Weekend Update – December 25, 2016

 It’s the end of the world as we know it

…And I feel fine.

Whoever thought that we would live to see the day that the President-Elect would be running a parallel foreign policy?

Whoever thought we would live to see the day that Republicans were cozying up to the Russian government while the Democrats were sounding the siren?

Then again, did anyone really believe that Great Britain would split from the European Union?

Maybe it really is the end of the world as we know it.

The one good thing is that as best as we can project, life in a post-apocalyptic world will probably be characterized by lower tax rates.

That can only add to the feeling fine sensation and I certainly look forward to the little considered benefits of an apocalypse.

While the world may not be ending, 2016 is coming to an end and after a very palpable post-election rally, it’s not very clear where we go next.

I certainly don’t know where I go next.

In less than a month populism meets reality and the direction may become more clear. At the moment, the only thing that really is clear is that populism is a world wide phenomenon, which means that lots of world-wide enemies are being identified to account for all of the ills any particular society may be experiencing.

 

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Weekend Update – August 28, 2016

I’m not entirely certain I understood what happened on Friday.

While it’s easy to understand the “one – two” punch, such as memorialized in Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “Sixteen Tons,” it’s less easy to understand what has happened when a gift is so suddenly snatched away.

After not having attended the previous year’s Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank hosted soiree in Jackson Hole, this year Janet Yellen was there.

She was scheduled to speak on Friday morning and the market seemed to be biding its time all through the week hoping that Friday would bring some ultimate clarity.

Most expected that she would strike a more hawkish tone, but would do so in a way as to offer some comfort, rather than to instill fear, but instead of demonstrating that anticipation by buying stocks earlier in the week, traders needed the news and not the rumor.

The week was shaping up like another in a string of weeks with little to no net movement. Despite the usual series of economic reports and despite having gone through another earnings season, there was little to send markets anywhere.

Most recently, the only thing that has had any kind of an impact has been the return of the association between oil prices and the stock market and we all know that the current association can’t be one that’s sustainable.

So we waited for Friday morning.

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Weekend Update – July 24, 2016

“When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

That old saying has some truth to it.

Maybe a lot of truth.

When you think about stocks all day long everything seems to be some sort of an indicator as I look for a rational explanation to what is often a prelude to an irrational outcome.

Reducing the intricate character of what is found in nature to a mathematical sequence is both uplifting and deflating.

When the very thought of uplifting and deflating conjures up an image of a stock chart it may be time to re-evaluate things.

When you start seeing the beauty in nature as a series of peaks and troughs and start thinking about Fibonacci Retracements, it is definitely time to step back.

Sometimes stepping back is the healthy thing to do, but as the market has been climbing it’s most recent mountain that has repeatedly taken the S&P 500 to new closing highs, it hasn’t taken very many breaks in its ascent.

You don’t have to be a technician, nor a mountain climber to know that every now and then you have to regroup and re-energize.

You also don’t have to be a mountain climber to know that standing on the edge of a cliff is fraught with danger, just as each step higher adds to risk, unless there’s a place to rest.

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Weekend Update – June 12, 2016

Sometimes you just have nowhere to go.

One thing that was fairly certain last week was that there wasn’t too much of a trend and there wasn’t any clear path to follow.

As markets began testing the 18000 level on the DJIA and 2100 on the S&P 500, the chorus was loud and clear.

There is no place to go but up.

The alternating chorus was that there was no place to go but down.

The market instead went sideways, but not very far as all roads seemed to be closed off.

After the previous week, which ended precisely unchanged, this past week managed to move 0.1%,

Granted, the first three days of the week did seem to benefit from Chairman Janet Yellen’s superb demonstration of how hedging your words works to allow people to hear whatever it is that they want to hear.

Following Monday afternoon’s talk, Dr. Yellen essentially said something to the effect of “It’s not good out there, but it’s all good. You know what I mean?”

Years ago I heard a fairly odd individual present a lecture on the pharmacological management of children requiring sedation. He referred to the well known age and weight based rules regarding dosages, but said they were inadequate. Not surprisingly, after listening to him for a brief while, it was only his eponymous rule that could determine the correct amount of sedative agents to administer to a child.

