Weekend Update – July 12, 2015

While mankind has tried and will probably never give up on such attempts, there is a reason many are assigned to the fact that you just can’t fight nature.

In the case of natural disasters, those forces are so powerful and so relentless the best you can hope for is that they will run their course before nature finds its way to you.

Fleeing is probably a better strategy than fighting when faced with the release of unfathomable stores of energy in an effort to buy time until the inevitable reversal of course occurs.

Sure, you can build shelters, fortify dams or enact more stringent building codes in efforts to mollify the impacts of nature, but eventually, we all know who’s in charge.

Economic cycles, stock market cycles, currency cycles and interest rate cycles aren’t very different. They represent incredibly powerful forces that governments attempt to manipulate, but it is really only time that can tame the unwieldy power of an event, regardless of government intervention.

It’s those natural cycles, sometimes a cascade of events coming to a crescendo that are like the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

Most of us know that trying to best nature is a fairly futile way to expend our own energy, just as is trying to manipulate or change the direction of capital markets. Over the past 50 years there is plenty of evidence to show that heavy handed government attempts to manipulate markets, such as currencies, have exceedingly short impacts.

You can’t really blame the Chinese government for trying to control their stock markets, though, especially in a time of crisis.

They’re pretty new at this capitalism game and it’s only through surviving one of the varied crises that descend upon the cogs of capitalism on occasion that you can continue to reap its many benefits.

Undoubtedly someone in a high position of authority must have seen footage from a 70 year old cartoon and had it mistaken for real news footage of someone successfully battling with a force of nature and then drew the obvious conclusion that the same would be possible as their market was threatening a meltdown.

In a system where it controls everything and has a bully pulpit in more than just figurative terms, it’s only natural to think that it could just as easily exert its will on its stock market and change its behavior.

But what we know is that the forces seen in capital markets is no different from those seen in nature, at least in terms of how unlikely it is that human efforts can suddenly change the course.

Of course, in a nation that executes many for white collar crimes, official condemnation of “malicious short sellers” who being blamed for the bursting bubble and threatened with investigation and arrest can certainly lead to behavioral changes, but not the kind that can stem the inevitable path as gravity takes control of sky high stock prices.

Learning that market forces aren’t as easily controlled as 1.4 billion people isn’t very easy when you actually do have the power to control those 1.4 billion people. That itself is so improbable that everything else must seem like a cakewalk.

When you have the power to tell people that they can only have one child, and they obey the edict, you’ve shown that you’re pretty good at battling nature and what comes naturally. So it’s only natural that when faced with a brewing crisis in their stock markets, the Chinese government would elect to try and alter its natural course.

Good luck with that.

The combination of events in China, the ongoing battle among Greece, the EU, ECB and IMF and the trading halt on the NYSE resulted in a week that saw large moves in both directions, intra-day reversals in both directions and ultimately ended the week unchanged.

There wasn’t too much doubt that events in China determined our own fortunes this past week as the net result of the interventions was to see their markets recover and spill over onto our shores. While I saw reason to establish some new positions last week as the market opened the week on a sharp decline, and was fortunate to have benefited from market strength to close the week, I’m circumspect about the ability of the Chinese government intervention to have anything more than a temporary halting impact. Being mindful of so many past attempts by governments to halt slides in their currency by massive entry into currency markets, makes me want to hold on tightly to any cash that I have as this week is about to begin.

Perhaps some good economic news will be forthcoming this week as earnings season really gets underway in earnest. Maybe some good news can move our attention away from world events, but ignoring those powerful overseas forces would be a mistake, particularly as the Chinese government’s actions may be unpredictable if their initial attempts at controlling their stock markets don’t succeed.

This coming week may offer a wild ride in both stocks and bonds and if so, we’d be very fortunate if the net result was the same as this past week, but you can be lucky only so often in the face of unleashed natural forces.

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

With fewer compelling reasons to spend money this week there aren’t too many stocks that have much in the way of appeal to me at the moment and my selections for this week continue to be limited.

As long as China is front and center, there may be some reason to think about YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) as it both reports earnings this week and goes ex-dividend.

Over the past few years it seems that there have been an infinite number of disasters that have come YUM’s way, as so much of its fortunes rely on its businesses in China which can so easily fall prey to the weakest links in the chain, as well as to the macro-economic picture.

Following a large move higher on Friday, I wouldn’t rush into any kind of position unless there was some pullback. However, in the event that some of that gain is returned prior to earnings on Tuesday, I would consider a covered call trade, rather than the sale of puts, in order to also be able to capture the dividend the following day.

The option market is implying a 6.4% move next week. At Friday’s closing price of $90.87, the implied lower boundary is about $85. The option premium being offered for the weekly $85 strike would offer a 0.75% ROI if assigned early and a 1.2% ROI if the dividend is captured.

Since earnings are reported on Tuesday after the market’s close and the ex-dividend date is the following day, there is a very short window of opportunity for an option holder to exercise following earnings. The owner of shares would have approximately $6 of downside protection, although YUM shares can certainly be very volatile when earnings or any adverse news is reported.

I have some mixed feelings about considering Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) this week, as so much focus is placed on its dependence on Chinese economic activity. Overall revenues from the Asia-Pacific region account for about 20% of total revenue and has already been hard hit as it share price is down nearly 25% since November 2014 and 7% in the past 2 weeks. While its CEO tried putting a positive spin on the Chinese economic slowdown a few months ago, he may have to spin extra hard now.

Caterpillar shares go ex-dividend this week and that is certainly a selling point, as its shares are approaching their 52 week low and I have been wanting to add shares for quite a while.

I would be willing to take the risk of their China exposure in the event of any additional price weakness as the week begins in the belief that any disappointing earnings or guidance the following week may have already been discounted.

I have less mixed feelings about Lowes (NYSE:LOW) which goes ex-dividend the following Monday. Lowes shares are down about 10% in the past 3 months and 4% in the past 2 weeks.

What I don’t have mixed feelings about is the quality of the shopping experience at Lowes. I’ve spent lots of time there lately, having become a convert from Home Depot (NYSE:HD) on the advice of a friend who suggested that I try them for a large DIY project I was ready to undertake.

In the past 2 months I have probably made about 20 trips, bypassing that Home Depot store and have noticed that the store always seemed busy and I tended to make more purchases as their sales associates were proactive and helpful.

While I generally like to consider Monday ex-dividend positions, that’s more true when weekly options are available, in an attempt to get 2 weeks of premium instead of the dividend, in the hopes of an early assignment. However, Lowes no longer has weekly options available and while this is the final week of the July 2015 cycle, the ex-dividend date is part of the August 2015 cycle.

With that potential purchase comes the potential liability associated with earnings, which are scheduled to be reported 2 days before the end of the monthly cycle. For that reason I might consider a purchase coupled with the sale of a September or later option, in order to capture the dividend and provide some cushion in the event of a downward price move.

I haven’t owned Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) in almost 2 years and have a very difficult time understanding why that has been the case, as it traded in a very narrow band that entire time while offering a reasonable option premium and attractive dividend.

Having now completed its spin off of Baxalta (NYSE:BXLT), it may join other companies that fell out of favor as they were perceived as less desirable after spinning off their faster growing assets. Whether that’s actually supported by reality may be questionable, but there’s no question that spin-offs, such as Baxalta and the upcoming PayPal (PYPLV) have gotten attention.

For its part, what remains of Baxter is a company that offers an excellent dividend and attractive option premiums in an industry sector that shows little sign of slowing down.

Finally, I purchased shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) last week and happily saw them assigned. I still hold a much more expensive lot of shares and every little bit of premium derived from additional short term lot holdings helps to ease the pain of that non-performing lot.

Last week’s purchase was the third such in the past 10 weeks as Abercrombie and Fitch’s shares have been trading in a very narrow range, but its option premiums still reflect its historical ability to make large moves. Lately, those large moves have been predominantly lower and certainly any time new shares are added the risk remains of continued erosion of value.

While teen retailers haven’t been terribly good stores of stock value of late, and while there’s certainly nothing positive that can be said of Abercrombie and Fitch, it won’t report earnings again until the end of August and continues to present a short term opportunity.

However, following a price reversal during Friday’s session, that saw it’s shares close higher for the day, I would consider an entry this coming week only on weakness, if considering a covered call position. Alternatively, the sale of puts may have some more appeal, especially if there’s price weakness as the week begins and moves the share price closer to $21.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (7/16), Lowes (7/20)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/14 PM)

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

Weekend Update – June 15, 2014

It’s hard to believe that there was ever a period of a few hundred years with relative peace and little military expansion.

