Weekend Update – August 10, 2014

Back in 2007 there was a sign that most mere mortals failed to recognize or understand as they stood in the path of peril.

A messenger delivered such a sign some seven years earlier, as well, and did so again last month.

The messenger was old, perhaps as old as the universe itself and his words and actions did foretell of the dangers that awaited, yet they were not appreciated as such, not even by the messenger, who may also have served as the executioner.

The proposed acquisitions of Chris-Craft and Dow Jones, in 2000 and 2007, respectively, were among the signs of market tops preceding terrible plunges that each saw the sacrifice of a generation of investors, some of whom are still said to be hiding as they await some sign of safety to begin investing once again.

The re-appearance of the messenger should give them some pause before considering a return to the action.

However, in a strange kind of way the “all safe” sign may have been delivered this week, as Rupert Murdoch, whose timing with his large previous acquisitions has been exquisite in its accuracy for coinciding with market tops has now sent a counter sign.

Barely a month ago, for those believing in the power of Murdoch, it was ominous that he would have proposed a buy out of Time Warner (TWX), but this week that offer was revoked, perhaps offering a respite to investors fearing another plunge from what may be destined to be a market top.

While many are speculating as to the reason for Murdoch’s change of heart, could it be that he has come to the realization that his offering price was just too high and that history, which has a habit of repeating itself, was poised to do so again?

Probably not, as once you get the taste, it’s all about the hunt and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Murdoch either regroups, as the world appreciates that Time Warner’s share value is far less without Murdoch’s pursuit or as he seeks a new target.

As far as the revocation of the offer being a counter sign, this past week didn’t seem to receive it as such, as market weakness from last week continued amidst a barrage of international events.

But Murdoch wasn’t alone this week in perhaps having some remorse. Sprint (S), which never really made an overt bid for T-Mobile (TMUS), did however, overtly withdraw itself from that fray, just as T-Mobile was thumbing its nose at the French telecommunications company, Illiad’s (ILD) bid.

Walgreen (WAG) may have had a double dose of remorse this week as it announced that it would buy the remainder of a British drug store chain but would not be considering doing a tax inversion. They may have first regretted the speculation that they would be doing so as they undoubtedly received considerable political pressure to not move its headquarters. Seeing its shares plunge on that news may have been additional cause for remorse.

While Murdoch may have significant personal wealth tied to the fortunes of his company and may have a very vested interest in those shares prospering, that may not always be the case, as for some, it may be very easy to spend “other people’s money” in pursuit of the target and be immune to feelings of remorse.

But it’s a different story when it’s your own money in question. “Investor’s Remorse” can have applicability in both the micro and macro sense. We have all made a stock purchase that we’ve come to regret. However, in the larger sense, the remorse that may have been felt in 2000 and 2007 as Murdoch flexed his muscles was related to the agony of having remained fully invested in the belief that the market could only go higher.

When we see the potential signs of an apocalypse, such as increasing buyout offers and increasing numbers of initial public offerings while the market is hitting new highs, one has to wonder whether remorse will be the inevitable outcome. An Italian recession and the German stock exchange in correction may add to concerns.

Philosophically, my preference has long been to miss an upward climb to some degree by virtue of not being fully invested, rather than to be fully engaged during a market decline.

A drop of 10% seems like a lot, but it will seem even more when you realize that you must gain 11% just to once again reach your baseline. Having been that route I believe it’s much easier to drop 10% than it is to gain 11%. Just ask anyone who now own stocks that may have suddenly found themselves officially in “correction territory.”

As I get older I have less and less time and less appetite for remorse. I would assume that Rupert Murdoch feels the same, but he may also have a sense of immunity coupled with the secret for immortality, neither of which I enjoy.

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

This week’s selections include a number of recent targets and perhaps sources of remorse that may now find themselves better suited for those spending their own money, rather than that of other people.

Time Warner shareholders have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past three weeks as they saw a plunge on the same order as an initial surge in that time span. They may be experiencing some remorse for their leadership not being willing to consider Murdoch’s overture. The revocation of the offer, beautifully timed to dampen the good news of Time Warner’s earnings perhaps helped to limit any upside gains from earnings and adding to the feeling that Murdoch was the key to attaining “fair value,” even if that fair value may now no longer represent a premium to the initial bid.

However, with shares now back to their pre-offer level, which admittedly was at the then high for the year, the option premiums are quite high, reflecting the potential for more action. The challenge is knowing in which direction.

In the case of T-Mobile, it was a whirlwind week seeing an offer from abroad which wasn’t taken very seriously by anyone and then seeing the presumptive acquirer drop out of the game.

It’s hard to say who if anyone would have had any remorse, certainly not its out front CEO, John Legere, but no doubt shareholders experienced some, as shares plummeted in the belief that suitors were dropping like flies.

While Legere talks a boisterous game and did all he could to close the door to any future with Sprint, the reality is that T-Mobile needs both spectrum and cash and Legere needs a “sugar daddy” and one with lots of patience and tolerance.

For anyone willing to get in bed with T-Mobile, the good news is that they can have John Legere. The bad news is that they get John Legere.

But for a short term trade, suddenly T-Mobile is in correction territory and as long as there may still be prospects of capital appreciation, the option premiums are very enticing.

Walgreen shares fell nearly 15% on news that it wasn’t going to do a tax inversion, which seems far more than appropriate, as shares had their major ascent about 6 months ago long before most had ever heard of tax inversion.

I’ve been waiting for a while for Walgreen shares to return to the $60 level and the current reason hardly seems like one that would keep shares trading at that low level. Some recovery over the past two days doesn’t dampen the attraction to its shares.

Target (TGT) certainly should have experienced some remorse over the manner in which its data security practices were managed. In Target’s case, they put an additional price tag on that remorse that reversed the recent climb in shares, but was just really part of the obligatory dumping of all bad news into a single quarter to honor the ascension of a new CEO.

I’ve owned Target shares for a while waiting for it to recover from its security breach related price drop. Uncharacteristically, I haven’t added to my holdings as I usually do when prices drop because I haven’t had the level of confidence that I usually want before doing so. Now, however, I’m ready to take that plunge and don’t believe that there will be reason for further personal remorse. WIth an upcoming dividend, I don’t mind waiting for it to share in an anticipated pick up in the retail sector.

I’ve certainly had remorse over my ownership of shares in Whole Foods (WFM). While its co-CEOs are certainly visionaries, they have been facing increasing competition, are engaged in an aggressive national expansion and have one CEO that tends to make inopportune comments reflecting personal beliefs that frequently impact the stock price.

To his credit John Mackey has expressed some regrets over his choice of words in the past, but recently there has been little to inspire confidence. A recent, albeit small, price climb was attributed to a rumor of an activist position. While I have no idea of whether there’s any validity to that, Whole Foods does represent the kind of asset that may be appealing to an activist, in that it has a well regarded product, significantly depressed share price and leadership that may have lost touch with what is really important.

Mondelez (MDLZ) may or may not have any reason to feel remorse over adding activist investor Nelson Peltz onto its Board of Directors and to his decision to stop seeking a merger deal with Pepsi (PEP). Investors, however, may have some remorse as shares suddenly find themselves in correction over the past month.

That price drop brings Mondelez shares back into consideration for rotation into my portfolio, especially if looking for classically “defensive” positions in advance of an anticipated market decline. With an almost competitive dividend, a decent option premium and the possibility of some price bounce back the shares look attractive once again.

DuPont (DD) and Eli Lilly (LLY) are both ex-dividend this week and there’s rarely reason to feel remorse when a dividend can make you feel so much better, especially when well in excess of the average for S&P 500 stocks. Lilly’s recent fall in the past two weeks and DuPont’s two month’s decline offer some incentive to consider adding shares at this time and adding option premiums to the income mix while waiting for the market to return to an upward bias.

Cree (CREE) reports earnings this week and is always an exciting ride for a lucky or unlucky investor. It is a stock that either creates glee or remorse.

My most recent lot of shares came from eventually taking assignment of shares following the sale of puts after the previous earnings report, thinking that they couldn’t possibly go down any further in a significant manner. I don’t have any remorse, as I’ve been able to generate option premium revenue on having rolled the puts over and then having sold calls subsequent to assignment. I may, however, have some remorse after this coming week’s earnings.

The option market is once again looking for a significant earnings related move next week. For the trader willing to risk remorse a 1% weekly ROI may be achieved at a strike level 12% below the current price. For those less tolerant of risk, if shares do drop significantly after earnings, some consideration can be given to selling out of the money puts and being prepared to manage the position, as may become necessary.