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Weekend Update – June 5, 2016

While so many people are still confused over the “Transgender Bathroom” issue, the real confusion came from this week’s Employment Situation Report.

With the odds of an interest rate hike by the FOMC’s June meeting seemingly increasing every day, you would really have to believe that the FOMC knew what was going to be in the economic news cards.

The increasing hawkish talk all seemed to be preparing us for a rate hike in just 2 weeks. Judging by the previous week’s market performance you would certainly have been of the belief that traders were finally at personal peace with the certainty of that increase.

The concept of being at personal peace is confusing to some.

I’m personally confused as to how it could have taken so long to see the obvious, unless we’re talking about stocks, interest rates and investor’s reactions.

What I find ironic is that the proposal for all inclusive bathrooms is really age old, at least at the NYSE, when there was a recent time that there was only a need for a single sex bathroom, anyway.

Just like many of us know, what a great degree of certainty, which camp we belong to when nature beckons, the lines seemed to be increasingly drawn with regard to interest rates.

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Weekend Update – May 22, 2016

If you could really dodge a bullet, magicians from Harry Houdini to Penn and Teller would never have had to perfect the ability to catch them in their teeth.

Yet, we may have dodged a bullet this past week.

Forget about the fact that the stock market still seems to like the idea of higher oil prices. We’ve been dodging the impact of increasing oil prices through most of 2016. At some point, however, that will change. That bullet has been an incredibly slow moving one.

What we dodged was a second week of terrible retail earnings and continued over-reaction to the thought that a June 2016 interest rate hike was back on the table, as  Federal Reserve Governors are sounding increasingly hawkish.

Not that there wasn’t a reaction to the sense that such an increase was becoming more likely, but some decent earnings data coupled with increased inflation projections could have really fueled an exit for the doors.

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Weekend Update – November 8, 2015

For a very brief period of time before October’s release of the Employment Situation Report and for about 90 minutes afterward, the stock market had started doing something we hadn’t seen for quite a while.

Surprisingly, traders had been interpreting economic news in a rational sort of way. Normally, you wouldn’t have to use the word "surprisingly" to describe that kind of behavior, but for the preceding few years the market was focused on just how great the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy was for equity investors and expressed fear at anything that would take away their easy access to cheap money or would make alternative investments more competitive.

The greatest increment of growth in our stock market over the past few years occurred when bad news was considered good and good news was considered good.

To be more precise, however, that greatest increment of growth occurred when there was the absence of good economic news in the United States and the presence of good economic news in China.

What that meant was that good economic news in the United States was most often greeted as being a threat. Meanwhile back in the good old days when China was reporting one unbelievable quarter after another, their good economic news fueled the fortunes of many US companies doing business there.

Then the news from China began to falter and we were at a very odd intersection when the market was achieving new highs even as so many companies were in correction mode as a Chinese slowdown and supremacy of American currency conspired to offset the continuing gift from the FOMC.

At the time of the release of October’s Employment Situation Report the market initially took the stunningly low number and downward revisions to previous months as reflecting a sputtering economy and added to the losses that started some 6 weeks earlier and that had finally taken the market into a long overdue correction.

90 minutes later came an end to rational behavior and the market rallied in the belief that the bad news on employment could only mean a continuation of low interest rates.

In other words, stock market investors, particularly the institutions that drive the trends were of the belief that fewer people going back to work was something that was good for those in a position to put money to work in the stock market.

Of course, they would never come right out and say that. Instead, there was surely some proprietary algorithm at work that set up a cascading avalanche of buy orders or some technical factors that conveniently removed all human emotion and empathy from the equation.

As bad as the employment numbers seemed, the real surprise came a few weeks later as the FOMC emerged from its meeting and despite not raising rates indicated that employment gains at barely above the same level everyone had taken to be disappointing would actually be sufficient to justify an interest rate increase.

The same kind of reversal that had been seen earlier in the month after the Employment Situation Report was digested was also seen after the most recent FOMC Statement release had started settling into the minds of traders. However, instead of taking the market off in an inappropriate direction, there came the realization that an increase in interest rates can only mean that the economy is improving and that can only be a good thing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to this past week and with the uncertainty of the week ending release of the Employment Situation Report the market went nicely higher to open the first 2 days of trading.

