Weekend Update – August 30, 2015

Good luck to you if you have staked very much on being able to prove that you can make sense of what we’ve been seeing in the US stock market.

While it’s always impossible to predict what the coming week will bring, an even more meaningful tip of the hat would go to anyone that has a reasonable explanation of what awaits in the coming week, especially since past weeks haven’t necessarily been simple to understand, even in hindsight.

Sure, you can say that it’s all about the confusion over in China and the series of actions taken to try and control the natural laws of physics that describe the behavior of bubbles. You can simply say that confusion and lack of clear policy in the world’s second largest economy has spilled over to our shores at a time when there is little compelling reason for our own markets to make any kind of meaningful move.

That appears to be a reasonable explanation, in a case of the tail wagging the dog, but the correlation over the past week is imperfect and not much better over the past 2 weeks when some real gyrations began occurring in China.

The recovery last week was very impressive both in the US and in China, but in the span of less than 2 months, ever since China began restrictions on stock trading activity, we can point to three separate impressive recoveries in Shanghai. During that time the correlation between distant markets gets even weaker.

Good luck, then, guessing what comes next and whether the tail will still keep wagging the dog, now that the dog realizes that a better than expected GDP may be finally evidencing the long expected energy dividend to help boost consumer participation in economic growth.

Sure, anyone can say that a 10% correction has been long overdue and leave it at that, and be able to hold their head up high in any argument now that we’ve been there and done that.

There has definitely not been a shortage of people coming out of the woodwork claiming to have gone to high cash positions before this recent correction. If they did, that’s really admirable, but it’s hard to find many trumpeting that fact before the correction hit.

What would have given those willing to disengage from the market and go to cash following unsuccessful attempts to break below support levels a signal to do so? Those lower highs and higher lows over the past month may have been the indication, but even those who wholeheartedly believe in technical formations will tell you that acting on the basis of that particular phenomenon has a 50-50 chance of landing you on the right side.

And why did it finally happen now?

The time has been ripe for about 3 years. I’ve been continually wrong in that regard for that long and I certainly can’t hold my head up very high, even if I had gotten it right this time.

Which I didn’t. But being right once doesn’t necessarily atone for all of the previous wrong calls.

No sooner had the chorus of voices come together to say that the character and depth of the decline seen were increasingly arguing against a V-shaped recovery that the market now seems to be attempting that V-shaped recovery.

What tends to make the most sense is simply considering taking a point of view that’s in distinct contrast to what people clamoring for attention attempt to build their reputations upon and are equally prepared to disavow or conveniently forget.

Of course, if you want to add to the confusion, consider how even credible individuals see things very differently when also utilizing a different viewing angle of events.

Tom Lee, former chief US equity strategist for JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and founder of Fundstrat Global, who is generally considered bullish, notes that history shows that the vast majority of 10% declines do not become bear markets.

Michael Batnick, who is the director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, looked at things not from the perspective of the declines, but rather from the perspective of the advances seen.

His observation is that the vast majority of those declines generally occurred in “not the healthiest markets.”

Not that such data has application to events being seen in China, but it may be worthwhile to make note of the fact that the tremendous upside moves having recently been seen in China have occurred in the context of that market still having dropped 20%.

Perhaps not having quite the same validity as laws of physics, it may make some sense to be wary of the kind of moves higher that bring big smiles to many. If China’s stock market can still wag the United States, even with less than perfect correlation, there’s reason to be circumspect not only of their continued attempts to defy natural market forces, but also of that market’s behavior.

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

While I’m among those happy to have seen the market put 2 consecutive impressive gains together, particularly after the failed attempt to bounce back from a 600+ point loss to begin the week, I don’t think that I’ll be less cautious heading into this week.

I did open 2 new positions last week near the market lows, and despite their performance am still ambivalent about those purchase decisions. For each, I sold longer term contracts than would be my typical choice, in an attempt to lock in some volatility induced premiums and to have sufficient time for price recovery in the event of a short term downturn.

With an unusually large number of personal holdings that are ex-dividend this week, I may be willing to forgo some of the reluctance to commit additional capital in an effort to capture more dividend, especially as option premiums are being enhanced by volatility.

Both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) are ex-dividend this week.

For me, both also represent long suffering existing positions that I’ve traded many times over the years, and have been accustomed to their proclivity toward sharp moves higher and lower.

However, what used to be relatively short time frames for those declines have been anything but that for some existing lots, even as having traded other lots at lower prices.

Since their previous ex-dividend dates both have under-performed the S&P 500, although the gap has narrowed in the past month, even as both are within reach of their yearly lows.

On a relative basis I believe that both will out-perform the S&P 500 in the event of the latter’s weakness, but may not be able to keep pace if the market continues to head higher. However, for these trades and unlike having used longer term contracts with trades last week, my eyes would be focused on a weekly option and would even be pleased if shares were assigned early in an effort to capture the dividend.

That’s one of the advantages of having higher volatility. Even early assignment can be as or more profitable than in a low volatility environment and being able to capture both the premium and dividend, when the days of the position being open are considered.

Despite having spent some quality time with Meg Whitman’s husband a few months ago, I had the good sense not to ask him anything a few days before Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) was scheduled to report earnings.

That would have been wrong and no one with an Ivy League legacy, that I’ve ever heard about, has ever crossed that line between right and wrong.

While most everyone is now focusing on the upcoming split of Hewlett Packard, my focus is dividend centric. As with Coach and Mosaic, the option premium is reflecting greater volatility and is made increasingly attractive, even during an ex-divided event.

However, since Hewlett Packard’s ex-dividend date is on Friday, there is less advantage in the event of an early assignment. That, though, points out another advantage of a higher volatility environment.

That advantage is that it is often better to rollover in the money positions, with or without a dividend in mind, than it is to accept assignment and to seek a new investment opportunity.

In this case, if faced with likely early assignment, I would probably consider rolling over to the next week and at least if still assigned early, then would be able to pocket that additional week’s option premium, which could become the equivalent of having received the dividend.

For those who are exceptionally daring, Joy Global (NYSE:JOY) is also ex-dividend this week and it is another of my long suffering positions.

These days, anything stocks associated with China have additional risk. For years Joy Global was one of a very small number of stocks that I considered owning that had large exposure to the Chinese economy. I gave considerably more credibility to Joy Global’s forecasting of its business in China than to official government reports of economic growth.

The daring part of a position in Joy Global has more to do with just having significant interests in China, but also because it reports earnings the day after going ex-dividend. I generally do stay away from those situations and much prefer to have earnings be release first and then have the stock go ex-dividend the following day.

In this case, one can consider the purchase of shares and the sale of a deep in the money weekly call option in the hopes that someone might consider trying to capture the dividend and then perhaps selling their shares before exposure to earnings risk.

In such an event, the potential ROI can be 1.1% if selling a weekly $22 call option, based upon Friday’s $24.01 close.

However, if not assigned early, the ROI becomes 1.8% and allows for an 8% price cushion in the event of the share’s decline, which is in line with the option market’s expectations.

For those willing to cede the dividend, there is also the possibility of considering a put sale in advance of earnings.

The option market is implying only an 8.1% move next week. However, it may be possible to achieve a 1% return for the sale of a weekly put that is at a strike price 12.5% below Friday’s closing price.

Going from daring to less so, I purchased shares of $24.06 shares General Electric (NYSE:GE) last week and sold longer dated $25 calls in an effort to combine premium, capital gains on shares and an upcoming ex-dividend date.

