunity to go off script or less opportunity to speak one’s own mind, regardless of how that mind may lack influence where it really matters.

That then translates into less opportunity to move markets through casual comments, observations or expressions of personal opinion, even when that opinion may carry little to no weight.

While FOMC members may be taking a vacation from their public appearances for a short while, they’ll be able to give some thought to the most recent economic data which isn’t painting a picture of an economy that is expanding to the point of worry or perhaps not even to the point of justifying action.

The GDP data reported this week came in below estimates and further there was no indication of wage growth. For an FOMC that continually stresses that it will be “data driven” one has to wonder where the justification would arise to consider an interest rate increase even as early as September.

This coming week’s Employment Situation Report could alter the landscape as could the upcoming earnings reports from retailers that will begin in about 2 weeks.

With less attention being paid to when an interest rate hike may or may not occur, perhaps more attention will be paid to the details that would trigger such an increase and interpret those details on their surface, such that good news is greeted as good news and bad news as bad. That would mean a greater consideration of fundamental criteria rather than interpretation of the first or second order changes that those fundamentals might trigger.

Meanwhile, the market continues to be very deceiving.

While the S&P 500 is only about 1.5% below its all time high and the DJIA is about 3.5% below its high, it’s hard to overlook the fact that 40% of the latter’s component companies are in bear market correction.

That seems to be such an incongruous condition and the failure to break out beyond resistance levels after successfully testing support could be pointing to a developing dynamic of higher lows, but lower highs. That’s something that technicians believe may be a precursor to a breakout, but of indeterminate direction.

A lot of good that is.

The fact remains that the market has been extremely unpredictable from week to week, exhibiting something resembling a 5 steps forward and almost 5 steps backward kind of pattern throughout 2015.

With this past week being one that moved higher and bringing markets closer to its resistance level, the coming week could be an interesting one if China remains under control and fundamentals coming from earnings and economic data paint a picture of good news.

Given my low volume of trading over the past few weeks I feel that I’ve been on an extended, but unplanned vacation. Unfortunately, there are no funny tales to recount and the weeks past feel like weeks lost.

Although I’ve never really understood those who complained about having “too much quality family time” and welcomed heading back to work, I think I now have a greater appreciation for their misery.

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

PEE” categories.

Last week I purchased shares of Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN) with dividend capture in mind. However, on the day before the ex-dividend date shares surged beyond my strike price and I decided to roll those options over in a hope that I could either retain the dividend and get some additional premium, or, in the event of early assignment, simply retain the additional premium.

This week, despite semi-conductors still being embattled, I’m interested in adding shares of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), also going ex-dividend during the week.

While patiently awaiting the opportunity to sell new calls on a much more expensive existing position, I’m very aware that Intel is one of those DJIA components in correction mode. However, I don’t believe Intel will be additionally price challenged unless caught in a downward spiraling market. While I’d love to see some rebound in price for my existing shares, I’d be more than satisfied with a quick turnaround of a new lot of shares and capture of dividend and option premium.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is also ex-dividend this week. It, too, may be in the process of developing higher lows and lower highs, which may serve as an alert.

With interest rates under pressure in the latter half of the week, MetLife followed suit lower, with both peaking mid-week. Any consideration of adding shares of MetLife for a short term holding should probably be done in the context of the expectation for interest rates climbing. If you believe that interest rates are still headed lower, the prospect of dividend capture and option premium may not offset the risk associated with the share price being pulled toward its support level.

MetLife shares are currently a little higher priced than I would like, but with a couple of days of trading prior to the ex-dividend date, I would be more enticed to consider a dividend capture trade and the use of an extended weekly option if there is price weakness early in the week.

I haven’t owned shares of Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF) in a number of years, although it’s always on my watch list. I almost included it in last week’s selection list following it’s impressive earnings related plunge of about 13%, but decided to wait to see if it could show any attempt to stem the tide.

In a sector that has generally had positive earnings this past quarter the news that Capital One was setting aside 60% more for credit losses came as a stunner, as its profitability ratio also fell.

Some price stability came creeping back last week, however, although still leaving shares well off their highs from less than 2 weeks ago. Even after some price recovery, Capital One Financial joins along with those DJIA stocks that are in correction mode and may offer some opportunity after being oversold.

Despite still owning a much too expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF), I’m always attracted to its shares, even when I know that they are likely not to be good for me.

There’s something perverse about that facet of human nature that finds attraction with what most know is bound to be a train wreck, but it can be so hard to resist the obvious warning signals.

While having that expensive lot of shares the recent weakness in Abercrombie and Fitch shares that have taken it below the tight range within which it had been trading makes me want to consider adding shares for the fourth time in 2015.

The option premiums are generally attractive, befitting its penchant for large moves and there is nearly 4 weeks to go until it reports earnings, so there may be some time to manage a position in the event of an adverse price movement.

I might consider the sale of puts with Abercrombie, rather than a buy/write. The one caveat about doing so and it also pertains to being short calls, is that if the ensuing share price is sharply deviating from the strike price when looking to execute a rollover, the liquidity may be problematic and the bid-ask spreads may be overly large and detrimental to someone who feels pressure to make a trade.

Finally, for those that have real intestinal fortitude, both Green Mountain Keurig (NASDAQ:GMCR) and Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) have been in the cross hairs of well known activists and both report earnings this week.

The Green Mountain Keurig saga is a long one and began some years ago when questions arose regarding its accounting practices and issues of inventory. Thrown later into the equation were questions regarding the sale of stock by its founder who had also served as CEO and Chairman until he was fired.

What Green Mountain has shown is that second acts are possible, as it has, very possibly through a lifeline offered by Coca Cola (NYSE:KO), emerged from a seeming spiral into oblivion.

Somewhat ominously, at its recent earnings report and conference, Coca Cola made no mention of its investment in Green Mountain, which has seen its share price fall by more than 50% in the past 9 months. It has been down that path before, having fallen by about 65% just 4 years ago in 2 month period.

Are there third and fourth acts?

The options market is implying a price move of about 10.7%. Meanwhile, one can potentially obtain a 1% ROI for the week if selling a put contract at a strike as much as 14% below this past Friday’s close.

In light of how this current earnings season has punished those disappointing with their earnings, even that fairly large cushion between the implied move and the strike that could deliver a 1% ROI still leads to some discomfort. However, I would very much consider the sale of puts after the earnings report if shares do plunge.

Herbalife has had its own ongoing and long saga, as well, that may be coming toward some sort of a resolution as the FTC probe is nearly 18 months old and follows allegations of illegality made nearly 3 years ago.

Following a fall to below $30 just 6 months ago, a series of court victories by Herbalife have helped to see it realize its own second act, as shares have jumped by 65% since that time.

The options market is implying a share price move of about 16%.

Considering that any day could bring great peril to Herbalife shareholders in the event of an adverse FTC decision, that implied move isn’t unduly exaggerated, as more than business results are in play at any given moment.

However, if that intestinal fortitude does exist, especially if also venturing a trade on Green Mountain, a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained by selling puts at a strike nearly 29% below Friday’s closing price.

Now that’s a cushion, but it may be a necessary one.

If the news is doubly bad, combining disappointing earnings and the coincidental release of an FTC ruling the same week that Bill Ackman would immensely enjoy, I might recommend a vacation, if you can still afford one.

Traditional Stocks: Capital One Finance

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (8/5), MetLife (8/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Keurig (8/5 PM), Herbalife (8/5 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 – November 2, 2014

 It’s really hard to know what to make of the past few weeks, much less this very past one.

On an intra-day basis having the S&P 500 down 9% from its high point seemed to be the stop right before that traditional 10% level needed to qualify as a bona fide “correction.”

But something happened.

What happened isn’t really clear, but if you were among those that credited the words of Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard, who suggested that the exit from Quantitative Easing should be delayed, the recovery that ensued now appears more of a coincidence than a result.

That’s because a rational person would have believed that if the upcoming FOMC Statement failed to confirm Bullard’s opinion there would be a rush to the doors to undo the rampant buying of the preceding 10 days that was fueled under false pretenses.

But that wasn’t the case.

In fact, not only did the FOMC announce what they had telegraphed for almost a year, but the previously dissenting hawks were no longer dissenters and a well known dove was instead the one doing the dissenting.

I don’t know about you, but the gains that ensued on Thursday, had me confused, just as the markets seemed confused in the two final trading hours after the FOMC Statement release. You don’t have to be a “perma-bear” to wonder what it’s going to take to get some of your prophesies to be fulfilled.

Even though Thursday’s gains were initially illusory owing to Visa’s (V) dominance of the DJIA, they became real and broadly applied as the afternoon wore on. “How did that make any sense?” is a question that a rationally objective investor and a perma-bear might both find themselves asking as both are left behind in the dust.

I include myself in that camp, as I didn’t take advantage of what turned out to be the market lows as now new closing highs have been set.

Those new highs came courtesy of the Bank of Japan on Friday as it announced the kind of massive stimulus program that we had been expecting to first come from the European Central Bank.

While the initial reaction was elation and set the bears further into despair it also may have left them wondering what, if any role rational thought has left in the processes driving stocks and their markets.

Many, if not most, agree that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing was the primary fuel boosting U.S. stock markets for years, having drawn foreign investor demand to our shores. Now, with Japan getting ready to follow the same path and perhaps the ECB next in line, we are poised to become the foreigners helping to boost markets on distant shores.

At least that what a confused, beaten and relatively poorer bear thinks as the new week gets underway.

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

I love listening to Howard Schultz defending shares of Starbucks (SBUX) after the market takes the stock lower after earnings. No one defends his company, its performance and its outlook better than Howard Schultz.