There seemed to be a message being sent that the market was ready to once again accept an imminent interest rate increase, just as it had done a few months prior.

That seemed like a very adult-like sort of thing to do.

The real surprise came when the number of new jobs was reported to be nearly double that of the previous month and was coupled with reports of the lowest unemployment rate in almost 8 years and with a large increase in wages.

Most any other day over the past few years and that combination of news would have sent the market swooning enough to make even the fattest finger proud.

With all of those people now heading back to work and being in a position to begin spending their money in a long overdue return to conspicuous consumption, this coming week’s slew of national retailers reporting earnings may provide some real insight into the true health of the economy.

While the results of the past quarter may not yet fully reflect the improving fortunes of the workforce, I’m more inclined to listen closely to the forecasting abilities of Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s (M) and his fellow retail chieftains than to most any nation’s official data set.

Hopefully, the good employment news of last week will be one of many more good pieces to come and will continue to be accepted for what they truly represent.

While the cycle of increasing workforce participation, rising wages and increased discretionary spending may stop being a virtuous one at some point, that point appears to be far off into the future and for now, I would trade off the high volatility that I usually crave for some sustained move higher that reflects some real heat in the economy.

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

What better paired trade could there be than Aetna (AET) and Altria (MO)?

I don’t mean that in terms of making the concurrent trades by taking a long position in one and a short position in the other, but rather on the basis of their respective businesses.

In the long term, Altria products will likely hasten your death while still making lots of money in the process and Aetna’s products will begrudgingly try to delay your death, being now forced to do so even when the costs of doing so will exceed the premiums being paid.

Either way, you lose, although there may be some room for a winner or two in either or both of these positions as they both had bad weeks even as the broader market finished higher for the 6th consecutive week.

Both have, in fact, badly trailed the S&P 500 since it started its rally after the October Employment Situation Report.

Aetna, although still sporting a low "beta," a measure of volatility, has been quite volatile of late and its option premium is reflecting that recent volatility even as overall volatility has returned to its historically low levels for the broader market.

With Aetna having recently reported earnings and doing what so many have done, that is beating on earnings, but missing on revenues, it had suffered a nearly 8% decline from its spike upon earnings.

That seems like a reasonable place to consider wading in, particularly with optimistic forward guidance projections and a very nice selection of option premiums.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is ex-dividend this week. Although its dividend is well below that of dividend paying stocks in the S&P 500 its recent proposal to buy competitor Rite Aid (RAD) has increased its volatility and made it more appealing of a dividend related trade.

With some displeasure already being expressed over the buyout, Walgreens Boots Alliance will surely do the expected and sell or close some existing stores of both brands and move on with things. But until then, the premiums will likely continue somewhat elevated as Walgreens seeks to further spread its footprint across the globe.

With about a 10% drop since reporting earnings at the end of October there isn’t too much reason to suspect that it will be single out from the broader market to go much lower, unless some very significant and loud opposition to its expansion plans surfaces. With the Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaching, I don’t think that those objections are going to be voiced in the next week or two.

International Paper (IP) is also ex-dividend this coming week and I think that I’m ready to finally add some shares to an existing lot. Like many other stocks in the past year, it’s road to recovery has been unusually slow and it is a stock that has been among those falling on hard times even as the market rallied to its highs.

While it has recovered quite a bit from its recent low, International Paper has given back some of that gain since reporting earnings last week.

Its price is now near, although still lower than the range at which I like to consider buying or adding shares. The impending dividend is often a catalyst for considering a purchase and that is definitely the case as it goes ex-dividend in a few days.

Its premium is not overly generous, as the option market isn’t perceiving too much uncertainty in the coming week, but the stock does offer a very nice dividend and I may consider using an extended option to try and make it easier to recoup the share price drop due to its dividend distribution. 

Macy’s reports earnings this week and it has had a rough ride after each of its last two earnings reports. When Macy’s is the one reporting store closures, you know that something is a miss in retail or at least some real sea change is occurring.