Despite the shares having climbed during the course of the week and now beyond that strike level, I may be considering adding even more shares, again trying to take advantage of that combination, especially the higher than usual option premium that’s available.

General Electric hasn’t yet announced that ex-dividend date, but it’s reasonable to expect it sometime near September 18th. While my current short call position is for October 2, 2015, for this additional proposed lot, I may consider the sale of a September 18 slightly out of the money option contracts.

In the event that once the ex-dividend date is announced and those shares are in jeopardy of being assigned early, I might consider rolling over the position if volatility allows that to be a logical alternative to assignment.

Finally, as long as Meg Whitman is on my mind, I’m not certain how much longer I can go without owning shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). While it has traded in a very consistent range and very much paralleling the performance of the S&P 500 over the past month, it is offering an extremely attractive option premium in addition to some opportunity for capital gains on shares.

The real test, of course, begins as it releases its next earnings report which will no longer include PayPal’s (NASDAQ:PYPL) contributions to its bottom line. That is still 6 weeks away and I would consider the purchase of shares and the sale of intermediate term option contracts in order to take advantage of that higher market volatility induced premium.

At least that much makes sense to me.

Traditional Stock: eBay, General Electric

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Coach (9/3 $0.34), Hewlett Packard (9/4 $0.18), Joy Global (9/2 $0.20), Mosaic (9/1 $0.28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (9/3 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 stre

am for the week, with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – July 5, 2015

I used to work with someone who used the expression “It’s as clear as mud,” for just about every occasion, even the ones that had obvious causes, answers or paths forward.

Initially, most of us thought that was just some kind of an attempt at humor until eventually coming to the realization that the person truly understood nothing.

Right now, I feel like that person, although the fact that it took a group of relatively smart people quite a while to realize that person had no clue, may be more of a problem.

It should have been obvious. That’s why we were getting the big bucks, but the very possibility that someone who was expected to be capable, was in reality not capable, wasn’t even remotely considered, until it, too, became painfully obvious.

I see parallels in many of life’s events and the behavior of stock markets. As an individual investor the “clear as mud” character of the market seems apparent to me, but it’s not clear that the same level of diminished clarity is permeating the thought processes of those who are much smarter than me and responsible for directing the use of much more money than I could ever dream.

What often brings clarity is a storm that washes away the clouds and that perfect storm may now be brewing.

Whatever the outcome of the Greek referendum and whatever interpretation of the referendum question is used, the integrity of the EU is threatened if contagion is a by-product of the vote and any subsequent steps to resolve their debt crisis.

Most everyone agrees that the Greek economy and the size of the debt is small potatoes compared to what other dominoes in the EU may threaten to topple, or extract concessions on their debt.

Unless the stock market has been expressing fear of that contagion, accounting for some of the past week’s losses, there should be some real cause for concern. If those market declines were only focused on Greece and not any more forward looking than that, an already tentative market has no reason to do anything other than express its uncertainty, especially as critical support levels are approached.

Moving somewhat to the right on the world map, or the left, depending on how much you’re willing to travel, there is news that The People’s Republic of China is establishing a market-stabilization fund aimed at fighting off the biggest stock selloff in years and fears that it could spread to other parts of the economy. Despite the investment of $120 billion Yuan (about $19.3 billion USD) by 21 of the largest Chinese brokerages, the lesson of history is that attempts to manipulate markets tends not to work very well for more than a day or so.

That lesson seems to rarely be learned, as market forces can be tamed about as well as can forces of nature.

The speculative fervor in China and the health of its stock markets can create another kind of contagion that may begin with US Treasury Notes. Whether that means an increased escape to their safety or cashing in massive holdings is anyone’s guess. Understanding that is far beyond my ken, but somehow I don’t think that those much smarter than me have any clue, either.

Back on our own shores, this week is the start of another earnings season, although that season never really seems to end.

While I’ve been of the belief that this upcoming series of reports will benefit from a better than expected currency exchange situation, as previous forward guidance had been factoring in USD/Euro parity, the issue at hand may be the next round of forward guidance, as the Euro may be coming under renewed pressure.

Disappointing earnings at a time that the market is only 3% below its all time highs together with international pressures seems to paint a clear picture for me, but what do I know, as you can’t escape the fact that the market is only 3% below those highs.

The upcoming week may be another in a succession of recent weeks that I’ve had a difficult time finding a compelling reason to part with any money, even if that was merely a recycling of money from assigned positions.

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

Much of my interests this week are driven purely by performance relative to the S&P 500 over the previous 5 trading days and the belief that the extent of those price moves were largely unwarranted given the storm factors.

One exception, in that it marginally out-performed the S&P 500 last week, is International Paper (NYSE:IP). However, that hasn’t been the case over the past month, as the shares have badly trailed the market, possibly because its tender offer to retire high interest notes wasn’t as widely accepted as analysts had expected and interest payment savings won’t be realized to the anticipated degree.

Subsequently, shares have traded at the low end of a recent price cut target range. As it’s done so, it has finally returned to a price that I last owned shares, nearly a year ago and this appears to be an opportune time to consider a new position.

With that possibility, however, comes an awareness that earnings will be reported at the end of the month, as analysts have reduced their paper sales and expectations and profit margins have been squeezed as demand has fallen and input costs have risen.

DuPont’s (NYSE:DD) share decline wasn’t as large as it seemed as hitting a new 52 week low. That decline was exaggerated by about $3.20 after the completion of their spin-off of Chemours (NYSE:CC).

As shares have declined following the defeat of Nelson Peltz’s move to gain a seat on the Board of Directors, the option premium has remained unusually high, reflecting continued perception of volatility ahead. At a time when revenues are expected to grow in 2016 and shares may find some solace is better than expected currency exchange rates.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) has been on my wish list for the past few weeks and continues to be a possible addition during a week that I’m not expecting to be overly active in adding new positions.

What caused Cypress Semiconductor shares to soar is also what was the likely culprit in its decline. That was the proposed purchase of Integrated Silicon Solution (NASDAQ:ISSI) that subsequently accepted a bid from a consortium of private Chinese investors.

What especially caught my attention this past week was an unusually large option transaction at the $12 strike and September 18, 2015 expiration. That expiration comes a couple of days before the next anticipated ex-dividend date, so I might consider going all the way out to the December 18, 2015 expiration, to have a chance at the dividend and also to put some distance between the expiration and earnings announcements in July and October.

Potash (NYSE:POT) is ex-dividend this week and was put back on my radar by a reader who commented on a recent article about the company. While I generally lie to trade Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), the reader’s comments made me take another look after almost 3 years since the last time I owned shares.

The real difference, for me at least, between the 2 companies was the size of the dividend. While Potash has a dividend yield that is about twice the size of that of Mosaic, it’s payout ratio is about 2.7 times the rate of that of Mosaic.

While that may be of concern over the longer term, it’s not ever-present on my mind for a shorter term trade. When I last traded Potash it only offered monthly options. Now it has weekly and expanded weekly offerings, which could give opportunity to manage the position aiming for an assignment prior to its earnings report on July 30th.

During a week that caution should prevail, there are a couple of “Momentum” stocks that I would consider for purchase, also purely on their recent price activity.

It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). However, if you do sell call options, the fact that it has been trading at a reasonably well defined range of late while offering an attractive dividend, may be the best nice thing that can be said about the stock.