It’s not too hard to believe that almost 2000 years have passed, but given that the Pax Romana was followed by the Middle Ages we may want to re-think the idyllic and beneficial nature of peace.

The “Pax Romana” sounds so quaint in an era when even a week without new conflict seems like a gift from the heavens, but the markets need some kind of conflict, physical or otherwise, to keep it functioning in a rationale manner. Otherwise it gets left to its own self and that could have consequences.

This past week was one in which there was no real scheduled news and very little was expected to be happening to shake markets. It was a week when I thought the real challenge would be balancing new market highs achieved in very tentative fashion with the vacuum that can generate largely uncatalyzed moves.

In that vacuum too much quietude can lead to lots of introspection, and over-analysis, not to mention those voices that start telling you what you really should be doing. In that vacuum it’s not too unusual to see over-exaggerated responses to otherwise benign factors.

Who knew that the vacuum could be so easily magnify the results of a primary election in a small congressional district?

For some reason that was the conventional wisdom explaining the first of two triple digit losses mid-week, despite little rationale reason to believe that the political landscape could get any less accommodating. Why in the world a roadblock toward achieving immigration reform could jeopardize stock health is a difficult thesis to weave, but that was the story and everyone stuck to it, while ignoring the fact that the World Bank had cut its forecasts for global growth.

However, the following day there really was something to be concerned about and that was the disruption of a week’s worth of world peace as news came of a mostly unknown army beginning to conquer Iraq and marching toward its capital with Patton-like speed.

Its name “ISIS,” an acronym for “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” is an unfortunate situation for Isis Pharmaceuticals (ISIS). It reminds me a bit of the early 1980s and the one time popular diet suppressant, AYDS. Hopeful Isis Pharmaceuticals will respond better than the decision to rename a product as “Diet Ayds.”

But with tensions rising as this past week came to its close the market once again did the unexpected, just as it had done through much of 2011, 2012 and 2013.

If the lessons of the Crimean and Ukraine crises have taught us anything it’s that Friday crises tend to be good for whatever it is that’s ailing the markets.

Going into a weekend of uncertainty the market again failed to sell off and abide by the age old wisdom of not staying long going into a weekend of uncertainty.

Lately, it seems that the market thrives most when peace, whether that of political compromise necessary for a budgetary agreement or that of a cease fire, is itself at risk. With all of the recent talk about complacency, while the Volatility Index may reflect the level of past complacent behavior, the decision to ignore the unknown that may come from a marauding army marching into a nation’s capital is a true measure.

While we all want peace in every aspect of our lives there is a sense of “schadenfreude” that may exist when realizing that it is ongoing tension that may serve to keep markets thriving rather than focusing upon itself and realizing that sometimes heights are untenable.

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

In  addition to the certainty of conflict that seems to occur on a very predictable basis, so too is there certainty lately that General Motors (GM) will be in the news and not for a good reason. With even more recalls announced last week there really hasn’t been much good news for quite a while, but as we saw last week, that didn’t seem to have any impact on sales.

To its credit despite all of the adverse news General Motors has defended the $35 level very nicely, as long as you’ve had a little bit of faith and patience while others either took profits or panicked.

Following a little bit of weakness and demonstrating that shares can absorb incredible amounts of bad news, General Motors offers some good opportunities for use in a covered option strategy, as it offers an attractive dividend that results from its frequent price gyrations. With it’s equally attractive dividend it is easier to be patient while watching shares move up and down. The availability of expanded weekly options adds considerable latitude in how shares are managed while awaiting those price movements.

With the recent revision to GDP there may not be much reason to be optimistic about near term economic growth. However with continuing and steady growth in employment and perhaps bolstered by news from one time leader Intel (INTC), of increasing fortunes, I again took to my proxy for economic growth, Fastenal (FAST). 

I already own shares that may be assigned this coming week, but would not be adverse to rolling them over as they approach the purchase price after some recent weakness. I would also consider either replacing those shares, if assigned, or even adding additional shares and would further consider using some longer term options, such as the July or August 2014 contracts. The latter also adds the possibility of capturing a dividend payment.

Nike (NKE) isn’t a company that I’ve owned very often, although it is one that I look at each week when thinking of possible replacements for assigned shares. Unfortunately, this week I didn’t have any assignments and that makes me a little more guarded about adding new positions and eroding my cash position. However, it’s hard to formulate a thesis whereby Nike is disproportionately damaged by any breach of peace in the world. I also look at shares of Nike as currently being on sale after some recent losses. 

Lowes (LOW) on the other hand, is a company that I’ve owned with some frequency, as recently as a week ago. It, too, is on sale after last week’s market movements and without any real reason for its price drop.

Lowes fits the profile of companies that have been especially kind to me, in that it tends to move within a defined range, deals with an easily understandable product and happens to offer reasonable option premiums and a fair dividend.

While there’s nothing terribly exciting about the company that sits in the shadow of a larger competitor and isn’t too likely to gain from future growth nor suffer from growth disappointments, there is something exciting about booking profits at a tolerable level of risk.

With some recent concerns about its future in the Russian marketplace having been put at ease, MasterCard (MA) has rebounded from its recent lows. It is among those stocks that has seen me hoping for a drop in value and did so a bit over the past week. My comfort level with purchasing new shares is in the $76 range and it is currently just below that level, inviting some consideration. However, I may be inclined to sell puts on shares as my preference is a lower entry price. If doing so and the shares dropped below the strike I would assess whether to attempt to rollover the puts in an effort to get an even lower entry price or whether to accept assignment and position myself to sell calls and perhaps collect the trivial dividend early next month.

The week’s two potential dividend plays are very much at extremes of the spectrum. General Electric (GE) is fairly staid, moves in small doses, while Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is quite the opposite.

General Electric is a company that I don’t own often enough and am never quite certain why that is the case. It too tends to trade in a definable range, is not terribly volatile, offers a reasonable option premium and an excellent dividend. All of that sounds compelling to me, with perhaps this being the week, as the dividend serves as a lure.

Las Vegas Sands, which I purchased last week and may lose to early assignment, is still at the lower end of its recent trading range, despite the good showing last week. While I don’t particularly like chasing stocks that have risen, regardless of how much higher they may still need to go to get to recent highs, here too, the dividend may be a potent lure. While the premium is always attractive, I think that the near term lower boundary on the trading range may have been defined at about $72.

Finally, everyone who loves dysfunction would certainly be attracted to Darden Restaurants (DRI).

Not too long ago its CEO, Clarence Otis, was hailed as a genius and in touch with the casual dining needs of the nation. Now, he is castigated as caring only about his own fate and selling Darden’s assets at ridiculously low valuation in an effort to fend off activists.

Whatever.

I rarely want to consider an earnings related trade unless there are weekly and preferably expanded weekly contracts available and then usually consider the sale of puts. Sadly, in Darden’s case there are only monthly contracts, but this happens to be the final week of the monthly cycle, so in a perfectly executed strategy this could be a weekly trade.

However, despite that, I look at a potential share purchase of Darden and looking at a longer term commitment, with consideration of selling July 2014 calls in the hope of also capturing its very healthy dividend.

Dysfunction can sometimes play the same role as conflict. Sure, normalcy is far easier to deal with, but as with peace, where’s the excitement in that?

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Lowes, MasterCard, Nike

Momentum:  General Motors

Double Dip Dividend:  General Electric (6/19), Las Vegas Sands (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Darden Restaurants (6/20)

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

Weekend Update – June 1, 2014

I read an excellent article by Doug Kass yesterday. Most of all it explained the origin and definition of the expression “Minsky Moment” that had suddenly come into vogue and received frequent mention late this past week.

I enjoy Kass’ perspectives and opinions and especially admire his wide range of interests and willingness to state his positions without spinning reality to conform to a fantasy.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that the expression was finding its way back to use as Paul McCulley, late of PIMCO, who had coined the phrase, was being re-introduced to the world as the newest PIMCO employee, by a beaming Bill Gross.

The basic tenet in the Kass article was that growing complacency among investors could lead to a Minsky Moment. By definition that is a sudden collapse of asset values which had been buoyed by speculation and the use of borrowed money, although that didn’t appear to be the basis for the assertion that investors should prepare for a Minsky Moment.

Kass, however, based his belief in the possibility of an impending Minsky Moment on the historically low level of market volatility, which he used as a proxy for complacency. In turn, Kass simply stated that a Minsky Moment “sometimes occurs when complacency sets in.”

You can argue the relative foundations of those suppositions that form the basis for the belief that it may be opportune to prepare for a Minsky Moment. Insofar as it is accurate to say that sometimes complacency precedes a Minsky Moment and that volatility is a measure of complacency, then perhaps volatility is an occasional predictor of a sudden and adverse market movement.