Finally, how can you talk about remorse and not mention Halliburton (HAL)? From drilling disasters to adventures in Iraq Halliburton really hasn’t needed to be remorseful, because somehow it always found a way to prosper and move beyond the “disaster du jour.”

In hindsight, it seems so perfectly appropriate that for a period in time its CEO was future Vice President Dick Cheney, who didn’t even express any remorse for having shot a good friend in the face.

That’s the kind of leadership that we need in a company being considered for its worthiness of our personal assets, because we are capable of remorse and are pained by the prospects of engaging in it.

With some recent price weakness, as being experienced in the energy sector, now appears to be a good time to take advantage of Halliburton’s price retreat and save the remorse for others.

Traditional Stocks: Halliburton, Mondelez, Target, Time Warner, Walgreen, Whole Foods

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (8/13), Eli Lilly (8/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (8/12 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 – May 11, 2014

 A few hundred years ago Sir Isaac Newton is widely credited with formulating the Law of Universal Gravitation.

In hindsight, that “discovery” shouldn’t really be as momentous as the discovery more than a century earlier that the sun didn’t revolve around the earth. It doesn’t seem as if it would take an esteemed mathematician to let the would know that objects fall rather than spontaneously rise. Of course, the Law is much more complex than that, but we tend to view things in their most simplistic terms.

Up until recently, the Law of Gravity seemed to have no practical implications for the stock market because prices only went higher, just as the sun revolved around the earth until proven otherwise. Additionally, unlike the very well defined formula that describe the acceleration that accompanies a falling object, there are no such ways to describe how stocks can drop, plunge or go into free fall.

For those that remember the “Great Stockbroker Fallout of 1987,” back then young stockbrokers could have gone 5 years without realizing that what goes up will come down, fled the industry en masse upon realizing  the practical application of Newton’s genius in foretelling the ultimate direction of every stock and stock markets.

The 2014 market has been more like a bouncing ball as the past 10 weeks have seen alternating rises and falls of the S&P 500. Only a mad man or a genius could have predicted that to become the case. It’s unlikely that even a genius like Newton could have described the laws governing such behavior, although even the least insightful of physics students knows that the energy contained in that bouncing ball is continually diminished.

As in the old world when people believed that the world was flat and that its exploration might lead one to fall off the edge, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to that bouncing ball in this flat market as it deceptively has come within a whisker of even more records on the DJIA and S&P 500. Even while moving higher it seems like there is some sort of precipice ahead that some momentum stocks have already discovered while functioning as advance scouts for the rest of the market.

With earnings season nearing its end the catalyst to continue sapping the energy out of the market may need to come from elsewhere although I would gladly embrace any force that would forestall gravity’s inevitable power.

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

As a past customer, I was never enamored of Comcast (CMCSA) and jumped at the first opportunity to switch providers. But while there may be some disdain for the product and especially the service, memories of which won’t easily be erased by visions of a commercial showing a comedian riding along in a service truck, you do have to admire the company’s shares. 

Having spent the past 6 months trading above $49 it has recently been range bound and that is where the appeal for me starts. It’s history of annual dividend increases, good option premiums and price stability adds to that appeal. While there is much back story at present in the world of cable providers and Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC) may still have some obstacles ahead, the core business shouldn’t be adversely impacted by regulatory decisions.

Also, as a one time frequent customer of Best Buy (BBY), I don’t get into their stores very often anymore. Once they switched from a perpendicular grid store layout to a diagonal one they lost me. Other people blame it on Amazon (AMZN), but for me it was all about the floor plan. But while I don’t shop there very much anymore it’s stock has been a delight trading at the $26 level.

Having had shares assigned for the fourth time in the past two months I would like to see a little bit of a price drop after Friday’s gain before buying shares again. However, with earnings coming up during the first week of the June 2014 option cycle you do have to be prepared for nasty surprises as are often delivered. There’s still more time for someone to blame cold weather on performance and this may be the retailer to do so. WIth that in mind, Best Buy may possibly be better approached through the sale of put options this week with the intent of rolling over if in jeopardy of being assigned shares prior to the earnings release.

There’s barely a week that I don’t consider buying or adding shares of Coach. I currently own shares purchased too soon after recent earnings and that still have a significant climb ahead of them to break even. However, with an upcoming dividend during the June 2014 cycle and shares trading near the yearly low point, I may be content with settling in with a monthly option contract, collecting the premium and dividend and just waiting for shares to do what they have done so reliably over the past two years and returning to and beyond their pre-earnings report level.

Mosaic (MOS) is another one of those companies that I’ve owned on many occasions over the years. Most recently I’ve been a serial purchaser of shares as its share price plunged following announcement of a crack in the potash cartel. Still owning some more expensive shares those serial purchases have helped to offset the paper losses on the more expensive shares. Following a recent price pullback after earnings I’m ready to again add shares as I expect Mosaic to soon surpass the $50 level and stay above there.

Dow Chemical (DOW) is also a company whose shares I’ve owned with frequency over the years, but less so as it moved from $42 to $50. Having recently decided that $48 was a reasonable new re-entry point that may receive some support from the presence of activist investors, the combination of premiums, dividends and opportunity for share appreciation is compelling.

Holly Frontier (HFC) has become a recent favorite replacing Phillips 66 (PSX) which has just appreciated too much and too fast. While waiting for Phillips 66 to return to more reasonable levels, Holly Frontier has been an excellent combination of gyrating price movements up and down and a subsequent return to the mean. Because of those sharp movements its option premium is generally attractive and shares routinely distribute a special dividend in addition to a regular dividend that has been routinely increased since it began three years ago.

The financial sector has been weak of late and we’ve gotten surprises from JP Morgan (JPM) recently with regard to its future investment related earnings and Bank of America (BAC) with regard to its calculation error of capital on its books. However, Morgan Stanley (MS) has been steadfast. Fortunately, if interested in purchasing shares its steadfast performance hasn’t been matched by its share price which is now about 10% off its recent high. 

With its newly increased dividend and plenty of opportunity to see approval for a further increase, it appears to be operating at high efficiency and has been trading within a reasonably tight price range for the past 6 months, making it a good consideration for a covered option trade and perhaps on a serial basis.

Since I’ve spent much of 2014 in pursuit of dividends in anticipation of decreased opportunity for share appreciation, Eli Lilly (LLY) is once again under consideration as it goes ex-dividend this week. With shares trading less than 5% from its one year high, I would prefer a lower entry price, but the sector is seeing more interest with mergers, acquisitions and regulatory scrutiny, all of which can be an impetus for increasing option premiums.

Finally, it’s hard to believe that I would ever live in an age when people are suggesting that Apple (AAPL) may no longer be “cool.” For some, that was the reason behind their reported purchase of Beats Music, as many professed not to understand the synergies, nor the appeal, besides the cache that comes with the name. 

Last week I thought there might be opportunity to purchase Apple shares in order to attempt to capture its dividend and option premium in the hope for a quick trade. As it work turn out that trade was never made because Apple opened the week up strongly, continuing its run higher since recent earnings and other news were announced. I don’t usually chase stocks and in this case that proved to be fortuitous as shares followed the market’s own ambivalence and finished the week lower.

However, this week comes the same potential opportunity with the newly resurgent Microsoft (MSFT). While it’s still too early to begin suggesting that there’s anything “cool” about Microsoft, there’s nothing lame about trying to grab the dividend and option premium that was elusive the previous week with its competition.

Microsoft has under-performed the S&P 500 over the past month as the clamor over “old technology” hasn’t really been a path to riches, but has certainly been better than the so-called “new technology.” Yet Microsoft has been maintaining the $39 level and may be in good position to trade in that range for a while longer. It neither needs to obey or disregard gravity for its premiums and dividends to make it a worthwhile portfolio addition.

 

Traditional Stocks: Comcast, Dow Chemical, Holly Frontier

Momentum: Best Buy, Coach, Morgan Stanley, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Microsoft (5/13 $0.28), Eli Lilly (5/13 $0.49)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – February 9, 2014

Everything is crystal clear now.

After three straight weeks of losses to end the trading week, including deep losses the past two weeks everyone was scratching their heads to recall the last time a single month had fared so poorly.

What those mounting losses accomplished was to create a clear vision of what awaited investors as the past week was to begin.

Instead, it was nice to finish on an up note to everyone’s confusion.

When you think you are seeing things most clearly is when you should begin having doubts.

Who saw a two day 350 point gain coming, unless they had bothered to realize that this week was featuring an Employment Situation Report? The one saving grace we have is that for the past 18 months you could count on a market rally to greet the employment news, regardless of whether the news met, exceeded or fell short of expectations.

That’s clarity. It’s confusing, but it’s a rare sense of clarity that comes from being so successful in its ability to predict an outcome that itself is based upon human behavior.