The fact that the sea change is now showing profits at Amazon (AMZN) for a second consecutive quarter may spell bad things for Macy’s.

The options market must see things precisely that way, because it is implying a 9.2% move in Macy’s next week, which is unusually large for it, although no doubt having taken those past two quarters into account.

Normally, I look for opportunities to sell puts on those companies reporting earnings when I can achieve a 1% ROI on that sale by selecting a strike price outside of the range implied by the option market.

In this case that’s possible, although utilizing a strike that’s 10% below Friday’s close doesn’t offer too large of a margin for error.

However, I think that CEO Lundgren is going to breathe some life into shares with his guidance. I think he understands the consumer as well as anyone, just as he had some keen insight long before anyone else, when explaining why the energy and gas price dividend being received by consumers wasn’t finding its way to retailers, nearly a year ago.

Finally, the most interesting trade of the week may be Target (TGT).

Actually, it may be a trade that takes 2 weeks to play out as the stock is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week and then reports earnings two days later.

Being ex-dividend on a Monday means that if assigned early it would have to occur by Friday of this coming week. However, due to earnings being released the following week the option premiums are significantly enhanced.

What that offers is the opportunity to consider buying shares and selling an extended weekly, deep in the money call with the aim of seeing the shares assigned early.

For example, at Friday’s close of $77.21, the sale of a November 20, 2015 $75.50 call would provide a premium of $2.60.

That would leave a net of $0.89 if shares were assigned early, or an ROI of 1.15% for the 5 day holding, with shares more likely to be assigned early the more Target closes above $76.06 by the close of Friday’s trading.

However, if not assigned early that ROI could climb to 1.9% for the 2 week holding period even if Target shares fall by as much as 2.2% upon earnings.

So maybe it’s not always a misplaced sense of logic to consider bad news as being a source for good things to come.

 

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Altria

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/12 $0.44), Target (11/16 $0.56), Walgreens Boots Alliance (11/12 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Macy’s (11/11 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 – May 10, 2015

Many years ago people were fascinated by the movie “The Three Faces of Eve.”

It was the story of a woman afflicted with what was known at the time as “Multiple Personality Disorder,” although many incorrectly believed that the story was one characteristic of an individual with schizophrenia.

For her performance of all 3 characters, none of whom was aware of any of the others, Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for “Best Actress.” Yet 30 years later, in a sign of an unjust society, neither Eddie Murphy nor Arsenio Hall received any notice whatsoever from The Academy for each portraying 4 distinct characters.

While there’s still hope that such acting genius may someday be rewarded, there’s very little hope of being able to understand just what face the market will be showing from day to day.

Doug Kass, a well known hedge fund manager is fond of Tweeting that the market has no memory from day to day and that observation, while not seeming to be offering a diagnosis, has it well characterized.

Lack of memory for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness is one of the cardinal signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder and this market, however one wishes to characterize it, may have the same affliction as was suffered by Eve. But as long as it keeps reaching new record highs, it too will keep winning awards for its performance.

While some may say that the market is “acting schizophrenic,” they neither know the distinction between that malady and Dissociative Identity Disorder, nor understand the use of adverbs. While volatility may also be a hallmark of the disorder the rapid alternations between market plunges and surges are doing nothing to enhance volatility. In fact, for all of the uncertainty, volatility remains within easy striking distance of its 52 week low and was virtually unchanged last week.

In a week with very little economic news scheduled until this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report and with most key companies having already reported earnings, there was little reason to expect many large moves. However, as has been the case in recent weeks, there hasn’t always been the requirement of an identifiable reason for the market making a large move. What has also been the case is that so often the very next day brought about a reversal of fortune or mis-fortune of the previous day and another subsequent Doug Kass Tweet.

Those Kass market memory Tweets are fairly common and I do believe that he recalls having sent them on many previous occasions. While I offer him no diagnosis based on those Tweets, they do perfectly sum up the market that we’ve come to know.

The problem is that which just don’t know which market will be showing up from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour.

I wonder if Eve had that same problem?

Compounding the inherent uncertainty occurs when an otherwise dependable and reliable source seems to turn on you.