Volatility is a complex concept that has its basis in a purely statistical and completely unemotional measure of dispersion of returns for an investment or an index. However, it has also been used as a reflection of investor calm or anxiety, which as far as I know has an emotional component. Yet volatility is also used by some as a measure the expectation of a large movement in one direction or another.

Right now, the low volatility indicates that there has been little dispersion of price, or put another way there has been very little variation in price in the recent past. Having gone nearly 2 years without a 10% correction most would agree, without the need for statistical analysis, that the variation in stock price has been largely in a single direction.

However, few will argue that volatility is a forward looking measure.

Kass noted that “fueled by new highs and easy money, market observers are now growing more optimistic.”

Coincidentally enough, on the day before the Kass article appeared, I wrote in my Daily Market Update about complacency and compared it to the 1980s and 2007.

Of course, that was done through the lens of an individual investor with money on the line and not a “market observer.”

While I’m very mindful of volatility, especially as low volatility drives down option premiums, it doesn’t feel as if the historic low volatility is reflective of individual investor complacency. In fact, even among those finding the limelight, there is very little jumping up and down about the market achieving new daily highs. The feeling of invincibility is certainly not present.

Anyone who remembers 1987 will recall that there was a 5 year period when we didn’t know the meaning of a down market. Complacency is when you have a certain smugness and believe that things will only go your way and risk is perceived to be without risk.

Anyone who remembers 2007 will also recall how bored we became by new daily record highs, almost as if they were entitlements and we just expected that to keep being the new norm.

I don’t know of many that feel the same way now. What you do hear is that this is the least liked and respected rally of all time and the continuing expectation for some kind of reversal.

That doesn’t sound like complacency.

While the Volatility Index may be accurately portraying market prices that have demonstrated little variation over a finite time frame, I don’t believe that it remotely reflects individual investor sentiment.

As opposed to earlier times when new market highs were seen as preludes to even greater rewards you may be hard pressed to find those who believe that the incremental reward actually exceeds the risk of pursuing that reward.

Put me in that latter camp.

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

One stock that I really haven’t liked very much has been Whole Foods (WFM). I say that only because it has consistently been a disappointment for me and has reflected my bad market timing. WHile I often like to add shares in positions that are showing losses and using a “Having a Child to Save a Life” strategy, I’ve resisted doing so with Whole Foods.

However, it finally seems as if the polar vortex is a thing of the past and the market has digested Whole Foods’ expansion and increased cap-ex and its strain on profits. But that’s a more long term perspective that I rarely care about. Instead, it appears as if shares have finally found a floor or at least some stability. At least enough so to consider trying to generate some income from option sales and perhaps some capital gains on the underlying shares, as well, as I believe there will be some progress toward correcting some of its recent price plunge.

Mosaic (MOS) which goes ex-dividend th

is week is one stock that I’ve been able to attenuate some of the pain related to its price drop upon news of the break-up of the potash cartel, through the use of the “Having a Child to Save a Life” strategy. Shares have slowly and methodically worked their way higher since that unexpected news, although have seen great resistance at the $50 level, where it currently trades.

While I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, Mosaic, if able to push past that resistance may be able to have a small gap upward and for that reason, if purchasing shares, I’m not likely to write calls on the entire position, in anticipation of some capital gain on shares, in addition to the dividend and option premiums.

Holly Frontier (HFC) also goes ex-dividend this week. Like so many stocks that I like to consider, it has been recently trading in a range and has occasional paroxysms of price movement. Those quick and unpredictable moves keep option premiums enticing and its tendency to restrict its range have made it an increasingly frequent target for purchase. It is currently trading near the high of my comfort level, but that can be said about so many stocks at the moment, as they rotate in and out of favor with one another, as the market reaches its own new highs.

Lowes (LOW) us one of those companies that must have a strong sense of self-worth, as it is always an also-ran to Home Depot (HD) in the eyes of analysts, although not always in the eyes of investors. It, too, seems to now be trading in a comfortable range, although that range has been recently punctuated by some strong and diverse price moves which have helped to maintain the option premiums, despite overall low market volatility.

MasterCard (MA) was one of the early casualties I experienced when initially beginning to implement a covered call strategy. I never thought that it would soar to the heights that it did and my expectations for it to drop a few hundred points just never happened, unless you don’t understand stock splits.

For some reason, while Apple (AAPL) shares never seemed too expensive for purchase, MasterCard did feel that way to me although at its peak it wasn’t very much higher than Apple at its own peak. Also, unlike Apple which will start trading its post-split shares this week, that split isn’t likely to induce me to purchase shares, while the split in MasterCard was a welcome event and re-introduced me to ownership.

With a theme of trading in a range and having its price punctuated by significant moves, MasterCard has been a nice covered option trade and I would be welcome to the possibility of re-purchasing shares after a recent assignment. With some of the uncertainty regarding its franchise in Russia now resolved and with the hopes that consumer discretionary spending will increase, MasterCard is a proverbial means to print money and generate option income.

I was considering the purchase of shares of Joy Global (JOY) on Friday and the sale of deep in the money weekly calls in the hope that the shares would be assigned early in order to capture its dividend, as Friday would have been the last day to have done so. That would have prevented exposure to the coming week’s earnings release.

Instead, following a nearly 2% price drop I decided to wait until Monday, foregoing the modest dividend in the hope that a further price drop would occur before Thursday’s scheduled earnings.

With its reliance on Chinese economic activity Joy Global may sometimes offer a better glimpse into the reality of that nation that official data. With its share price down approximately 6% in the past month and with my threshold 1% ROI currently attainable at a strike level that is outside of the lower boundary defined by the implied move, the sale of put contracts may have some appeal.

If there may be a poster child for the excesses of a market that may perhaps be a sign of an impending Minsky Moment, salesforce.com (CRM) should receive some consideration. Although there are certainly other stocks that have maintained a high profile and have seen their fortunes wax and wane, salesforce.com seems to go out of its way to attract attention.

Following a precipitous recent decline in price over the past few days shares seemed to be on the rebound. This past Friday morning came word of an alliance with Microsoft (MSFT), a company that salesforce.com’s CEO, Marc Benioff, has disparaged in the past.

While that alliance still shouldn’t be surprising, after all, it is all about business and personal conflict should take a back seat to profits, what was surprising was that the strong advance in the pre-open trading was fairly quickly reversed once the morning bell was rung.

With a sky high beta, salesforce.com isn’t a prime candidate for consideration at a time when the market itself may be at a precipice. However, for those with some room in the speculative portion of their portfolio, the sale of puts may be a reasonable way to participate in the drama that surrounds this stock. However, I would be inclined to consider rolling over put options in the event that assignment looks likely, rather than accepting assignment.

Finally, everyone seems to have an opinion about Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). Whether its the actual clothing, the marketing, the abhorrent behavior of its CEO or the stock, itself, there’s no shortage of material for casual conversation. Over the past two years it has been one of my most frequent trades and has sometimes provided some anxious moments, as it tends to have price swings on a regular basis.

Abercrombie reported earnings last week and I had sold puts in anticipation. Unlike most times when I sell puts my interest is not in potentially owning shares at a lower price, but rather to simply generate an option premium and then hopefully move on without shares nor obligation. However, in the case of Abercrombie, if those put contracts were to have fallen below their strike levels, I was prepared to take delivery of shares.

While rolling over such puts would have been a choice, Abercrombie does go ex-dividend this week and its ability to demonstrate price recovery and essentially arise from ashes it fairly well demonstrated.

My preference would have been that Abercrombie had a mild post-earnings
loss, as it is near the higher end of where i would consider a purchase, but it’s an always intriguing and historically profitable position, despite all of the rational reasons to run fro ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, MasterCard, Whole Foods

Momentum: salesforce.com

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (6/3), Holly Frontier (6/4), Mosaic (6/3),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (6/5 AM)

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

Weekend Update – 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 – January 12, 2014

Confusion Reigns.

January is supposed to be a very straightforward month. Everyone knows how it’s all supposed to go.

The market moves higher and the rest of the year simply follows. Some even believe it’s as simple as the first five trading days of the year setting the tone for the remainder still to come.

Since the market loves certainty, the antithesis of confusion, the idea of a few days or even a month ordaining the outcome of an entire year is the kind of certainty that has broad appeal.

But with the fifth trading day having come to its end on January 8th, the S&P 500 had gone down 11 points. Now what? Where do we turn for certainty?