As the week began with a 325 point loss in the DJIA voices started bypassing talk of a 10% correction and starting uttering thoughts of a 15-20% correction. 10% was a bygone conclusion. At that point most everyone agreed that it was very clear that we were finally being faced with the “healthy” correction that had been so long overdue.

When in the middle of that correction nothing really feels very healthy about it, but when people have such certainty about things it’s hard to imagine that they might be wrong. With further downside seen by the best and brightest we were about to get healthier than our portfolios might be able to withstand.

It was absolutely amazing how clearly everyone was able to see the future. What made things even more ominous and sustaining their view was the impending Employment Situation Report due at the end of the week. Following last month’s abysmal numbers, ostensibly related to horrid weather across the country, there wasn’t too much reason to expect much in the way of an improvement this time around. Besides, the Nikkei and Russian stock markets had just dipped below the 10% threshold that many define as a market correction and as we’re continually reminded, it’s an inter-connected world these days. It wasn’t really a question of “whether,” it was a matter of “when?”

Then there was all that talk of how high the volatility was getting, even though it had a hard time even getting to October 2013 levels, much less matching historical heights. As everyone knows, volatility comes along with declining markets so the cycle was being put in place for the only outcome possible.

After Monday’s close the future was clear. Crystal clear.

Instead, the week ended with an 0.8% gain in the S&P 500 despite that plunge on Monday and a highly significant drop in volatility. The market responded to a disappointing Employment Situation Report with what logically or even using the “good news is bad news” kind of logic should not have been the case.

Now, with a week that started by confirming the road to correction we were left with a week that supported the idea that the market is resistant to a classic correction. Instead of the near term future of the markets being crystal clear we are left beginning this coming week with more confusion than is normally the case.

If it’s true that the market needs clarity in order to propel forward this shouldn’t be the week to commit yourself. However, the only thing that’s really clear about our notions is that they’re often without basis so the only reasonable advice is to do as in all weeks – look for situational opportunities that can be exploited without regard to what is going on in the rest of the world.

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

If you’re looking for certainty, or at least a company that has taken steps to diminish uncertainty, Microsoft (MSFT) is the one. With the announcement of the appointment of Satya Nadella, an insider, to be its new CEO, shares did exactly what the experts said it wouldn’t do. Not too long ago the overwhelming consensus was that the appointment of an outsider, such as Alan Mullaly would drive shares forward, while an insider would send shares tumbling into the 20s.

Microsoft simply stayed on its path with the news of an inside candidate taking the reigns. Regardless of its critics, Microsoft’s strategy is more coherent than it gets credit for and this leadership decision was a quantum leap forward, certainly far more important than discussions of screen size. With this level of certainty also comes the certainty of a dividend and attractive option premiums, making Microsoft a perennial favorite in a covered option strategy.

The antithesis of certainty may be found in the smallest of the sectors. With the tumult in pricing and contracts being promulgated by T-Mobile (TMUS) and its rebel CEO John Legere, there’s no doubt that the margins of all wireless providers is being threatened. Verizon (VZ) has already seen its share price make an initial response to those threats and has shown resilience even in the face of a declining market, as well. Although the next ex-dividend date is still relatively far away, there is a reason this is a favorite among buy and hold investors. As long as it continues to trade in a defined range, this is a position that I wouldn’t mind holding for a while and collecting option premiums and the occasional dividend.

Lowes (LOW) is always considered an also ran in the home improvement business and some recent disappointing home sales news has trickled down to Lowes’ shares. While it does report earnings during the first week of the March 2014 option cycle, I think there is some near term opportunity at it’s current lower price to see some share appreciation in addition to collecting premiums. However, I wouldn’t mind being out of my current shares prior to its scheduled earnings report.

Among those going ex-dividend this week are Conoco Phillips (COP), International Paper (IP) and Eli Lilly (LLY). In the past month I’ve owned all three concurrently and would be willing to do so again. While International Paper has outperformed the S&P 500 since the most recent market decline two weeks ago, it has also traded fairly rangebound over the past year and is now at the mid-point of that range. That makes it at a reasonable entry point.

Conoco Phillips appears to be at a good entry point simply by virtue of a nearly 12% decline from its recent high point which includes a 5% drop since the market’s own decline. With earnings out of the way, particularly as they have been somewhat disappointing for big oil and with an end in sight for the weather that has interfered with operations, shares are poised for recovery. The premiums and dividend make it easier to wait.

Eli Lilly is down about 5% from its recent high and I believe is the next due for its turn at a little run higher as the major pharmaceutical companies often alternate with one another. With Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) having recently taken those honors, it’s time for Eli Lilly to get back in the short term lead, as it is for recent also ran Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that was lost to assignment this past week and needs a replacement, preferably one offering a dividend.

Zillow (Z) reports earnings this week. In its short history as a publicly traded company it has had the ability to consistently beat analyst’s estimates and then usually see shares fall as earnings were released. That kind of doubled barrel consistency warrants some consideration this week as the option market is implying an 11% move this week. While that is possible, there is still an opportunity to generate a 1% ROI for the week if the share price falls by anything less than 16%.

While I’m not entirely comfortable looking for volatility among potential new positions two that do have some appeal are Coach (COH) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

Coach is a frequent candidate for consideration and I generally like it more when it’s being maligned. After last week’s blow-out earnings report by Michael Kors (KORS) the obvious next thought becomes how their earnings are coming at the expense of Coach. While there may be truth to that and has been the conventional wisdom for nearly 2 years, Coach has been able to find a very comfortable trading range and has been able to significantly increase its dividend in each of the past 4 years in time for the second quarter distribution. It’s combination of premiums, dividends and price stability, despite occasional swings, makes it worthy of consistent consideration.

I’ve been waiting for a while for another opportunity to add shares of Morgan Stanley. Down nearly 12% in the past 3 weeks may be the right opportunity, particularly as some European stability may be at hand following the European Central Bank’s decision to continue accommodation and provide some stimulus to the continent, where Morgan Stanley has interests, particularly being subject to “net counterparty exposure.” It’s ride higher has been sustained and for those looking at such things, it’s lows have been consistently higher and higher, making it a technician’s delight. I don’t really know about such things and charts certainly aren’t known for their clarity being validated, but its option premiums do compel me as do thoughts of a dividend increase that it i increasingly in position to institute.

Finally, if you’re looking for certainty you don’t have to look any further than at Chesapeake Energy (CHK) which announced a significant decrease in upcoming capital expenditures, which sent shares tumbling on the announcement. Presumably, it takes money to make money in the gas drilling business so the news wasn’t taken very well by investors. A very significant increase in option premiums early in the week suggested that some significant news was expected and it certainly came, with some residual uncertainty remaining in this week’s premiums. For those with some daring this may represent the first challenge since the days of Aubrey McClendon and may also represent an opportunity for shareholder Carl Icahn to enter the equation in a more activist manner.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, Microsoft, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Coach, Morgan Stanley,

Double Dip Dividend: Conoco Phillips (ex-div 2/13), International Paper (ex-div 2/12), Eli Lilly (ex-div 2/12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (2/12 PM)

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

Weekend Update – November 10, 2013

Is there life after momentum slows?

There was no shortage of stocks taking large price hits last week, as earnings season had already begun its slowdown phase. However, for some of the better known momentum stocks the slightest mis-steps were all the reason necessary to flee with profits.

For those who live long enough, it should never come as a surprise that some things are just destined to slow down.

Momentum fits into that category, although based on the past week it’s more of a question of falling down than slowing down for some.

After the fact, no one seemed to be surprised.

In a week that saw a decrease in the ECB’s main lending rate that was widely described as being a “surprise'” later in the day came reports that most economists expected the cut. The market clearly didn’t, however, as the economists may have neglected to pass on their views.

And then there was a surprisingly large increase in non-farm payroll jobs. Somehow everyone was taken off guard and the market responded by interpreting good news as good news and finished the week with a flourish.

What surprised me, however, was that there was such a disconnect between the anticipated numbers and the actual report, which covered the period of the government shutdown. The disconnect had to do with methodology, as forecasts didn’t take into account that government statistics considered furloughed employees to be employed, since they were to receive back, through legislative action.

Oops.

In effect, Friday’s rally was based on a misunderstanding of methodology. It will also certainly be interesting to see what impact Ben Bernanke’s statement after the market’s close may have on Monday’s trading.

I think the unemployment rate probably understates the degree of slack in the labor market. I think the employment-population ratio overstates it somewhat, because there are important downward trends in participation

Unfortunately, Friday’s gains complicate the goal of finding bargain priced stocks in the coming week, but with a little water having been thrown on the fire there may be opportunity yet.