But more importantly, he has always followed up his assertions with results.

As with many stocks over the past two weeks, Starbucks is one, that in hindsight I should have purchased two weeks ago, while exercising rational thought processes that got in the way of recognizing bargain prices. Friday’s drop still makes it too late to get shares at their lows of 2 weeks ago, but I expect Schultz to be on the correct side of the analysis once again.

There’s not much disagreement that it has been a rough month for the energy sector. While it did improve last week, it still lagged most everything else, but I think that the Goldman Sachs (GS) call for $75 oil is the turning point. Unfortunately, I have more energy stocks than I would have liked, but expect their recovery and am, hesitatingly looking to add to the position, starting with British Petroleum (BP) as it is ex-dividend this week. That’s always a good place to start, especially with earnings already out of the way.

While I continue to incorrectly refer to BP as “British Petroleum” that is part of my legacy, just as its Russian exposure and legal liabilities are part of its legacy. However, I think that all of those factors are fully  priced in. Where I believe the opportunity exists is that since the September 2014 highs up to the Friday’s highs, BP hasn’t performed as well as some of its cohorts and may be due for some catch-up.

I purchased shares of Intel (INTC) the previous week and was hoping to capture its dividend, as its ex-dividend date is this week. 

Last week Intel had quite a ride as it alternated 4% moves lower and then higher on Thursday and Friday. 

Thursday’s move, which caught most everyone by surprise was accompanied by very large put option trading, including large blocks of aggressive in the money puts with less than 2 days until expiration and even larger out of the money puts expiring in 2 weeks.

Most of the weekly puts expired worthless, as there was fairly low activity on Friday, with no evidence of those contracts getting rolled forward, as shares soared.

While initially happy to see shares take a drop, since it would have meant keeping the dividend for myself, rather than being subject to early assignment, I now face that assignment as shares are again well above the strike. 

However, while entertaining thoughts of rolling those shares over to a higher strike at the same expiration date or the same strike at next week’s expiration, I may also consider adding additional shares of Intel,  for its dividend, premiums and share appreciation, as well. Given some of the confusion recently about prospects for the semi-conductor industry, I think Intel’s vision of what the future holds is as good as the industry can offer if looking for a crystal ball.

What can possibly be said about Herbalife (HLF) at this point that hasn’t already been said, ad nauseum. I’m still somewhat stunned that a single author can write 86 or so articles on Herbalife in a 365 day period and find anything new to say, although there is always the chance that singular opinion expressed may be vindicated.

The reality is that we all need to await some kind of regulatory and/or legal decisions regarding the fate of this company and its business practices.

So, like any other publicly traded company, whether under an additional microscope or not, Herbalife reports earnings this week, having announced it also reached an agreement on Friday regarding a class action suit launched by a past dis

tributor of its products.

The options market is predicting a 16% movement in shares upon earnings release. At its Friday closing price, the lower end of that range would find shares at approximately $44. However, a weekly 1% ROI could still be obtained if selling a put option 35% below Friday’s close.

That is an extraordinary margin, but it may be borne out of extraordinary circumstances, as Monday’s earnings release may include other information regarding pending lawsuits, regulatory or legal actions that could conceivably send shares plummeting.

Or soaring.

On a more sedate, and maybe less controversial note, Whole Foods (WFM) reports earnings this week. I’m still saddled with an expensive lot of shares, that has been offset a bit by the assignment of 4 other lots this year, including this past week.

After a series of bad earnings results and share declines I think the company will soon be reporting positive results from its significant national expansion efforts.

While I generally use the sale of puts when considering an earnings related trade, usually because I would prefer not owning shares, Whole Foods is one that I would approach from either direction. While its payout ratio is higher than its peers, I think there may also be a chance that there will be a dividend increase, particularly as some of the capital expenditures will be decreasing.

While not reporting earnings this week, The Gap (GPS) is expected to provide monthly same store sales. It continues to do so, going against the retail tide, and it often sees its shares move wildly. Those moves are frequently on a monthly alternating basis, which certainly taxes rational thought.

Last month, it reported decreased same store sales, but also coupled that news with the very unexpected announcement that its CEO was leaving. Shares subsequently plummeted and have been very slow to recover.

As expected, the premium this week is significantly elevated as it reflects the risk associated with the monthly report. As with Whole Foods, this trade can also justifiably be approached wither from the direction of a traditional buy/write or put sale. In either case, some consideration should also be given to the fact that The Gap will also report its quarterly earnings right before the conclusion of the November 2014 option cycle, which can offer additional opportunity or peril.

Also like Whole Foods, I currently own a much more expensive lot of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), but have had several assigned lots subsequently help to offset those paper losses. Shares have been unusually active lately, increasingly tied to news from China, where Las Vegas Sands has significant interests in Macao.

Share ownership in Las Vegas Sands can be entertaining in its own right, as there has lately been a certain roller coaster quality from one day to the next, helping to account for its attractive option premium. In the absence of significant economic downturn news in China, which was the root cause of the recent decline, it appears that shares have found some support at its current level. Together with those nice premiums and an attractive dividend, I’m not adverse to taking a gamble on these always volatile shares, even in a market that may have some uncertainty attached to it.

Finally, Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) each reported earnings last week and were mentioned as potential earnings related trades, particularly through the sale of put options.

Both saw their shares drop sharply after the releases, however, the option markets predicted the expected ranges quite well and for those looking to wring out a 1% weekly ROI even in the face of post-earnings price disappointment were rewarded.

I didn’t take the opportunities, but still see some in each of those companies this week.

While Twitter received nothing but bad press last week and by all appearances is a company that is verging on some significant dysfunction, it is quietly actually making money. It just can’t stick with a set of metrics that are widely accepted and validated as having relevance to the satisfaction of analysts and investors.

It also can’t decide who to blame for the dysfunction, but investors are increasingly questioning the abilities of its CEO, having forgotten that Twitter was a dysfunctional place long before having gone public and long before Dick Costolo became CEO.

At its current price and with its current option premiums the sale of out of the money puts looks as appealing as they did the previous week, as long as prepared to rollover those puts or take assignment of shares in the event the market isn’t satisfied with assurances.

Facebook, on the other hand is far from dysfunctional. Presumably, its shares were punished once Mark Zuckerberg mentioned upcoming increased spending. Of course, there’s also the issue of additional shares hitting the markets, as part of the WhatsApp purchase.

Both of those are reasonable concerns, but it’s very hard to detract from the vision and execution by Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg.

However, the option market continues to see the coming week’s options priced as if there was more than the usual amount of risk inherent in share pricing. I think that may be a mistake, even while its pricing of risk was well done the previous week.

Bears may be beaten and wondering what hit them, but a good tonic is profit and the sale of puts on Facebook could make bears happy while hedging their bets on a market that may put rational thought to rest for a little while longer.

Traditional Stocks:   Starbucks, The Gap

Momentum: Facebook, Twitter, Las Vegas Sands

Double Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (11/5), Intel (11/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (11/3 PM), Whole Foods (11/5 PM)

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

Weekend Update – July 27, 2014

It seems that almost every week over the past few months have both begun and ended with a quandary of which path to take.

Talk about indecision, for the previous seven weeks the market closed in the an alternating direction to the previous week. This past week was the equivalent of landing on the “green” as the S&P 500 was 0.12 higher for the week, but ending the streak.

Like the biology experiment that shows how a frog immersed in water that is slowly brought to a boil never perceives the impending danger to its life, the market has continued to set new closing record high after record high in a slow and methodical fashion.

With all the talk continuing about how money remains on the sidelines from 2008-9, you do have to wonder how getting into the market now is any different from that frog thinking about climbing into that pot as it nears its boiling point.

Unless there’s new money coming in what fuels growth?

That’s not to say that danger awaits or that the slow climb higher will lead to a change in state or a frenzied outburst of energy leading to some calamitous event, but the thought could cross some minds.

Perhaps Friday’s sell off will prompt some to select one path over another, although a single bubble doesn’t mean that as you’re immersed in a bath that it is coming to a boil. It may entirely be due to other reasons, such as your most recent meal, so it’s not always appropriate to jump to conclusions.

While the frog probably doesn’t really comprehend the slowly growing number of bubbles that seem to be arising from the water, investors may begin to notice the rising number of IPO offerings entering the market and particularly their difficulty in achieving pricing objectives.

I wonder what that might signify? The fact that suddenly my discount brokerage seems to be inundating me with IPO offers makes me realize that it does seem to be getting hotter and hotter around me.

This coming week I’ve had cash reserves replenished with a number of assignments, somehow surviving the week ending plunge and I see many prices having come down, even if just a little. That combination often puts me into a spending mood, that would be especially enhanced if Monday begins either on the downside or just tepidly higher.

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

The big news in the markets this week was Facebook (FB) as its earnings report continued to make clear that it has mastered the means to monetize a mobile strategy. While it produces nothing it’s market capitalization is stunning and working its way closer to the top spot. For those in the same or reasonably close sector, the trickle down was appreciated. One of those, Twitter (TWTR) reports earnings this week and the jury is still very much out on whether it has a viable product, a viable management team and even a viable life as an independent entity.

For all of those questions Twitter can be an exciting holding, if you like that sort of thing. I currently hold shares that were assigned to me after having fallen so much that I couldn’t continue the process of rolling over puts any longer. The process to recover has been slow, but speeded a bit by selling calls on the way higher. However, while that has been emotionally rewarding, but as may be the case when puts are sold and potential ownership is something that is shunned, has required lots of maintenance and maneuvering.

With earnings this week the opportunity arises again to consider the sale of new Twitter puts, either before earnings are released or if shares plunge, afterward.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move in shares upon earnings. a 1% weekly ROI may possibly be obtained at a strike price that’s 14.8% below Friday’s close.