I recently had shares assigned and still sit with a much more expensive lot of shares that are uncovered. I’ve had 2 new lots opened in 2015 and subsequently assigned, both at prices higher than the closing price for the past week. There’s little reason to expect any real catalyst to move shares much higher, at least until earnings at the end of next month. However, perhaps more importantly, there’s little reason to expect shares to be disproportionately influenced by Greek or Chinese woes.

Trading in a narrow range and having a nice premium makes Abercrombie and Fitch a continuing attractive position, that can either be done as a covered call or through the sale of puts.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is another whose shares were recently assigned and has given back some of its recent price gains while banks have been moving back and forth along with interest rates.

With the uncertainty of those interest rate movements over the next week and with earnings scheduled to be released the following week, I would consider a covered call trade that utilizes the monthly July 17, 2015 option, or even considering the August 21, 2015 expiration, to get the gift of time.

Finally, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) reports earnings this week after having sustained a 21.5% fall in shares in the past 2 months. That’s still not quite as bad as the 31% one month tumble it took 5 years ago, but shares have now fallen 36% in the past 7 months.

The option market is implying a 5% price movement next week, which on the downside would bring shares to an 18 month low.

Normally, I look for the opportunity to sell a put option in advance of earnings if I can get a 1% ROI for a weekly contract at a strike price that’s below the lower level determined by the option market’s implied movement. I usually would prefer not to take possession of shares and would attempt to delay any assignment by rolling over the short put position in an effort to wait out the price decline.

In this case the ROI is a little bit less than 1% if the price moves less than 6%, however, at this level, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares, especially if Alcoa is going to move back to a prolonged period of share price stagnation as during 2012 and 2013.

That was an excellent time to be selling covered calls on the shares as premiums were elevated as so many were expecting price recovery and were willing to bet on it through options.

You can’t really go back in time, but sometimes history does repeat itself.

At least that much is clear.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 PM)

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

Weekend Update – May 31, 2015

The one thing that’s been pretty clear as this earnings season is winding down is that the market hasn’t been very tolerant unless the bad news was somehow wrapped in a currency exchange story.

It was an earnings season that saw essentially free passes given early on to those reporting decreased top line revenue and providing dour guidance, as long as the bad news was related to a strong US Dollar.

As earnings season progressed, however, it became clear that some companies that could have asked for that free pass were somehow much better able to tolerate the conditions that investors were willing to forgive. That had to raise questions in some minds as to whether there was a little too much leniency as the market’s P/E ratio was beginning to get a little bit ahead of where it historically may have been considered fully priced. Not punishing share price when earnings may warrant doing so can lead to those higher P/E ratios that so often seem to have had a hard time sustaining themselves at such heights.

On the other hand, plunges of 20% or more weren’t uncommon when the disappointment and the pessimistic future outlook couldn’t be easily rationalized away. Sometimes the punishment seemed to be trying to make up for some of those earlier leniences, although if that’s the case, it’s not a very fair resolution.

In other words, this earnings season has been one where bad news was good news, as long as there was a good reason for the bad news. If there was no good reason for the bad news, then the bad news was extra bad news.

This past Friday’s GDP report was bad news. It was the kind of news that would make it difficult to justify increasing interest rates anytime very soon. That. of course, would make it good news.

The market, though, interpreted that as bad news as the week came to its close, while the same news a month ago would have been likely greeted as good news.

Same news, but take your pick on its interpretation.

This past week was one that i couldn’t decide how to interpret anything that was unfolding. Listless pre-open futures trading during the week sometimes failed to portend what was awaiting and so eager to reverse course, at the sound of the opening bell. While I tend to trade less on holiday shortened weeks usually due to lower option premiums, this past week offered me nothing to feel positive about and more than a few reasons to continue to want to wish that i had more in my cash reserve pile.

As the new week is getting ready to start, it’s another with fairly little to excite. Like this past week, perhaps the biggest news will come on the final trading day, as the Employment Situation Report is released.

Another strong showing may only serve to confuse the picture being painted by GDP data, which is now suggesting increased shrinking of our economy.

A weak employment report might corroborate GDP data, but at this point it’s hard to say what the market reaction might be. Whether that would be perceived as good news or bad news is a matter of guesswork.

If the news, however, is really good, then it’s really anyone’s guess as to what would happen, as a decreasing GDP wouldn’t seem to be a logical consequence of strongly expanding employment.

While the FOMC says that it will be data driven and has worked to remove any reference to a relative timeframe, ultimately it’s not about the data, but rather how they chose to interpret it, especially if logic seems to be failing to tie the disparate pieces together.

While markets may change how they interpret the data from day to day, hopefully the FOMC will be a bit more consistent and methodical than the paper fortune teller process markets have been subjected to of late.

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

Kohls (NYSE:KSS) is one of those companies that didn’t have a currency exchange excuse that could be used at earnings time and its shares took a nearly 15% plunge. Best of all, if not having owned shares, in the subsequent 2 weeks its share price has barely moved. That lack of movement can either represent an opportunity that hasn’t disappeared or could be the building of a new support level and invitation to take advantage of that opportunity.

With an upcoming ex-dividend date on Monday of next week, any decision to exercise an option to grab the dividend would have to be made by the close of trading this week. With only monthly options being sold, that could be an attractive outcome if purchasing shares and selling in the money June 2015 calls.

The potential downside is that the dramatic drop in Kohls’ share price still hasn’t returned it to where it launched much higher a few months ago and where the next level of technical support may be. For that reason, while hoping for a quick early assignment and the opportunity to then redeploy the cash, there is also the specter of a longer term holding in the event that shares start migrating lower to its most recent support level.

Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) is ex-dividend this week and represents a company that had a similar plunge nearly 2 years ago, but still has shown no signs of recovery. In its case the price plunge wasn’t related to poor sales or reduced expectations, but rather to the collapse of artificial price supports as the potash cartel was beginning to fall apart.

Mosaic, however, has traded in a fairly narrow range since then and has been an opportune short term purchase when at or below the mid-point of that range.

Those shares are now at that mid-point and the dividend is an additional invitation to entry for me. With its ex-dividend day being Tuesday, it may also be an example of seeking early assignment by selling an in the money weekly call in the hopes of attaining a small, but very quick gain and then redeploying cash into a new position.

I recently had shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) assigned and tried to repurchase them last week in order to capture the dividend, but just couldn’t get the trade executed. However, even with the dividend now out of the picture, I am interested in adding the shares once again.

While so much attention has recently focused on cable and content providers, Sinclair Broadcasting is simply the largest television station operator in the United States. The tightly controlled family operation shows that there is still a future in doing nothing more than transmitting signals the old fashioned way.

While I usually prefer to start new positions with an eye toward a weekly option or during the final week of a monthly option, Sinclair Broadcasting is one of those companies that I don’t mind owning for a longer period of time and don’t get overly concerned if its shares test support levels. I would have preferred to have entered the position last week, but at $30/share I still see some opportunity, but would not chase this if it moved higher as the week begins.

With old tech no longer moribund, people are no longer embarrassed to admit that they own shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Instead, so many seem to have re-discovered Microsoft before the rest of the world and no longer joke about or disparage its products or strategies. They simply forgot to tell the rest of the world that they were going to be so prescient, but fortunately, it’s never to late to do so.

Microsoft continues to have what has made it a great covered call trade for many years. It still offers an attractive premium and it offers dividend growth. Of course the risk is now greater as shares have appreciated so much over those years. But along with that risk comes an offset that may offer some support. In the belief that passivity or poorly conceived or integrated strategies are no longer the norm it is far easier to invest in shares with confidence, even as the 52 week high is within reach.