Everyone, including me, likes to look for clues and cues that have predictive value. Parallels are drawn at every opportunity to what we know from the past in the expectation that it can foretell the future.

For some the sudden increase in IPOs coming to market and the sudden fall of many momentum stocks heralds a market top. In hindsight, if it does occur, it will be regarded as “no surprise.” If it doesn’t occur within the attention span of most paying attention it will simply be conveniently ignored.

For others the reversal of fortune may represent values and not value traps.

But no matter what the case there is life after momentum slows. It’s just a question of accommodation to new circumstances.

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

eBay (EBAY) like so many stocks that I consider tends to trade in a range. While eBay is often criticized for being “range bound” there is some comfort in knowing that it is less likely to offer an unwanted surprise than many other stocks. My shares were assigned this past week and are now trading at the upper range of where I may normally initiate a position. However, having owned shares on ten separate occasions this year I would be anxious to do so again on the slightest of pullbacks.

Although hardly a momentum stock, Mondelez (MDLZ) had some earnings woes this past week, although it did recover a bit, perhaps simply being carried along by a rallying market. Shares are still a little higher than I would like for an entry point, but I expect that as a short term selection it will match market performance, while in a market turn-down it will exceed performance.

Fastenal (FAST) is another fairly sedate company, yet its stock often has some large moves. I see Fastenal as a leading indicator of economic activity, but also very sensitive to the economy. I think its most recent price weakness will be reversed as the impact of a resolution of the government’s shutdown trickles down to the economy. I currently own shares with a contract set to expire this week, but at this price am considering doubling down on what in essence can be a weekly option contract during the final week of the November 2013 cycle.

Deere (DE) is another range bound stock, that in hindsight I should have bought on numerous occasions over the past few months. Good option premiums, a good dividend and not facing some of the same external pressures as another favorite, Caterpillar (CAT), makes Deere a perennially good selection within its sector.

I currently ow
n shares of both Eli Lilly (LLY) and International Paper (IP), both of which go ex-dividend this week. Unlike many other stocks that I discuss, I have not owned either on multiple occasions this year and my current shares are now below their cost. Both emerged unscathed after recent earnings reports, although both are down considerably from their recent highs and both have considerably under-performed the S&P 500 from the time for its first in a series of market highs on May 21, 2013. That latter criterion is one that I have been using with some regularity as the market has continued to reach new highs in an effort to identify potential late comers to the party.

Which finally brings me to the momentum stocks that have my attention this week, some of which may be best approached through the sale of put options and may be best avoided in a weakening market.

Much has been said of the “ATM effect” on Facebook (FB), as speculation that investors were selling Facebook shares to raise money to buy Twitter (TWTR) shares. Following an abrupt reversal during its conference call when there was a suggestion that adolescents were reducing their Facebook use shares have just not regained their traction. Sometimes it’s just profit taking and not driven by the allure of a newer stock in town. But assuming that the “ATM effect” has some validity and with a large gap between the Twitter IPO price and its 7% lower price on its first full day of trading, I can’t imagine now taking the opportunity to sell Facebook in order to purchase Twitter shares. On its own merits Facebook may be a momentum stock that has a cushion of protection until its next earnings report, unless an errant comment gets in the way, again.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) is much higher than the level at which I last owned shares at $21. Waiting for a return has been fruitless and as a result, rather than having owned shares on 15 occasions, as in 2012, thus far, I’ve only had five bouts of ownership. With the melodrama surrounding its founder and ex-CEO in its past, Chesapeake may begin trading a bit more on fundamentals rather than hopes for a return to its glory days. at such, its price action may be less unidirectional than it has been over the past four months. After last week’s earnings report related drop, while still higher than I would like, I think there may be reason to consider a new entry, perhaps through the sale of put options.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is a stock that has been testing my patience through the year. More precisely, however, I’ve had no real issue with Freeport McMoRan’s leadership, in fact, given metal prices, it has done quite well. What I don’t understand is how it has been taking so long for markets to appreciate its strategic initiatives and long term strategies. For much of the year my shares have been non-performing, other than for dividend payments, but with a recent run higher some are generating option premium income streams. Despite the run higher, I am considering adding more shares as the entire metals complex has been showing strength and some stability, as well.

Finally, while I’ve said before that I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, a recent experience with Tesla (TSLA) was perhaps a good reason to at least acknowledge that charts can allow you to look at the past.

While it’s probably always a good week to be Elon Musk, relatively speaking last week wasn’t so good, as both Tesla and Solar City (SCTY) were treated harshly after earnings were released. The spin put around another reported car fire that its resultant heat could be garnered to power several mud huts didn’t give shares much of a boost, perhaps because that might have cannibalized SolarCity sales, with the two companies likely having much overlap in ownership.

Tesla reported earnings last week and took a drubbing through successive days.

A reader of last week’s article asked:

“George, what are your thoughts on a sale of Puts on TSLA which reports Tuesday?”

My response was:

“TSLA isn’t one that I follow, other than watching in awe.

But purely on a glance at this week’s option pricing the implied volatility is about 12% and you can get a 1% ROI on a strike that’s about 17% lower, currently $135

It looks as if it may have price support in the $134-$139 range, but it’s hard to know, because its ascent has been so steep that there may not be much of a real resting point.

In a very speculative portion of my portfolio I might be able to find some money to justify that trade.”

As it turned out Tesla closed the week at $137.95 and now has my attention. You do have to give some credit to its chart on that one. WIth disappointment over its sales, supply chain issues and reports of car fires and even Elan Musk suggesting that “Tesla’s stock price is more than we have any right to deserve,” it has fallen by nearly 21% from the time of that comment, barely 2 weeks prior to earnings. Although to be entirely fair shares did fully recover from a 7.5% decline in the aftermath of the statement in advance of earnings.

While still not knowing where the next resting point may be in the $119-$122 range, representing as much as another 13% price drop. With earnings out of the way to
enhance option premiums the risk-reward proposition isn’t as skewed toward reward. However, for those looking to recapture of bit of their own momentum, despite the realization that the end may be near, a put sale can return an ROI of approximately 1.4% at a strike price nearly 6% below Friday’s close is not breached.

The nice thing about momentum slowing is that if you fall the floor isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, eBay, Fastenal, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan, Tesla

Double Dip Dividend: Eli Lilly (ex-div 11/13), International Paper (ex-div 11/13)

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.

Disclosure: I am long CAT, CHK, DE, FAST, FCX, IP, LLY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Weekend Update – September 8, 2013

Employment Situation Report, Taper, new Yahoo! (YHOO) logo, Syria.

Not a line from a new, less catchy Billy Joel song, but a transition week going from the quietude of summer, which was mostly focused on fundamentals to the event driven and emotional rest of the year when the world seems to be perennially on fire, jumping from crisis to crisis.

In a few days traffic in my part of the country returns back to its normal heinous condition as our nation’s elected officials return from a much deserved 37 day vacation that they were unable to truncate by a few days to address some outstanding issues.

Just to be clear, it’s the electorate that deserved the break, but now they’re back and we can settle into our more normal state of dysfunction, while decreasing our focus on such mundane things as earnings. For the record, I don’t get out onto the roads very much anymore, having given up gainful employment for a life of ticker watching, but it’s not as easy to escape the results of having exercised our democratic rights.

Continue reading “Seems Like Old Times” on Seeking Alpha

 

Weekend Update – August 25, 2013

You’re only as good as your earnings. Having stopped making an honest living a little on the early side, I still need to make money, or otherwise my wife would insist that I do something other than watch a moving stock ticker all day.

Since there’s far too much competition on the highway exit near our home and my penmanship has deteriorated due to excessive keyboard use, I’ve come to realize that stock derived earnings, predominantly from the sale of options and accrual of dividends, are the only thing keeping me from joining those less fortunate.

I’m under no delusions. I am only as good as my earnings, just as Bob Greifeld, CEO of NASDAQ (NDAQ) should be under no delusions, as he is only as good as his response to the most recent NASDAQ failing.

On that count, I may have the advantage, although he may have better hygiene and a wardrobe that includes a clean hoodie.

There was a time that we thought of stocks in very much the same earnings centric way. If earnings were good the stock was good. There was a time that we didn’t dwell quite as much on the macro-economic data and we certainly didn’t spend time thinking about Europe or China.

However, after this most recent earnings season, which will come to an end a few days before the next season is kicked off on October 8, 2013, maybe it’s a good thing that it’s only during the otherwise slow summer months when other news is sparse, that we focus on earnings.