While Twitter is filled with uncertainty, Starbucks (SBUX) has some history behind it that gives good reason to have continuing confidence. With the market having looked adversely at Starbucks’ earnings report, Howard Schultz gave an impassioned and wholly rational defense of the company, its operations and prospects.

In the past few years each time Starbucks shares have been pummeled after earnings and Schultz has done as he did on Friday, it has proven itself an excellent entry point for shares. Schultz has repeatedly shown himself to be among the most credible and knowledgeable of CEOs with regard to his own business and business strategy. He has been as bankable as anyone that can be found.

With an upcoming dividend, always competitive option premiums and Schultz standing behind it, the pullback on Friday may be a good time to re-consider adding shares, despite still trading near highs.

While I suppose Yelp (YELP) could tell me all about the nearest Starbucks and the experience that I might expect there, it’s not a site that gets my attention, particularly after seeing some reviews of restaurants that pilloried the businesses of places that my wife and I frequent repeatedly.

Still, there’s clearly something to be had of value through using the site for someone. What does have me interested is the potential opportunity that may exist at earnings. Yelp is no stranger to large moves at earnings and for those who like risk there can be reward in return. However, for those who like smaller dosages of each a 1% ROI for the week can potentially be achieved at a strike price of $58 based on Friday’s $68.68 closing priced and an implied move of 12%. Back in April 2014 I received an almost 3% ROI for the risk taken, but don’t believe that I’m willing to be so daring now that I’m older.

Following the market’s sharp drop on Friday it was difficult to not jump the gun a little bit as some prices looked to be either “too good” or just ready. One of those was General Motors (GM). Having survived earnings last week,
albeit with a sizeable share drop over the course of a few days and wading its way through so much litigation, it is quietly doing what it is supposed to be doing and selling its products. An energized consumer will eventually trade in those cars that have long passed their primes, as for many people what they drive is perceived as the best insight into their true standing in society. General Motors has traded nicely as it has approached $33 and offers a nice premium and attractive dividend, making it fit in nicely with a portfolio that tries to accentuate income streams even while shares my gyrate in price.

I never get tired of thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY). With some of my shares assigned this past Friday despite some recent price strength after earnings, I think it is now in that mid-point of its trading range from where it has been relatively easy to manage the position even with some moves lower.

Carl Icahn has remained incredibly quiet on his position in eBay and my guess, based on nothing at all, is that there is some kind of behind the scenes convergence of thought between Icahn and eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, regarding the PayPal jewel.

With all of the recent talk about “old tech,” there’s reason to consider one of the oldest, Texas Instruments (TXN) which goes ex-dividend this coming week. Having recently traded near its year’s high, shares have come down considerably following earnings, over the course of a few days. While still a little on the high side, it has lots of company in that regard, but at least has the goods to back up its price better than many others. It, too, offers an attractive combination of dividend, premiums and still possibility of share appreciation.

Reporting earnings this week are both MasterCard (MA) and MetLife (MET). Neither are potential trades whose premiums are greatly enhanced by the prospects of earnings related surprises. Both, however, are companies that I would like to once again own, possibly through the sale of put options prior to earnings being announced.

MasterCard suffered on Friday as collateral damage to Visa’s (V) earnings, which helped drag the DJIA down far more than the S&P 500, despite the outsized contribution by Amazon (AMZN) which suffered a % decline after earnings. On top of that are worries again from the Russian market, which earlier in the year had floated the idea of their own credit system. Now new rules impacting payment processors in Russia is of concern.

MasterCard has been able to generate satisfactory option premiums during an otherwise low volatility environment and despite trading in a $72 – $78 range, as it has regular bounces, such as seen this past week.

I have been waiting for MetLife to trade down to about the $52 range for the past two months and perhaps earnings will be the impetus. For that reason I might be more inclined to consider opening a position through the sale of puts rather than an outright buy/write. However, also incorporated into that decision process is that shares will be going ex-dividend the following week and there is some downside to the sale of puts in the face of such an event, much as their may be advantage to selling calls into an ex-dividend date.

Finally, there hasn’t been much that has been more entertaining of late than the Herbalife (HLF) saga. After this past week’s tremendous alternating plunge and surge and the absolute debacle of a presentation by Bill Ackman that didn’t quite live up to its billing.

While there may certainly be lots of validity to Ackman’s claims, which are increasingly not being nuanced, the opportunity may exist on both sides of the controversy, as earnings are announced next week. Unless some significant news arises in addition to earnings, such as from the SEC or FTC, it is like any other high beta stock about to report earnings.

The availability of expanded weekly options makes the trade more appealing in the event of an adverse move bringing shares below the $61.50 level suggested by the implied volatility, allows some greater flexibility. However, because of the possibility of other events, my preference would be to have this be as short term of a holding as possible, such that if selling puts and seeing a rise in shares after earnings, I would likely sacrifice remaining value on the options and close the position, being happy with whatever quick profits were achieved.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, General Motors, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (7/28 PM), Twitter (7/29 PM), Yelp (7/30 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 27, 2014

“The Bear” is waking up.

Whether you interpret that to mean that Russia is seeking to return to some of its faded and faux glory left behind as its empire crumbled, or that the stock market is preparing for a sustained downward journey, neither one likes to feel threatened.

As we prepare for the coming week the two bears may be very much related, at least if you believe in such things as “cause and effect.”

It now seems like almost an eternity when the first murmurings of something perhaps going on in Crimea evoked a reaction from the markets.

On that Friday, 2 months ago, when news first broke, the DJIA went from a gain of 120 points to a loss of 20 in the final hour of trading, but somehow managed to recapture half of that drop to cap off a strong week.

Whatever happened to not going home long on the brink of a weekend of uncertainty?

Since that time the increased tensions always seemed to come along on Fridays and this past was no different, except that on this particular Friday it seems that many finally went home with lighter portfolios in hopes of not having lighter account balances on Monday morning.

As often is the case these kind of back and forth weeks can be very kind to option sellers who can thrive when wandering aimlessly. However, while we await to see what if any unwanted surprises may come this weekend, the coming week packs its own potential challenges as there will be an FOMC announcement on Wednesday and the Employment Situation Report is released on Friday. Although neither should be holding much in the way of surprise, it is often very surprising to see how the market reacts to what is often the lack of news even when that is the expectation.

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

With the prospects of some kind of uncomfortable beginning to the coming week there may be reason to stay away from those companies or sectors that might have enhanced risk related to any kind of escalating “tit for tat” that may occur if events in and around Ukraine and Russia deteriorate.

Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), which as far as I know has little exposure east of Bangor and west of Los Angeles, is one of those companies that suffered the wrath of a disappointed market. Like many that stumble, but whose underlying business, execution or strategies aren’t inherently flawed, there comes a point that price stability and even growth returns. While it has only been 2 weeks since earnings, Bed Bath and Beyond has withstood any further stresses from a wounded market and has thus far settled into some stability. While some may question the legitimacy of using this past winter’s weather as an excuse for slumping sales, I’m not willing to paint with a broad brush. In fact, I would believe that retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond, typically not located in indoor malls would be more subject to weather related issues than mall based, one stop shopping centers.

Having been to a number of other countries and having seen the high regard in which coffee is held, it’s not very likely that Keuring Green Mountain (GMCR) would feel any serious loss if exports to Russia were blocked as part of sanctions. At the current high levels, I’m surprised to be considering shares again, but I have had a long and happy history with this very volatile stock that has taken on significantly greater credibility with its new CEO.

Because of its volatility its option premiums are always attractive, but risk will be further enhanced as earnings are scheduled to be reported the following week. Shares are approaching that level they stood before its explosive rise after the most recent earnings report.

Aetna (AET) for a brief moment looked to be one of those reporting earnings that was going to capitalize on good news. Following a nice advance on the day of earnings it started on this past fateful Friday with another 1.5% advance on top of a nearly 6% advance the day before. Within 10 minutes and well before the market started its own decline, that early gain was completely gone.

As pro-Russian militias may say if they believed that any expatriate nationals might be threatened in France, “C’est la vie.” While that is certainly the case, such unexpected moves re-offer opportunity as the health care insurers are in a position to bounce back from some recent weakness. With earnings now out of the way and little bad news yet to be reported regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act transition, Aetna can get back to what health insurance companies have always been good at doing, besides lobbying. Although it’s dividend is on the low side, Aetna is a company that I could envision as a long term core holding.

Dow Chemical (DOW) also reported earnings this past week and beat projections the old fashioned way. They cut costs in the face of falling revenues. While that says nothing good about an economy that is supposed to be growing, Dow Chemical’s value may be enhanced as it has activists eyeing it for possible break-up. On the other end, defending the status quo is a hardened CEO who is likely to let little fall through the cracks as he pursues his own vision. While shares are trading near their highs the activist presence is potentially helpful in keeping shares trading within a range which entices me to consider shares now, after a small drop, rather than waiting for a larger one on order to re-open a position. With its option premiums, generous dividend and opportunity for share appreciation, Dow Chemical is one stock that I would also consider for longer term holding.

I’m on the fence over Cypress Semiconductor (CY). I currently own shares and always like the idea of having some just as it trades near it strike price. It has a good recent habit of calling $10 its home and works hard to get back to that level, whether well above or well below. However, befitting its high beta it fell about 5% on Friday and has placed itself quite a distance from its nearest strike. While I generally like paying less for shares, in the case of Cypress I may be more enticed by some price migration higher in order to secure a better premium and putting shares closer to a strike that may make it easier to roll over option contracts to June 2014, if necessary. Holding shares until June may offer me enough time after all of these years to learn what Cypress Semiconductor actually does, although I’m familiar with its increasingly vocal CEO.