To our institutions, of course, especially our central banking system which has steadfastly guided us through the challenges of the past 6 years. The year started with some certainty as Federal Reserve Chairman nominee Janet Yellen was approved by a vote that saw fewer negative votes cast than when her predecessor Ben Bernanke last stood for Senate approval, although there were far fewer total votes, too. On a positive note, while there was voting confusion among political lines, there was only certainty among gender lines.

While Dr. Yellen’s confirmation was a sign to many that a relatively dovish voice would predominate the FOMC, even as some more hawkish governors become voting members this year, the announcement that Dr. Stanley Fischer was being nominated as Vice-Chair sends a somewhat different message and may embolden the more hawkish elements of the committee.

That seems confusing. Why would you want to do that? But then again, why would you have pulled the welcome mat out from under Ben Bernanke?

Then on Friday morning came the first Employment Situation Report of the new year and no one was remotely close in their guesses. Nobody was so pessimistic as to believe that the fewest new jobs created in 14 months would be the result.

But the real confusion was whether that was good news or bad news. Did we want disappointing employment statistics? How would the “new” Federal Reserve react? Would they step way from the taper or embrace it as hawks exert their philosophical position?

More importantly, how is a January Rally supposed to take root in the remaining 14 trading days in this kind of muddled environment?

Personally, I like the way the year has begun, there’s not too much confusion about that being the case, despite my first week having been mediocre. While the evidence is scant that the first five days has great predictive value, there is evidence to suggest that there is no great predictive value for the remainder of the year if January ends the month lower. I like that because my preference is alternating periods of certainty and confusion, as long as the net result remains near the baseline. That is a perfect scenario for a covered option strategy and also tends to increase premiums as volatility is enhanced.

I prefer to think of it as counter-intuitive rather than confusing.

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).

There’s not much confusion when it comes to designating the best in large retail of late. Most everyone agrees that Macys (M) has been the best among a sorry bunch, yet even the best of breed needed to announce large layoffs in order to get a share price boost after being range bound. However, this week the embattled retail sector seems very inviting despite earnings disappointments and the specter of lower employment statistics and spending power.

Finding disappointments among retailers isn’t terribly difficult, as even Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), which could essentially do nothing wrong in 2013 more than made up for that by reporting its earnings report. While earnings themselves were improved, it was the reduced guidance that seems to have sent the buyers fleeing. There was no confusion regarding how to respond to the disappointment, yet its plummet brings it back toward levels where it can once again be considered as a source of option premium income, in addition to some opportunity for share appreciation.

L Brands (LB) shares are now down approximately 12% in the past 6 weeks. It is one of those stocks that I’ve owned, but have been waiting far too long to re-own while waiting for its price to return to reasonable levels. Like Bed Bath and Beyond it offered lower guidance for the coming quarter after heavy promotions that are likely to reduce margins.

Target (TGT) has had enough bad news to last it for the rest of the year. While it recently reported that it sales had been better than expected prior to the computer card data hack, it also acknowledged that there was a tangible decline in shopping activity in its aftermath. Its divulging that as many as 70 million accounts may have been compromised, it seemed to throw all bad news into the mix, as often incoming CEOs do with write-downs, so as to make the following quarter look good in comparison. For its part, Target, recovered nicely on Friday from its initial price decline and has been defending the $62.50 line that I believe will be a staging point higher.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) on the other hand doesn’t even pretend to be a ret

ailer. The promise of great riches in its real estate holdings is falling on deaf ears and its biggest proponent and share holder, Eddie Lampert, has seen his personal stake reduced amid hedge fund redemptions. Shares plummeted after reporting disappointing holiday sales. What’s confusing about Sears Holding is how there is even room for disappointment and how the Sears retail business continues, as it has recently been referred to as a “national tragedy.”

But I have a soft spot in my heart for companies that suffer large event driven price drops. Not that I believe there is sustainable life after such events, but rather that there are opportunities to profit from other people like me who smell an opportunity and add support to the share price. However, my time frame is short and I don’t necessarily expect investor largesse to continue.

I did sell puts on Sears Holding on Friday, but would not have done so if the event and subsequent share plunge had been earlier in the option cycle. Sears Holdings, only offers monthly options and in this case there is just one week left in that cycle. If faced with the possibility of assignment I would hope to be able to roll the puts options forward, but do have some concerns about a month long exposure, despite what would likely be an attractive premium.

While there’s no confusion about the nature of its products, Lorillard’s (LO) recent share decline, while not offering certainty of its end, does offer a more reasonable entry point for a company that offers attractive option premiums even when its very healthy dividend is coming due. Like Sears Holdings, Lorillard only offers monthly option contracts, but in this case I have no reservations about holding shares for a longer time period if not assigned.

Conoco Phillips (COP) has been eclipsed in my investing attention by the enormous success of its spin-off Phillips 66 (PSX), but had never fallen off my radar screen. While waiting for evidence that the same will occur to Phillips 66 through its own subsequent spin-off of Phillips 66 Partners (PSXP), my focus has returned to the proud parent, whose shares appear to be ready for some recovery. However, with a dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle, I don’t mind the idea of shares continuing to run in place and generate option income in a serial manner.

Perhaps not all retailers are in the same abysmal category. Lowes (LOW), while not selling much in the way of fashions or accessories and perennially being considered an also ran to Home Depot, goes ex-dividend this week and has traded reliably at its current level, making it a continuing target for a covered option strategy. I’ve owned in 5 times in 2013, usually for a week or two, and wonder why I hadn’t owned it more often. Following its strong close to end the week I would like to see a little giveback before making a purchase. Additionally, since the ex-dividend date is on a Friday, I’m more likely to consider selling an option expiring the following week or even February, so as to have a greater chance of avoiding early assignment of having sold an in the money option.

Whole Foods (WFM) also goes ex-dividend this week, but its paltry dividend alone is a poor reason to consider share ownership. However, its inexplicable price drop after having already suffered an earnings related drop makes it especially worthy of consideration. While I already own more expensively priced shares and often use lesser priced additional lots in a sacrificial manner to garner option premiums to offset paper losses, I’m inclined to shift the emphasis on share gain over premium at this price level. Reportedly Whole Foods sales suffered during the nation wide cold snap and that may be something to keep in mind at the next earnings report when guidance for the next quarter is offered.

Although earnings season will be in focus this week, especially with big money center banks all reporting, I have no earnings selections this week. Instead, I’m thinking of adding shares of Alcoa (AA) which had fared very nicely after being dis-invited from membership in the DJIA and not so well after leading off earnings season on Thursday.

While I typically am niot overly interested in longer term oiutlooks, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld’s suggestion that demand is expected to increase strongly in 2014 could help to raise Alcoa’s margins. Even a small increase would be large on a percentage basis and could easily be the fuel for shares to continue their post DJIA-explusion climb.

Finally, I was a bit confused as Verizon’s (VZ) shares took off mid-day last week and took it beyond the range that I thought my shares wouldn’t be assigned early in order to capture the dividend. In the absence of news the same didn’t occur with shares of AT&T which was also going ex-dividend the next day and other cell carriers saw their shares drop. In hindsight, the drop in shares the next day, well beyond the impact of dividends, was just as confusing. Where there is certainty, however, is that shares are now more reasonably priced and despite their recent two day gyrations trade with low volatility compared to the market, making them a good place to park money for the defensive portion of a portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Conoco Phillips, L Brands, Lorillard, Target, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Alcoa, Sears Holdings

Double Dip Dividend: Lowes (ex-div 1/17), Whole Foods (ex-div 1/14)

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 – November 24, 2013

Sometimes the strategy is self-defense. Sometimes it’s just doing what you need to do to keep beta at bay.

I don’t know about other people, but I’m getting a little more nervous than usual watching stocks break the 16000 level on the Dow Jones and the 1800 level on the S&P 500.

What’s next 5000 NASDAQ? Well that’s not so ludicrous. All it would take is 4 years of 6% gains and we would could set the time machine back to a different era.

In hindsight I know what I would do at the 5000 level.

For those old enough to remember the predictions of Dow 35000 all we need is a repeat of the past 56 months and we’re finally there and beyond.

This being a holiday shortened trading week adds a little bit to the stress level, because of the many axioms you hear about the markets. The one that I believe has as much validity as the best of them is that low volume can create artificially large market moves. When so many are instead focusing on the historical strength of markets during the coming week, I prefer to steer clear of any easy guide to riches.

When faced with a higher and higher moving market you could be equally justified in believing that momentum is hard to stop as you could believe that an inflection point is being approached. The one pattern that appears clear of late is that a number of momentum stocks are quickly decelerating when faced with challenges.

When I find myself a little ill at ease with the market’s height, I focus increasingly on “beta,” the measure of a stock’s systemic risk compared to the overall market. I want to steer clear of stock’s that may reasonably be expected to be more volatile during a down market or expectations of a declining market.