If you’ve been paying attention, this hasn’t been a particularly encouraging month, especially as far as retail sales go, which are about as good a reflection of discretionary spending as you can find. Beyond that, listening to guidance can make shivers run down one’s spine as less than rosy earnings pictures are being painted for the future. The very future that our markets are supposed to be discounting.

As it is the S&P 500 is now about 0.3% below the earlier all time high that was hit on May 21, 2013. That in turn gave way to a rapid 5.7% fall and equally rapid 8.6% recovery to new highs. By all historical measures that post-May 21st drop was small as compared to the gains since November 2012 and we are right back to that level.

Perhaps once summer is over and our elected officials return to Washington, DC, not only would they have an opportunity to see me at a highway exit, but they may also get back to doing the things that create the dysfunction that makes earnings less salient.

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

Most of the positions considered this week are themselves lower than they were at the low point following the May 21st peak and have underperformed the S&P 500 since that time. For the moment, as I contribute to cling to the idea that there will be some additional market weakness, my comfort level is increased by focusing on positions that don’t have as much to fall.

I’ve been anxious to buy either Cisco (CSCO) or Oracle (ORCL) ever since Cisco’s disappointing earnings report. During more vibrant markets a drop in the share price of an otherwise good company would stand out as a buying opportunity. However, recently there has been more competition among those companies suffering precipitous earnings related price drops. While striving to keep my cash reserves at sufficient levels to allow me to go on a wild spending spree, I’ve resisted opportunities in CIsco and Oracle. Both, however, are getting more and more appealing as their prices sink further.

Oracle will report its earnings right before the end of the September 2013 option cycle and I have a very hard time believing that it could be three disappointments in a row, especially after some high profile remarks by CEO Larry Ellison regarding leadership at Apple (AAPL) that could come back to haunt him, even if only in terms of comparative share performance.

A technology company that always intrigues me, if at the price point relative to its option contract strikes, is Cypress Semiconductor (CY). It’s products and technology are quietly everywhere. However, its CEO, T.J. Rodgers has become precisely the opposite, as he is increasingly appearing in the media and offering political and policy opinions that make you wonder whether he is getting detached from the business, as perhaps may be said of Ellison. In Cypress Semiconductor’s case I think the business is small and focused enough that it can withstand some diversions. It is one of the few positions that has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 21st.

Among companies reporting earnings this week is salesforce.com (CRM), which also has Larry Ellison connections. the most recent of which is a great example of how business and strategic needs may trump personal feelings. For those who would innocently suffer collateral damage otherwise, that is the way it should be, as two companies seek to have the sum of their parts create additional value. While I do own shares of salesforce.com, I would be inclined to consider the sale of puts as a means to add additional shares and achieve an earnings stream of 1% for the week while awaiting the market’s reaction to earnings. My only hesitancy is that the strike at which that return can be achieved as more close to the strike of the implied move downward than I would ordinarily like.

Having recently lost shares of Eli Lilly (LLY) to early assignment in order to capture its dividend, I’ve wanted to re-purchase shares. Along with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that I have been wanting to add for a while, they both offer attractive option premiums and are both 5% below their May 21st prices, which I believe limits their short term risk, during a period that I prefer to be somewhat defensive. Additionally, Bristol Myers offers extended weekly options that can be used as part of a broader strategy to attempt and stagger option expiration dates and perhaps infusions of cash back into portfolios for new purchases.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBGI) is a local television broadcasting powerhouse that just purchased the important Washington, DC ABC affiliate. But it is far more than a local presence, as it has quietly become the nation’s largest operator of television stations, barely 4 years after fears of bankruptcy. Of course its recent buying spree may put pressures on the bottom line, but for now it is coming off a nearly 8% earnings related price decline and goes ex-dividend this week. Both of those work for me.

JP Morgan (JPM) which is increasingly becoming the poster child for everything wrong with big banks, at least from the point of view of regulators and the Department of Justice, finally showed a little bit of price stability by mid-week. Although I don’t know how any initiatives directed toward JP Morgan will work out, I’m reasonably sure that talk of looking at Jamie Dimon as a potential Treasury Secretary won’t be rekindled anytime soon. At current price levels, however, I think shares warrant another look.

While I’m not a terribly big fan of controversy, I think it may be time to publicly proclaim support for Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Having suffered through ownership beginning prior to the dividend cut, it has been an uncomfortable experience, ameliorated a bit by occasional purchase of additional shares and sacrificing them for their option premiums. Beginning with a report approximately 6 weeks ago that China had purchased a massive amount of nickel in the London commodity market, Cliffs has been slowly showing strength that may suggest demand for iron ore is increasing. Held hostage to our perceptions of the health of the Chinese economy, which can vary wildly from day to day, Cliffs’ share price can be equally volatile, but I believe will be rewarding for the strong of stomach.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) was widely criticized as no longer being “cool.” That suits me just fine, figuratively, but not literally, as I resist wearing anyone’s logo with compensation. However, after joining other teen retailers in receiving earnings related punishment, I sold puts on its shares and happily saw them expire. Long a favorite stock of mine on which to generate option premium income, I think it’s at a price level that may offer some stability even with a demographic customer base that may not offer the same stability. This has been a great company to practice serial covered call writing, as long as you have a parallel strategy during the week of earnings release. In this case, that leaves three months of evaluating opportunities and perhaps even receiving a dividend before the next quarterly challenge.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, Cisco, Cypress Semiconductor, Eli Lilly, JP Morgan, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Cliffs Natural Resources

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (ex-div 8/29), Sinclair Broadcasting (ex-div 8/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: salesforce.com (8/29 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

Weekend Update – August 4, 2013

To summarize: The New York Post rumors, “The Dark SIde” and the FOMC.

This was an interesting week.

It started with the always interesting CEO of Overstock.com (OSTK) congratulating Steve Cohen, the CEO of SAC Capital, on his SEC indictment and invoking a reference to Star Wars to describe Cohen’s darkness, at least in Patrick Byrne’s estimations.

It ended with The New York Post, a one time legitimate newspaper suggesting that JC Penney (JCP) had lost the support of CIT (CIT), the largest commercial lender in the apparel industry, which is lead by the charisma challenged past CEO of The NYSE (NYX) and Merrill Lynch, who reportedly knows credit risk as much as he knows outrageously expensive waiting room and office furniture.

The problem is that if CIT isn’t willing to float the money to vendors who supply JC Penney, their wares won’t find their way into stores. Consumers like their shopping trips to take place in stores that actually have merchandise.

At about 3:18 PM the carnage on JC Penney’s stock began, taking it from a gain for the day to a deep loss on very heavy volume, approximately triple that of most other days.

Lots of people lost lots of money as they fled for the doors in that 42 minute span, despite the recent stamp of approval that George Soros gave to JC Penney shares. His money may not have been smart enough in the face of yellow journalism fear induced selling.

The very next morning a JC Penney spokesperson called the New York Post article “untrue.” It would have helped if someone from CIT chimed in and set the record straight. While the volume following the denial was equally heavy, very little of the damage was undone. As an owner of shares, Thane’s charisma would have taken an incredible jump had he added clarity to the situation.

So someone is lying, but it’s very unlikely that there will ever be a price to be paid for having done so. Clearly, either the New York Post is correct or JC Penney is correct, but only the New York Post can hide behind journalistic license. In fact, it would be wholly irresponsible to accuse the article of promoting lies, rather it may have recklessly published unfounded rumors.

By the same token, if the JC Penney response misrepresents the reality and is the basis by which individuals chose not to liquidate holdings, the word “criminal” comes to my mind. I suppose that JC Penney could decide to create a “Prison within a Store” concept, if absolutely necessary, so that everyday activities aren’t interrupted.

For the conspiracy minded the publication of an article in a “reputable” newspaper in the final hour of trading, using the traditional “unnamed sources” is problematic and certainly invokes thoughts of the very short sellers demonized by Patrick Byrne in years past.

Oh, and in between was the release of the FOMC meeting minutes, which produced a big yawn, as was widely expected.

I certainly am not one to suggest that Patrick Byrne has been a fountain of rational thought, however, it does seem that the SEC could do a better job in allaying investor concerns about an unlevel playing field or attempts to manipulate markets. Equally important is a need to publicly address concerns that arise related to unusual trading activity in certain markets, particularly options, that seem to occur in advance of what would otherwise be unforeseen circumstances. Timing and magnitude may in and of themselves not indicate wrongdoing, but they may warrant acknowledgement for an investing public wary of the process. A jury victory against Fabrice Tourre for fraud is not the sort of thing that the public is really looking for to reinforce confidence in the process, as most have little to no direct interaction with Goldman Sachs (GS). They are far more concerned with mundane issues that seem to occur with frequency.