This is another week replete with earnings. For those paying attention last week a number of companies were brutalized last week when delivering earnings or guidance, as the market was not very forgiving.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Herbalife (HLF), Twitter (TWTR) and Yelp (YELP).

There’s not much you can say about Herbalife, other than it may be the decade’s most unpredictable stock. Not so much in terms of revenues, but rather in terms of “is it felonious or isn’t it felonious?” With legal and regulatory issues looming ahead the next bit of truly bad news may come at any moment, so it may be a good thing that earnings are reported on Monday. At least that news will be out of the way. Unlike many other volatile names, Herbalife actually move marginally higher to end the week, rather than plunging along with the rest. My preference, if trading on the basis of earnings, would be to sell puts, particularly if there is a substantive price drop preceding earnings.

Twitter lost much of the steam it had picked up in the early part of the week and finished at its lows. I already have puts on shares having sold them about a month ago and rolled them forward a few times in the hopes of having the position expire before earnings.

However, with its marked weakness in the latter part of the week I’m interested in the possibility of selling even more puts in advance of earnings on Tuesday. However, if there is price strength on Monday, I would be more inclined to wait for earnings and would then consider the sale of puts if shares drop after earnings are released.

Yelp is among those also having suffered a large drop as the week’s trading came to its close. as with Twitter, the option market is implying a large earnings related move in price, with an implied volatility of nearly 15%. However, a drop of less than 21% may still be able to deliver a 1.1% return.

For those that just can’t get enough of earnings related trades when bad news can be the best news of all, a more expanded list of potential trades can be seen.

Finally, Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT) are part of what now everyone is affectionately referring to as “old tech.” A few months ago the same people were somewhat more derisive, but now “old tech” is everyone’s darling. Intel’s ex-dividend date is May 5, 2014, meaning that shares would need to be owned this week if hoping to capture the dividend. Microsoft goes ex-dividend during the final week of the May 2014 cycle.

Both stocks have been frequent holdings of mine, but both have recently been assigned. Although they are both trading near the top of their price ranges, the basic appeal still holds, which includes generous dividends and satisfactory premiums. Additionally, bit also have in common a new kind of leadership. Intel is much more focused on operational issues, befitting the strength of its new CEO, while Microsoft may finally simply be ready to “get it” and leverage its great assets, recognizing that there may be some real gems beyond Windows.

Traditional Stocks: Momentum Stocks: Aetna, Bed Bath and Beyond, Dow Chemical, Microsoft

Momentum: Cypress Semiconductor, Keurig Green Mountain

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 5/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (4/8 PM), Twitter (4/27 PM), Yelp (4/30 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 6, 2014

This week started on such a positive note with the reassuring words of a dove, yet ended so harshly.

This time of the year it’s supposed to be the other way around with the lamb having the final word as months of a less threatening nature await ahead.

Instead, after Friday’s close, whatever optimism may have been generated by setting even more record highs earlier in the week, had given way to caution and perhaps preparation for some ill winds.

Back when I was in college it wasn’t meant as a compliment if you were referred to as being a “dove.” and the proverbial lamb was always being led to slaughter.  In fact, if you were called a “dove,” that was only in polite circles. Otherwise, the words used were far more descriptive and derisive.

By the same token, the doves out there may not have had the kindest of words for the hawks, but in nature, it’s usually the hawk that triumphs. In fact, recalling the recent mauling of a peace dove that had been just released by Pope Francis and some children, it didn’t really even require a hawk. A seagull and a lowly crow were enough for the task.

This week, though, it was the dove that ruled the day and set the tone for the week. Well, at least most of it, until its fragile nature beset itself.

A fragile market can be equally susceptible even to less formidable foes, as Friday’s sell-off had little basis and came on the day of the Employment Situation Report, which for the past 20 months or so has been strongly correlated to a higher moving market on the day of release and for the week as a whole. While the week as a whole did show an advance, the former correlation stood for only a short time before strong selling set in.

Whatever doubts there may have been regarding where Janet Yellen stood on that continuum from dove to hawk following her initial press conference, she made it clear that on issues of the Federal Reserve’s actions to help lower the unemployment rate, she was an unabashed dove and while there may be more dissenting voting members than before sitting on the Federal Reserve, she still controls the hawks, but probably keeps at least one eye wary at all times.

The stock market loved that re-affirmation of policy the way we love the beauty of a dove, even though like short sellers, we may privately relish its obliteration by a swooping predator hawk.

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

While this was an especially brutal week for stocks on the NASDAQ and particularly for many of those stocks that had borne a disproportionate amount of everyone’s attention as they moved ever higher, many others were included in whatever wrath took hold.

With earnings season beginning this coming week there may be some return to fundamentals, however, disappointments, particularly if weather hasn’t been fully factored in or discounted may further exploit market fragility.

MasterCard (MA) was one such casualty of the stampede. There was little to account for its 2.5% drop on Friday, bringing it to its 5 month low. The previous week, faced with some potentially adverse decisions regarding swipe fees it reacted well, yet this week it did otherwise without any new challenges being sent its way. While it goes ex-dividend on Monday it’s puny dividend isn’t something that’s likely to be missed by those entering into new positions as shares find themselves at a 5 month low. Believing that last week’s selling was overdone I would consider a slightly longer option contract and the use of an out of the money strike as a means to allow some time for price repair while collecting an option premium while waiting.

While not falling quite as much as MasterCard on Friday, shares of Starbucks (SBUX) also succumbed to selling pressure. While the past week was filled with news regarding other players entering into the breakfast marketplace, including offering free cups of coffee, there was really an absence of Starbucks specific news. While breakfast taco waffles may garner some attention, Starbucks has become as much a way of life as it has a product provider. It’s current price is one where it has shown considerable strength and it too may warrant the use of slightly longer term option contracts and an out of the money strike.

Apollo Education (APOL) was a stock that I highlighted last week as a possible earnings trade. As usual, I prefer those through the sale of well out of the money put contracts prior to earnings, especially if share price is trending downward prior to earnings. In Apollo’s case shares had instead shown strength prior to the earnings release, so I stayed away from selling puts at that time. After earnings shares did sustain a drop and I then sold some out of the money puts in the hope that the drop wouldn’t continue beyond another few strike levels. While there was almost a need to roll them over on Friday as the market was crumbling, Apollo shares showed resilience, even as the market did not.

While I still don’t have much confidence in the product it offers nor the manner in which it generates its revenues, that’s largely irrelevant, as it continues to offer some reasonable returns even if shares continue to experience some decline. Once again, however, I would most likely consider the sale of puts rather than an outright purchase of shares and concomitant sale of calls.

There’s probably very little that can be added to make a discussion of Herbalife (HLF) newsworthy, but when there is, it will really be worth paying attention. While Herbalife has been a good target of put sellers following the severe price drop in the wake of regulatory and legal investigations that are being escalated, it has recovered very nicely with the realization that any real news is likely to be in the distance. It too, is a position that I would likely consider entry through the sale of out of the money puts.

This week’s dividend stocks for consideration are two that

I haven’t owned for a while, as I’ve been waiting for them to return to more reasonable price levels. Sometimes the realization comes that waiting only prevents being an active participant. Aetna (AET) Abbott Labs (ABT) have long been absent from my portfolio despite continually thinking about adding them back.

With a large number of existing positions already going ex-dividend this week I’m not as anxious to add any additional ones. However, of those two, Abbott Labs is more appealing for having a higher dividend rate and for having already come off some recent price peaks. In need of additional health care sector stocks, Abbott also carries that personal appeal at this point in time. However, it reports earnings the following week so my preference, if purchasing shares, would be a quick holding and given its current option premium would even be willingly accepting of an early assignment.

Aetna has simply left me behind in the dust as I’ve been waiting for it to return to what I believed was a fair price, but apparently the market has long disagreed. While it may be some time until we all realize whether new healthcare mandates are a positive or negative for the insurers, the one thing that most everyone can agree is that the long term is always positive when your fee structure is highly responsive to actuarial data. Add to that an increasing interest rate environment and the future may be bright for insurers.

Among the shares that I had assigned this past week were Comcast (CMCSA) and Coach (COH). Following the week ending sell-off I was grateful to have as many assignments as there were, especially to replenish cash reserves in the event of buying opportunities ahead. However, among those assigned, these two are ones that I’m eager to re-incorporate into my portfolio.

Comcast, despite my personal feelings about the product and service, has just been a spectacular growth story and has had great guidance under the control of the Roberts family. My celebration of “Comcast Liberation Day” a few years ago didn’t mean that I would boycott share ownership or overlook its attributes as an investment. It’s recent 10% price drop in the past two months from its highs has offered an opportunity to find some more realistic entry points. While I’ve been following shares for quite some time, it only recently began offering weekly and expanded weekly options. For me, that was the signal, combined with the reduced share price to start initiating positions.  I envision a similar opportunity with Comcast shares on a serial basis as I have experienced with Coach.

Coach remains a stock that I feel like I could happily buy most week in and out as long as it’s trading in a $48-$54 range and have done so repeatedly when it has done so. Despite a near absence of positive news in almost two years and the company having been written off as a loser in the competitive wars, especially with Michael Kors (KORS), for those who can recognize that multiple small stock gains can be very meaningful it has been a consistent performer. With earnings approaching at the end of the month I would be less inclined to use longer term option contracts at this time, as Coach has had a recent history of sharp and unpredictable moves following earnings.

While Coach has been unable to do anything right in the eyes of many, until recently, Under Armour (UA) could do no wrong. WHile it’s still not clear whether the design of their latest skating wear for US Olympians was in any way related to their disappointing performance, Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, was a perfect study in how to present his company when under public scrutiny. 