While new share heights provide risk there is also the feeling that Microsoft will be in a better position to proactively head into the future and react to marketplace challenges. Even the brief speculation about a buyout of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) helped to reinforce the notion that Microsoft may once again be “cool” and have its eyes on a logical strategy to evolve the company.

For the moment it seems as if some of the activist and boardroom drama at DuPont (NYSE:DD) may have subsided, although it’s not too likely that it has ended.

The near term question is whether activists give up their attempts at enhancing value and exit their positions with respectable profits or double down, perhaps with new strategic recommendations.

While the concern about Trian exiting its position may have been responsible for the steep price decline after the shareholder vote last month, it’s not entirely clear that the Trian stake was in any meaningful way responsible for DuPon’t share performance, as they like to credit themselves.

It’s apparently all a matter of interpretation.

In fact, from the time the Trian stake was first disclosed nearly 2 years ago, DuPont has only marginally out-performed the S&P 500. However, from the beginning of the market recovery in March 2009 up until the points that Trian’s stake was disclosed, DuPont’s share performance was more than 50% better than that of the S&P 500.

So while the market has clearly shown that they perceive Peltz’s position and strategy to be an important support for DuPont’s share price and they may have already discounted his exit, CEO Kullman’s strategic path may have easier going without activist distractions

Finally, following the release of some clinical trial results of its drug Opdivo in the treatment of lung cancer, shares of Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) fell nearly 7% on Friday. Those shares are still well above the level where they peaked following an earnings related move in October 2014, so there is still some concern that th

e decline last week may have more to go.

However, the results of those clinical trials actually had quite a few very positive bits of news, including significantly increased survival rates in a sizeable sub-population of patients and markedly lower side effects. On Friday, the market interpreted the results as being very disappointing, but after a few days that interpretation can end up becoming markedly different.

As we all know too well.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb , DuPont, Microsoft, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Kohls (6/8), Mosaic (6/2)

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 – January 4, 2015

If you follow the various winning themes for the past year, any past year for that matter, the one thing that seems fairly consistent is that the following year is often less than kind to the notion that good things can just keep happening unchanged.

Often the crowd has a way of ruining good things, whether it’s a pristine and previously unknown hidden corner of a national park or an obscure trend or pattern in markets.

Back in the days when people used to invest in mutual funds the sum total of many people’s “research” was to pick up a copy of Money Magazine and see which was the top performing fund or sector for the year and shift money to that fund for the following year.

That rarely worked out well.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember such things as “The January Effect” or “Dogs of the Dow.” The more they were written about and discussed, and the more widely they were embraced, the less effective they were.

The “Santa Claus Rally” wasn’t very different, at least this year, even as the final day of that period for a brief while looked as if it might end with an upward flourish, but that too disappointed.

Remember “Sell in May and then go away”?

Like most things, the more you anticipate joining in on all of the fun that others have been having, the more likely you’re going to be disappointed.

The latest patterns getting attention are the “years ending in 5” and “Presidential election cycles in years ending in 5.” They may have some history to back up the observations, but seemingly overlooked is the close association between those two events, that are not entirely independent of one another.

Since 2015 happens to be both a year ending in “5” and the year preceding a presidential election, it is clear that the only direction can be higher. What that leaves is the debate over how to get to the promised land. That, of course, is the issue of the merits of active versus passive management of stock portfolios.

For purposes of clarity, the only “merit” that really matters is performance.

Those who have used a simple passive strategy over the past two years, perhaps as simple as being entirely invested in the SPDR S&P 500 Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) to the exclusion of everything else, would have been hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd while hedge fund managers would have been trampled underneath.

The past two years haven’t been especially kind to hedge fund managers, b

ut they have been trampled for very different reasons in that time.

In 2013 who but a super-human kind of investor could have kept up with the S&P 500 while also trying to decrease risk? It’s not terribly easy to match a 30% gain. Hedging has its costs and if markets go only higher those costs simply eat into profits.

In 2014, though, it was a different issue, as the only people who really prospered, in what was still a good year, were those who didn’t try to outsmart markets, as it was almost impossible to even begin classifying the market in 2014. The continual sector rotation either required lots of luck to be continually on the right side of trades or lots of real skill and talent.

Luck runs out. Skill and talents have greater staying power and there’s a reason that only a handful of money managers are well known and regarded for more than a year at a time.

What is fascinating about the market is that even as it ended the year with a very respectable gain those who tried to finesse the market by actively trading don’t have the same kind of elation about its performance.

Just ask them.

So the question is whether the simplicity of a passive strategy is going to again be superior to an active strategy in 2015

As an active trader I’d like to think that passivity will be passé as the new year begins. Of course, you do have to wonder how that arbitrary divide that begins after New Years can actually create an environment with a different character, but somehow that arbitrary divide creates a situation where very few years are like the year preceding it.

I have reason to believe that I have neither skill nor luck, so can only count on the observation that a good thing becomes less of a good thing with time.

Popularity is superficial, while history runs deep.

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

I also like to think that I’ve never really had an original thought.

This week’s potential stock selections to begin 2015 may be an excellent example of the lack of originality, as all of the names are either recent selections, purchases or assigned positions. Add to that their general lack of exciting qualities and you have a really impotent one – two punch to start the year.

With earnings season set to begin the week after this coming week there’s plenty of time for excitement. However, with the upcoming week featuring an FOMC Statement release and the Employment Situation Report, there’s already enough excitement in the upcoming week to want to add to it.

The scheduled events of this week also offer more than enough opportunity to add to this past week’s broad weakness, particularly if the FOMC emphasizes strong GDP data or there is unusually large employment growth, either of which could signal interest rate increases ahead.

In that kind of environment, even if widely expected, the immediate reaction would likely be a shock to the system and I would prefer my exposure to be offset by the security of size and quality. Characteristics that coincidentally may be found in components of the S&P 500, so favored by passivists.

Among those are three members of the DJIA.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) are among this week’s list.

Intel is a little bit of an anomaly to be included in the list, as it was the best performing of the DJIA stocks in 2014 and might, therefore, be reasonably expected to lag in 2015. However, I think that those who would have been prone to pile into the stock because of its performance in the past year would have already done so, as its most recent performance has trailed the S&P 500.

What appeals to me about Intel’s shares for a very short term trade is that the crowd turned very suddenly on them on Friday, giving up nearly all of an almost 3% gain earlier in the trading session. With that arbitrary divide creating its own unique trading dynamics, Intel may not receive quite the same attention as General Electric and Verizon, as those may garner notice because they are among those “dogs” that still have faithful adherents.

But beyond that, Intel still has a fundamentally positive story behind its climb in 2014 and may again be well aligned with the fortunes of a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as it continues on its return to relevance. For a short term trade in advance of its upcoming earnings report on January 15, 2015, I wouldn’t mind it trading listlessly in return for the option premium.

General Electric is simply at a price point that I find attractive, having recently had shares assigned. It certainly hasn’t been a very attractive stock over the years for much of anything other than a covered option strategy, but it has been well suited for that, as long as it can continue to trade in a relatively narrow range.