Mid-week we got to see a Janet Yellen face that we had only seen once previously. It was the face that unlike its more commonly visible counter-part, wasn’t the one that sought directly or indirectly to calm and prop up stock markets.

During her tenure, especially during her post-FOMC Statement release press conferences, most of us have come to appreciate the boost of confidence Janet Yellen has supplied markets, as well as having an appreciation for the manner in which she balances pragmatic and social concerns with monetary policy.

But this week instead it was that Yellen character that questions stock market value, almost in the same way as a predecessor pointed a finger at “frothy exuberance.”

While not quite as bad as the racy and wild side of Eve that tried to murder her child, the value questioning side of Janet Yellen sent markets for a tumble. But just as after her 2014 comments about “substantially stretched” valuation metrics in bio-technology companies, the impact may be short lived, as it was this week.

Perhaps some thanks for that should go to the auspiciously timed release of the Employment Situation Report that avoided creating either a “bad news is good news” or “good news is bad news” by delivering numbers that were right in line with expectations.

Of course, when considering how much contra-distinction there has been in recent monthly Employment Situation Reports one might be excused for believing that they too suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder and it may be injurious to one’s portfolio health to base too many actions on any given month’s data.

This coming week is another very slow one for economic news. While earnings season is now winding down the catalyst or the retardant for the market to get to the next new set of highs may be the slew of national retailers reporting earnings this week.

Some 6 months ago those retailers were among those optimistically talking about how they would benefit from increased consumer spending as a result of lower energy prices.

About that….

Those same retailers may be putting on a different face when reporting this week if those gains haven’t materialized, as there are no indications that the GDP has grown as expected.

To the contrary, actually.

Only one of the major retailers will report before this Wednesday’s Retail Sales Report, but it was the CEO of that company, Terry Lundgren, who was initially among the most optimistic regarding the prospects for Macys (NYSE:M) and who months later made the very astute observation that the energy savings experienced by consumers hadn’t accumulated sufficiently to create the feeling of actually having more discretionary cash to spend.

Sooner or later the projections for significant growth in GDP will have to be written off as just the rants of economists who had surrendered their better judgment to their racy and wild alternate egos and who can’t be blamed for their actions.

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

After the last two weeks, I think, that even after a previous lifetime of toiling away for a paycheck and not really appreciating its significance, I finally understand the meaning of “TGIF.”

The strong recoveries seen in each of the past two Fridays helped to rescue some weeks that were turning out to be fairly dour.

The downside, however, is that when the coming week is about to begin, so many of the stocks that you had been eying for a purchase were up sharply to end the previous week.

There are probably worse problems to have in life, so I won’t dwell too long on that one, but that is where this past Friday’s 267 point gain in the DJIA has us beginning the new week.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) has quietly become the largest television station operators in the United States. While seemingly the only topics discussed these days are about streaming signals, satellites and cable there’s still life left in terrestrial television. The family controlled company certainly believes in the future of traditional television broadcasting as over the past several years the company has actively amassed new stations around the country.

Following an initial move higher after it reporting earnings shares gave up some ground and are now about 9% below its recent high from last month, at which time I had my previous shares assigned.

I purchased shares on 5 occasions in 2014 and have been waiting for a chance to do so in 2015. With its recent decline and with this being the final week of a monthly option cycle, I would consider once again adding shares in the hopes of a quick assignment. However, if not assigned, shares are then ex-dividend May 28th and I would consider selling either June or the July 2015 options on those shares.

Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) has suffered of late.

It literally started 2015 off by being named one of the worst run companies of 2014 on New Years Day. Its shares continued to stumble even after its CEO unexpectedly resigned a few weeks later as the lure of its Barbie was waning in a world of electronic toys more welcomingly embraced by some of its competitors.

More recently some of the negativity that characterized 2015 had abated as the market actually embraced the smaller than expected loss at the most recent earnings report. While some of the gains have been since digested, Mattel may have now seen what the near term bottom looks like.

With earnings now out of the way for a short while and an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I am considering adding shares, but bypassing the week remaining on the monthly May 2015 contract and going directly to the June contract and banking on some share gains and not just option premiums and dividends for the effort.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is one of those stocks that I always like to own, as it is an assuming kind of company that tends to reflect what is going on in the economy and is relatively immune from currency exchange issues

.