As a tool to characterize short term risk beta can be helpful, if only various sources would calculate the value in a consistent fashion. For example, Tesla (TSLA), which many would agree is a “momentum” stock, can be found to have a beta ranging from 0.33 to 1.5. In other words, depending upon your reference source you can walk away believing that either Tesla is 50% more volatile than the market or 67% less volatile.

Your pick.

While “momentum” and “beta” don’t necessarily have correlation, common sense is helpful. Tesla or any other hot stock du jour, despite a reported beta of 0.33, just doesn’t seem to be 67% less volatile than the overall market, regardless of what kind of spin Elon Musk might put on the risk.

During the Thanksgiving holiday week I don’t anticipate opening too many new positions and am focusing on those with low beta and meeting my common sense criteria with regard to risk. Having had many assignments to close out the November 2013 option cycle I decided to spread out my new purchases over successive weeks rather than plow everything back in at one time and risk inadvertently discovering the market’s peak.

Additionally, I’m more likely to look at either expanded option possibilities or monthly options, rather than the weekly variety this week. In part that’s due to the low premiums for the week, but also to concerns about having positions with options expiring this week caught in a possible low volume related downdraft and then being unable to find suitable new option opportunities in future weeks. If my positions aren’t generating revenue they’re not very helpful to me.

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).

While eschewing risk may be in order when you think a market top is at hand, sometimes risky behavior can be just the thing when it comes to assembling a potentially profitable mix of stocks. In this case the risky behavior comes from the customers of Lorillard (LO), Philip Morris (PM) and Molson-Coors (TAP).

With word that Europeans may finally be understanding the risks associated with tobacco and may be decreasing use of their ubiquitously held cigarettes, Philip Morris shares had a rough week. The 6% drop accompanying what should be good news from a public health perspective brings shares back to a much more inviting level. Shares did successfully test an $85 support level and subsequently bounced back a bit too much for my immediate interest, but I would welcome another move toward that level, particularly as I would prefer an entry cost right near a monthly strike level.

Lorillard, on the other hand, has essentially no European exposure, but perhaps in sympathy gave up just a little bit from its 52 week high after a sustained run higher over the past 6 weeks. While there is certainly downside risk in the event of a lower moving market, shares do go ex-dividend this week and think of all of those people lighting up after a hearty Thanksgiving meal. The near term risk factors identified for Europe aren’t likely to have much of an impact in the United States market, where the only real risk factors may be use of the products.

That Thanksgiving meal may very well be complemented with a product from Molson Coors. I imagine there will also be those using a Molson Coors product while using a Lorillard product, perhaps even dousing one in the other. Shares, which are down nearly 5% from its recent highs go ex-dividend this week. Because of the strike prices available, Molson Coors is one position that I may consider using a November 29, 2013 option contract, as many more strike levels are available, something that is useful when attempting to capture both a decent option premium and the dividend, while also enticing assignment of shares.

Speaking of risky behavior, the one exception to the central theme of staying away from high beta names is the consideration of adding shares of Walter Energy (WLT). While the last 9 months have seen its shares plummet, the last three months have been particularly exciting as shares had gone up by as much as 75%. For those with some need for excitement this is certainly a candidate, with a beta value 170% greater than the average of all other recommended positions this week, the stock is no stranger to movement. But speaking of movement, although I don’t look at charts in any depth, there appears to be a collision in the making as the 50 dma is approaching the 200 dma from below. Technicians believe that is a bullish indicator. Who knows. What I do know is that the coal, steel and iron complex, despite a downgrade this past Friday of the steel sector, has been building a higher base and I believe that the recent pullback in Walter Energy is just a good opportunity for a quick trade, perhaps using the sale of puts rather than covered calls.

While not falling into the category of risky behavior, Intel’s (INTC) price movement this week certainly represents odd behavior. Not being prone to exceptionally large moves of late on Thursday it soared 3%, which by Intel’s standards really is soaring. It then fell nearly 6% the following day. While the fall was really not so odd given that Intel forecast flat revenues and flat operating profits, it was odd that the price had gone up so much the previous day. Buying on Thursday, in what may have been a frenzied battle for shares was a nice example of how to turn a relatively low risk investment into one that has added risk.

But with all of the drama out of the way Intel is now back to a more reasonable price and allows the ability to repurchase shares assigned the previous week at $24 or to just start a new position.

While I would have preferred that Joy Global (JOY) had retreated even further from its recent high, its one year chart is a nearly perfect image of shares that had spent the first 6 months of the year above the current price and the next 6 months below the current price, other than for a brief period in each half year when the relationship was reversed. Joy GLobal is an example of stock have a wide range of beta reported, as well, going from 1.14 to 2.17. However, it has also traded in a relatively narrow range for the past 6 months, albeit currently near the high end of that range.

With earnings scheduled later in the December 2013 option cycle there is an opportunity to attempt to thread a needle and capture the dividend the week before earnings and avoid the added risk. However, I think that Joy Global’s business, which is more heavily reliant on the Chinese economy may return to its recent highs as earnings are delivered.

Lowes (LOW) reported earnings this past week, and like every previous quarter since the dawn of time the Home Depot (HD) versus Lowes debate was in full force and for yet another quarter Lowes demonstrated itself to be somewhat less capable in the profit department. However, after its quick return to pricing reality, Lowes is once again an appealing portfolio addition. I generally prefer considering adding shares prior to the ex-dividend date, but the share price slide is equally compelling.

Hewlett Packard (HPQ) is one of those stragglers that has yet to report earnings, but does so this week. Had I known 35 years ago that a classmate would end up marrying its future CEO, I would likely not have joined in on the jokes. It is also one of those companies that I swore that I would never own again as it was one of my 2012 tax loss positions. I tend to hold grudges, but may be willing to consider selling puts prior to earnings, although the strike price delivering a 1% ROI, which is my typical threshold, is barely outside of the implied price move range of 8%. It’s not entirely clear to me where Hewlett Packard’s future path may lead, but with a time perspective of just a week, I’m not overly concerned about the future of the personal computer, even if Intel’s forecasts have ramifications for the entire industry.

Lexmark (LXK) is a company that I like to consider owning when there is also an opportunity to capture a dividend. That happens to be the case this week. When it announced that it was getting out of the printer business investors reacted much as you would have imagined. They dumped shares, which for most people are electronically maintained and not in printed form. After all, why own a printer company that says that printers are a dead end business? Who knew that Lexmark had other things in mind, as it has done quite nicely focusing on business process and content management solutions. While it has been prone to large earnings related moves or when shocking the investment community with such news as it was abandoning its most recognizable line of business, it has also been a rewarding position, owing to dividends and option premiums. However, always attendant is the possibility of a large news related move that may require some patience in awaiting recovery.

Finally, I find myself thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY) again this week, just as last week and 10 other times this past year. Perhaps I’m just obsessed with another CEO related missed opportunity. Shares didn’t fare too well based upon an analyst’s report that downgraded the company saying that shares were “range bound at $49-$54.” While that may have been the equivalent of a death siren, for me that was just validation of what had been behind the decision to purchase and repurchase shares of eBay on a regular basis. While being range bound is an anathema to most stock investors, it is a dream come true to a covered option writer.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, Intel, Lowes, Philip Morris

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Lexmark (ex-div 11/26), Lorillard (ex-div 11/26), Molson-Coors (ex-div 11/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Hewlett Packard (11/26 PM)

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

Weekend Update – March 31, 2013

It’s said that George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak (EKDKQ), was quite methodical as he approached the end of his life and was prepared to put his escape plan into action.

“My work here is done” may be a very logical way to approach any kind of transition, although it doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme that Eastman felt was appropriate under his circumstances. Be prepared, but don’t be crazy.

I’ve been transitioning a portfolio for almost a month in anticipation of the market taking a break and perhaps giving back some of its gains; maybe even a lot of its gains.

Doing so has made me much less fun to be around, but circumstances do change and being prepared for plausible scenarios means having exit strategies and surviving to see them do as planned until it’s time to exit the exit strategy. Once my work is done I can’t wait to get back to work.

I for one was glad to see the first quarter of 2013 come to an end. Fortunately, as a covered option seller, my remaining life span may not be sufficient to see another opening yearly quarter such as this past one, as the last such period was in 1987.

You may or may not remember how that year ended, but let’s just say that a single day 500 point drop back then was a lot more meaningful than it would be today.

I wasn’t prepared back then, in fact, that was the last time I used a margin account. I may end up being wrong this time around, but in watching markets for a number of years, both as a casual observer and as an active participant it’s reasonably clear that the good times don’t just keep rolling.

