Weekend Update – May 1, 2016


There was potentially lots that could have moved the market last week.

Earnings season was getting into full swing as oil continued its march higher.

As if those weren’t enough, we had an FOMC Statement release and a GDP report and even more earnings to round out the week.

But basically, none of those really mattered.

The FOMC expressed some confidence in the economy even as the GDP may have said otherwise the following day and earnings were all over the place with the market not being very forgiving when already lowered expectations weren’t met or were being pushed out another quarter.

Again, none of that mattered.

What really mattered was when Carl Icahn, who unlike Chicken Little, calmly told the world that he had sold his entire stake in Apple (AAPL) for fears of what China’s “attitude” might be with regard to the company.

The initial interviewer misinterpreted Icahn’s comments to mean that he was worried about the Chinese economy itself and that may have been exactly how traders interpreted Icahn’s words, although a second interviewer correctly interpreted Icahn’s comments and got him to add clarity.

Icahn confirmed that he was actually worried about the possibility that China would be less of a reliable partner for Apple and not that he envisioned a new round of meltdowns in the CHinese economy or in their financial institutions.

Big difference.

Continue reading on Seeking Alpha

 

Weekend Update – January 31, 2016

 

 Whether you’re an addict of some sort, an avid collector or someone who seeks thrills, most recognize that it begins to take more and more to get the same exhilarating jolt.

At some point the stimulation you used to crave starts to become less and less efficient at delivering the thrill.

And then it’s gone.

Sometimes you find yourself pining for what used to be simpler times, when excess wasn’t staring you in the face and you still knew how to enjoy a good thing.

We may have forgotten how to do that.

It’s a sad day when we can no longer derive pleasure from excess.

It seems that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the idea of an expanding and growing economy, historically low interest rates, low unemployment and low prices.

How else can you explain the way the market has behaved for the past 6 months?

Yet something stimulated the stock market this past Thursday and Friday, just as had been the case the previous Thursday and Friday.

For most of 2016 and for a good part of 2015, the stimulus had been the price of oil. but more than often the case was that the price of oil didn’t stimulate the market, but rather sucked the life out of it.

We should have all been celebrating the wonders of cheap oil and the inability of OPEC to function as an evil cartel, but as the excess oil has just kept piling higher and higher the thrill of declining end user prices has vanished.

Good stimulus or bad stimulus, oil has taken center stage, although every now and then the debacles in China diverted our attention, as well.

Every now and then, as has especially been occurring in the past 2 weeks, there have been instances of oil coming to life and paradoxically re-animating the stock market. It was a 20% jump in the price of oil that fueled the late week rally in the final week of the January 2016 option cycle. The oil price rise has no basis in the usual supply and demand equation and given the recent dynamic among suppliers is only likely to lead to even more production.

It used to be, that unless the economy was clearly heading for a slowdown, a decreasing price of oil was seen as a boost for most everyone other than the oil companies themselves. But now, no one seems to be benefiting.

As the price of oil was going lower and lower through 2015, what should have been a good stimulus was otherwise.

However, what last Thursday and Friday may have marked was a pivot away from oil as the driver of the market, just as we had pivoted away from China’s excesses and then its economic and market woes.

At some point there has to be a realization that increasing oil prices isn’t a good thing and that may leave us with the worst of all worlds. A sliding market with oil prices sliding and then a sliding market with oil prices rising.

It seems like an eternity ago that the market was being handcuffed over worries that the FOMC was going to increase interest rates and another eternity ago that the market seemed to finally be exercising some rational judgment by embracing the rate rise, if only for a few days, just 2 months ago.

This week saw a return to those interest rate fears as the FOMC, despite a paucity of data to suggest inflation was at hand, didn’t do much to dispel the idea that “one and done” wasn’t their plan. The market didn’t like that and saw the prospects of an interest rate increase as a bad thing, even if reflecting improving economic conditions.

But more importantly, what this week also saw was the market returning to what had driven it for a few years and something that it never seemed to tire of celebrating.

That was bad news.

This week brought no good news, at all and the market liked that.

Negative interest rates in Japan? That has to be good, right?

A sluggish GDP, oil prices rising and unimpressive corporate earnings should have sent the market into a further downward spiral, but instead the idea that the economy wasn’t expanding was greeted as good news.

Almost as if the Federal Reserve still had some unspent ammunition to throw at the economy that would also serve to bolster stocks, as had been the case for nearly 6 years.

It’s not really clear how much more stimulus the Federal Reserve can provide and if investors are counting on a new and better high, they may in for a big disappointment.

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

I’m a little surprised that my brokerage firm didn’t call me last week, to see if I was still alive,  because it was the second consecutive week of not having made a single trade.

Despite what seem to be bargain prices, I haven’t been able to get very excited about very many of the ones that have seemed alluring. Although this coming Monday may be the day to mark a real and meaningful bounce higher, the lesson of the past 2 months has been that any move higher has simply been an opportunity to get disappointed and wonder how you ever could have been so fooled.

I’m not overly keen on parting with any cash this week unless there some reason to believe that the back to back gains of last week are actually the start of something, even if that something is only stability and treading water.

Building a base is probably far more healthy than trying to quickly recover all that has been quickly lost.

With weakness still abounding I’m a little more interested in looking for dividends if putting cash to work.

This week, I’m considering purchases of Intel (INTC), MetLife (MET) and Pfizer (PFE), all ex-dividend this coming week.

With the latter two, however, there’s also that pesky issue of earnings, as MetLife reports earnings after the close of trading on its ex-dividend date and Pfizer reports earnings the day before its ex-dividend date.

MetLife has joined with the rest of the financial sector in having been left stunned by the path taken by interest rates in the past 2 months, as the 10 Year Treasury Note is now at its lowest rate in about 8 months.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

But if you believe that it can’t keep going that way, it’s best to ignore the same argument used in the cases of the price of
oil, coal and gold.

With MetLife near a 30 month low and going ex-dividend early in the week before its earnings are reported in the same day, there may be an opportunity to sell a deep in the money call and hope for early assignment, thereby losing the dividend, but also escaping the risk of earnings. In return, you may still be able to obtain a decent option premium for just a day or two of exposure.

The story of Pfizer’s proposed inversion is off the front pages and its stock price no longer reflects any ebullience. It reports earnings the morning of the day before going ex-dividend. That gives plenty of time to consider establishing a position in the event that shares either go lower or have relatively little move higher.