While it received a downgrade about 3 weeks ago and subsequently fell more than 7% in that aftermath, it fell an additional 9% from that sentinel point late this week as it was carried along with the rest of the deluge. As with many others the selling was in the absence of substantive news.

With earnings season beginning this coming week, Under Armour is among those announcing early in the process on April 17, 2014. It’s volatility is commanding a health option premium at a time when many others are languishing, however, the risk may be compounded during the following week. For that reason, if considering the purchase of shares I would likely use a weekly contract and if necessary roll that over to a longer term contract in anticipation of that enhanced risk. As earnings approach, Under Armour may also turn out to be a potential earnings related trade through the sale of out of the money put options.

Finally, a number of years ago I was studying two stocks with an eye toward adding one to my regular rotation in need of another energy sector position. They were Anadarko (APC) and Apache (APA). For a while I would get their stock symbols confused and really had a difficult time discerning their differences. I still have no real idea of what those differences may be, but for some reason I gravitated toward Anadarko.

This week, that dalliance may have come to an end, at least for the time being, as my shares were assigned following an untimely and unexpected end to the Tronox litigation that was an unwelcome part of its Kerr McGee purchase.

Whatever positive comments I would normally make about Anadarko relative to its prospects for trading in a range and offering an attractive premium can now be transferred to Apache. The best part, though, is that Apache is approximately 10% below its recent high and can make me forget about Anadarko for now.

Traditional Stocks: Apache, Comcast, MasterCard, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Apollo Educational, Coach, Herbalife, Under Armour

Double Dip Dividend: Aetna (4/8), Abbott Labs (4/11)

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 – March 16, 2014

Most of us have, at one time or another believed that we were carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. The reality will always be that unless we are the President of the United States with a decision to be made regarding pressing that red button, those feelings are somewhat exaggerated and unlikely to be borne out in fact.

It’s probably not an exaggeration, however, to suggest that in the past week the burden of the world weighed down heavily on the U.S. stock markets.

Slowing growth and questionable economic statistics from China and an unfolding crisis in Crimea were the culprits identified this week that sapped the momentum out of our markets. The complete list of “reasons” for last week’s performance was compiled by Josh Brown, but ultimately it all came down to our shoulders. Perhaps like a regressive tax the individual investor may feel an exaggerated impact as well when the market behaves badly and may also take longer to recover from the heavy load of losses.

In addition to the global issues then there were also issues of regulation, seeing the SEC and FTC weigh in on Herbalife (HLF), dueling words of umbrage from billionaires over eBay (EBAY) and litigation from the New York State Attorney General’s Office over General Motor’s (GM) role in potentially avoidable vehicular deaths.

What there wasn’t was anything positive or optimistic to be said during the week, other than sooner or later Spring will arrive. For the first time since the last real attempt at a correction nearly two years ago the market closed lower in each trading session of the past week.

While the weekend may change my opinion, as additional news may be forthcoming as Russian war games on Ukraine’s borders play themselves out and a Crimean referendum is held, I find myself optimistic for the coming week.

I usually try to find ten potential trades for each coming week. Last week I struggled to find just nine. This week my preliminary list was nearly twenty and I had a difficult time narrowing down to ten stocks.

That hasn’t happened in a while.

Certainly, as has been discussed in previous weeks following a downward moving market, the challenge is discerning between value and value traps. In that regard this past week is no different, but for inspiration, I look to the option seller’s best friend.

That would be volatility. It creates the kind of premiums that can make me salivate and it is the lack of volatility that makes me wonder whether anyone really cares anymore about the need for stock markets to react appropriately to fundamental factors, as opposed to simply moving higher under all circumstances.  

Since late 2011 we’ve been used to seeing historically low levels of volatility with occasional spikes representing market downturns. For those following along you know that there haven’t been many of those downturns in the past 20 months, although we did just recently quickly recover from an equally quick 7% loss. Those downturns saw spikes in volatility.

Suddenly there has been a lot of discussion about increasing volatility and for those that get excited about technical analysis, much is made of the significance of Volatility Index breaking above the 200 Day Moving Average.

What you don’t hear, however, are the video playbacks of all of the times the Volatility Index has surpassed that 200 Day Moving Average and it did not lead to a market breakdown, as suggested by many.

Instead, a quick look at the past year seems to indicate an alternating current of spikes in volatility between larger spikes and smaller ones. Simply put, I think we’re experiencing a regularly scheduled smaller spike in volatility.

I could be wrong, but that’s what hedging is all about.

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

As with last week, despite the uncertainty that may usher in the coming week I see some possibilities even with some higher beta positions, on a selective basis.

While I’ve been trying to emphasize dividend paying positions for the past three months, the only potential such trades that had any appeal for me this week fell into the higher beta category.

While Best Buy (BBY) is probably immune to any direct impact from an overseas crisis, it has had no difficulty in creating its own and has certainly created a crisis of faith before regaining some respectability under new leadership. But for those that have held shares that all seems so long ago after some disappointing earnings reports. Hit especially hard this most recent earnings season, Best Buy has two months left to acquit itself and another two weeks to have their cash registers ring loudly to offset any weather related disappointments. In the meantime shares do go ex-dividend this week and have been trading in a narrow range of late. In the absence of any news it may be expected to keep doing so long enough to capture a dividend and perhaps a premium or two.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) also goes ex-dividend this week and is also a higher beta stock. While I have traded this stock w

ith some frequency, it’s been a while since doing so as it resists going much lower. While it is at a relative low to its recent high after a 7% decline, it has still had a fairly uninterrupted trajectory. Like Best Buy, there’s not too much reason to suspect that events in Crimea will serve as a direct contagion, the higher beta may be its own heavy weight in the event of a market decline, but like cockroaches, gambling will survive even nuclear holocaust, as may Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman. It may also survive some weakness in China, as there’s no better place to bury your misery than in their Maxao casinos.

It’s usually a fallacy in the making when you use logic to convince yourself of the rationale to buy a stock. That includes the belief that if you liked a stock at one price it must certainly be even more likeable at a lower price. Yet that’s where I find myself with General Electric (GE), whose shares were just assigned from me a week ago and now find themselves priced below that earlier strike price. However, in the case of General Electric, unless there are some horrific surprises around the corner or a complete market meltdown, it’s hard to imagine that it could be classified as being a value trap at this new lower price. Down 4% in the past week and 10% YTD, if the market is heading lower, GE will have been ahead of the curve. While it’s option premium doesn’t reflect much in the way of volatility it does represent a reasonable means to surpass the performance of a flat market.

While retail has been a place that money has gone to die of late, you get a feeling that things may be reversing, at least in the minds of analysts when even Coach (COH), a literal punching leather bag for all, receives an upgrade. While my shares of Coach were assigned this week, as were my shares of Kohls (KSS), I’m ready to repurchase both in their current range, as the long fall down deserves at least a short climb higher.

Coach has shown itself to be able to faithfully defend the $46 level despite so many assaults over the past two years. That ability to consistently bounce back has made it a great covered option position, whether through outright purchase or the sale of puts.

Kohls represents exactly what I like in my stocks. That is a non-descript existence and just happily going along its way without making too much fuss, other than an occasional earnings related outburst. Dependable is far more important than being flashy and as a stock and as a company, Kohls hugs that middle lane reliably, but still provides a competitive premium thanks to those occasional outbursts.

If the thesis that retail is ready for a comeback has more of a basis than just as reflected in share price, but also reflects pent up spending from a harsh winter, MasterCard (MA) is a prime beneficiary. While already somewhat protected from the ravages of weather by virtue of being able to spend your money with just a simple mouse click, there are just some things that need to be done in the real world. Trading well below its pre-split price until recently I had not owned shares in years. Now more readily purchased in scale, I look forward to the opportunity to purchase and re-purchase these shares with some degree of regularity, WHile its dividend is paltry, there is certainly room for growth to rise to the levels of Visa (V) and Discover Financial Services (DFS). However, notwithstanding any potential bump in share price along with a dividend hike, the option premiums can make the wait worthwhile.

In a week of no industry specific news, following a flurry of changes in industry dynamics initiated by T-Mobile (TMUS), Verizon (VZ) fell 3% bringing it down to a level from which it has found significant strength. While General Electric may face some potential liability with events in Crimea or a deteriorating economy in China, I don’t see quite the same liability for Verizon. Instead, whatever burdens it has to carry will come from an increasingly competitive landscape as it and AT&T (T) are continually pushed by T-Mobile and perhaps Sprint (S). In the meantime, while trading in a range and finding support at $46, there’s always the additional lure of a 4.5% dividend.

While Verizon isn’t terribly exciting it meets its match in Intel (INTC). However, the excitement that comes from growth isn’t absolutely necessary to generate predictable profits. Intel is especially well suited when it’s share price is very close to a strike level. If volatility continues to rise the opportunity to purchase Intel expands as the price range at which it may be purchased increases, while still offering an attractive option premium which can be further enhanced by an attractive dividend.

While it was only a matter of time until retail would begin to dig its way out from under the piles of snow, no sector has brutalized me more this past year than the one that requires digging. Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is among that group that hasn’t been terribly kind to me, despite my belief that it would be the “stock of the year” for 2013.

With copper itself being brutalized this past week, despite gold’s relative strength, Freeport McMoRan has itself had the weight of the market’s response to the less than robust Chinese economy to shoulder. But the one thing that you can always count on is that data from China can easily correct reality and that explains the seemingly recurrent see-saw ride that we have been on in those sectors that are tied to their data. The true plunge in copper prices, if sustained, will not be good news for Freeport McMoRan, whose generous dividend payout could conceivably be jeopardized.