Selling covered calls is a great strategy when applied methodically, but it does meet its match in markets that just do nothing other than going higher. Hopefully April will usher in some greater variety in outcomes, as the past few weeks, despite having established records in both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 have been showing some signs of tentative behavior.

Part of being a less fun person has meant initiating fewer new positions each week. The first step to creating an environment that wouldn’t entice me to spend money on new positions was to cut off the funding just like you might with any addict. Luckily, most stock traders won’t resort to petty crime and pawning the belongings of loved ones to feed the habit, although that margin account can be very appealing and the answer to an easy fix.

I cut off my flow of funds by moving from weekly to extended weekly or monthly options. Longer contracts means less weekly contracts available to be assigned and less opportunity for new weekly cash to be available to “feed the beast.”.

Unfortunately, I also curtailed my cash flow by some unseemly timing in the purchase of new positions this past quarter, such as Petrobras (PBR) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) that are sitting awaiting opportunities to have call contracts written against them.

The next part of the transition was focusing on reliable dividend paying stocks. The kind your grandfather would feel comfortable owning. Last week, all new positions went ex-dividend last week or this coming week. They’re not very exciting to own, but dividends, especially when their ensuing share price reduction is partially offset by option premiums are especially welcome.

Keeping more cash in reserve, moving away from “Momentum” positions, longer contracts and seeking near term dividends is the exit strategy and my transition is nearly complete.

Now comes the waiting and the period of self-doubt, which includes wondering when it’s time to abandon a thesis. In the meantime, increasing cash reserves doesn’t mean a total prohibition against finding potential new opportunities. After all, being prepared doesn’t have to take you to extremes. Once you’ve reached a crazy state of preparedness it’s hard to turn around to see the light.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the “PEE” category, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (see details). Additionally, as in previous weeks there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence.

Some of this week’s selections are stocks that I already own but may consider adding to existing positions. One such stock is Deere (DE) which left me somewhat exasperated this past Thursday, the final day of a holiday shortened trading week.

At almost precisely noon shares of Deere dropped by about $1.40 in about 8 minutes, taking it from the realm of stocks poised for assignment. The plunge happened while the market was stable and most other heavy machinery and equipment makers were actually going higher. There was no news to account for the sudden and sustained drop. Neither in real time nor hours after.

Caterpillar (CAT) is one of the stocks that has an ignominious reputation during this record setting quarter. It was among the worst performers of the quarter and was routinely tagged as a laggard on those days that the broad market performed well. I recently purchased shares having waited all quarter for them
to reach the price point that was very kind to me in 2012. It accompanied Deere for a small portion of the former’s inexplicable retreat but recovered sufficiently to avoid being tagged yet again.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) and Medtronic (MDT) fit into two ongoing themes. Looking for near term dividend paying shares and belonging to the broadly defined healthcare sector. While healthcare has been the leading sector for the trailing year, I think there are still short term opportunities, even with a specter of a declining market. While both Bristol Myers and Medtronic have had significant advances lately, the combination of dividend and premium continue to make it appealing.

MetLife (MET), also a recent holding, fits into my broad definition of “healthcare” if you stretch that definition to an extreme. Part of my positive outlook for its shares is related to what I believe will be growth in its home insurance business. Of course, I rarely think in terms of fundamentals and certainly don’t have a long term perspective on its shares, but it is well positioned to maintain price stability even in a stock market of reduced stability.

Wells Fargo (WFC) and JP Morgan (JPM) are two very different banks. JP Morgan goes ex-dividend this week and has been beleaguered with domestic attacks from elected officials and international attacks as Cyprus may or may not add risk to global banks, such as JP Morgan.

On the other hand, Wells Fargo is as pure of a domestic play as you can find at a size that still makes it “too big to fail.” With news of improving real estate sales all over the country the Wells Fargo money machine is poised to re-create the glory days that so abruptly ended 5 years ago.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to purchase Lowes (LOW) for the past few weeks and have watched its price show some mild erosion during that time

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been one of my favorite stocks for a long time. I purchased additional shares last week to capture its dividend and after looking at its performance over the past 10 months feel guilty thinking that it’s a “boring” stock.

In fact, it’s been absolutely the poster child for what makes a covered call strategy a successful one. While its stock price has virtually remained unchanged since May 2012, the active cycle of buying shares, selling calls, assignment, buy shares, etc.. has resulted in a nearly 40% ROI.

Finally, Western Refining (WNR) is a company whose shares I briefly owned recently at a much lower price. It was one that got away during the uni-directional market of the first quarter. Its price has come down a bit and I think may now be at its “new normal” making it perhaps an antidote to Petrobras in a sector that has some catching up to do.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Deere, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan, Lowes, MetLife, Wells Fargo

Momentum Stocks: Western Refining

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers (ex-div 4/3), JP Morgan (ex-div 4/3), Medtronic (ex-div 4/3)

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.

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

 

Weekend Update – March 17, 2013

Many stock charts look similar lately. For those old enough to remember Alan Greenspan’s first year as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the upward slope was all that many new investors and stock brokers had known for 5 years.

You may or may not recall how that second year went for him. It was the year that the stock market re-discovered the concept of gravity and the more complex notion of negative numbers.

To hear the one time Federal Reserve Chairman intone yesterday that the market is greatly undervalued sends whatever message you would like to hear when you digest his words.

“Irrational exuberance is the last term I would use to characterize the performance at the moment.”

The key to escaping responsibility and a stain on your prognosticating ability is the phrase “at the moment.” I use that a lot myself, as any moment can end up being the inflection point. It’s just too bad that the television cameras aren’t rolling at that point.

There’s much speculation lately about the source of any new money coming into the markets. Whether it’s refugees from the bond market or those that have sat on the sidelines since being shaken out sometime in the past 5 years. I’m not certain why the answer seems so hard to ascertain, but with all of the smug talk about those investors who represent the “smart money,” you might believe that any new money at the margins would be somewhat less smart. After all, besides perhaps being late to the party, they were either in bonds or cash all of this time.

How smart is that? Well, it depends on what side of the inflection you’re on when the question is asked.

Regardless of where any new money may be coming, all such funds are faced with the same dilemma. Do you chase something that’s already left the station or do you wait for the next opportunity to come along?

In a way, if you sell calls on your positions, you’re regularly faced with those question upon assignment. If you sell lots of weekly call options the question is a frequent one.

If you believe in history repeating itself, images such as this may be of concern:

Unless of course you’re very concrete, in which case there’s still three months left to frolic in higher prices and invest with impunity.

Approaching my fourth week of negativity and seeing a decrease in option income as a result of re-investing less of the proceeds of assigned shares, something has to reach a breaking point. Since the theoretical number of consecutive days that the market could go higher is unlimited, it may make sense to temper the conviction that only negative things wait ahead, especially for those unprepared.

Granted, the “doomsday preppers” that are featured on basic cable these days may not be the best of role models, there has to be something in-between that offers a compromise.

I think that compromise is avoiding most anything that your grandfather never had to opportunity to purchase.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference is to now look for high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, sadly, there are none such going ex-dividend this week.

I don’t recall the last time I considered so many stocks at any single time from the Dow Jones Index. In a month where the first 10 trading days took us higher, of the following Dow Index stocks only one outperformed the S&P 500.

Caterpillar (CAT) is approaching one of my favorite price points for its shares. Despite no negative news, other than what may be inferred though always questionable Chinese economic data, shares have been languishing and get more appealing daily. Those other heavy machinery companies without the potential Chinese exposure have been enjoying the market climb.

Home Depot (HD) has been a favorite stock ever since I dared to compare it to Apple (AAPL) in terms of performance, at a time that Apple was hitting on all cylinders. There’s nothing terribly exciting and there’s probably very little new information that can be added about Home Depot. It simply offers safety,a decent premium and continues to hit on all cylinders even as other more flashy companies have done otherwise. Let others debate whether increased housing sales are good or bad or whether it is a better buy than Lowes (LOW). It is simply a reliable portfolio partner.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) is no longer made of Teflon, although its share price continues to be fairly resistant. With Congressional hearings starting today and findings that JP Morgan was indifferent, at best, to the risks that it was assuming in what became known as the “London Whale Trades,” it will re-join its banking brethren who are, by and large, seeing their stocks enjoy the results of the stress tests. The
increased dividend announced is a nice little touch, as well an inducement to add shares.

I rarely look at the Communication Services or Utilities sectors unless I want safety and dividends. That was a good formula early on in the process of recovering from 2007 plunge. But it may also be a good formula to protect against downwinds. Not necessarily a very exciting approach, but sleeping at night has its own merits. AT&T (T), although not going ex-dividend this week is expected to announce its ex-dividend date sometime in the April 2013 option cycle. It will be my Ambien.