The option premium, however, is not very high and with the dividend considered the option market is expecting a fairly small move, perhaps in the 3-4% range. Because of that I might consider taking on the earnings risk and establishing a position in advance of earnings, perhaps utilizing an at the money strike price.

In that case, if assigned early, there is still a decent 2 day return. If not assigned early, then there is the dividend to help cushion the blow and possibly the opportunity to either be assigned as the week comes to its end or to rollover the position, if a price decline isn’t unduly large.

Intel had a nice gain on Friday and actually has a nice at the money premium. That premium is somewhat higher than usual, particularly during an ex-dividend week. As with Pfizer, even if assigned early, the return for a very short holding could be acceptable for some, particularly as earnings are not in the picture any longer.

As with a number of other positions considered this week, the liquidity of the options positions should be  sufficient to allow some management in the event rollovers are necessary.

2015 has been nothing but bad news for American Express (AXP) and its divorce from Costco (COST) in now just a bit more than a month away.

The bad news for American Express shareholders continued last week after reporting more disappointing earnings the prior week. It continued lower even as its credit card rivals overcame some weakness with their own earnings reports during the week.

At this point it’s very hard to imagine any company specific news for American Express that hasn’t already been factored into its 3 1/2 year lows.

The weekly option premium reflects continued uncertainty, but I think that this is a good place to establish a position, either through a buy/write or the sale of puts. Since the next ex-dividend date is more than 2 months away, I might favor the sale of puts, however.

Yahoo (YHOO) reports earnings this week and as important as the numbers are, there has probably been no company over the past 2 years where far more concern has focused on just what it is that Yahoo is and just what Yahoo will become.

Whatever honeymoon period its CEO had upon her arrival, it has been long gone and there is little evidence of any coherent vision.

In the 16 months since spinning off a portion of its most valuable asset, Ali Baba (BABA), it has been nothing more than a tracking stock of the latter. Ali Baba has gone 28.6% lower during that period and Yahoo 28% lower, with their charts moving in tandem every step of the way.

With Ali Baba’s earnings now out of the way and not overly likely to weigh on shares any further, the options market is implying a price move of 7.6%.

While I usually like to look for opportunities where I could possibly receive a 1% premium for the sale of puts at a strike price that’s outside of the lower boundary dictated by the option market, I very much like the premium at the at the money put strike and will be considering that sale.

The at the money weekly put sale is offering about a 4% premium. With a reasonably liquid option market, I’m not overly concerned about difficulty in being able to rollover the short puts in the event of an adverse move and might possibly consider doing so with a longer term horizon, if necessary.

Finally, there was a time that it looked as if consumers just couldn’t get enough of Michael Kors (KORS).

Nearly 2 years ago the stock hit its peak, while many were writing the epitaph of its competitor Coach (COH), at least Coach’s 23% decline in that time isn’t the 60% that Kors has plunged.

I haven’t had a position in Kors for nearly 3 years, but do still have an open position in Coach, which for years had been a favorite “go to” kind of stock with a nice dividend and a nice option premium.

Unfortunately, Coach, which had long been prone to sharp moves when earnings were announced, had lost its ability to recover reasonably quickly when the sharp moves were lower.

While Coach is one of those rare gainers in 2016, nearly 13% higher, Kors is flat on the year, although still far better than the S&P 500.

While I don’t believe that Coach has turned the tables on Kors and is now “eating their lunch” as was so frequently said when Kors was said to be responsible for Coach’s reversal of fortune, I think that there is plenty of consumer to go around for both.

Kors reports earnings this week and like COach, is prone to large earnings related moves.

With no dividend to factor into the equation, Kors may represent a good  opportunity for those willing to take some risk and consider the sale of out of the money puts.

WIth an implied move of 8.5% next week, it may be possible to get a 1.1% ROI even if shares fall by as much as 11.3% during the week.

A $4.50 move in either direction is very possible with Kors after having dropped nearly $60 over the past 2 years. However, if faced with the possibility of assignment of shares, particularly since there is no dividend, I would just look for any opportunity to continue rolling the short puts over and over.

If not wanting to take the take the risk of a potential large drop, some consideration can also be given to selling puts after earnings, in the event of a large drop in shares. If that does occur, the premiums should still be attractive enough to consider making the sale of puts after the event.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express

Momentum Stocks:  none

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (2/3 $0.26), MetLife (2/3 $0.38), Pfizer (2/3 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (2/2 AM), Yahoo (2/2 PM)

 

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

Weekend Update – January 17, 2016


The world is awash in oil and we all know what that means.

From Texas to the Dakotas and to the North Sea and everything in-between, there is oil coming out of every pore of the ground and in ways and places we never would have imagined.

Every school aged kid knows the most basic law of economics. The more they want something that isn’t so easy to get the more they’re willing to do to get it.

It works in the other direction, too.

The more you want to get rid of something the less choosy you are in what it takes to satisfy your need.

So everyone innately understands the relationship between supply and demand. They also understand that rational people do rational things in response to the supply and demand conditions they face.

Not surprisingly, commodities live and die by the precepts of supply and demand. We all know that bumper crops of corn bring lower prices, especially as there’s only so much extra corn people are willing to eat as a result of its supply driven decrease in price.

Rational farmers don’t plant more corn in response to bumper crops and rational consumers don’t buy less when supply drives prices lower.

Stocks also live by the same precepts, except that most of the time the supply of any particular stock is fixed and it’s the demand that varies. However, we’ve all seen the frenzy around an IPO when insatiable demand in the face of limited supply makes people crazy and we’ve all seen what happens when new supply of shares, such as in a secondary offering is released.

Of course, much of what gains we’ve seen in the markets over the past few years have come as a result of manipulating supply and artificially inflating the traditional earnings per share metric.

When a deep Florida freeze hits the orange crop in Florida, no one spends too much time deeply delving into the meaning of the situation. The price for oranges will simply go higher as the demand stays reasonably the same, to a point. 

If, however, people’s tastes change and there is suddenly an imbalance between the supply and demand for orange juice, reasonable suppliers do the logical thing. They try to recognize whether the imbalance is due to too much supply or too little demand and seek to adjust supply.

Whatever steps they may take, the world’s economies aren’t too heavily invested in the world of oranges, no matter how important it may be to those Florida growers.

Suddenly, oil is different, even as it has long been a commodity whose supply has been manipulated more readily and for more varied reasons. than a farmer simply switching from corn to soybeans.

The price of oil still lives by supply and demand, but now thrown into the equation are very potent external and internal political considerations.