Perhaps the answer is not closer scrutiny and prosecution of more than just high profile individuals. Perhaps the answer is to let anyone say anything and on any medium, reserving the truth for earnings and other SEC mandated filings. Let the rumors flow wildly, let CEOs speak off the top of their heads even during “quiet periods” and let the investor beware. By still demanding truth in filings we would still be at least one step ahead of China.

My guess is that with a deluge of potential misinformation we will learn to simply block it all out of our own consciousness and ignore the need to have reflexive reaction due to fear or fear of missing out. In a world of rampantly flying rumors the appearance of an on-line New York Post article would likely not have out-sized impact.

Who knows, that might even prompt a return to the assessment of fundamentals and maybe even return us to a day when paradoxical thought processes no longer are used to interpret data, such that good news is actually finally interpreted as good news.

I conveniently left out the monthly Employment Situation Report that really ended the week, but as with ADP and the FOMC, expectations had already been set and reaction was muted when no surprises were in store. The real surprise was the lack of reaction to mildly disappointing numbers, perhaps indicating that we’re over the fear of the known.

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

One of last week’s earnings related selections played true to form and dropped decidedly after earnings were released. Coach (COH) rarely disappoints in its ability to display significant moves in either direction after earnings and in this case, the disappointment was just shy of the $52.50 strike price at which I had sold weekly puts. However, with the week now done and at its new lower price, I think Coach represents a good entry point for new shares. With its newest competitor, at least in the hearts of stock investors, Michael Kors (KORS) reporting earnings this week there is a chance that Coach may drop if Kors reports better than expected numbers, as the expectation will be that it had done so at Coach’s expense. For that reason I might consider waiting until Tuesday morning before deciding whether to add Coach to the portfolio.

Although I currently own two higher priced lots of its shares, I purchased additional shares of Mosaic (MOS) after the plunge last week when perhaps the least known cartel in the world was poised for a break-up. While most people understand that the first rule of Cartel Club is that no one leaves Cartel Club, apparently that came as news to at least one member. The shares that I purchased last week were assigned, but I believe that there is still quite a bit near term upside at these depressed prices. While theories abound, such as decreased fertilizer prices will lead to more purchases of heavy machinery, I’ll stick to the belief that lower fertilizer prices will lead to greater fertilizer sales and more revenue than current models might suggest.

Barclays (BCS) is emblematic of what US banks went through a few years ago. The European continent is coming to grips with the realization that greater capitalization of its banking system is needed. Barclays got punished twice last week. First for suggesting that it might initiate a secondary offering to raise cash and then actually releasing the news of an offering far larger than most had expected. Those bits of bad news may be good news for those that missed the very recent run from these same levels to nearly $20. Shares will also pay a modest dividend during the August 2013 option cycle, but not enough to chase shares just for the dividend.

Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A) released its earnings this past Thursday and the market found nothing to commend. On the other hand the price drop was appealing to me, as it’s not every day that you see a 5% price drop in a company of this caliber. For your troubles it is also likely to be ex-dividend during the August 2013 option cycle. While there is still perhaps 8% downside to meet its 2 year low, I don’t think that will be terribly likely in the near term. Big oil has a way of thriving, especially if we’re at the brink of economic expansion.

Safeway (SWY) recently announced the divestiture of its Canadian holdings. As it did so shares surged wildly in the after hours. I remember that because it was one of the stocks that I was planning to recommend for the coming week and then thought that it was a missed opportunity. However, by the time the market opened the next morning most of the gains evaporated and its shares remained a Double Dip Dividend selection. While its shares are a bit higher than where I most recently had been assigned it still appears to be a good value proposition.

Baxter International (BAX) recently beat earnings estimates but wasn’t shown too much love from investors for its efforts. I look at it as an opportunity to repurchase shares at a price lower than I would have expected, although still higher than the $70 at which my most recent shares were assigned. In this case, with a dividend due early in September, I might consider a September 17, 2013 option contract, even though weekly and extended weekly options are available.

I currently own shares of Pfizer (PFE), Abbott Labs (ABT) and Eli Lilly (LLY) in addition to Merck (MRK), so I tread a little gingerly when considering adding either more shares of Merck or a new position in Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), while I keep an eye of the need to remain diversified. Both of those, however, have traded well in their current price range and offer the kind of premium, dividend opportunity and liquidity that I like to see when considering covered call related purchases. As with Baxter, in the case of Merck I might consider selling September options because of the upcoming dividend.

Of course, to balance all of those wonderful healthcare related stocks, following its recent price weakness, I may be ready to add more shares of Lorillard (LO) which have recently shown some weakness. The last time its shares showed some weakness I decided to sell longer term call contracts that currently expire in September and also allow greater chance of also capturing a very healthy dividend. As with some other selections this month the September contract may have additional appeal due to the dividend and offers a way to collect a reasonable premium and perhaps some capital gains while counting the days.

Finally, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) is a repeat of last week’s earnings related selection. I did not sell puts in anticipation of the August 7, 2013 earnings report as I thought that I might, instead selecting Coach and Riverbed Technology (RVBD) as earnings related trades. Inexplicably, Green Mountain shares rose even higher during that past week, which would have been ideal in the event of a put sale.

However, it’s still not to late to look for a strike price that is beyond the 13% implied move and yet offers a meaningful premium. I think that “sweet spot” exists at the $62.50 strike level for the weekly put option. Even with a 20% drop the sale of puts at that level can return 1.1% for the week.

The announcement on Friday afternoon that the SEC was charging a former Green Mountain low level employee with insider trading violations was at least a nice cap to the week, especially if there’s a lot more to come.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Baxter International, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lorillard, Merck, Royal Dutch Shell, Safeway

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Barclays (ex-div 8/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 PM)

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

 

Weekend Update – July 7, 2013

Much has been made of the recent increase in volatility.

As someone who sells options I like volatility because it typically results in higher option premiums. Since selling an option provides a time defined period I don’t get particularly excited when seeing large movements in a share’s price. With volatility comes greater probability that “this too shall pass” and selling that option allows you to sit back a bit and watch to see the story unwind.

It also gives you an opportunity to watch “the smart money” at play and wonder “just how smart is that “smart money”?

But being a observer doesn’t stop me from wondering sometimes what is behind a sudden and large movement in a stock’s price, particularly since so often they seem to occur in the absence of news. They can’t all be “fat finger ” related. I also sit and marvel about entire market reversals and wildly alternating interpretations of data.

I’m certain that for a sub-set there is some sort of technical barrier that’s been breached and the computer algorithms go into high gear. but for others the cause may be less clear, but no doubt, it is “The Smart Money,” that’s behind the gyrations so often seen.

Certainly for a large cap stock and one trading with considerable volume, you can’t credit or blame the individual investor for price swings, especially in the absence of news. Since for those shares the majority are owned by institutions, which hopefully are managed by those that comprise the “smart money” community, the large movements certainly most result in detriment to at least some in that community.

But what especially intrigues me is how the smart money so often over-reacts to news, yet still can retain their moniker.

This week’s announcement that there would be a one year delay in implementing a specific component of the Affordable Care Act , the Employer mandate, resulted in a swift drop among health care stocks, including pharmaceutical companies.

Presumably, since the markets are said to discount events 6 months into the future, the timing may have been just right, as a July 3, 2013 announcement falls within that 6 month time frame, as the changes were due to begin January 1, 2014.

By some kind of logic the news of the delay, which reflects a piece of legislation that has regularly alternated between being considered good and bad for health care stocks, was now again considered bad.

But only for a short time.

As so often is seen, such as when major economic data is released, there is an immediate reaction that is frequently reversed. Why in the world would smart people have knee jerk reactions? That doesn’t seem so smart. This morning’s reaction to the Employment Situation report is yet another example of an outsized initial reaction in the futures market that saw its follow through in the stock market severely eroded. Of course, the reaction to the over-reaction was itself then eroded as the market was entering into its final hour, as if involved in a game of volleyball piting two team of smart money against one another.

Some smart money must have lost some money during that brief period of time as they mis-read the market’s assessment of the meaning of a nearly 200,000 monthly increase in employment.

After having gone to my high school’s 25th Reunion a number of years ago, it seemed that the ones who thought they were the most cool turned out to be the least. Maybe smart money isn’t much different. Definitely be wary of anyone that refers to themselves as being part of the smart money crowd.

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

As a caveat, with Earnings Season beginning this week some of the selections may also be reporting their own earnings shortly, perhaps even during the July 2013 option cycle. That knowledge should be factored into any decision process, particularly since if you select a shorter term option sale that doesn’t get assigned, since yo may be left with a position that is subject to earnings related risk. By the same token, some of those positions will have their premiums enhanced by the uncertainty associated with earnings.