Most recently, after having positively reacted to earnings it failed to climb back toward where it had been at the time of its January earnings report. However, it does appear as if it is building a base to make that assault. As with Sinclair Broadcasting and Mattel, Fastenal only offers monthly options, so any potential purchase this week paired with an option sale could look at the May 15, 2015 contracts, effectively making it a weekly contract, or go directly to the June 2015 expirations, especially if believing that there is some capital appreciation in store for shares.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:TEVA) have both spent a lot of time in the news lately and both are ex-dividend this week.

DuPont is one stock that came to mind when bemoaning the strong gains seen this past Friday, as it was definitely a beneficiary of broad market strength. It continues to be embroiled in a fight with activists which may have profound ramifications with how investors look at and value a company’s intellectual and research pursuits.

The question of how valuable research activities are to a company if they are part of a separate company is one that pits short term and long term outlooks against one another. Although I tend to trade for the short term, and while I believe that Nelson Peltz is generally a positive influence on the companies in which he has taken a significant financial stake, I disagree with the idea of splitting off assets that are at the core of developing intellectual property.

However, as long as the fighting continues, there is opportunity to see shares climb even higher. It is precisely because of the uncertainty that comes along with the ongoing conflict that DuPont is offering an exceptionally high option premium, particularly in a week that it is ex-dividend.

The world of pharmaceutical companies was once so staid. Every self respecting portfolio was required to own shares in a high dividend paying blue chip pharmaceutical company, many of whom have been swallowed up over the years in the process of creating even larger and less responsive behemoths.

From nothingness, generic drug companies and bio-pharmaceutical companies are becoming their own behemoths and are recently at center stage with seemingly daily merger and acquisition activity.

Teva has joined the crowd seeking to grow through acquisition and may be willing to fight for the opportunity to grow. Of course, its target may have some other ideas, including possibly seeking to purchase Teva itself.

Like DuPont, the uncertainty in the air has it offering a very appealing option premium even in a week that shares are ex-dividend. With shares having recently declined by about 10% in the past month, it’s possible that some of the downside risk that may be associated with a fight or a failed conquest attempt has already been discounted.

Zillow (NASDAQ:Z) reports earnings this week having declined about 25% since its last earnings report. Its CEO, a darling of cable business news blamed the prolonged regulatory process encountered during its proposed purchase of its competitor Trulia, for leaving the company “trending a couple quarters behind where we’d like to be.”

But that comment was from last month, so the expectation would be that the market is prepared for whatever may come their way as earnings are reported this week.

That kind of logic is fine until faced with counter-examples, such as SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) which despite warning upon warning, still managed to surprise everyone. Of course, the same could be said for early 2014 when markets seemed to be surprised by how bad weather impacted earnings after having heard nothing but how weather was effecting sales for months.

In this case the option market is implying an 8.1% move for Zillow after earnings are reported. That’s fairly mild after the past 2 weeks of having seen declines on the order of 25% coming from companies that couldn’t place many excuses for its performance at the feet of currency exchange woes.

Finally, it takes a lot for me to consider a new stock and to think about putting it into portfolio rotation. It’s even more difficult to do that with a company that has less than 6 months of public trading behind it.

I recently found my second ever blog article, one from 8 years ago, which was about peer lending re-posted on an aggregator site. At the time, I looked at peer lending as a potential means of diversifying one’s portfolio, especially with the aim of generating income streams.

While the early leader of the concept is still around, it was LendingClub (NYSE:LC) that finally brought it to the equity markets.

Its earnings last week, despite being slightly better than the consensus, did nothing to stem the downward price spiral since the IPO. The stock’s close tracking of the 10 Year Treasury Note broke down in March, but I believe that with the stock approaching its IPO price that concordance with interest rates will soon be re-established.

If that proves to be the case and there is a suggestion that the bond market may now be on the right path in predicting the inevitable rise in rates, the LendingClub and its shares are likely to prosper.