Saudi Arabia has to bribe its citizens into not overthrowing the monarchy while wanting to also inflict financial harm on anyone bringing new sources of supply into the marketplace. They don’t want to cede marketshare to its enemies across the gulf nor its allies across the ocean.

With those overhangs, sometimes irrational behavior is the result in the pursuit of what are considered to be rational objectives.

Oil is also different because the cause for the imbalance says a lot about the world. Why is there too much supply? Is it because of an economic slowdown and decreased demand or is it because of too much supply?

Stock markets, which are supposed to discount and reflect the future have usually been fairly rational when having a longer term vision, but that’s becoming a more rare phenomenon.

The very clear movement of stock markets in tandem with oil prices up or down has been consistent with a belief that the balance between supply and demand has been driven by demand.

Larry Fink, who most agree is a pretty smart guy, as the Chairman and CEO of Blackrock (BLK) was pretty clear the other day and has been consistent in the belief that the low price of oil was supply, and not demand driven. He has equally been long of the belief that lower oil prices were good for the world.

In any other time, supply driven low prices would have represented a breakdown in OPEC’s ability to hold the world’s economies hostage and would have been the catalyst for stock market celebrations.

Welcome to 2016, same as 2015.

But world markets continue to ignore that view and Fink may be coming to the realization that his voice of reason is drowned out by fear and irrational actions that only have a near term vision. That may explain why he now believes that there could be an additional 10% downside for US markets over the next 6 months, including the prospects of job layoffs.

That’s probably not something that the FOMC had high on its list of possible 2016 scenarios.

Ask John McCain how an increasing unemployment rate heading into a close election worked out for him, so you can imagine the distress that may be felt as 7 years of moderate growth may come to an end at just the wrong time for some with great political aspirations.

The only ones to be blamed if Fink’s fears are correct are those more readily associated with the existing power structure.

Just as falling stock prices in the face of supply driven falling oil prices seems unthinkable, “President Trump” doesn’t have a dulcet tone to my ears. More plausible, in the event of the unthinkable is that it probably wouldn’t take too much time for his now famous “The Apprentice” tag line to morph into “You’re impeached.”

So there’s always that as a distraction from a basic breakdown in what we knew to be an inviolate law of economics.

With 2016 already down 8% and sending us into our second correction in just 5 months so many stocks look so inviting, but until there’s some evidence that the demand to meet the preponderance of selling exists, to bite at those inviting places may be even more irrational than it would have been just a week earlier.

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

One stock that actually does look like a bargain to me reports earnings this week. Verizon (VZ) is the only stock in this week’s list that isn’t in or near bear correction territory in the past 2 months.

Even those few names that performed well in 2015 and hel
pe
d to obscure the weakness in the broader market are suffering in the early stages of 2015.

Not so for Verizon, even though the shares have fallen nearly 5% from its near term resistance level on December 29, 2015, the S&P 500 fell almost 9% in that time.

While there is always added risk with earnings being reported, Verizon and some of its competitors stand to benefit from their own strategic shifts to stop subsidizing what it is that people crave. That may not be reflected in the upcoming earnings report, but if buying Verizon shares I may consider looking beyond the weekly options that I tend to favor in periods of low volatility. Although I usually am more likely to sell puts when earnings are in the equation, I’m more likely to go the buy/write route for this position.

The one advantage of the kind of market action that we’ve had recently is the increase in volatility that it brings.

When that occurs, I start looking more and more at longer term options. The volatility increase typically means higher premiums and that extends into the forward weeks. Longer term contracts during periods of higher volatility allow you to lock in higher premiums and give time for some share price recovery, as well.

Since Verizon also has a generous dividend, but won’t be ex-dividend for another 3 months, I might consider an April 2016 or later expiration date.

One of the companies that is getting a second look this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM), which is also ex-dividend this week and only offers monthly options.

Shares are nearly 45% lower since the August 2015 correction and have not really had any perceptible attempt at recovering from those losses.

What it does offer, however. is a nice option premium, that even if shares declined by approximately 1% for the month could still deliver a 3.8% ROI in addition to the quarterly 0.7% dividend.

Literally and figuratively firing on all cylinders is General Motors (GM), but it is also figuratively being thrown out with the bath water as it has plunged alongside the S&P 500.

With earnings being reported in early February and with shares probably being ex-dividend in the final week of the March 2016 option cycle, there may be some reason to consider using a longer term option contract, perhaps even spanning 2 earnings releases and 2 ex-dividend dates, again in an attempt to take advantage of the higher volatility, by locking in on longer term contracts.

Netflix (NFLX) reports earnings this week and the one thing that’s certain is that Netflix is a highly volatile stock when reporting earnings, regardless of what the tone happens to be in the general market.

With the market so edgy at the moment, this would probably not be a good time for any company to disappoint investors.

The option market definitely demonstrates some of the uncertainty that’s associated with this coming week’s earnings, as you can get a 1% ROI even if shares drop by 22%.

As it is, shares are down nearly 20% since early December 2015, but there seem to be numerous levels of support heading toward the $81 level.

If shares do take a plunge, there would likely be a continued increase in volatility which could make it lucrative to continue rolling over puts, even if not faced with impending assignment.

Of some interest is that while call and put volumes for the upcoming weekly options were fairly closely matched, the skew was toward a significant decline in shares next week, as a large position was established at a weekly strike level $34 below Friday’s close.

Finally, last week wasn’t a very good week for the technology sector, as Intel (INTC) got things off on a sour note, which is never a good thing to do in an already battered market.

Seagate Technology (STX) wasn’t spared any pain last week, either, as it has long fallen into the same kind of commodity mindset as corn, orange juice and even oil back in the days when things made sense.

Somehow, despite having been written off as nothing more than a commodity, it has seen some good times in the past few years. That is, if you exclude 2015, as it has now fallen more than 50% since that time, but with nearly 35% of that decline having occurred in just the past 3 months.

I usually like entering a Seagate Technology position through the sale of puts, as its premium always reflects a volatile holding.

For example the sale of a weekly put at a strike price 3% below Friday’s closing price could provide a 1.9% ROI. When considering that next week is a holiday shortened week, that’s a particularly high return.

Seagate Technology is no stranger to wild intra-weekly swings. If selling puts, I prefer to try and delay assignment of shares if they fall below the strike level. Since the company reports earnings the following week, I would likely try to roll over to the week after earnings, but if then again faced with assignment, would be inclined to accept it, as shares are expected to be ex-dividend the following week.

The caveat is that those shares may be ex-dividend earlier, in which case there would be a need to keep a close eye out for the announcement in order to stand in line for the 8% dividend.