Both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) were on my list of prospective purchases last week. Besides being a trading shortened week in celebration of the FOurth of July, it was also a trade shortened week, as I initiated the fewest new weekly positions in a few years. Both shares were among those that took swift hits from fears that a delay in the ACA would adversely impact companies in the sector. In hindsight, that was a good opportunity to buy shares, particularly as they recovered significantly later in the day. Lilly is well off of its recent highs and Abbott Labs goes ex-dividend this week. However, it does report earnings during the final week of the July 2013 option cycle. I think that healthcare stocks have further to run.

AIG (AIG) is probably the stock that I’ve most often thought of buying over the past two years but have too infrequently gone that path. While at one time I thought of it only as a speculative position it is about as mainstream as they come, these days. Under the leadership of Robert Ben Mosche it has accomplished what no one believe was possible with regard to paying back the Treasury. While its option premiums aren’t as exciting as they once were it still offers a good risk-reward proposition.

Despite having given up on “buy and hold,” I’ve almost always had shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) over the past 5 years. They just haven’t been the same shares f
or very long. It’s CEO, Andrew Liveris was once the darling of cable finance news and then fell out of favor, while being roundly criticized as Dow shares plummeted in 2008. His star is pretty shiny once again and he has been a consistent force in leading the company to maintain shares trading in a fairly defined channel. That is an ideal kind of stock for a covered call strategy.

The recent rise in oil prices and the worries regarding oil transport through the Suez Canal, hasn’t pushed British Petroleum (BP) shares higher, perhaps due to some soon to be completed North Sea pipeline maintenance. British Petroleum is also a company that I almost always own, currently owning two higher priced lots. Generally, three lots is my maximum for any single stock, but at this level I think that shares are a worthy purchase. With a dividend yield currently in excess of 5% it does make it easier to make the purchase or to add shares to existing lots.

General Electric (GE) is one of those stocks that I only like to purchase right after a large price drop or right before its ex-dividend date. Even if either of those are present, I also like to see it trading right near its strike price. Its big price drop actually came 3 weeks ago, as did its ex-dividend date. Although it is currently trading near a strike price, that may be sufficient for me to consider making the purchase, hopeful of very quick assignment, as earnings are reported July 19, 2013.

Oracle (ORCL) has had its share of disappointments since the past two earnings releases. Its problems appear to have been company specific as competitors didn’t share in sales woes. The recent announcement of collaborations with Microsoft (MSFT and Salesforce.com (CRM) says that a fiercely competitive Larry Ellison puts performance and profits ahead of personal feelings. That’s probably a good thing if you believe that emotion can sometimes not be very helpful. It too was a recent selection that went unrequited. Going ex-dividend this week helps to make a purchase decision easier.

This coming week and next have lots of earnings coming from the financial sector. Having recently owned JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) I think I will stay away from those this week. While I’ve been looking for new entry points for Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), I think that they’re may be a bit too volatile at the moment. One that has gotten my attention is Bank of New York Mellon (BK). While it does report earnings on July 17, 2013 it isn’t quite as volatile as the latter two banks and hasn’t risen as much as Wells Fargo (WFC), another position that I would like to re-establish.

YUM Brands (YUM) reports earnings this week and as an added enticement also goes ex-dividend on the same day. People have been talking about the risk in its shares for the past year, as it’s said to be closely tied to the Chinese economy and then also subject to health scare rumors and realities. Shares do often move significantly, especially when they are stoked by fears, but YUM has shown incredible resilience, as perhaps some of the 80% institutional ownership second guess their initial urge to head for the exits, while the “not so smart money” just keeps the faith.

Finally, one place that the “smart money” has me intrigued is JC Penney (JCP). With a large vote of confidence from George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, it’s hard to not wonder what it is that he sees in the company, after all, he was smart enough to have fled Hungary. The fact that I already own shares, but at a higher price, is conveniently irrelevant in thinking that Soros is smart to like JC Penney. In hindsight it may turn out that ex-CEO Ron Johnson’s strategy was well conceived and under the guidance of a CEO with operational experience will blossom. I think that by the time earnings are reported just prior to the end of the August 2013 option cycle, there will be some upward surprises.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, General Electric,

Momentum Stocks: AIG, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 7/11), Oracle (ex-div)7/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/10 PM)

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

   

Weekend Update – June 30, 2013

The hard part about looking for new positions this week is that memories are still fresh of barely a week ago when we got a glimpse of where prices could be.

When it comes to short term memory the part that specializes in stock prices is still functioning and it doesn’t allow me to forget that the concept of lower does still exist.

The salivating that I recall doing a week ago was not related to the maladies that accompany my short term memory deficits. Instead it was due to the significantly lower share prices.

For the briefest of moments the market was down about 6% from its May 2013 high, but just as quickly those bargains disappeared.

I continue to beat a dead horse, that is that the behavior of our current market is eerily reminiscent of 2012. Certainly we saw the same kind of quick recovery from a quick, but relatively small drop last year.

What would be much more eerie is if following the recovery the market replicated the one meaningful correction for that year which came fresh off the hooves of the recovery.

I promise to make no more horse references.

Although, there is always that possibility that we are seeing a market reminiscent of 1982, except that a similar stimulus as seen in 1982 is either lacking or has neigh been identified yet. In that case the market just keeps going higher.

I listened to a trader today or was foaming at the mouth stating how our markets can only go higher from here. He based his opinion on “multiples” saying that our current market multiple is well below the 25 times we saw back when Soviet missiles were being pointed at us.

I’ll bet you that he misses “The Gipper,” but I’ll also bet that he didn’t consider the possibility that perhaps the 25 multiple was the irrational one and that perhaps our current market multiple is appropriate, maybe even over-valued.

But even if I continue to harbor thoughts of a lower moving market, there’s always got to be some life to be found. Maybe it’s just an involuntary twitch, but it doesn’t take much to raise hope.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories. With earnings season set to begin July 8, 0213, there are only a handful of laggards reporting this coming week, none of which appear risk worthy (see details).

I wrote an article last week, Wintel for the Win, focusing on Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT). This week I’m again in a position to add more shares of Intel, as my most recent lots were assigned last week. Despite its price having gone up during the past week, I think that there is still more upside potential and even in a declining market it will continue to out-perform. While I rarely like to repurchase at higher prices, this is one position that warrants a little bit of chasing.

While Intel is finally positioning itself to make a move into mobile and tablets and ready to vanquish an entire new list of competitors, Texas Instruments (TXN) is a consistent performer. My only hesitancy would be related to earnings, which are scheduled to be announced on the first day of the August 2013 cycle. Texas Instruments has a habit of making large downward moves on earnings, as the market always seems to be disappointed. With the return of the availability of weekly options I may be more inclined to consider that route, although I may also consider the August options in order to capitalize somewhat on premiums enhanced by earnings anticipation.

Already owning shares of Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK), I don’t often own more than one pharmaceutical company at a time. However, this week both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) may join the portfolio. Their recent charts are similar, having shown some weakness, particularly in the case of Lilly. While Abbott carries some additional risk during the July 2013 option cycle because it will report earnings, it also will go ex-dividend during the cycle. However, Lilly’s larger share drop makes it more appealing to me if only considering a single purchase, although I might also consider selling an August 2013 option even though weekly contracts are available.

I always seem to find myself somewhat apologetic when considering a purchase of shares like Phillip Morris (PM). I learned to segregate business from personal considerations a long time ago, but I still have occasional qualms. But it is the continued ability of people to disregard that which is harmful that allows companies like Phillip Morris and Lorillard (LO), which I also currently own, to be the cockroaches of the market. They will survive any k
ind of calamity. It’s recent under-performance makes it an attractive addition to a portfolio, particularly if the market loses some ground, thereby encouraging all of those nervous smokers to sadly rekindle their habits.

The last time I purchased Walgreens (WAG) was one of the very few times in the past year or two that I didn’t immediately sell a call to cover the shares. Then, as now, shares took, what I believed to be an unwarranted large drop following the release of earnings, which I believed offered an opportunity to capture both capital gains and option premiums during a short course of share ownership. It looks as if that kind of opportunity has replicated itself after the most recent earnings release.

Among the sectors that took a little bit of a beating last week were the financials. The opportunity that I had been looking for to re-purchase shares of JP Morgan Chase (JPM) disappeared quickly and did so before I was ready to commit additional cash reserves stored up just for the occasion. While shares have recovered they are still below their recent highs. If JP Morgan was not going ex-dividend this trade shortened week, I don’t believe that I would be considering purchasing shares. However, it may offer an excellent opportunity to take advantage of some option pricing discrepancies.