Verizon will be ex-dividend this week and is down nearly 9% from its high in November. Bruised a little due to increasing competition among mobile providers and sustaining the expenses of subsidizing the iPhone, it will report earnings in less than 3 weeks and I might want to either be out of any position prior to then, or if not, use an extended weekly option if having to rollover a position to acquire some additional premium in protection, in the event of an adverse response to earnings.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has had its fortunes most recently closely aligned to the energy sector. WHile owning a more expensive lot, I’ve traded other lots as shares have fallen in an effort to generate quick returns from option premiums and share appreciation.

As those shares again approach $45.50 I would like to do so again, but recognizing that oil is at a precarious level, as it gets closer to the $50 level, which if breached, could pull Dow Chemical even lower.

That increased volatility due to the uncertainty in the energy sector has made the option premiums much more appealing. However, even with that challenge, Dow Chemical has the advantage of a highly competent and long serving CEO who is increasingly responsive to the marketplace as he has activists breathing down his neck.

The Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) story isn’t one of being held hostage by an energy cartel and falling prices, as is the case with Dow Chemical, but rather it fell prey to the collapse of the much less well known potash cartel.

Hopefully, the time frame will be far shorter for Dow Chemical than it has been for Mosaic, as I’ve been sitting on some much more expensive shares for quite a while. In the interim, however, Mosaic has offered many opportunities for entering into new positions in the hopes of quick assignment and capturing option premiums, dividends and some occasional capital gains on shares.

While its next dividend is till some months away, it is now quickly again in the price range at which I like to consider adding shares again, although it could still go even lower. However, as long as it does continue trading in this relatively narrow range, it is capable of generating serial option premiums and even if its performance may seem mediocre on a yearly basis, its ROI can be very attractive.

I don’t get terribly excited about food stocks, but when looking for some relative calm, both Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) and Kelloggs (NYSE:K) may offer some respite from any tumult that may confront the market next week.

Both were recently assigned and at these levels I wouldn’t mind owning them again. In the case of Campbell Soup, that means the opportunity to capture its dividend and not be concerned about its next earnings until the March 2015 option cycle.

Kellogg is a stock that I would consider buying more often, however, the decision is related to how closely its price is to one of the strike levels on its monthly options.

Unlike Campbell Soup which has strikes at $1 intervals and many weekly options have $0.50 intervals, Kellogg options utilize $2.50 intervals, which can make the premiums relatively unattractive if the share price is at a distance from the strike at the time of the proposed sale of option contracts.

Finally, my plan to add shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) a couple of weeks agowent unrequited. The fact that its shares are now 2% lower doesn’t necessarily make me salivate over the prospects about adding shares now, as the past two weeks could have represented lost opportunities to generate option premiums and in a position to do so again in the coming week, as shares seem to be settling in at this higher level.

The coming year may be a fascinating one for eBay as the speculation grows about the planned spin off of PayPal, which may never make it to an IPO as it may be coveted by another company.

Of course, who might benefit from that detour is also open to question as eBay itself may be in the crosshairs of an acquiring behemoth.

For now, I still like owning eBay shares and usually selling near or in the money calls, but I would increasingly consider setting aside a portion of those shares for the kind of capital gains that so many have moaned about not having seen over the years as slings and arrows have consistently been thrown in eBay’s direction.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, General Electric, Intel, Kellogg, Mosaic

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Campbell Soup (1/8), Verizon (1/7)

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 30, 2014

An incredibly quiet and uneventful week, cut short by the Thanksgiving Day holiday, saw the calm interrupted as a group of oil ministers from around the world came to an agreement.

They agreed that couldn’t agree, mostly because one couldn’t trust the other to partner in concerted actions what would turn out to be in everyone’s best interests.

If you’ve played the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game you know that you can’t always trust a colleague to do the right thing or to even do the logical thing. The essence of the game is that your outcome is determined not only by your choice, but also by the choice of someone else who may or may not think rationally or who may or may not believe that you think rationally.

The real challenge is figuring out what to do yourself knowing that your fate may be, to some degree, controlled by an irrational partner, a dishonest one or one who simply doesn’t understand the concept of risk – reward. That and the fact that they may actually enjoy stabbing you in the back, even if it means they pay a price, too.

Given the disparate considerations among the member OPEC nations looking out for their national interests, in addition to the growing influence of non-OPEC nations, the only reasonable course of action was to reduce oil production. But no single nation was willing to trust that the other nations would have done the right thing to maintain oil prices at higher levels, while still obeying basic laws of supply and demand, so the resulting action was no action. The stabbing in the back was probably in the minds of some member nations, as well.

If the stock market was somehow the partner in a separate room being forced to make a buying or selling decision based on what it thought the OPEC members would do, a reasonable stock market would have expected a reduction in supply by OPEC members in support of oil prices. After all, reasonable people don’t stab others in the back.

That decision would have resulted in either buying, or at least holding energy shares in advance of the meeting and then being faced with the reality that those OPEC members, hidden away, whose interests may not have been aligned with those of investors, made a decision that made no economic sense, other than perhaps to pressure higher cost producers.

And so came the punishment the following day, as waves of selling hit at the opening of trading. Not quite a capitulation, despite the large falls, because panic was really absent and there was no crescendo-like progression, but still, the selling was intense as many headed for the exits.

While fleeing, the question of whether this decision or lack of decision marked the death of the OPEC cartel, meaning that oil would start trading more on those basic laws and not being manipulated by nations always seeking the highest reward.

The more religious and national tensions existing between member nations and the more influence of non-member nations the less likely the cartel can act as a cartel.

The poor UAE oil minister at a press conference complained that it wasn’t fair for OPEC to be blamed for low oil prices, forgetting that once you form a cartel the concept of fairness is already taken off of the table, as for more than 40 years the cartel has unfairly squeezed the world for every penny it could get.

With the belief that the death of OPEC may be at hand comes the logical, but mistaken belief that the ensuing low oil prices would be a boon for the stock market. That supposition isn’t necessarily backed up by reality, although logic would take your mind in that direction.

As it happens, rising oil prices, especially when due to demand outstripping supply makes for a good stock market, as it reflects accelerating economic growth. Falling oil prices, if due to decreased demand is certainly not a sign of future economic activity. However, we are now in some uncharted territory, as falling prices are due to supply that is greater than demand and without indication that those falling prices are going to result in a near term virtuous cycle that would send markets higher.

What we do know is that creates its own virtuous cycle as consumers will be left with more money to spend and federal and state governments will see gas taxes revenues increase as people drive more and pay less.

The dilemma now facing investors is whether there are better choices than energy stocks at the moment, despite what seems to be irrationally low pricing. The problem is that those irrational people in the other room are still in control of the destinies of others and may only begin to respond in a rational manner after having experienced maximum pain.

As much as I am tempted to add even more energy stocks, despite already suffering from a disproportionately high position, the lesson is clear.

When in doubt, don’t trust the next guy to do the right thing.

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

When Blackstone (NYSE:BX) went public a number of years ago, just prior to the financial meltdown, imagine yourself being held an a room and being given the option of investing your money in the market, without knowing whether the privately held company would decide to IPO. On the surface that might have sounded like a great idea, as the market was heading higher and higher. But the quandary was that you were being asked to make your decision without knowing that Blackstone was perhaps preparing an exit strategy for a perceived market top and was looking to cash out, rather than re-invest for growth.

Had you known that the money being raised in the IPO was going toward buying out one of the founders rather than being plowed back into the company your decision might have been different. Or had you known that the IPO was an attempt to escape the risks of a precariously priced market you may have reacted differently.

So here we are in 2014 and Blackstone, which is the business of buying struggling or undervalued businesses, nurturing them and then re-selling them, often through public markets, is again selling assets.