For now, Seagate does look as if it still has the ability to sustain that dividend which was increased only last quarter.

 

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technolgy

Double-Dip Dividend: Williams-Sonoma (1/22 $0.35)

Premiums Enhanced by EarningsNetflix (1/19 PM), Verizon (1/21 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable – most often coupling a sh

are 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 15, 2015

Back in March 2015, when writing the article “It’s As Clear As Mud,” there was no reason to suspect that there would be a reason for a Part 2.

After all, the handwriting seemed to be fairly clear at that time and the interest rate hawks seemed to be getting their footing while laying out the ground rules for an interest rate increase that had already been expected for months prior.

In fact, back in July 2015, I wrote another article inadvertently also entitled “It’s As Clear As Mud,” but in my defense the reason for the confusion back then had nothing to do with the FOMC or the domestic US economy, so it wasn’t really a Part 2.

It was simply a case of more confusion abounding, but for an entirely different reason.

Not that the FOMC hadn’t continued their policy of obfuscation.

But here we are, 8 months after the first article and the FOMC is back at the center of confusion that’s reigning over the market as messages are mixed, economic data is perplexing and the intent of the FOMC seems to be going counter to events on the ground.

While most understand that extraordinarily low interest rates have some appeal and can also be stimulatory, there’s also the recognition that prolonged low interest rates are a reflection of a moribund economy.

While individuals may someday arrive at a point in their lives that they’re not interested in or seeking personal growth, economies always have to be in pursuit of growth unless their populations are shrinking or aging along with the individual.

Like Japan.

Most would agree that when it comes to the economy, we don’t want to be like the Japan we’ve come to know over the past generation.

So despite the stock market being unable to decide whether an increase in interest rates would be a good thing for it, an unbiased view, one that doesn’t directly benefit from cheap money, might think that the early phase of interest rate increases would simply be a reflection of good news.

Growth is good, stagnation is not.

However, the FOMC has now long maintained that it will be data driven, but what may be becoming clear is that they maintain the right to move the needle when it comes to deciding where thresholds may be on the data they evaluate.

After years of regularly being disappointed by monthly employment gains below 200,000, October 2015’s Employment Situation Report gave us a number that was below 150,000. While that was surprising, the real surprise may have come a few weeks later when the FOMC indicated that 150,000 was a number sufficiently high to justify that rate increase.

The October 2015 Employment Situation report came at a time that traders had a brief period of mental clarity. They had been looking at negative economic news as something being bad and had been sending the market lower from mid-August until the morning of the release, when it sent the market into a tailspin for an hour or so.

Then began a very impressive month long rally that was based on nothing more than an expectation that the poor employment statistics would mean further delay in interest rate hikes.

But then the came more and more hawkish talk from Federal Reserve Governors, an ensuing outstanding Employment Situation Report and terrible guidance from national retailers.

With a year of low energy prices, more and more people going back to work and minimum wage increases you would have good reason to think that retailers would be rejoicing and in a position to apply that basic law of supply and demand on the wares they sale.

But the demand part of that equation isn’t showing up in the top line, yet the hawkish FOMC tone continues.

The much discussed 0.25% increase isn’t very much and should do absolutely nothing to stifle an economy. While I’d love to see us get over being held hostage by the fear of such an increase by finally getting that increase, it’s increasingly difficult to understand the FOMC, which seems itself to be held hostage by itself.

Difficulty in understanding the FOMC was par for the course during the tenure of Alan Greenspan, but during the plain talk eras of Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen the words are more clear, it’s just that there seems to be so much indecisiveness.

That’s odd, as Janet Yellen and Stanley Fischer are really brilliant, but may be finding themselves faced with an economy that just makes little sense and isn’t necessarily following the rules of the road.

We may find out some more of the details next week as the FOMC minutes are released, but if they’re confused, what chance do any of the rest of us have?

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

Last week was just a miserable week. I was probably more active in adding new positions than I should have been and took little solace in having them out-perform the market for the week, as they were losers, too.

This week has more potentially bad news coming from retail, at a time when I really expected some positive news, at least with regard to forward guidance.

But with Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) having fallen about 12% last week after having picked up a little strength in the previous week, I’m ready to look at it again as it reports earnings this week.

I am sitting on a far more expensive lot of Abercrombie and Fitch, although if looking for a little of that solace, I can find some in having also owned it on 6 other occasions in 2015 and 21 other times in the past 3 years.

Despite that one lot that I’m not currently on speaking terms with, this has been a stock that I’ve longed loved to trade.

It has been range-bound for much of the past 8 months, although the next real support level is about 20% below Friday’s closing price.

With that in mind, the option market is implying about a 13.3% price move next week. A 1% ROI could potentially be obtained by selling puts nearly 22% below that close.

A stock that I like to trade, but don’t do often enough has just come off a very bad single day’s performance. GameStop (NYSE:GME) received a downgrade this past week and fell 16.5%

The downgrade was of some significance because it came from a firm that has had a reasonably good record on GameStop, since first downgrading it in 2008 and then upgrading in 2015.

GameStop has probably been written off for dead more than any stock that I can recall and has long been a favorite for those inclined to short stocks.

Meanwhile, the options market is implying a 5.5% move next week, even though earnings aren’t to be reported until Monday morning of the following week.

A 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a put contract at a strike level 5.8% below Friday’s close, but if doing that and faced with possible assignment resulting in ownership of shares, you need to be nimble enough to roll over the put contracts to the following or some other week in order to add greater downside protection.

For the following week the implied move is 12.5%, but part of that is also additional time value. However, the option market clearly still expects some additional possibility of large moves.

If you’re a glutton for more excitement, salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large price movements with or without earnings at hand.

Depending upon your perspective, salesforce.com is either an incredible example of great ingenuity or a house of cards as its accounting practices have been questioned for more than a decade.

The basic belief is that salesforce.com’s practice of stock based compensation will continue to work well for everyone as long as that share price is healthy, but being paid partially in the stock of a company whose share price is declining may seem like receiving your paycheck back in the days of Hungarian hyper-inflation.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that this week, as shares already did fall 4.6% last week.

The share price of salesforce.com has held up well even as rumors of a buyout from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have gone away. The option market is implying a share price move of 8.1% next week and a 1% ROI might possibly be obtained if selling puts at a strike level 9.4% below Friday’s close.

Microsoft itself is ex-dividend this week and is one of those handful of stocks that has helped to create the illusion of a healthy broader market.