Like an unusual number of stocks presented this week, LendingClub also offers only monthly options. However, without a dividend to consider, I would look at any potential purchase of shares as a short term trade and would sell the May 2015 options, which are offering a very attractive premium as the possibility of further share price declines are being factored in by the options market.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Mattel, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: LendingClub

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (5/13), Teva Pharmaceuticals (5/15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (5/12 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 – December 8, 2013

Sometimes good things can go good.

Anyone who remembers the abysmal state of television during the turn of this century recalls the spate of shows that sought to shock our natural order and expectations by illustrating good things gone bad. There were dogs, girls, police officers and others. They appealed to viewers because human nature had expectations and somehow enjoyed having those expectations upended.

That aspect of human nature can be summed up as “it’s fun when it happens to other people.”

For those that loved that genre of television show, they would have loved the stock markets of the last few years, particularly since the introduction of Quantitative Easing. That’s when good news became bad and bad news became good. Our ways of looking at the world around us and all of our expectations became upended.

Like everyone else, I blame or credit Quantitative Easing for everything that has happened in the past few years, maybe even the continued death of Disco. Who knew that pumping so much money into anything could possibly be looked at in a negative way despite having possibly saved the free world’s economies? While many decried the policy, they loved the result, in a reflection of the purest of all human qualities – the ability to hate the sinner, but love the sin.

Then again, I suppose that stopping such a thing could only subsequently be considered to be good, but rational thought isn’t a hallmark of event and data driven investing.

With so many believing that all of the most recent gains in the market could only have occurred with Federal Reserve intervention, anything that threatens to reduce that intervention has been considered as adverse to the market’s short term performance. That means good news, such as job growth, has been interpreted as having negative consequences for markets, because it would slow the flow. Bad news simply meant that the punch bowl would continue to be replenished.

For the very briefest of periods, basically lasting during the time that it wasn’t clear who would be the successor to Ben Bernanke, the market treated news on its face value, perhaps believing that in a state of leadership limbo nothing would change to upset the party.

It had been a long time since good news resulted in a market responding appropriately and celebrating the good fortune by creating more fortunes. This past week started with that annoying habit of taking news and believing that only a child’s version of reverse psychology was appropriate in interpreting information, but the week ended with a more adult-like response, perhaps a signal that the market has come to peace with idea that tapering is going to occur and is ready to move forward on the merits of news rather than conjecture of mass behavior.

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).

Coming off a nearly 200 point advance on Friday what had initially looked like relative bargains were now pricey in comparison and at risk to retrace their advances.

While last week was one in which dividends were a primary source of my happiness, unfortunately this week is not likely to be the same. As in life where I just have to get by on my looks, this week I’ll have to get by on new purchases that hopefully don’t do anything stupid and have a reasonable likelihood of being assigned or having their calls rolled over to another point in the near future. The principle reason for that is that most of the stocks going ex-dividend this week that have some appeal for me only have monthly options available. Since I’m already overloaded on options expiring at the end of the this monthly cycle my interests are limited to those that have weekly options. With volatility and subsequently premiums so low, as much as I’d like to diversify by using expanded options, they don’t offer much solace in their forward week premiums.

While the energy sector may be a little bit of a mine field these days, particularly with Iran coming back on line, Williams Companies (WMB) fits the profile that I’ve been looking for and is especially appealing this week as it goes ex-dividend. Williams has been able to trade in a range, but takes regular visits to the limits of the range and often enough to keep its option premium respectable. With no real interest in longer term or macro-economic issues, I see Williams for what it has reliably been over the course of the past 16 months and 9 trades. Despite its current price being barely 6% higher than my average cost of shares, it has generated about 35% in premiums, dividends and share appreciation.

Another ex-dividend stock this week is Macys (M). Retail is another minefield of late, but Macys has not only been faring better than most of the rest, it has also just hit its year’s high this past week. Ordinarily that would send me in the opposite direction, particularly given the recent rise. With the critical holiday shopping season in full gear, some will have their hopes crushed, but someone has to be a winner. Macys has the generic appeal and non-descript vibe to welcome all comers. While I wouldn’t mind a quick dividend and option premium and then exit, it is a stock that I could live with for a longer time, if necessary.