Are they doing so because
they perceive a market peak and are securing profits or are they preparing to re-invest the assets for further growth? The dilemma faced is across the entire market and not just Blackstone, which in the short term may be a beneficiary of its actions trying to balance risk and reward by reducing its own risk.

The question of rational behavior may be raised when looking at the share price response to Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) on Friday. In a classic case of counting chickens before they were hatched I was expecting my shares to be assigned on Friday.

While I usually wait until Thursday or Friday to try to make rollovers, this past shortened week I actually made a number of rollovers on Tuesday, which were serendipitous, not having expected Friday’s weakness. The rollover trade that didn’t get made was for Dow Chemcal, which seemed so likely to be assigned and would have offered very little reward for the rollover.

Who knew that it would be caught up in the energy sell-off, well out of proportion to its risk in the sector, predominantly related to its Kuwaiti business alliances? The question of whether that irrational behavior will continue to punish Dow Chemical shares is at hand, but this drop just seems like a very good opportunity to add shares, both as part of corporate buybacks as well as for a personal portfolio. With my shares now not having been assigned, trading opportunities look beyond the one week horizon with an eye on holding onto shares in order to capture the dividend in late December.

The one person that I probably wouldn’t want to be in the room next to me when I was being asked to make a decision and having to rely on his mutual cooperation, would be John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS). He hasn’t given too much indication that he would be reluctant to throw anyone under the bus.

However, with some of the fuss about a potential buyout now on hiatus and perhaps the disappointment of no action in that regard now also on hiatus, shares may be settling back to its more sedate trading range.

That would be fine for me, still holding a single share lot and having owned shares on 5 occasions in the past year. Its option volume trading is unusually thin at times, however, and with larger bid – ask spreads than I would normally like to see. At its current price and now having withstood the pressures of its very aggressive pricing campaigns for about a year, I’m less concerned about a very bad earnings release and see upside potential as it has battled back from lower levels.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) may also have had some of the takeover excitement die down, particularly as its most likely purchaser has announced its own plans to split itself into two new companies. Yet it has been able to continue trading at its upper range for the year.

EMC isn’t a terribly exciting company, but it has enough movement from buyout speculation, earnings and speculation over the future of its large VMWare (NYSE:VMW) holding to support an attractive option premium, in addition to an acceptable dividend.

I currently own sh

ares of both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS). They both are ex-dividend this coming week. Beyond that they also have in common the fact that I’ve been buying shares and selling calls on them for years, but most recently they have been mired at a very low price level and have been having difficulty breaking resistance at $38 and $51, respectively.

While they have been having difficulty breaking through those resistance levels they have also been finding strength at the $35 and $45 levels, respectively. Narrowing the range between support and resistance begins to make them increasingly attractive for a covered option trade, especially with the dividend at hand.

I’ve been sitting on some shares of General Motors (NYSE:GM) for a while and they are currently uncovered. I don’t particularly like adding shares after a nice rise higher, as General Motors had on Friday, but at its current price I think that it is well positioned to get back to the $35 level and while making that journey, perhaps buoyed by lower fuel prices, there is a nice dividend next week and some decent option premiums, as well. What is absolutely fascinating about the recent General Motors saga is that it has been hit with an ongoing deluge of bad news, day in and day out, yet somehow has been able to retain a reasonably respectable stock price.

Finally, it’s another week to give some thought to Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). That incredibly dysfunctional company that has made a habit of large price moves up and down as it tries to break away from the consumer irrelevancy that many have assigned it.

Abercrombie and Fitch recently gave some earnings warnings in anticipation of this week’s release and shares tumbled at that time. If you’ve been keeping a score card, lately the majority of those companies offering warnings or revising guidance downward, have continued to suffer once the earnings are actually released.

The options market is anticipating a 9.1% price move this week in response to earnings. However, it would still take an 11.8% decline to trigger assignment at a strike level that would offer a 1% ROI for the week of holding angst.

That kind of cushion between the implied move and the 1% ROI strike gives me reason to consider the risk of selling puts and crossing my fingers that some surprise, such as the departure of its always embattled CEO is announced, as a means of softening any further earnings disappointments.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Dow Chemical, EMC Corp, General Motors

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Coach (12/3), Mosaic (12/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (12/3 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 – November 9, 2014

Pity the poor hedge fund manager.

For the second consecutive year hedge fund managers are, by and large, reportedly falling far short of their objectives and in jeopardy of not generating their performance fees. 

We all know that those mortgages aren’t going to pay themselves, so their choices are clear.

You can close up shop, disown the shortfalls and try to start anew; you can keep at business as usual and have your under-performance weigh you down in the coming year; or you can roll the dice.

In 2013 it may have been easy to excuse lagging the S&P 500 when that index was nearly 30% higher while you were engaging in active management and costly complex hedging strategies. This year, however, as the market is struggling to break a 10% gain, it’s not quite as easy to get a bye on a performance letdown.

The good news, however, is that the 2014 hurdle is not terribly far out of reach. Despite setting new high after new high, thus far the gains haven’t been stupendous and may still be attainable for those hoping to see daylight in 2015.

The question becomes what will desperate people do, especially if using other people’s money knowing that half of all hedge funds have closed in the past 5 years. Further more funds were closed in 2013 and fewer opened in 2014 than at any point since 2010. It has been a fallow pursuit of alpha as passivity has shown itself fecund. Yet, assets under management continue to grow in the active pursuit of that alpha. That alone has to be a powerful motivator for those in the hedge fund business as that 2% management fee can be substantial.

So I think desperation sets in and that may also be what, at least in part, explained the November through December outperformance last year as the dice were rolled. Granted that over the past 60 years those two months have been the relative stars, that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the past 15 years as hedge funds have become a part of the landscape.

Where it has been the case has been in those years that the market has had exceptionally higher returns which usually means that hedge funds were more likely to lag behind and in need of catching up and prone to rolling the dice.

While the hedging strategies are varied, very complex and use numerous instruments, rolling the dice may explain what appears to be a drying up in volume in some option trading. As that desperation displaces the caution inherent in the sale of options motivated buyers are looking at intransigent sellers demanding inordinately high premiums. With the clock ticking away toward the end of the year and reckoning time approaching, the smaller more certain gains or enhancements to return from hedging positions may be giving way to trying to swing for the fences.

The result is an environment in which there appears to be decreased selling activity, which is especially important for those that have already sold option contracts and may be interested in buying them back to close or rollover their positions. In practice, the environment is now one of low bids by buyers, reflecting low volatility but high asking prices by sellers, often resulting in a chasm that can’t be closed.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the chasm on may stocks closed only in the final minutes of the week’s trading when it’s painfully obvious that a strike price won’t be reached. Only then, and again, a sign of desperation, do ask prices drop in the hopes of making a sale to exact a penny or two to enhance returns.

So those hedge fund managers may be more likely to be disingenuous in their hedging efforts as they seek to bridge their own chasms over the next few weeks and they could be the root behind a flourish to end the year.

Other than a continuing difficulty in executing persona trades, I hope they do catch up and help to propel the market even higher, but I’m not certain what may await around the corner as January is set to begin.

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

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and am continually amazed at the gyrations its price sees without really going very far. In return for watching the shares of this provider of ubiquitous components go up and down, you can get an attractive option premium that reflects the volatility, but doesn’t really reflect the reality. In addition, if holding shares long enough, there is a nice dividend to be had, as well. Selling only monthly call options, I may consider the use of a December 2014 option and may even consider going to the $11 strike, rather than the safer $10, borrowing a page from the distressed hedge fund managers.