That’s because Microsoft, a member of both the DJIA and the S&P 500 is up nearly 14% for the year and is one of those few well performing companies that has helped

to absorb much of the shock that’s being experienced by so many other index components that are in correction or bear territory.

In fact, coming off its market correction lows in August, Microsoft shares are some 30% higher and is only about 5% below its recent high.

While that could be interpreted by some as its shares being a prime candidate for a decline in order to catch up with a flailing market, sometimes in times of weakness it may just pay to go with the prevailing strength.

While I’d rather consider its share purchase after a price decline and before its ex-dividend date, Microsoft’s ability to withstand some of the market’s stresses adds to its appeal right now.

On the other hand, Intel’s (NASDAQ:INTC) 5.1% decline last week and its 6.5% decline from its recent ex-dividend date when some of my shares were assigned away from me early, makes it appealing.

Despite a large differential in comparative performance between Microsoft and Intel in 2015, they have actually tracked one another very well through the year if you exclude two spikes higher in Microsoft shares in the past year.

With that in mind, in a week that I like the idea of adding Microsoft for its dividend, I also like the idea of adding more Intel, just for the sake of adding Intel and capturing a reasonably generous option premium, in the hopes that it keeps up with Microsoft.

Finally, also going ex-dividend in the coming week are Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ).

The former probably sells something that can help you if you’ve over-indulged in the former for far too long of a time.

Dunkin Brands only has monthly dividends, but this being the final week of the monthly cycle, some consideration can be given to using it as a quick vehicle in an attempt to capture both premium and dividend, or perhaps a longer term commitment in an attempt to also secure some meaningful gain from the shares.

Those shares are actually nearly 30% lower in the past 4 months and are within easy reach of a 22 year low.

I’m currently undecided about whether to look at the short term play or a longer term, but I am also considering using a longer term contract, but rather than looking for share appreciation, perhaps using an in the money option in the hopes of being assigned shares early and then moving on to another potential target with the recycled cash.

Johnson & Johnson is not one of those companies that has helped to create the illusion of a healthy market. If you factor in dividends, Johnson & Johnson has essentially mirrored the DJIA.

Over the past 5 years, with a very notable exception of the last quarter, Johnson & Johnson has tended to trade well in the few weeks after having gone ex-dividend.

For that reason I may look at the possibility of selling calls dated for the following week, or perhaps even the week after Thanksgiving and also thinking about some capital gains on shares in addition to its generous dividend, but somewhat lower out of the money premium.’

While thinking about what to do in the coming week, I may find myself munching on some Dunkin Donuts. That tends to bring me clarity and happiness.

Maybe I could have some delivered to the FOMC for their next meeting.

It couldn’t hurt.

Traditional Stocks:Intel

Momentum Stocks: GameStop

Double-Dip Dividend: Dunkin Donuts (11/19 $0.26), Johnson & Johnson (11/20 $0.75). Microsoft (11/17 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (11/20 AM), 11/18 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 – 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 – June 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a win – win.

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

That’s another win – win.

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

There is no health care flag, however.

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

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

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

Just not too much this past week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it did.

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

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

As usual, the week’s poten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Intel, Microsoft

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – June 7, 2015

 

In statistics, there is a concept of “degrees of freedom.”

It is the number of independent ways by which a dynamic system can move, without violating any constraint imposed upon it.

For example, if you know that you have a dollar in change distributed between your 2 pockets and one of those pockets has $0.75 in it, there aren’t too many possibilities for what the other pocket will contain. That’s an example of a single degree of freedom. However, as soon as you throw a third pocket into the mix there are an additional 25 permutations possible, as a second degree of freedom opens up lots of possibilities.

Poor Janet Yellen. So few possibilities and so many constraints tying her up.

Since US interest rates can’t go much lower, she doesn’t have too much choice in their direction. She has no choice but to raise rates.

Eventually.

Her only freedom is in the timing of action. If you’re married to data, as is now being professed, she has to balance the opinion of a well regarded economist with the latest employment data release and the prospects of upwardly revised GDP statistics.

Her degrees of freedom situation got a little muddled this past week as Christine Lagarde, who is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, urged her to stay in line with the European Central Bank and keep interest rates low. At the same time the Employment Situation Report, released on Friday morning came in with job growth stronger than expected.

As the popular song once asked “should I stay or should I go?” is the kind of decision facing Janet Yellen right now and regardless of her decision, it’s going to be second guessed to death and much more likely to receive blame than credit for whatever near term or longer term outcomes there may be.

Doing nothing may be the safest decision, although this week the US bond market made its feelings known as rates moved in the only direction that makes sense.

That’s because suddenly the data has shifted the discussion back to the potential for the announcement of an interest rate increase as early as June 17th, the date of the next FOMC Statement release. That’s happened within days of the discussion having been about whether that increase would even occur in 2015.

With competing pressures of being out of synchrony with the direction of rates in the rest of the world and the reality of an economy that now may actually be growing at a stronger rate than had been believed, inaction would seem to be the obvious path to take.

Being tied up makes it easier to fail to act, but I’m betting that if any one can break free of the duct tape constraints that seek to bind her, it will be Janet Yellen.

The expression became long ago hackneyed, but while we all await a decision of interest rates, I suspect that Janet Yellen will break out of the box. As Bernanke before her, she will put her own twist on our narrow and limited expectations, leaving Christine Lagarde to realize that being late to the game is not a good reason to heed advice.

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

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) had a really terrible week last week as the news that everyone had come to expect regarding its intentions with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) became confirmed.

The funny part, although not if you’re an Intel shareholder, is that when rumors first surfaced earlier in the year, the initial response was positive for Intel’s share price.

Not so much, though, as rumors became news and suddenly every one started questioning intel’s strategy with the acquisition.

As weak as the overall market was this past week, it was well ahead of Intel, which lost nearly 8%. That drop in price has made the shares once again appealing, as its CEO, Brian Krzanich, shouldn’t strike anyone as being frivolous, particularly as it comes to operations, having previously served as Intel’s COO. I would guess that Krzanich can sense a strategic fit better than most at a company where he has spent nearly 33 years of his life.

With Chuck Robbins set to start soon as the new CEO at Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), more executive level changes were announced this past week, as shares also well under-performed the S&P 500 for the week.

Although nowhere as severe as Intel’s weekly decline, the drop in Cisco’s shares bring them closer to an appealing price once again, as its
ex-dividend data nears in a few weeks.