On the other hand, shares are now at a level that has repeatedly created substantial returns for those willing to test the waters.

Finally, not many companies, especially those with a newly appointed CEO had as bad a week as General Motors. You might think that having paid its first dividend in years this past Friday there would be reasons to rejoice, but finding yourself at the top of the headlines related to customer deaths isn’t an enviable place, nor one conducive to a thriving share price. When the Attorney General of any state piles on that doesn’t help.

However, with a chorus of those clamoring for General Motors to re-test the $30 level purely on a technical basis there may be reason enough to believe that won’t be the case. Having timed a purchase of shares as inopportunely as possible, I’d like nothing more than to see that position restored to some respect.

As with the recent news that the FTC will b

e investigating allegations that Herbalife was engaged in a Ponzi scheme, the bad news for General Motors, while coming as an acute event, will take a long while to play out, regardless of the merits of the cases or the human tragedies caught up in what is now a story of fines, punishment andperhaps even acquittal.

Traditional Stocks: Coach, General Electric, General Motors, Intel, Kohls, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Best Buy (ex-div 3/18), Las Vegas Sands (ex-div 3/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – February 16, 2014

Is our normal state of dysfunction now on vacation?

Barely seven trading days earlier many believed that we were finally on the precipice of the correction that had long eluded the markets.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify what causes sudden directional changes, much less understand the nature of what caused the change. That doesn’t stop anyone from offering their proprietary insight into that which may sometimes be unknowable.

Certainly there will be technicians who will be able to draw lines and when squinting really hard be able to see some kind of common object-like appearing image that foretold it all. Sadly, I’ve never been very adept at seeing those images, but then again, I even have a hard time identifying “The Big Dipper.”

Others may point to an equally obscure “Principle” that hasn’t had the luxury of being validated because of its rare occurrences that make it impossible to distinguish from the realm of “coincidence.”

For those paying attention it’s somewhat laughable thinking how with almost alternating breaths over the past two weeks we’ve gone from those warning that if the 10 year Treasury yield got up to 3% the market would react very negatively, to warnings that if the yield got below 2.6% the markets would be adverse. There may also be some logical corollaries to those views that are equally not borne out in reality.

Trying to explain what may be irrational markets, which are by and large derivatives of the irrational behaviors found in those comprising the markets, using a rational approach is itself somewhat irrational.

Crediting or blaming trading algorithms has to recognize that even they have to begin with the human component and will reflect certain biases and value propositions.

But the question has to remain what caused the sudden shifting of energy from its destruction to its creation? Further, what sustained that shift to the point that the “correction” had itself been corrected? As someone who buys stocks on the basis of price patterns there may be something to the observation that all previous attempts at a correction in the past 18 months have been halted before the 10% threshold and quickly reversed, just as this most recent attempt.

That may be enough and I suppose that a chart could tell that story.

But forget about those that are suggesting that the market is responding to better than expected earnings and seeking a rational basis in fundamentals. Everyone knows or should know that those earnings are significantly buoyed by share buybacks. There’s no better way to grow EPS than to shrink the share base. Unfortunately, that’s not a strategy that builds for the future nor lends itself to continuing favorable comparisons.

I think that the most recent advance can be broken into two component parts. The first, which occurred in the final two days of the previous trading week which had begun with a 325 point gain was simply what some would have called “a dead cat bounce.” Some combination of tiring from all of the selling and maybe envisioning some bargains.

But then something tangible happened the next week that we haven’t seen for a while. It was a combination of civility and cooperation. The political dysfunction that had characterized much of the past decade seemed to take a break last week and the markets noticed. They even responded in a completely normal way.

Early in the week came rumors that the House of Representatives would actually present a “clean bill” to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. No fighting, no threats to shut down the government and most importantly the decision to ignore the “Hastert Rule” and allow the vote to take place.

The Hastert Rule was a big player in the introduction of dysfunction into the legislative process. Even if a majority could be attained to pass a vote, the bill would not be brought to a vote unless a majority of the majority party was in favor the bill. Good luck trying to get that to occur in the case of proposing no “quid pro quo” in the proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The very idea of some form of cooperation by both sides for the common good has been so infrequent as to appear unique in our history. Although the common good may actually have taken a back seat to the need to prevent looking really bad again, whatever the root cause for a cessation to a particular form of dysfunction was welcome news.

While that was being ruminated, Janet Yellen began her first appearance as Federal Reserve Chairman, as mandated by the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill.

Despite the length of the hearings which would have even tired out Bruce Springsteen, they were entirely civil, respectful and diminished in the use of political dogma and talking points. There may have even been some fleeting moments of constructive dialogue.

Normal people do that sort of thing.

But beyond that the market reacted in a straightforward way to Janet Yellen’s appearance and message that the previous path would be the current path. People, when functioning in a normal fashion consider good news to be good news. They don’t play speculative games trying to take what is clear on the surface to its third or fourth derivative.

Unfortunately, for those who like volatility, as I do, because it enhances option premiums, the lack of dysfunction and the more rational approach to markets should diminish the occurrence of large moves in opposite directions to one another. In the real world realities don’t shift that suddenly and on such a regular basis, however, the moods that have moved the markets have shifted furiously as one theory gets displaced by the next.

How long can dysfunction stay on vacation? Human nature being what it is, unpredictable and incapable of fully understanding reality, is why so many in need stop taking their medications, particularly for chronic disorders. I suspect it won’t be long for dysfunction to re-visit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

Speaking of dysfunction, that pretty well summarizes the potash cartel. Along with other, one of my longtime favorite stocks, Mosaic (MOS) has had a rough time of things lately. In what may be one of the great blunders and miscalculations of all time, there is now some speculation that the cartel may resume cooperation, now that the CEO of the renegade breakaway has gone from house arrest in Belarus to extradition to Russia and as none of the members of the cartel have seen their fortunes rise as they have gone their separate ways.

In the interim Mosaic has traded in a very nice range after recovering from the initial shock. While I still own more expensively priced shares their burden has been somewhat eased by repetitive purchases of Mosaic and the sale of call contracts. Following an encouraging earnings report shares approached their near term peak. I would be anxious to add shares on even a small pullback, such as nearing $47.50.

^TNX ChartOne position that I’ve enjoyed sporadically owning has been MetLife (MET) which reported earnings last week. As long as interest rates are part of anyone’s equation for predicting where markets or stocks will go next, MetLife is one of those stocks that received a bump higher as interest rates started climbing concurrent with the announcement of the Federal Reserve;’s decision to initiate a taper to Quantitative Easing.

Cisco (CSCO), to hear the critics tell the story is a company with a troubled future and few prospects under the continued leadership of John Chambers. For those with some memory, you may recall that Chambers has been this route before and has been alternatively glorified, pilloried and glorified again. Currently, he has been a runner-up in the annual contest to identify the worst CEO of the year.

Personally, I have no opinion, but I do like the mediocrity in which shares have been mired. It’s that kind of mediocrity that creates a stream of option premiums and, in the case of Cisco, dividends, as well. With the string of disappointments continued at last week’s earnings report, Cisco did announce another dividend increase while it recovered from much of the drop that it sustained at first.

I’m never quite certain why I like Whole Foods (WFM). What this winter season has shown is that many people are content to stay at home any eat whatever gluten they can find rather than brave the elements and visit a local store for the healthier things in life. I think Whole Foods is now simply making the transition from growth stock to boring stock. If that is the case I expect to be owning it more often as with boring comes that price predictability that appeals to me so much.

This week’s potential dividend trades are a disparate group if you ignore that they have all under-performed the S&P 500 since its peak.

General Electric (GE) is just one of those perfect examples of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and perhaps not being in the right place at the right time. Much of General Electric’s woes when the market was crumbling in 2008 was its financial services group. Since the market bottom its shares have outperformed the S&P 500 by more than 50%, as GE has taken steps to reduce its financial services portfolio. Unfortunately that means that it won’t be in a position to benefit from any rising interest rate environment as can reasonably be expected to be in our future.

Still, coming off its recent price decline and offering a strong dividend this week its shares look inviting, even if only for a short term holding.

L Brands (LB) along with most of the rest of the retail sector hasn’t been reflective of a strong consumer economy. Having recovered about 50% of its recent fall and going ex-dividend this coming week I’m ready to watch it recover some more lost ground as its specialty retailing has appeared to have greater resilience than department store competitors. 

Transocean (RIG) still hasn’t recovered from its recent ratings cut from “sector outperform” to “sector perform.” I’ve never understood the logic of that kind of  assessment, particularly if the sector may still be in a position to outperform the broad market. However, equally hard to understand is the reaction, especially when the entire sector goes down in unison in response. Subsequently Transocean also received an outright “sell” recommendation and has been mired near its two year lows.

With a very healthy ex-dividend date this week I may have renewed interest in adding shares. While he has been quiet of late, at its latest disclosure, Icahn Enterprises (IEP) owned approximately 6% of Transocean and to some degree serves as a floor to share price, as does the dividend which is scheduled to increase to $3 annually.

However, as with L Brands, which also reports earnings on February 26, 2104, I would also consider an exit or rollover strategy for those that may want to mitigate earnings related risk that will present itself. Such strategies may include closing out the position below the purchase price or rolling over to a March 2014 option in order to have some additional time to ride out any storms.

There’s really not much reason to take sides in the validity of claims regarding the nature of Herbalife (HLF). It has certainly made for amusing theater, as long as you either stayed on the sidelines or selected the right side. With the recent suggestion that some on the long side of the equation have been selling shares this week’s upcoming earnings release may offer some opportunity, as shares have already fallen nearly 16%.