I had my shares of Intel (INTC) assigned early this week in order to capture the dividend. I briefly had thoughts of rolling over the position in order to maintain the dividend, but in hindsight, having seen the subsequent price decline, I’m happy to start anew with shares.

Like the desperate hedge fund managers, I may be inclined to emphasize capital gains on this position, rather than seeking to make most of the profit from option sales, particularly as the dividend is now out of the equation.

I may be in the same position of suffering early assignment on existing shares of International Paper (IP) as it goes ex-dividend this week. With a spike in price after earnings and having a contract that expires at the end of the monthly cycle, I had tried to close the well in the money position, but have been faced with the paucity of reasonable ask prices in the pursuit of buying back options. However, even at its current price, International Paper may be poised to go even higher as it pursues a strategy of spin-offs and delivery of value to its investors.

With decent option premiums, an attractive dividend and the chance of further price appreciation, it remains a stock that I would like to have in my portfolio.

Mosaic (MOS) is a stock that I have had as an inactive component of my portfolio after having traded it quite frequently earlier in the year at levels higher than its current price and last year as well, both below and above the current price. It appears that it may have established some support and despite a bounce from that lower level, I believe it may offer some capital appreciation opportunities, as with Intel. As opposed to Intel, however, the dividend is still in the equation, as shares will go ex-dividend on December 2, 2014. With the availability of expanded weekly options there are a mix of strategies to be used if opening this position.

It seems as if there’s barely a week that I don’t consider adding shares of eBay (EBAY). At some point, likely when the PayPal division is spun off, the attention that I pay to eBay may wane, but for now, it still offers opportunity by virtue of its regular spikes and drops while really going nowhere. That t

ypically creates good option premium opportunities, especially at the near the money strikes.

I currently own shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) a company that has quietly become the largest owner of local television stations in the United States. It is now trading at about the mid-point of its lows and where it had found a comfortable home, prior to its price surge after the Supreme Court’s decision that this past week finally resulted in Aereo shutting down its Boston offices and laying off employees, as revenue has stopped.

Sinclair Broadcasting will be ex-dividend early in the December 2014 option cycle and offers a very attractive option. It reported higher gross margins and profits last week, as short interest increased in its shares the prior week. I think that the price drop in the past week is an opportunity to initiate a position or add to shares.

Mattel (MAT) is a company that I haven’t owned in years, but am now attracted back to it, in part for its upcoming dividend, its option premium and some opportunity for share appreciation as it has lagged the S&P 500 since its earnings report last month.

However, while holiday shopping season is approaching and thoughts of increased discretionary consumer spending may create images of share appreciation, Mattel has generally traded in a very narrow range in the final 2 months of the year, which may be just the equation for generating some reasonable returns if factoring in the premiums and dividend.

Twitter (TWTR) continues to fascinate me as a stock, as a medium and as a source of so many slings and arrows thrown at its management.

Twitter has always been a fairly dysfunctional place and with somewhat of a revolving door at its highest levels before and after the IPO. While it briefly gained some applause for luring Anthony Noto to become its CFO, the spotlight heat has definitely turned up on its CEO, Dick Costolo.

Last week I sold Twitter puts in the aftermath of its sharp decline upon earnings release. While the puts expired, I did roll some over to a lower strike price as the premium was indicating continued belief in the downside momentum.

This week I’m considering adding to the position, and selling more puts, especially after the latest round of criticisms being launched at Costolo. At some point, something will give and restore confidence. It may come from the Board of Directors, it  may come from Costolo himself or it may even come from activists who see lots of value in a company that could really benefit from the perception of professional management.

I’m not certain how many times I’ve ended a weekly column with a discussion of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF), but it’s not a coincidence that it frequently warrants a closing word.

Abercrombie and Fitch has been one of my most rewarding and frustrating recurrent trades over the years. At the moment, it’s on the frustrating end of the spectrum following Friday’s revelations regarding sales that saw a 17% price drop. That came the day after an inexplicable 5% rise, that had me attempting to rollover an expiring contract but unable to find a willing seller for the expiring leg.

Over the course of a cumulative 626 days of ownership, spanning 21 individual transactions, my Abercrombie and Fitch activity has had an annualized return of 32% and has seen some steep declines in the process, as occurred on Friday.

This has been an unnecessarily “in the news” kind of company whose CEO has not weathered well and for whom a ticking clock may also be in play. Over the past years each time the stock has soared it has then crashed and when crashing seems to resurrect itself.

Earnings are expected to be reported the following week and premiums will be enhanced as a result. While I currently have an all too expensive open lot of shares I’m very interested in selling puts, as had been done on nine previous occasions over those 626 days. In the event assignment looks likely I would attempt to rollover those puts which would then benefit from enhanced premiums and likely be able to be rolled to a lower strike.

However, if then again faced with assignment, I would consider accepting the assignment, as Abercrombie and Fitch is due to go ex-dividend sometime early in the December 2014 option cycle. However, I would also be prepared for the possibility of the dividend being cut as its payout ratio is unsustainable at current earnings.

 

 

Traditional Stocks:  Cypress Semiconductor, eBay, Intel, Mattel, Mosaic, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – October 5, 2014

This week’s markets didn’t respond so positively when Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank failed to deliver on what many had been expecting for quite some time.

The financial markets wanted to hear Draghi follow through on his previous market moving rhetoric with an ECB version of Quantitative Easing, but it didn’t happen. After two years of waiting for some meaningful follow through to his assertion that “we will do whatever it takes” Draghi’s appearance as simply an empty suit becomes increasingly apparent and increasingly worrisome.

On a positive note, as befitting European styling, that suit is exquisitely tailored, but still hasn’t shown that it can stand up to pressure.

It also wasn’t the first time our expectations were dashed and no one was particularly pleased to hear Draghi place blame for the state of the various economies in the European Union at the feet of its politicians as John Chambers, the head of Standard and Poor’s Sovereign Debt Committee did some years earlier when lowering the debt rating of the United States.

Placing the blame on politicians also sends a message that the remedy must also come from politicians and that is something that tends to only occur at the precipice.

While the Biblical text referring to a young child leading a pack of wild animals is a forward looking assessment of an optimistic future, believing that an empty suit can lead a pack of self-interested politicians is an optimism perhaps less realistic than the original passage.

At least that’s what the markets believed.

Befitting the previous week’s volatility that was marked by triple digit moves in alternating fashion, Draghi’s induced 238 point decline was offset by Friday’s 208 point gain following the encouraging Employment Situation Report. Whereas the previous week’s DJIA saw a net decline of only 166 points on absolute daily moves of 810 points, this past week was more subdued. The DJIA lost only 103 points while the absolute daily changes were 519 points.

The end result of Friday’s advance was to return volatility to where it had ended last week, which was a disappointment, as you would like to see volatility rise if there has been a net decline in the broader market. Still, if you’re selling options, that level is better than it was two weeks ago.

While Friday’s gain was encouraging it is a little less so when realizing that such memorable gains are very often found during market downtrends. There is at least very little doubt that the market behavior during the past two weeks represents some qualitative difference in its behavior and an isolated move higher may not be very reflective of any developing trend, but rather reactive to a different developing trend.

As with Draghi, falling for the rhetoric of such a positive response to the Employment Situation Report, may lead to some disappointment.