While shares are still a little higher priced than I might like to initiate a position, its recent weakness hasn’t had very much basis. Robbins’ new team, even though comprised of many Cisco insiders, is likely to hit the ground running with strategic initiatives and will probably be more focused on near term victories, than was outgoing CEO John Chambers.

I think that creates short term opportunities even as Robbins may pull out varied accounting tricks in the waning days of June in order to make the next quarter’s earnings pale in comparison to the subsequent quarter, thereby creating a positive early image of his leadership.

Altria (NYSE:MO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) are both ex-dividend this week and both offer a very attractive dividend. While one seeks to improve people’s lives through better chemistry, the other takes a different path.

Tobacco companies faced some challenges last week as the market didn’t react well to news of a $15 billion Canadian court penalty. Nor did it react well to news that a lawsuit regarding package labeling against the FDA was being dropped. A nearly 6% drop for the week is enough evidence of market displeasure.

Those drops helped to bring shares near some support levels just in time for the dividend and surprisingly good option premiums. While I don’t take any particular delight in the products or in the consequences of their use, there has never been a very good time to bet against their continued ability to withstand challenges.

That ability to withstand challenges is one of the signs of a great company and Merck falls into that category, as well.

Most often, companies like Altria and Merck, that have better than average dividend yields and whose dividend is about the size of a strike price unit or larger, in this case $0.50, are difficult to double dip in an effort to have some of the share price reduction brought about by going ex-dividend get subsidized by the option premium. However, with pharmaceutical companies being in play of late, the option premiums are higher than they have been for quite some time, even during an ex-dividend week.

Merck is rarely a candidate for a double dip dividend trade, but may be so this coming week, having also concluded a very weak past few trading days that highlighted a number of drug study trial results.

Finally, Williams Company (NYSE:WMB) is also ex-dividend this week having fallen sharply following the very positive reception it received after announcing the planned purchase of the remainder of its pipeline business, Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ).

With a nearly 10% decline in the past month since that announcement, as with both Altria and Merck, it offers a better than average dividend yield and a dividend that is greater than its strike price units. However, it too, is now offering an option premium that allows for double dipping that is so often now possible or feasible.

However, as with Altria, the recent decline seems to have been over-exaggerated and rather than selling an in the money call in an attempt to double dip on dividend and premium, I think that i may be inclined to forgo some of that double dipping in exchange for capital gains on the underlying shares by using out of the money options.

Either way, it’s an exercise in greed, but I like having the increased degree of freedom to do so.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Intel

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Altria (6/11), Williams Company (6/10), Merck (6/11)

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 – May 3, 2015

For all the talk about how April was one of the best months of the year, that ship sailed on April 30th when the DJIA lost 192 points, to finish the month just 0.2% higher.

It will take complete Magellan-like circumnavigation to have that opportunity once again and who knows how much the world will have changed by then?

Higher Interest rates, a disintegrating EU, renewed political stalemate heading into a Presidential election, rising oil prices and expanding world conflict are just some of the destinations that may await, once having set sail.

Not quite the Western Caribbean venue I had signed up for.

With the market getting increasingly difficult to understand or predict, I’m not even certain that there will be an April in 2016, but I can’t figure out how to hedge against that possibility.

But then again, for all the talk about “Sell in May and go away,” the DJIA recovered all but 9 of those points to begin the new month. With only a single trading day in the month, if there are more gains ahead, that ship certainly hasn’t sailed yet, but getting on board may be a little more precarious when within just 0.4% of an all time closing high on the S&P 500.

The potential lesson is that for every ship that sails a new berth is created.

What really may have sailed is the coming of any consumer led expansion that was supposed to lead the economy into its next phase of growth. With the release of this month’s GDP figures, the disappointment continued as the expected dividend from lower energy prices hasn’t yet materialized, many months after optimistic projections.

How so many esteemed and knowledgeable experts could have been universally wrong, at least in the time frame, thus far, as fascinating. Government economists, private sector economists, CEOs of retail giants and talking heads near and far, all have gotten it wrong. The anticipated expansion of the economy that was going to lead to higher interest rates just hasn’t fulfilled the logical conclusions that were etched in stone.

Interestingly, just as it seems to be coming clear that there isn’t much reason for the FOMC to begin a rise in interest rates, the 10 Year Treasury Note’s interest rate climbed by 5%. It did so as the FOMC removed all reference from a ticking clock to determine when those hikes would begin, in favor of data alone.

I don’t know what those bond traders are thinking. Perhaps they are just getting well ahead of the curve, but as this earnings season has progressed there isn’t too much reason to see any near term impetus for anything other than risk. No one can see over the horizon, but if you’re sailing it helps to know what may be ahead.

What started out as an earnings season that was understanding of the currency related constraints facing companies and even gave a pass on pessimistic guidance, has turned into a brutally punishin

g market for companies that don’t have the free pass of currency.

All you have to do is look at the reactions to LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Yelp (NYSE:YELP) this week, as they all reported earnings. Some of those would have gladly seen their stocks tumble by only 20% instead of the deep abyss that awaited.

Before anyone comes to the conclusion that the ship has sailed on those and similar names, I have 4 words for you: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now simply known as Keurig Green Mountain (NASDAQ:GMCR).

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) reported earnings last week and in 2015, up until that point, had quietly diverged from the S&P 500 in a positive way, if you had owned shares. As the luster of some of its competitors was beginning to fade and in the process of implementing a new global strategy, it appeared that Coach was ready to finally recover from a devastating earnings plunge a year ago.

It was at that time that everyone had firmly shifted their favor to competitor Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) and had started writing Coach off, as another example of a company sailing off into oblivion as it grew out of touch with its consumers.

Who knew at that time that Kors itself would so quickly run out of steam? At least the COach ride had been a sustained one and was beginning to show some signs of renewed life.

I’ve owned shares of Coach many times over the years and have frequently purchased shares after earnings or sold puts before or after earnings, always in the expectation that any earnings plunge would be short lived. That used to be true, but not for that last decline and I am still suffering with a lot that I optimistically sold $50 August 2015 calls upon, the day before earnings were released.

Unlike many stocks that have suffered declines and that then prompts me to add more shares, I haven’t done so with Coach, but am ready to do so now as shares are back to where they started the year.

With a dividend payout that appears to be safe, an acceptable option premium and the prospects of shares re-testing its recently higher levels, this seems like an opportune time to again establish a position, although I might consider doing so through the sale of puts. If taking that route and faced with an assignment, I would attempt to rollover the puts until that time in early June 2015 when shares are expected to go ex-dividend, at which point I would prefer to be long shares.