I rarely use anecdotal experience as a reason to consider purchasing shares, but an upcoming ex-dividend date on Darden Restaurants (DRI) has me taking another look. I was recently in a “Seasons 52” restaurant, which was packed on a Saturday evening. I was surprised when I learned that it was owned by Darden. It was no Red Lobster. It was subsequently packed again on a Sunday evening. WHile clearly a small portion of Darden’s chains the volume of cars in their parking lots near my home is always impressive. While my channel check isn’t terribly scientific it’s recent share drop following earnings gives me reason to believe that much of the excess has already been removed from shares and that the downside risk is minimized enough for an entry at this level.

While I did consider purchasing shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) last week, I didn’t make that purchase. Instead, this week I’ve turned my attention back to its more volatile namesake, Phillips 66 (PSX) which it had spun off just a bit more than a year ago. It has been a stellar performer in that time, despite having fallen nearly 15% since its March high and 10% since the market’s own high. It fulfills my need to find those companies that have fared more poorly than the overall market but that have a demonstrated ability to withstand some short term adverse price movements.

Finally, I haven’t recommended the highly volatile silver ETN products for quite a while, even though I continue to trade them for my personal accounts. However, with the sustained movement of silver downward, I think it is time for the cycle to reverse, much as it had done earlier this year. The divergence between the performance of the two leveraged funds, ProShares UltraShort Silver ETN (ZSL) and the ProShares Ultra Silver ETN (AGQ) are as great as I have seen in recent years. I don’t think that divergence is sustainable an would consider either the sale of puts on AGQ or outright purchase of the shares and the sale of calls, but only for the very adventurous.

Traditional Stocks: Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly, Intel, Mosaic, Phillip Morris, Texas Instruments, Walgreens

Momentum Stocks: Phillips 66, ProShares UltraSilver ETN

Double Dip Dividend: Darden Restaurants (ex-div 7/8), JP Morgan (ex-div 7/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

Weekend Update – May 12, 2013

There’s certainly no way to deny the fact that this has been an impressive first 4 months of the year. The recently touted statistic was that after 4 months and one week the market had gone up 13%.

To put that into the perspective the statistic wanted you to have, the statistical factoid added that for all of 2012 the market was up only 7.2%. That certainly tells you not only how impressive this gain has been but how 2013 will undoubtedly leave 2012 in the dust.

What is left unmentioned is that in 2012, in a period of only 3 months and 1 week the market was up 12.9%.

What happened? Could that happen again? Those are questions asked by someone who turned cautious when the market was up less than 8% in 2013 and wasn’t adequately cautious in 2012.

SInce 1970, the S&P 500 has finished the year with gains of greater than 14% on a total of 16 occasions, so there could easily be more to come. That can easily be a justifiable perspective to hold unless you also look at the margins by which 14% was exceeded. In that event, the perspective becomes less compelling. It’s still possible to end the year substantially higher than 14%, just not as likely as such a great start might suggest.

But remember, statistics don’t mislead people. People mislead people.

There was little to no substantive news this past week as the market just continued on auto-pilot. If you owned shares of any of the stocks that had super-sized moves after earnings, such as Tesla (TSLA) or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), that was news enough. But for the rest of us it was quiet.

What was interesting, however, was the behavior of the market during the final hour of Thursday’s trading.

That period marked a turnaround sending the market quite a bit lower, at least based on recent standards when only higher seems to be the order of the day. Initially, the drop was ascribed to a strengthening of the dollar and further drop in gold. Those, however, had been going on for a while, having started earlier in the trading session.

What came to light and whose timing was curiously coincident with the market change in direction was a rumor of a rumor that someone from within JP Morgan (JPM) was suggesting that the Federal Reserve was ready to begin tapering its Treasury purchases, those signaling the beginning of an end to Quantitative Easing.

For the growing throng that believe that QE has been responsible for the market’s climb higher, life after QE couldn’t possibly be rosy.

First comes an errant AP Tweet, then an unconfirmed rumor of a rumor. Those incidents would seem to indicate vulnerability or at least an Achilles heel that could stand in the way of this year becoming the 17th in the list.

Easily said, but otherwise, there’s really not much else on the radar screen that appears poised to interfere with the market’s manifest destiny. Unless of course, Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve has indeed mapped out a strategy for winding down QE, transforms rumor into potential reality.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details). Additionally, as the week unwinds, I may place relatively greater emphasis on dividend paying stocks and give greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in the event that 2012 is the order of the day.

This week’s selections seem to have more healthcare stocks than usual. I know that healthcare may have already run its course as it was a market leader through the first 4 months of 2012, but some individual names haven’t been to the party or have recently fallen on hard times.

Amgen (AMGN) didn’t react terribly well following its recent earnings report, having fallen 6%. That’s not to say that it hadn’t enjoyed a nice gain in 2013. However, it does offer an attractive short term option premium, despite also being ex-dividend this week. That’s a combination that I like, especially when I still remain somewhat defensive in considering opening new positions.

Eli Lilly (LLY) is also trading ex-dividend this coming week. It has under-performed the S&P 500 this year, but still, a 10% gain YTD isn’t a bad four months of work. It has fallen about 7% since reporting its most recent quarter’s earnings.

Merck (MRK) isn’t joining the ex-dividend parade this week, but will do so during the June 2013 option cycle for those a little more long term oriented than I typically tend to be. However, during a period of having repositioned myself defensively, the longer term options have utility and can provide a better price cushion in the event of adverse market moves.

I’ve owned shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) only once since the spin-off of its refinery arm, Phillips 66 (PSX). It used to be a very regular part of my portfolio prior to that occasion. The parent certainly hasn’t fared as well as the child in the 15 months since Phillips 66 has traded as a public company. The 80% difference in return is glaring. But like so many stocks, I think Phillips 66 isn’t priced for a new purchase, while Conoco Phillips represents some opportunity. Additionally, though not yet announced, there should be a dividend forthcoming in the next week or two.

I don’t recall why I didn’t purchase shares of Marathon Oil (MRO) last week after a discussion of its merits, but it probably had to do with the limited buying I was doing across the board. It reported earnings last week, perhaps that was a risk factor that didn’t have commensurate reward in the option premiums offered. But this week, with that risk removed, it goes ex-dividend and the consideration begins anew.

Although I already own shares of JP Morgan, I would consider adding to that position. Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue of separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, there’s not too much disagreement that Jamie Dimon will forever be remembered as one of the supporting pillars during and in the immediate aftermath of our financial meltdown. The recent spate of diversions has kept JP Morgan from keeping pace with the S&P 500 during 2013, but I believe it is capable of cutting that gap.

Autodesk (ADSK) reports earnings this week and is down about 4% from its recent high. I often like to consider earnings trades on shares that are already down somewhat, however, shares are up quite a bit in the past 3 weeks. While the options market was implying about a 6% move upon earnings, anything less than a 7% move downward could offer a 1.1% option premium for the week’s exposure to risk.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those rare companies that haven’t kept up with market lately. That’s been especially true since its recent stock split. Although it does offer a an attractive weekly premium, the challenge may lie the possibility that shares are not assigned as the May 2013 option cycle ends, because earnings are reported during the first week of the June 2013 cycle. Barring a large downward move prior to earnings, there would certainly be ample time to re-position with another weekly or even monthly option contract prior to earning’s release.

To round off my over-exposure to the technology sector, I may consider either adding more shares of Cisco (CSCO) or selling puts in advance of this week’s earning’s report. I’ve added shares in each of three successive weeks and don’t believe that Cisco’s earnings will reflect some of the woes expressed by Oracle (ORCL). My only personal concern is related to the issue of diversification, but for the moment, technology may be the sector in which to throw caution to the wind.

US Steel (X) has been one of those stocks that I’m not terribly happy about, although that really only pertains to the current lot that I hold. Along with pretty much everything in the metals complex, US Steel hasn’t fared very well the past few months. However, I think that I am ready for a resurgence in the sector and am hoping that the sector agrees with me, or at least continues to show some strength as it has this past week.

Finally, despite having owned Facebook (FB) since the IPO and currently owning two individual lots, priced at $29 and $27.17, it remains one of my favorite new stocks. Not because I can count on it going to $30, but because I can count on it staying in a reasonable pricing neighborhood and becoming a recurrent stream of option income.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Conoco Phillips, Merck, Salesforce.com

Momentum Stocks: Facebook, US Steel

Double Dip Dividend: Amgen (ex-div 5/14), Eli Lilly (ex-div 5/14), Marathon Oil (ex-div 5/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Autodesk (5/16 PM)

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