Citibank (C) is no longer quite the minefield that it had been. It may be an example of a good stock, gone bad, now gone good again. When I look at its $50 price it reminds me of well known banking analysts Dick Bove, who called for Citibank to hold onto the $50 price as the financial meltdown was just heating up. Fast forward five years and Bove was absolutely correct, give or take a 1 to 10 reverse split.

But these days Citibank is back, albeit trading with more volat
ility than back in the old days. I’m under-invested in the financial sector, which didn’t fare well last week. If the contention that this is a market that corrects itself through its sector rotation, then this may be a time to consider loading up on financials, particularly as there are hints of interest rate rises. Citibank’s beta inserts some more excitement into the proposition, however.

Like many others, Dow Chemical (DOW) took its knocks last week before recovering much of its loss. Also like many that I am attracted toward, it has been trading in a price range and has been thwarted by attempts to break out of that range. Mindful of a market that is pushing against its highs, this is a stock that I don’t mind owning for longer than most other holdings, if necessary. The generous dividend helps the patient investor wait on the event of a price reversal. For those a little longer term oriented, Dow Chemical may also be a good addition for a portfolio that sells LEAPs.

Like all but one of this week’s selections, I have owned shares of International Paper (IP) on a number of occasions in the past year. While shares are now well off of their undeserved recent lows there is still ample upside opportunity and shares seemed to have created support at the $45 level. My preference, as with some other stocks on this week’s list is that a little of the past week’s late gains be retraced, but that’s not a necessary condition for re-purchasing International Paper.

Baxter International (BAX) has been also in a trading range of late having been boxed in by worries related to competition in its hemophilia product lines to concerns over the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. Also having recovered some of its past week’s losses it, too, is trading at the mid-point of its recent range and doesn’t appear to have any near term catalysts to see it break below its trading range. The availability of expanded options provide some greater flexibility when holding shares.

Joy Global (JOY) had been on an upswing of late but has subsequently given back about 5% from its recent high. It reports earnings this week and its implied price move is nearly 6%. However, its option pricing doesn’t offer premiums enhanced by earnings for any strike levels beyond that are beyond the implied move. While a frequent position, including having had shares assigned this past week, the risk/reward is not sufficient to purchase shares or sell puts prior to the earnings release. However, in the event hat shares do drop, I would consider purchasing shares if it trades below $52.50, as that has been a very comfortable place to initiate positions and sell calls.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) on the other hand, has an implied move of about 8% and can potentially return 1.1% even if the stock falls nearly 9%. In this jittery market a 9% drop isn’t even attention getting, but a 20% drop , such as LuLuLemon experienced in June 2013 does get noticed. Its shares are certainly able to have out-sized moves, but it has already weathered quite a few challenges, ranging from product recalls, the announced resignation of its CEO and comments from its founder that may have insulted current and potential customers. I don’t expect a drop similar to that seen in December 2012, but can justify owning shares in the event of an earnings related drop.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD), long a favorite of mine, is generally a fairly staid company, as far as staying out of the news for items not related to its core business. It can often trade with some volatility, especially as it has a habit of providing less than sanguine guidance and the street hasn’t yet learned to ignore the pessimistic outlook, as RIverbed tends to report very much in line with expectations. Recently the world of activist investors knocked on Riverbed’s doors and they responded by enacting a “poison pill.” While I wouldn’t suggest considering adding shares solely on the basis of the prompting from activist investors, Riverbed has long offered a very enticing risk/reward proposition when selling covered calls or puts. It is one of the few positions that I sometimes consider a longer term option sale when purchasing shares or rolling over option contracts.

Finally, and this is certainly getting to be a broken record, but eBay (EBAY) has once again fulfilled prophecy by trading within the range that was used as an indictment of owning shares. For yet another week I had two differently priced lots of eBay shares assigned and am anxious to have the opportunity to re-purchase if they approach $52, or don’t get higher than $52.50. While there may be many reasons to not have much confidence in eBay to lead the market or to believe that its long term strategy is destined to crumble, sometimes it’s worthwhile having your vision restricted to the tip of your nose.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Macys (ex-div 12/11), Williams Co (ex-div 12/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/11 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (12/12 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.