As far as fashion and popularity go, Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) may have seen its ship sail and so far, any attempt to right the ship by changing leadership hasn’t played out, so clearly there’s more at play.

What has happened, though, is that shares are no longer on a downward only incline, threatening to fall off the edge. It’s already fallen off, on more than one occasion, but like Coach, this most recent recovery has been much slower than those in the past.

But it’s in that period of quiescence for a stock that has a history of volatility that a covered option strategy, especially short term oriented, may be best suited.

Just 2 weeks ago I created a covered call position on new shares and saw them assigned that same week. They were volatile within a very narrow range that week, just as they were last week. That volatility creates great option premiums, even when the net change in share price is small.

With earnings still 3 weeks away, as is the dividend, the Abercrombie and Fitch trade may also potentially be considered as a put sale, and as with Coach, might consider share ownership if faced with the prospect of assignment approaching that ex-dividend date.

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), at least if you listen to its always opinionated CEO, John Legere, definitely has the wind blowing at its back. Some of that wind may be coming from Legere himself. There isn’t too much doubt that the bigger players in the cellphone industry are beginning to respond to some of T-Mobile’s innovations and will increasingly feel the squeeze on margins.

So far, though, that hasn’t been the case. as quarterly revenues for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) are at or near all time highs, as are profits. T-Mobile, on the other hand, while seeing some growth in revenues on a much smaller denominator, isn’t consistently seeing profits.

The end game for T-Mobile can’t be predicated on an endless supply of wind, no matter how much John Legere talks or Tweets. The end game has to include being acquired by someone that has more wind in their pockets.

But in the meantime, there is still an appealing option premium and the chance of price appreciation while waiting for T-Mobile to find a place to dock.

Keurig Green Mountain was the topic of the second article I everpublished on Seeking Alpha 3 years ago this week. It seems only fitting to re-visit it as it gets to report earnings. Whenever it does, it causes me to remember the night that I appeared on Matt Miller’s one time show, Bloomberg Rewind, having earlier learned that Green Mountain shares plunged about 30% on earnings.

Given the heights at which the old Green Mountain Coffee Roasters once traded, you would have been justified in believing that on that November 2011 night, the ship had sailed on Green Mountain Coffee and it was going to be left in the heap of other momentum stocks that had run into potential accounting irregularities.

But Green Mountain had a second act and surpassed even those lofty highs, with a little help from a new CEO with great ties to a deep pocketed company that was in need of diversifying its own beverage portfolio.

Always an exciting earnings related trade, the options market is implying a 10.2% price move upon earnings. In a week that saw 20% moves in Yelp, LinkedIn and Twitter, 10% seems like child’s play.

My threshold objective of receiving a 1% ROI on the sale of a put option on a stock that is about to report earnings appears to be achievable even if shares fall by as much as 12.1%.

It will likely be a long time before anyone believes that the ship has sailed on Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), but there was no shortage of comments about how the wind had been taken out of Intel’s sales as it missed the mobile explosion.

As far as Intel’s performance goes, it looks as if that ship sailed at the end of 2014, but with recent rumors of a hook-up with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) and the upcoming expiration of a standstill agreement, Intel is again picking up some momentum, as the market initially seemed pleased at the prospects of the union, which now may go the hostile route.

In the meantime, with that agreement expiring in 4 weeks, Intel is ex-dividend this week. The anticipation of events to come may explain why the premium on the weekly options are relatively high during a week that shares go ex-dividend.

Finally, perhaps one of the best examples of a company whose ship had sailed and was left to sink as a withered company was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Funny how a single product can turn it all around.

it was an odd week for Apple , though. Despite a nearly $4 gain to close the week, it finished the week virtually unchanged from where it started, even though it reported earnings after Monday’s close.

While it’s always possible to put a negative spin on the various components of the Apple sales story, and that’s done quarter after quarter, they continue to amaze, as they beat analyst’s consensus for the 10th consecutive quarter. While others may moan about currency exchange, Apple is just too occupied with execution.

Still, despite beating expectations yet again, after a quick opening pop on Tuesday morning shares finished the week $4 below that peak level when the week came to its end.

None of that is odd, though, unless you’ve grown accustomed to Apple moving higher after earnings are released. What was really odd was that the news about Apple as the week progressed was mostly negative as it focused on its latest product, the Apple Watch.

Reports of a tepid reception to the product; jokes like “how do you recognize the nerd in the crowd;” reports of tattoos interfering with the full functioning of the product; criticizing the sales strategy; and complaints about how complicated the Apple Watch was to use, all seemed so un-Apple-like.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and in the very short history of Apple having paid a dividend, the shares are very likely to move higher during the immediate period following the dividend distribution.

With the announcement this past week of an additional $50 billion being allocated to stock buybacks over the next 23 months, the ship may not sail on Apple shares for quite some time.

Traditional Stocks: Coach

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (5/5), Apple (5/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Keurig Green Mountain (5/6 PM)

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

Weekend Update – March 29, 2015

Fresh off of his estate’s victory in a copyright infringement suit, Marvin Gaye comes to my mind this week as I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

With the Passover holiday approaching this week, I’m also reminded that much of the basis of re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt is in response to the questions asked by children.

Among the classes of children traditionally described are the wise child, the evil child, the simple one and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask a question.

When it comes to trying to understand the past week I’m feeling a bit more like one of the latter two of those categories, although I still retain the option of holding onto my evil persona.

The week started with the Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, who coincidentally had been the Governor of the Bank of Israel many years after the exodus, getting some laughs with jokes that maybe only economists would appreciate. However, to his credit he was able to tone down his hawkish sentiments while still staying true to his tenets, but without frightening markets. That was nice to see, as it was his comments just 2 days after Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony that brought an end to the February rally and, perhaps coincidentally, set us on the path for March.

That hasn’t been a very good path for most investors and with only 2 days of trading remaining in the quarter has it threatening to be the first losing quarter in quite a while as we learned that the most recent quarterly corporate profits over the same time period fell for the first time since 2008.

Yet that news didn’t seem to bother markets this morning as they had a rare session ending with a higher close.

With Stanley Fischer putting everyone into a good mood from a dose of Federal Reserve humor all went pretty well to start the week, with Monday looking like it would mark the first time of having two consecutive days higher in over a month. That was the case until the final 15 minutes of trading and then the market just continued in that downward path throughout most of the rest of the week.

But why? Someone, somewhere had to be asking the obvious question that 3 out of 4 categories of children are capable of asking.

What’s going on?