While the option market is only implying a 7.2% move in share price, the sale of a put can return a weekly 1% ROI even at a strike price 13.7% below the current price. That is about the largest cushion I recall seeing and does look appealing for those that may have an inclination to take on risk. I’m a little surprised of how low the implied price movement appears to be, however, the surprise is answered when seeing how unresponsive shares have been the past year upon earnings news.

Also reporting earnings this week is Groupon (GRPN), a stock that has taken on some credibility since replacing its one time CEO, who never enjoyed the same cycle of adulation and disdain as did John Chambers. While the “Daily Deal” space is no longer one that gets much attention, Groupon has demonstrated that all of the cautionary views warning of how few barriers to entry existed, were vacuous. Where there were few barriers were to exit the space. 

In the meantime the options market is predicting a 13.9% move related to earnings, while a weekly 1.3% ROI could possibly be achieved with a price movement of less than 19%. While that kind of downward move is possible, there is some very strong support above there.

Finally, there is the frustration of owning AIG (AIG) at the moment. The frustration comes from watching for the second successive earnings report shares climb smartly higher in the after-hours and then completely reverse direction the following day. I continue to believe that its CEO, Robert Benmosche is something of a hero for the manner in which he has restored AIG and created an historical reference point in the event anyone ever questions some future day bailout of a systemically vital company.

None of that hero worship matters as far as any proposed purchased this coming week. However, shares may be well priced and in a sector that’s ready for some renewed interest.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum Stocks: Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (ex-div 2/20), L Brands (ex-div 2/19), Transocean (ex-div 2/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Groupon (12/20 PM) , Herbalife (2/18 PM)

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

Weekend Update – October 27, 2013

Watching Congressional testimony being given earlier this week by representatives of the various companies who were charged with the responsibility of assembling a functioning web site to coordinate enrollment in the Affordable Care Act it was clear that no one understood the concept of responsibility.

They did, however, understand the concept of blame and they all looked to the same place to assign that blame.

As a result there are increased calls for the firing or resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services. After all, she, in essence, is the CEO.

On the other hand, it was also a week that saw one billionaire, Bill Gross, the “Bond King” of PIMCO deign to give unsolicited advice to another billionaire, Carl Icahn, in how he should use his talents more responsibly. But then again, the latter made a big splash last week by trying to convince a future billionaire, Tim Cook, of the responsible way to deal with his $150 billion of cash on hand. Going hand in hand with a general desire to impart responsibility is the tendency to wag a finger.

Taking blame and accepting responsibility are essentially the same but both are in rare supply through all aspects of life.

This was an incredibly boring week, almost entirely devoid of news, other than for earnings reports and an outdated Employment Situation Report. The torrent of earnings reports were notable for some big misses, lots of lowered guidance and a range of excuses that made me wonder about the issue of corporate responsibility and how rarely there are cries for firings or resignations by the leaders of companies that fail to deliver as expected.

For me, corporate responsibility isn’t necessarily the touchy-feely kind or the environmentalist kind, but rather the responsibility to know how to grow revenues in a cost-efficient manner and then make business forecasts that reflect operations and the challenges faced externally. It is upon an implied sense of trust that individuals feel a certain degree of comfort or security investing assets in a company abiding by those tenets.

During earnings season it sometimes becomes clear that living up to that responsibility isn’t always the case. For many wishing to escape the blame the recent government shutdown has been a godsend and has already been cited as the reason for lowered guidance even when the business related connection is tenuous. Instead of cleaning up one’s own mess it’s far easier to lay blame.

For my money, the ideal CEO is Jamie Dimon, of JP Morgan Chase (JPM). Burdened with the legacy liabilities of Bear Stearns and others, in addition to rogue trading overseas, he just continues to run operations that generate increasing revenues and profits and still has the time to accept responsibility and blame for things never remotely under his watch. Of course, the feeling of being doubly punished as an investor, first by the losses and then by the fines may overwhelm any feelings of respect.

Even in cases of widely perceived mismanagement or lack of vision, the ultimate price is rarely borne by the one ultimately responsible. Instead, those good earnings in the absence of revenues came at the expense of those who generally shouldered little responsibility but assumed much of the blame. While Carl Icahn may not be able to make such a case with regard to Apple, the coziness of the boardroom is a perfect place to abdicate responsibility and shift blame.

Imagine how convenient it would be if the individual investor could pass blame and its attendant burdens to those wreaking havoc in management rather than having to shoulder that burden of someone else’s doing as they watch share prices fall.

Instead, I aspire to “Be Like Jamie,” and just move on, whether it is a recent plunge by Caterpillar (CAT) or any others endured over the years.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW) was everyone’s favorite prior to the banking meltdown and was a perennial guest on financial news shows. His star faded quickly when Dow Chemical fell to its lows during the financial crisis and calls for his ouster were rampant. Coincidentally, you didn’t see his ever-present face for quite a while. Those calls have halted, as Liveris has steadily delivered, having seen shares appreciate over 450% from the market lows, as compared to 157% for the S&P 500. Shares recently fell after earnings and is closing in to the level that I would consider a re-entry point. Now offering weekly option contracts, always appealing premiums and a good dividend, Dow Chemical has been a reliable stock for a covered option strategy portfolio and Andrew Liveris has had a reliable appearance schedule to match.

A company about to change leadership, Coach (COH) has been criticized and just about left for dead by most everyone. Coach reported earnings last week and for a short while I thought that the puts I had sold might get assigned or be poised for rollover. While shares recovered from their large drop, I was a little disappointed at the week ending rally, as I liked the idea of a $48 entry level. However, given its price history and response to the current level, I think that ownership is still warranted, even with that bounce. Like Dow Chemical, the introduction of weekly options and its premiums and dividend make it a very attractive stock in a covered call strategy. Unlike Dow Chemical, I believe its current price is much more attractive.

I’m not certain how to categorize the CEO of Herbalife (HLF). If allegations regarding the products and the business model prove to be true, he has been a pure genius in guiding share price so much higher. Of course, then there’s that nasty fact that the allegations turned out to be true.

Herbalife reports earnings this week and if you have the capacity for potential ownership the sale of out of the money puts can provide a 1.2% return even of shares fall 17%. The option market is implying a 10% move. That is the kind of differential that gets my attention and may warrant an investment, even if the jury is still out on some of the societal issues.

In the world of coffee, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) blamed K-Cups and guided toward the lower end of estimates. Investors didn’t care for that news, but they soon got over it. The category leader, Starbucks (SBUX) reports earnings this week. I still consider Howard Schultz’s post-disappointing earnings interview of 2012 one of the very best in addressing the issues at hand. But it’s not Starbucks that interests me this week. It’s Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). Itself having had some questionable leadership, it restored some credibility with the appointment of its new CEO and strengthening its relationships with Starbucks. Shares have fallen about 25% in the past 6 weeks and while not reporting its own earnings this week may feel some of the reaction to those from Starbucks, particularly as Howard Schultz may characterize the nature of ongoing alliances. Green Mountain shares have returned to a level that I think the adventurous can begin expressing interest. I will most likely do so through the sale of puts, with a strike almost 5% out of the money being able to provide a 1.2% ROI. The caveat is that CEO Brian Kelley may soon have his own credibility tested as David Einhorn has added to his short position and has again claimed that there are K-cup sales discrepancies. Kelley did little to clear up the issue at a recent investor day meeting.

Baxter International (BAX) has held up reasonably well through all of the drama revolving around the medical device tax and the potential for competition in the hemophilia market by Biogen Idec (BIIB). WIth earnings out of the way and having approached its yearly low point I think that it is ready to resume a return to the $70 range and catching up to the S&P 500, which it began to trail in the past month when the issues of concern to investors began to take root.

MetLife (MET) has settled into a trading range over the past three months. For covered calls that is an ideal condition. It is one of those stocks that I had owned earlier at a much lower price and had assigned. Waiting for a return to what turned out to be irrationally low levels was itself irrational, so I capitulated and purchased shares at the higher level. In fact, four times in the past two months, yielding a far better return than if shares had simply been bought and held. Like a number of the companies covered this week it has that nice combination of weekly option contracts, appealing premiums and good dividends.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reports earnings this week, along with Seagate Technology (STX). Riverbed is a long time favorite of mine and has probably generated the greatest amount of premium income of all of my past holdings. However, it does require some excess stomach lining, especially as earnings are being released. I currently own two higher cost lots and uncharacteristically used a longer term call option on those shares locking in premium in the face of an earnings report. However, with recent price weakness I’m re-attracted to shares, particularly when a 3 week 1.7% ROI can be obtained even if shares fall by an additional 13%. In general, I especially like seeing price declines going into earnings, especially when considering the sale of puts just in advance of earnings. Riverbed Technology tends to have a history of large earnings moves, usually due to providing pessimistic guidance, as they typically report results very closely aligned with expectations.

Seagate Technology reports earnings fresh off the Western Digital (WDC) report. In a competitive world you might think that Western Digital’s good fortunes would come at the expense of Seagate, but in the past that hasn’t been the case, as the companies have traveled the same paths. With what may be some of the surprise removed from the equation, you can still derive a 1% ROI if Seagate shares fall less than 10% in the earnings aftermath through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

ConAgra (CAG) and Texas Instruments (TXN) both go ex-dividend this week. I think of them both as boring stocks, although Texas Instruments has performed nicely this year, while ConAgra has recently floundered. On the other hand, Texas Instruments is one of those companies that has fallen into the category of meeting earnings forecasts in the face of declining revenues by slashing worker numbers.