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

Many of the positions being considered this week are recently highlighted positions made more appealing following recent price pullbacks rather than on any company specific factors. Of course, when looking at stocks whose price has recently fallen at some point the question regarding value versus “value trap” has to be entertained.

With some increase in volatility, despite the rollback this week, I’ve taken opportunity to rollover existing positions to forward weeks when expanded option contracts have been available. As those premiums have increased a bit being able to do so helps to reduce the risk of having so many positions expire concurrently and being all exposed to a short term and sudden price decline.

Just imagine how different the outcome for the week may have been if Thursday’s and Friday’s results were reversed if you were relying on the ability to rollover positions or have them assigned.

However, with the start of earnings season this week there’s reason to be a little more attentive when selecting positions and their contract expiration dates as earnings may play a role in the premiums. While certainly making those premiums more enticing it also increases the risk of ownership at a time when the relative market risk may outweigh the reward.

One stock not reporting earnings this week, but still having an enriched option premium is The Gap (GPS). It opens the week for trading on its ex-dividend date and later in the week is expected to announce its monthly same store sales, being one of the few remaining companies to do so. Those results are inexplicably confusing month to month and shares tend to make strong price movements, frequently in alternating directions from month to month. For that uncertainty comes a very attractive option premium for shares that despite that event driven volatility tend to trade in a fairly well defined range over the longer term.

When it comes to their fashion offerings you may be ambivalent, but when it comes to that kind of price movement and predictability, what’s not to like?

If you’re waiting for a traditional correction, one that requires a 10% pullback, look no farther than Mosaic (MOS). While it had been valiantly struggling to surpass the $50 level on its long road to recovery from the shock of the break-up of the potash cartel, it has now fallen about 13% in 5 weeks. Most recently Mosaic announced a cutback in phosphate production and lowered its guidance and when a market is already on edge it doesn’t need successive blows like those offered by Mosaic as it approaches its 52 week low.

Can shares offer further disappointment when it reports earnings at the end of this month? Perhaps, but for those with a longer term outlook, at this level shares may be repeating the opportunity they offered upon hitting their lows on the cartel’s dissolution for serial purchase and assignment, while offering a premium enhanced by uncertainty.

Seagate Technology (STX) is also officially in that correctio

n camp, having dropped 10% in that same 5 week period. It has done so in the absence of any meaningful news other than perhaps the weight of its own share price, with its decline having come directly from its 52 week high point.

For a company that has become fairly staid, Pfizer (PFE) has been moving about quite a bit lately. Whether in the news for having sought a tax inversion opportunity or other acquisitions, it is clearly a company that is in need of some sort of catalyst. That continuing kind of movement back and forth has been pronounced very recently and should begin making its option premium increasingly enticing. With shares seemingly seeking a $30 home, regardless of which side it is currently on and an always attractive dividend, Pfizer may start getting more and more interesting, particularly in an otherwise labile market.

Dow Chemical (DOW) is one of those stocks that used to be a main stay of my investing. It’s price climb from the $40 to $50 range made it less so, but with the realization that the $50 level may be the new normal, especially with activist investor pressure, it is again on the radar screen, That’s especially true after this week’s price drop. I had been targeting the $52.50 level having been most recently assigned at $53.50, but now it appears to be gift priced. Unfortunately, it may be a perfect example of that age old dilemma regarding value, having already greatly under-performed the market since its recent high the “value trap” part may have already been played out.

While MasterCard (MA) is ex-dividend this week, it is certainly not one to chase in order to capture its dividend. With a payout ratio far below its competitors it would seem that an increase might be warranted. However, what makes MasterCard attractive is that it has seemingly found a trading range and is now situated at about the mid-point of that range. While there is some recent tumult in the world of payments and with some continuing uncertainty regarding its presence in Russia, MasterCard continues to be worth consideration, particularly as it too has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past two weeks.

Equal in its under-performance to MasterCard during that period has been Texas Instruments (TXN). I’ve been eager to add some technology sector positions for a while and haven’t done so as often as necessary to develop some better diversification. Along with Intel (INTC) which I considered last week, as well, Texas Instruments is back to a price level that has my attention. Like Intel, it reports earnings soon and also goes ex-dividend during the October 2014 option cycle. Unlike Intel, however, Texas Instruments doesn’t have a couple of gap ups in price over the past three months that may represent some additional earnings related risk.

When it comes to under-performance it is possible that Coach (COH) may soon qualify as being synonymous with that designation. Not too surprisingly its past performance in the past two weeks, while below that of the S&P 500 may be more directly tied to an improved price performance seen in its competitor for investor interest, Michael Kors (KORS). However, Coach seems to have established support at its current level and may offer a similar opportunity for serial purchase and assignment as had been previously offered by Mosaic shares.

Finally, with the exception of YUM Brands (YUM) all of the other stocks highlighted this week have under-performed the S&P 500 since hitting its recent high on September 18, 2014. YUM Brands reports earnings this week and is often very volatile when it does so. This time, hover, the options market doesn’t seem to be expecting a very large move, only about 4.5%. Neither is there an opportunity to achieve a 1% ROI through the sale of a put option at a strike outside of the range implied. However, YUM Brands is one of those stocks, that if I had sold puts upon, I wouldn’t mind owning if there was a likelihood of assignment.

So often YUM Brands share price is held hostage to food safety issues in China and so often it successfully is able to  see its share price regain sudden losses. That, however, hasn’t been the case thus far since it’s summertime loss. There are probably little expectations for an upside surprise upon release of earnings and as such there may be some limited downside, perhaps explaining the option market’s subdued pricing.

If facing assignment of puts being sold with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I would be inclined to accept assignment and proceed from the point of ownership rather than trying to continue avoiding ownership of shares. However, with the slightest indication of political unrest spreading from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland that may be a decision destined for regret, just like the purchase of an ill-fitting and overly priced suit.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Texas Instruments, The Gap

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend:  MasterCard (10/7)

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

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

Weekend Update – July 6, 2014

You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I’ve long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It’s far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.

Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.

So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you’re not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That’s especially so because lately the market hasn’t been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality

In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen re-affirmed he commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.

If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post – FOMC press conference?

That gift didn’t have too much staying power and it’s unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it’s good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.

When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.

Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."

As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.

So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation’s employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn’t a very good time if you were an equity investor.

While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you’re on a roll you go with it.

More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.

However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying  about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?

I’m afraid the answer is that "you don’t," other than perhaps in hindsight.

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

Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.

I don’t say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer’s face.

That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I’m always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.

Most recently Coach (COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven’t found myself displaying a similar emotion. I’ve usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.

However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn’t end with earnings this time around.

As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares  or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.

While not  in retail, Mosaic (MOS) is another company that I’ve spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it’s time to  make some money. 

Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to continually rollover option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.

Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (DRI). There’s probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend. 

While Darden’s payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn’t much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.

Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.

As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have  are-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.

Microsoft (MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.

Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it’s clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.

Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.

The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn’t quite fulfill my objective of tring to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen is a good friend to have on your side.

Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.

While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs’ illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook’s second seat at the helm of the company.

JP Morgan’s shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon’s health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JP Morgan’s credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon’s health or unexpected change of leadership.

In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JP Morgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected form its own self than in past years. WHether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.

Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we’ll need.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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 – May 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: Comcast, Dow Chemical, Holly Frontier

Momentum: Best Buy, Coach, Morgan Stanley, Mosaic

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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