Friday’s GDP data for the 4th Quarter of 2014 showed no change with the economy growing at an annual 2.2% rate. That’s considerably less than projections based upon lower energy prices fueling a resurgence of consumer activity in the coming year, even recognizing that those perceived benefits were theoretically in only their very nascent stages in late 2014.

While the GDP data is certainly backward looking there’s been nothing happening to support that consumer led growth that we’ve all believed was coming.

Corporate profits are falling, retail sales are flat and home sales aren’t exactly setting the economy on fire, all as energy prices are well off their earlier eye popping lows.

So you might think that would all add an arrow to the quiver of interest rate doves, but the market hasn’t been embracing the idea of continuing low interest rates as much as it’s been fearing the prospects of increasing interest rates.

But this week had nothing to fear. Even the most influential of the hawks seemed and sounded accommodating, but the market wasn’t buying it.

This past week, like recent weeks, has made little sense no matter how much you try to explain it. Just like it’s hard to explain how the defendant’s weren’t aware of the existence of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” or that somehow pestilence, boils and locusts rained down upon the Pharoahs.

No matter how you look at it reason is not reigning.

Even a child who doesn’t know how to ask knows when something is going on.

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

I purchased some American Express (NYSE:AXP) shares a few weeks ago shortly after the news of their loss of Costco (NASDAQ:COST) as a co-branding partner. Coincidentally that decision came at the same time as both my wife and I had individual issues with American Express customer service.

With a combined history of more than 65 years of using American Express as our primary personal and business cards, we’ve done so largely for their customer service. My wife, after speaking to almost 15 representatives is ready to give her card the boot and she reminded me that she’s had that card longer than she’s had me, so I should be on notice.

Coming as no surprise, American Express just announced workforce cutbacks that will only serve to weaken what really distinguished them from the rest, but that may be what it takes to start making shares look attractive again as the company substitutes cost savings for revenues.

Fortunately, my shares from a few weeks ago were quickly assigned and now it looks as if another opportunity may be at hand as it has re-traced its bounce from the sizable drop it took when the Costco news was made known. It’s upcoming ex-dividend date this week adds to the attraction as the company is wasting no time in taking steps to offset what are now expected to be significant revenue losses beginning in 2016.

Who knew to ever ask just how important Costco was to American Express?

I purchased shares of Dow Chemical last week in order to capture the dividend. What I wasn’t expecting was the announcement coming Friday morning of their plans to merge a portion of the company with Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN) while becoming a majority owner of Olin.

Fortunately that announcement waited until Friday morning so that I was able to retain the dividend. Had it come after Thursday’s close and based on the initial price reaction, those shares would have been assigned early.

While Dow Chemical has been somewhat phlegmatic lately as it tracks energy prices, the sale to Olin appears to be responsive to activist Dan Loeb’s desire to shed low margin businesses. This deal looks to be a great one for Dow Chemical and may also demonstrate that it is serious about improving margins.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) reported earnings this past Friday and recovered significantly from its preliminary decline. I was amazed that it did so after watching what appeared to be a very wooden and canned performance by its CFO during an interview before trading began that didn’t seem very convincing. However, shortly after trading did begin shares climbed significantly.

I like considering adding shares of GameStop after a decline, as there is a long history of people predicting its coming demise and offering very rational and compelling reasons of why they are correct, only to see shares have a mind of their own.

I had shares assigned just a week earlier and was happy to see that assignment come right after its ex-dividend date but before earnings. Now at a lower price it looks tempting again, although I would probably hold out for a little bit more of a decline, perhaps approaching Friday morning’s opening lows.

While GameStop has a reasonably low beta you wouldn’t know it if you owned shares, but fortunately the options market knows it and typically offers premiums that reflect the sudden moves shares are very capable of taking.

Up until about 30 minutes before Friday’s close it hadn’t been a very good week to be in the semiconductor business. That may have changed, at least for a moment or two, as it was announced that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was in talks to purchase Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR).

Among those stocks benefiting from that late news was Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU), which has fallen even more than Intel in 2015.

Micron Technology reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large earnings related moves. The options market, however is implying only a 5.5% price move next week. While I normally look for a strike level that’s outside of the range defined by the implied move that offers at least a 1% ROI for the week, this coming week is a bit odd.

That’s because Micron Technology reports earnings after the market’s close on Thursday, yet the market will be closed for trading on Good Friday.

For that reason I would consider looking at the possibility of selling puts for the following week, but would like to see shares give up some of the gains made in response to the Intel news.

While Intel’s late news helped to rescue it from having sunk below $30 for the first time in 9 months, it did nothing for Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) nor Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). They, along with Intel had been significantly under-performing the S&P 500 this week and for the year to date.

Both Cisco and Oracle are ex-dividend this week and following their drops this past week both are beginning to have appeal once again.

With a holiday shortened week and also going ex-dividend the expectation is that option premiums would be noticeably lower, However, both Cisco and Oracle are offering a compelling combination of option premiums and dividends along with some chance of recovering some of their recent losses.

The real challenge for each may be related to currency exchange and how it will impact earnings. However, barring early earnings warnings, Cisco won’t report earnings for another 7 weeks and Oracle not for another 12 weeks, so hopefully that would allow plenty of time to extricate from a position before the added risk of earnings comes into play.

Finally, I came close to buying shares of SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) just a couple of days ago, looking to replace shares that were assigned just 2 weeks earlier.

It’s not often that you see a company give earnings warnings twice within the space of about 2 months, but SanDisk now has that distinction and has plunged on both of those occasions.

What SanDisk may have discovered is what so many others have, in that being an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) supplier may be very much a mixed blessing or curse, depending on your perspective at the moment.

While its revenues are certainly being squeezed I’m reminded of a period about 10 years ago when SanDisk was essentially written off by just about everyone as flash memory was becoming to be considered as nothing more than a commodity.

In that time anyone with a little daring would have done very well in that time period with shares nearly doubling the S&P 500 performance.

With a nearly 25% drop over the past few days, even as a commodity or a revenue stressed company, SanDisk may have some opportunity as it approaches its 18 month lows.

As with many other stocks that have taken large falls, I would consider entering a new position through the sale of put options and if faced with the possibility of assignment would try to roll the position over to a forward week in an attempt to delay or preclude assignment while still collecting a premium.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: American Express (3/31), Cisco (3/31), Oracle (4/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Micron Technology (4/2 PM)

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

Weekend Update – March 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow that doesn’t sound very likely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would Sheldon Do?

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

The Gap (NYSE:GPS) fascinates me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, United Continental

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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