Other than the prospect of capturing their dividends I don’t have deeply rooted interest in their ownership, particularly if looking to limit my new purchases for the week. However, any opportunity to get a position of a dividend payment subsidized by an option buyer is always a situation that I’m w
illing to consider.

Finally, as this week’s allegation that NQ Mobile (NQ), a Chinese telecommunications company was engaged in “massive fraud” reminds us, there is always reason to still be circumspect of Chinese companies. While the short selling firm Muddy Waters has been both on and off the mark in the past with similar allegations against other companies they still get people’s attention. The risk of investing in companies with reliance on China carries its own risk. YUM Brands (YUM) has navigated that risk as well as any. With concern that avian flu may be an issue this year, that would certainly represent a justifiable shifting of blame in the event of reduced revenues. At its recent lower price levels YUM Brands appears inviting again, but may carry a little more risk than usual.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: ConAgra (ex-div 10/29), Texas Instruments (ex-div 10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (10/28 PM), Riverbed Technology (10/28 PM), Seagate Technology (10/28 PM)

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

Weekend Update – February 17, 2013

It’s all relative.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put things into perspective. Our mind wants to always compare objects to one another to help understand the significance of anything that we encounter. Having perspective, formed by collecting and remembering data and the environment that created that data helps to titrate our reaction to new events.

My dog doesn’t really have any useful perspective. He thinks that everyone is out to take what’s his and he reacts by loudly barking at everyone and everything that moves. From his perspective, the fact that the mailman always leaves after he has barked out reinforces that it was the barking that made him leave.

The stock market doesn’t really work the way human perspective is designed to work. Instead, it’s more like that of a dog. Forget about all of the talk about “rational Markets.” They really don’t exist, at least not as long as investors abandon rational thought processes.

It’s all about promises, projections and clairvoyance. Despite the superficial lip service given to quarterly comparisons no one really predicates their investing actions on the basis of what’s come and gone.

During earnings season one can see how all perspective may be lost. It’s hard to account for sudden and large price moves when there’s little new news. Although I can understand the swift reaction resulting in a 20% drop when Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) announced that it was slashing its dividend, filing for a secondary stock offering and also creating a new class of mandatory convertible shares, I can’t quite say that the same understanding exists when Generac (GNRC) drops 10% following earnings and guidance that was universally interpreted as having “waved no red flags.”

Of course, the use of perspective and especially logic based upon perspective,  can be potentially costly. For example, it’s been my perspective that Cliffs and Walter Energy (WLT) often follow a similar path.

What has been true for the past year has actually been true for the past five years. So it came as a surprise to me, at least from my perspective that the day after Cliffs Natural plunged nearly 20%, that Walter Energy, which reports earnings on February 20, 2013 would rise 6% in the absence of any news. From my perspective, that just seemed irrational.

But of course, perspective, by its nature has to be individually based. That may explain why Forbes, using its unique perspective on time, published an article on February 12, 2013, just hours before Cliffs released its earnings, that it had been named as the “Top Dividend Stock of the S&P Metals and Mining Select Industry Index”, according to Dividend Channel. In this case, Cliffs was accorded that august honor for its “strong quarterly dividend history.”

Apparently, history doesn’t extend back to 2009, when the dividend was cut by 55%, but it’s all in your perspective of things. I’m not certain where Cliffs stands in the ratings 24 hours later.

What actually caught my attention the most this past week is how performance can take a back seat to  perspectives on liability, especially in the case of Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG). On Thursday, it was announced that a Federal judge approved a mere $400 million criminal settlement against it for its seminal part in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That’s in addition to the already $1 Billion in fines it has been assessed. In return, Transocean climbed nearly 4%, while it’s frenemy Halliburton, on no news of its own climbed 6%. Poor British Petroleum (BP) which has already doled out over $20 Billion and is still on the line for more, could only muster an erasure of its early 2% decline. For Transocean, at least, the perception was that the amount wasn’t so onerous and that the end of liability was nearing.

From one perspective reckless environmental action may be a good strategy to ensure a reasonably healthy stock performance. At least that’s worked for Halliburton, which has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 24, 2010, the date of the accident.

I usually have one or more of the “Evil Troika” in my portfolio, but at the moment, only British Petroleum is there, at its lagged its mates considerably over the past weeks. Sadly, Transocean will no longer be offering weekly options, so I’m less likely to dabble in its shares, even as Carl Icahn revels in the prospects of re-instating its dividend.

Perhaps the day will come when stocks are again measured on the basis
of real fundamentals, like the net remaining after revenues and expenses, rather than distortions of performance and promises of future performance, but I doubt that will be the case in my lifetime.

In fact, the very next day on Friday, both Transocean and Walter Energy significantly reversed course. On Friday, the excuse for Transocean’s 5% drop was the same as given for Thursday’s 4% climb. Walter Energy was a bit more nebulous, as again, there was no news to account for the 3% loss.

So what’s your perspective on why the individual investor may be concerned?

As always, this week’s potential stock selections are classified as being either in the Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories (see data).

Technology stocks haven’t been blazing the way recently, as conventional wisdom would dictate as a basic building block for a burgeoning bull market. My biggest under-performing positions are in technology at the moment, patiently sitting on shares of both Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Despite Tuesday’s ex-dividend date for Microsoft, I couldn’t bear to think of adding shares. However, despite a pretty strong run-up on price between earnings reports, Cisco (CSCO) looks mildly attractive after a muted response to its most recent earnings report. Even if its shares do not move, the prospect of another quiet week yet generating reasonable income on the investment for a week is always appealing.

Although I was put shares of Riverbed Technology (RVBD) this week, which is not my favorite way of coming to own shares, it’s a welcome addition and I may want to add more shares. That’s especially true now that Cisco, Oracle (ORCL) and Juniper (JNPR) have either already reported or won’t be reporting their own earnings during the coming option cycle. With those potential surprises removed from the equation there aren’t too many potential sources of bad news on the horizon. The healing from Riverbed’s own fall following earnings can now begin.

MetLife (MET) is, to me a metaphor for the stock market itself. Instead of ups and downs, it’s births and deaths. Like other primordial forms of matter, such as cockroaches, life insurance will survive nuclear holocaust. That’s an unusual perspective with which to base an investing decision, but shares seem to have found a comfortable trading range from which to milk premiums.

Aetna (AET) on the other hand, may just be a good example of the ability to evolve to meet changing environments. Regardless of what form or shape health care reform takes, most people in the health care industry would agree that the health care insurers will thrive. Although Aetna is trading near its yearly high, with flu season coming to an end, it’s time to start amassing those profits.

It’s not easy to make a recommendation to buy shares of JC Penney (JCP). It seems that each day there is a new reason to question its continued survival, or at least the survival of its CEO, Ron Johnson, who may be as good proof as you can find that the product you’re tasked with selling is what makes you a “retailing genius.” But somehow, despite all of the extraneous stories, including rumored onslaughts by those seeking to drive the company into bankruptcy and speculation that Bill Ackman will have to lighten up on his shares as the battle over Herbalife (HLF) heats up, the share price just keeps chugging along. I think there’s some opportunity to squeeze some money out of ownership by selling some in the money options and hopefully being assigned before earnings are reported the following week.

The Limited (LTD) is about as steady of a retailer as you can find. I frequently like to have shares as it is about to go ex-dividend, as it is this coming week. With only monthly options available, this is one company that I don’t mind committing to for that time period, as it generally offers a fairly low stressful holding period in return for a potential 2-3% return for the month.

While perhaps one may make a case that Friday’s late sell-off on the leak of a Wal-Mart (WMT) memo citing their “disastrous” sales might extend to some other retailers, it’s not likely that the thesis that increased payroll taxes was responsible, also applied to The Limited, or other retailers that also suffered a last hour attack on price. Somehow that perspective was lacking when fear was at hand.

McGraw Hill (MHP) has gotten a lot of unwanted attention recently. If you’re a believer in government led vendettas then McGraw Hill has some problems on the horizon as it’s ratings agency arm, Standard and Poors, raised lots of ire last year and is being further blamed for the debt meltdown 5 years ago. It happens to have just been added to those equities that trade weekly calls and it goes ex-dividend this week. In return for the high risk, you might get
am attractive premium and a dividend and perhaps even the chance to escape with your principal intact.

I haven’t owned shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) for a few months. Shares have gone in only a single direction since the last earnings report when it skyrocketed higher. With that kind of sudden movement and with continued building on that base, you have to be a real optimist to believe that it will go even higher upon release of earnings.

What can anyone possibly add to the Herbalife saga? It, too, reports earnings this week and offers opportunity whether its shares spike up, plunge or go no where. I don’t know if Bill Ackman’s allegations are true, but I do know that if the proposition that you can make money regardless of what direction shares go is true, then I want to be a part of that. Of course, the problem. among many, is that the energy stored within the share price may be far greater than the 17% or so price drop that the option premiums can support while still returning an acceptable ROI.

Also in the news and reporting earnings this week is Tesla (TSLA). This is another case of warring words, but Elon Musk probably has much more on the line than the New York Times reporter who test drove one of the electric cars. But as with Herbalife and other earnings related plays, with the anticipation of big price swings upon earnings comes opportunity through the judicious sale of puts or purchase of shares and sale of deep in the money calls.

From my perspective these are enough stocks to consider for a holiday shortened week, although as long as earnings are still front and center, both Sodastream (SODA) and Walter Energy may also be in the mix.

The nice thing about perspective is that while it doesn’t have to be rational it certainly can change often and rapidly enough to eventually converge with true rational thought.

If you can find any.

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: JC Penney, RIverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: The Limited (ex-div 2/20), McGraw Hill (ex-div 2/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/22 AM), Herbalife (2/19 AM), Tesla (2/20 PM)

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

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