Merck (MRK) was the lone Dow component company to have out-performed the S&P 500 through March 14, 2013, purely on the big bump when it received favorable news regarding its controversial Vytorin product. Recently its option premiums have started to become more compelling. I had hoped to purchase shares last week in order to capture the dividend, however, the Vytorin news disrupted that, as I chose not to chase.

Starbucks (SBUX) is a bit more expensive than I would like in order to pick up new shares, but I always prefer to get shares when it hovers near a strike price. Although your grandfather may not have been able to ever purchase shares of this company, it definitely has a business model of which he would approve. Basic and simple, while offering an addictive product worked well for tobacco companies and is equally and consistently successful at Starbucks.

The lone Momentum stock this week is Coach (COH). Having just had shares assigned at $49 and still owning some higher priced shares at $51, I rarely like to chase stocks as their prices have gone higher than their assigned price. However, I think that the worst is over for Coach and it still carries cache, despite some equivocation regarding its status in the luxury sector of retail.

I’ve had shares of Coach come in and out of my portfolio on a consistent basis ever since the first assault on its future and subsequent 10% drop in share price. It’s sometimes a little maddening how out-sized its moves are, but it does tend to gravitate back toward its pre-assault home.

Although I do want to eschew risk, there may be some earnings related trades this week that may still offer a reasonable risk-reward scenario.

With the exception of LuLu Lemon (LULU), all of the potential earnings related stocks are ones that I’ve happily owned in the past year and would be comfortable owning again. LuLu Lemon, however, is the only one of those potential plays that would fall into the Momentum category, although all are retailers or consumer discretionary companies.

Retailing based on what may turn out to be a fad is always a risky proposition and LuLu Lemon has certainly shown that it’s capable of exhibiting large price moves, both earnings related and otherwise. Someday, it may be on the wrong side of being a fad, but there’s currently no indication of that happening and impacting this current upcoming earnings release. Although it is capable of a 15% move in either direction, those a bit more daring may find the premiums associated with a 10% move appealing.

My shares of Tiffany were assigned this Friday, having been held for 181 days, as compared to just 26 days for positions opened in 2012. It’s was an interesting run, with lots of ups and downs, but its performance beat the S&P 500 for its holding period by 4.9%. Now offering weekly options, it is even more appealing to me as a casual purchase. With earnings this week and a significant recent run-up in price, put options are aggressively priced and attractive, if you don’t mind the possibility of owning shares.

Williams Sonoma (WSM) is one of those stocks for which I wished weekly options existed, especially as it offers earning related opportunities at the very beginning of a monthly cycle. It too, is very capable of 10% moves in either direction upon earnings, but as Coach, does have a tendency to return if the market reacts negatively.

The final earnings related trade is Nike (NKE). Although it is also capable of 10% moves, it doesn’t offer premiums quite as enhanced as some of the other names. However, it certainly doesn’t carry the risk of being a fad and so, even with a precipitous drop there can be reasonable expectations for a return to health. Even in the event of assignments of puts sold to capitalize on earnings, there are worse things in the world than owning shares of Nike.

Traditional Stocks: AT&T, Caterpillar, DuPont, Home Depot, JP Morgan, Merck, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: COH

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: LuLu Lemon (3/21 AM), Nike (3/21 PM), Tiffany (3/22 AM), Williams Sonoma (3/19 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.

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

 

Weekend Update – March 10, 2013

It only seems fitting that one of the final big stories of the week that saw the Dow Jones eclipse its nearly 6 year old record high would be the latest reports of how individual banks performed on the lmost recent round of “stress tests.” After all, it was the very same banks that created significant national stress through their equivalent of bad diet, lack of exercise and other behavioral actions.

Just as I know that certain foods are bad for me and that exercise is good, I’m certain that the banks knew that sooner or later their risky behavior would catch up with them. The difference is that when I had my heart attack the effects were restricted to a relatively small group of people and I didn’t throw any one out of their homes.

Having had a few stress tests over the years myself, I know that sometimes the anticipation of the results is its own stress test. But for some reason, I don’t believe that the banks that were awaiting the results are facing the same concerns. Although I’m only grudgingly modifying my behavior, it’s not clear to me that the banks are or at least can be counted to stay out of the potato chip bag when no one is looking.

Over the past year I’ve held shares in Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Morgan Stanley (MS), still currently holding the latter two. They have been, perhaps, the least stressful of my holdings the past year or so, but I must admit I was hoping that some among that group would just go and fail so that they could become a bit more reasonably priced and perhaps even drag the market down a bit. But in what was, instead, a perfect example of “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” success led to most stressed bank shares falling.

The other story is simply that of the market. Now that its surpassed the 2007 highs it just seems to go higher in a nonchalant manner, not giving any indication of what’s really in the works. I’ve been convinced for the past 2 or three weeks that the market was headed lower and I’ve taken steps for a very mild Armageddon. Raising cash and using longer term calls to cover positions seemed like a good idea, but the only thing missing was being correct in predicting the direction of the market. For what it’s worth, I was much closer on the magnitude.

The employment numbers on Friday morning were simply good news icing on the cake and just added to my personal stress, which reflected a combination of over-exposure to stocks reacting to speculation on the Chinese economy and covered call positions in a climbing market.

Fortunately, the news of successful stress test results serves to reduce some of my stress and angst. With news that the major banking centers have enough capital to withstand severe stresses, you do have to wonder whether they will now loosen up a bit and start using that capital to heat up the economy. Not to beat a contrarian horse to death, but since it seems inevitable that lending has to resume as banking portfolios are reaching maturity, it also seems inevitable that the Federal Reserve’s exit strategy is now in place.

For those that believe the Federal Reserve was the prime sponsor of the market’s appreciation and for those who believe the market discounts into the future, that should only spell a market that has seen its highs. Sooner or later my theory has to be right.

I’m fine with that outcome and would think it wonderfully ironic if that reversal started on the anniversary of the market bottom on March 10, 2009.

But in the meantime, individual investment money still has to be put to work. Although I continue to have a negative outlook and ordinarily hedge my positions by selling options, the move into cash needs to be hedged as well – and what better way to hedge than with stocks?

Not just any stocks, but the boring kind, preferably dividend paying kind, while limiting exposure to more controversial positions. People have their own unique approaches to different markets. There’s a time for small caps, a time for consumer defensive and a time for dividend paying companies. The real challenge is knowing what time it is.

As usual, this week’s selections are categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum or Double Dip DIvidend (see details). As earnings season is winding down there appear to be no compelling earnings related trades in the coming week.

Although my preference would be for shares of Caterpillar (CAT) to approach $85, I’m heartened that it didn’t follow Deere’s (DE) path last week. I purchased Deere and subsequently had it assigned, as it left Caterpillar behind, for the first time in 2013, as they had tracked one another fairly closely. With the latest “news du jour” about a Chinese government commitment to maintaining economic growth, there may be enough positive news to last a week, at which point I would be happy to see the shares assigned and cash redeployed elsewhere.

Along with assigned shares of Deere were shares of McGraw Hill (MHP). It’s price spiked a bit early in the week and then returned close enough to the strike price that a re-purchase, perhaps using the same strike price may be a reasonable and relatively low risk trade, if the market can mai
ntain some stability.

There’s barely a day that goes by that you don’t hear some debate over the relative merits of Home Depot (HD) and Lowes (LOW). Home Depot happens to be ex-dividend this week and, unless it causes havoc with you need to be diversified, there’s no reason that both companies can’t be own concurrently. Now tat Lowes offers weekly options I’ve begun looking more frequently at its movement, not just during the final week of a monthly option cycle, which coincidentally we enter on Monday.

I rarely find good opportunity to purchase shares of Merck (MRK). It’s option premium is typically below the level that seems to offer a fair ROI. That’s especially true when shares are about to go ex-dividend. However, this week looks more appealing and after a quick look at the chart there doesn’t appear to be much more than a 5% downside relative to the overall market.

Macys (M) is another company that I’ve enjoyed purchasing to capture its dividend and then hold until shares are assigned. It’s trading about 6% higher than when I last held shares three weeks ago and is currently in a high profile legal battle with JC Penney (JCP). There is certainly downside in the event of an adverse decision, however, it now appears as if the judge presiding over the case may hold some sway as he has suggested that the sides find a resolution. That would be far less likely to be draconian for any of the parties. The added bonuses are that Macys is ex-dividend this week and it too has been added to the list of those companies offering weekly option contracts.

Cablevision (CVC) is one of New York’s least favorite companies. The distaste that people have for the company goes well beyond that which is normally directed at utilities and cable companies. There is animus director at the controlling family, the Dolans, that is unlike that seen elsewhere, as they have not always appeared to have shareholder interests on the list of things to consider. But, as long as they are paying a healthy dividend that is not known to be at risk, I can put aside any personal feelings.

Michael Kors (KORS) isn’t very consistent with the overall theme of staid, dividend paying stocks. After a nice earnings related trade a few weeks ago and rise in share price, Kors ran into a couple of self-made walls. First, it announced a secondary offering and then the founder, Michael Kors, announced a substantial sale of personal shares. It also may have more downside potential if you are one that likes looking at charts. However, from a consumer perspective, as far as retailers go, it is still” hot” and offers weekly options with appealing enough premiums for the risk. This turned out to be one of the few selections for which I couldn’t wait until the following week and sent out a Trading Alert on Friday morning.

Seagate Technology (STX) is another theme breaker. In the past I have had good fortune selling puts after price drops, which are frequent and sudden. The additional downside is that when drops do come, the recoveries are relatively slow, so patience may be required, as well as some tolerance for stress if selling puts and the price starts approaching the strike.

The final theme buster is Transocean (RIG). Is there anything that Carl Icahn is not involved with these days? Transocean has been a frequent trading vehicle for me over the years. Happy when weekly options became available, I was disappointed a few weeks ago when they disappeared. It is part of the “Evil Troika” that I often own concurrently. If purchased, Transocean will once again join British Petroleum (BP) in the portfolio, replacing Halliburton (HAL) which was assigned on Friday. Transocean has re-instituted the dividend, although it will still be a few months until the first such payment. Icahn believes that it is too little and too late. I don’t know how he would have the wherewithal to change the “too late” part, but most people would be happy with the proposed 4+% dividend.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Lowes

Momentum Stocks: McGraw Hill, Michael Kors, Seagate Technology, Transocean

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 3/13), Home Depot (ex-div 3/12), Macys (ex-div 3/13), Merck (ex-div 3/13)

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.

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

 

Weekend Update – January 13, 2013

Your portfolio is your Preidential Cabinet.

In a week when the biggest story was the signature of the man selected by President Obama to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary it’s not too surprising that not much happened in the markets.

After more than a 4% gain the prior week a breather was welcome., as shares assigned from my portfolio must have felt as if they had outstayed their welcome.

They hadn’t, but sometimes it’s just time to leave.

The week was a busy one in Executive Office politics as it was the time honored tradition of appointed cabinet officials knowing that it was time to leave . The week demonstrated a strategy to fill cabinet positions that many are finding to be uncomfortable. Some people like the security that comes with known names and entities, while others relish in the unknown and “out of the box” thinkers..

Professional sports is like the former. How else can you explain the consistent recycling of proven losers, while promising new leaders go languishing as they await an opportunity to strut their stuff and lead their teams to victory?

As opposed to the process of assembling a Presidential cabinet under George W. Bush when every face was a very hackneyed and familiar one, this week’s events were quite the opposite, as the choices ranged from the unknown to the disliked. Norv Turner may have qualified for an appointment in the Bush Administration, but not here and not now.

What could confidently be said about Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary designee, is that his signature suggests that he would be comfortable working together with Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and add a few extra “zeroes” to the money supply. After all, why stop at just a Trillion Dollar Coin? It’s like 5 minute Abs.

President Obama’s cabinet during his first term was noted for its infrequent turnover and familiar names. That’s how my portfolios used to be and I can’t necessarily complain about its performance. The portfolio was always comprised of well known names, never any speculative issues and they all stayed a long time, through good and bad performance, then good performance and then bad performance, again and again.

As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced her departure, ostensibly lured by an irresistible Herbalife (HLF) ethnocentric marketing campaign, Raymond LaHood is one of the few leftovers and he should stay just for the humorous name.

That’s not a good enough criterion for stocks, though. These days, I like rapid turnover, but still only have comfort with familiar names. I too may have chosen Donald Rumsfeld, but likely would have been a little distressed if he had not departed within 40 days, or so. I like a portfolio that is more of a sleep-over than a relationship.

After veering significantly from last week’s script in an effort to find lots of replacements for assigned shares, I’m again faced with needing lots of replacements, but at least this past week the overall market wasn’t terribly difficult to top. Think of it as having to find a replacement for Treasury Secretary John Snow. Henry Paulson was pretty good in his own right, but by comparison he really shined.

Still, the challenge of finding potential candidates that aren’t at or near 52 week highs is difficult. Normally, my list is comprised of the same old and reliable names, but this week there are some newcomers that hopefully will get a chance to strut their stuff and then be gone before outwearing their welcome. That’s especially on my mind this week as a number offer only monthly option contracts. I tend to be more willing to consider those stocks in the final week of a monthly cycle, but if they’re not assigned that starts preparing the way to push the 40 day envelope.

As usual, stocks are categorized as either being Traditional, Momentum, Double, Dip Dividend or PEE (see details). As earnings season goes into full gear this week there were actually a large number of candidates to consider for earnings related trades, but often the best opportunities come with some of the lesser known or higher flying names than with the button down early reporters.

I’m not certain that I know anyone that would admit to having, much less using a Discover credit card. I still spend a good portion of my time trying to find a place that will allow me to decide between my Diners Club or Discover. Yet Discover FInancial (DFS) is a reasonable alternative to Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA). Although Discover has outperformed its more respected cousins in the past year, it has greatly under-performed in the past month.

DuPont (DD) used to be one of my favorites. That was back in the days when there were no weekly options, it had an artificially high dividend and great option premiums. These days, I’m not quite as enthused, as the years have taken their toll. But during the last week of an option cycle? Why not? Besides, with all of the portfolio new comers, it’s good to have a familiar face or two to keep things grounded.

Speaking of grounds, Starbucks (SBUX), although higher than the last time I owned it, just a few months ago, appears to be running on all cylinders. I’m not certain that anyone knows and understands his company as well as Howard Schultz understands Starbucks. Even in the face of a negative earnings report two quarters ago, Schultz effused so much confidence in responding to the market’s reflexive response to “bad” news, that you had to be inspired about the company’s prospects.

These days, I’m not certain that I should still categorize AIG (AIG) along with my other “Momentum” stocks. Its option premiums are less and less like those of others in that category. AIG is a stock that I often wish I had read my own weekly words and bought much more frequently than I had done. Along the lines of inspiration, every time I see its CEO, Robert BenMosche on air, I think that he is truly a hero of American business and finance. Instead of remembering the villains, we should laud the heroes.

US Steel (X) could be one of my newcomer stocks this week. I don’t have any particular thesis. I simply like the premium, but am respectful of the risk. US Steel does report earnings on January 29, 201 and am not certain that I would want to be holding shares going into earnings. Since it does trade a weekly option, there would be at least two escape opportunities prior to earnings.

Yahoo! (YHOO) is another stock that I haven’t owned in a while, having waited for its return to $16. Following its drop this past week I feel a bit more comfortable considering a purchase after its resurrection.

Footlocker (FL) is another one of the new comers that doesn’t necessarily inspire me on the basis of any underlying theme. Like Us Steel it has a nice option premium, but only trades a monthly option. The upcoming dividend may tip the scales for me as the stock hasn’t had the same kind of run-up that its products should equip the owner for.

Lowes (LOW), for all of its commendable performance, is a stock that I only look toward as it approaches its ex-dividend date. It too offers only a monthly option, but like Foot Locker, going ex-dividend in the final week of the monthly option cycle makes ownership more palatable.

eBay (EBAY) is another stock that I own too infrequently. That may change as it’s come over to the weekly options family. It reports earnings this week and will likely be as good as its PayPal division allows it to be. It’s no longer the highly volatile stock of yesterday, but still offers a reasonable risk-reward ratio in the same 5% range on strike price.

Having missed the entire move in the entire housing sector doesn’t preclude entry, it just includes risk. Lennar (LEN) will report earnings this coming week and I expect a break in its upward trajectory. In the past its shares have not over-responded to earnings news, so the risk reward may be present at the 5% level, rather than the 10% level that I often find comfort in. If prices hold up prior to earnings release and I can obtain a 1% premium for selling a put at a strike 5% below the current price or selling an in the money call at a similar strike, this may be a good candidate for a short term dalliance.

Traditional Stocks: Discover Financial, DuPont, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: AIG, US Steel, Yahoo!

Double Dip Dividend: Foot Locker (ex-div 1/16), Lowes (ex-div 1/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (1/16 PM), Lennar (1/15 AM)

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