Weekend Update – November 6, 2016

Some days we really have no clue as to what made the market move as it did, but nothing bothers us more than not knowing the reasons for everything.

We tend to like neat little answers and no untied bundles.

It starts early in life when we begin to ask the dreaded “Why?” question.

We want answers at an early stage in life even when we have no capacity to understand those answers. We also often make the mistake of querying the wrong people to answer those questions, simply on the basis of their ready availability and familiarity.

Those on the receiving end of  questions usually feel some obligation to provide an answer even if poorly equipped to do so.

While the market has now gone into a 9 consecutive day decline, it seems only natural to wonder why that’s been happening and of course, some people, have to offer their expert explanation.

It is of course understandable that the question is posed, as earnings haven’t been terrible and neither have economic data. Yet, a 9 day decline hasn’t happened since 1980 and has taken the market into a stealth 5% decline.

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Weekend Update – May 8, 2016

Depending upon how concrete you are in interpreting the meaning of the concept of “the circle of life,” the beginning and the end of that circle must be identical events as their points in space are coincident.

Various religions and philosophies believe that through a certain life path, another life awaits, but the rigorous requirements of geometry may be put aside in the process.

It’s also not clear that there had been any data dependency in the formulation of the philosophical concept.

Life, death and re-birth almost reads like a stock chart, except that the stock chart is plotted over time.

While new life generally brings joy, a geometric centric definition of “the circle of life” would both begin and end with that kind of joy.

On the other hand, a more philosophical interpretation of the concept has some diametrically different events, death and life, coinciding as the circle is closed.

Philosophy aside, markets have their own circle of life.

Start where you like in defining that circle, but among the components are low interest rates; increasing business investment for growth; increasing productivity; increasing corporate profits; increasing employment; increasing consumer spending; higher prices; higher interest rates; decreasing business investment; decreasing productivity;  decreasing employment; decreasing consumer spending and on and on.

That’s more or less a traditional look at the way things usually go, but at the moment it’s hard to know where in that circle we are or if we even have a circle.

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Weekend Update – March 6, 2016

Depending upon what kind of outlook you have in life, the word “limbo” can conjure up two very different pictures.

For some it can represent a theologically defined place of temporary internment for those sinners for whom redemption was still possible. 

In simple terms it may be thought of as a place between the punishing heat and torment of hell below and the divineness and comfort of heaven above.

Others may just see an image reminding them of a fun filled Caribbean night watching a limber individual dancing underneath and maybe dangerously close to a flaming bar that just keeps getting set lower and lower.

Both definitions of “limbo” require some significant balancing to get it just right.

For example, you don’t get entrance into the theologically defined “Limbo” if the preponderance of your sins are so grievous that you can’t find yourself having died in “the friendship of God.” Instead of hanging around and waiting for redemption, you get a one way ticket straight to the bottom floor.

It may take a certain balance of the quantity and quality of both the good and the bad acts that one has committed during their mortal period to determine whether they can ever have a chance to move forward and upward to approach the pearly gates of heaven.

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Weekend Update – January 31, 2016

 

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

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

And then it’s gone.

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

We may have forgotten how to do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was bad news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express

Momentum Stocks:  none

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

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

 

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

Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

The "What If" game is about as fruitless as it gets, but is also as much a part of human nature as just about anything else.

How else could I explain having played that game at a high school reunion?

That may explain the consistent popularity of that simple question as a genre on so many people’s must read lists as the New Year begins.

Historical events lead themselves so beautifully to the "What If" question because the cascading of events can be so far reaching, especially in an interconnected world.

Even before that interconnection became so established it didn’t take too much imagination to envision far reaching outcomes that would have been so wildly different around the world even a century or more later.

Imagine if the Union had decided to cede Fort Sumpter and simply allowed the South to go its merry way. Would an abridged United States have been any where near the force it has been for the past 100 years? What would that have meant for Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel and every other corner of the world?

Second guessing things can never change the past, but it may provide some clues for how to approach the future, if only the future could be as predictable as the past.

Looking back at 2015 there are lots of "what if" questions that could be asked as we digest the fact that it was the market’s worst performance since 2008.

In that year the S&P 500 was down about 37%, while in 2015 it was only down 0.7%. That gives some sense of what kind of a ride we’ve been on for the past 7 years, if the worst of those years was only 0.7% lower.

But most everyone knows that the 0.7% figure is fairly illusory.

For me the "what if" game starts with what if Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and a handful of others had only performed as well as the averages.

Of course, even that "what if" exercise would continue to perpetuate some of the skew seen in 2015, as the averages were only as high as they were due to the significant out-performance of a handful of key constituent components of the index. Imagining what if those large winners had only gone down 0.7% for the year would still result in an index that wouldn’t really reflect just how bad the underlying market was in 2015.

While some motivated individual could do those calculations for the S&P 500, which is a bit more complex, due to its market capitalization calculation, it’s a much easier exercise for the DJIA.

Just imagine multiplying the 10 points gained by Microsoft , the 30 pre-split points gained by Nike (NKE), the 17 points by UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the 26 points by McDonalds (MCD) or the 29 points by Home Depot (HD) and suddenly the DJIA which had been down 2.2% for 2015, would have been another 761 points lower or an additional 4.5% decline.

Add another 15 points from Boeing (BA) and another 10 from Disney (DIS) and we’re starting to inch closer and closer to what could have really been a year long correction.

Beyond those names the pickings were fairly slim from among the 30 comprising that index. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better and the NASDAQ 100, up for the year, was certainly able to boast only due to the performances of Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet and Facebook (FB).

Now, also imagine what if historically high levels of corporate stock buybacks hadn’t artificially painted a better picture of per share earnings.

That’s not to say that the past year could have only been much worse, but it could also have been much better.

Of course you could also begin to imagine what if the market had actually accepted lower energy and commodity prices as a good thing?

What if investors had actually viewed the prospects of a gradual increase in interest rates as also being a good thing, as it would be reflective of an improving, yet non-frothy, economy?

And finally, for me at least, What if the FOMC hadn’t toyed with our fragile emotions and labile intellect all through the year?

Flat line years such as 2015 and 2011 don’t come very often, but when they do, most dispense with the "what if" questions and instead focus on past history which suggests a good year to follow.

But the "what if" game can also be prospective in nature, though in the coming year we should most likely ask similar questions, just with a slight variation.

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

What if money is running dry to keep the buyback frenzy alive?

Or, what if corporate earnings actually reflect greater consumer participation?

You may as well simply ask what if rational thought were to return to markets?

But it’s probably best not to ask questions when you may not be prepared to hear the answer.

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

For those, myself included, who have been expecting some kind of a resurgence in energy prices and were disbelieving when some were calling for even further drops only to see those calls come true, it’s not really clear what the market’s reaction might be if that rebound did occur.

While the market frequently followed oil lower and then occasionally rebounded when oil did so, it’s hard to envision the market responding favorably in the face of sustained oil price stability or strength.

I’ve given up the idea that the resurgence would begin any day now and instead am more willing to put that misguided faith into the health of financial sector stocks.

Unless the FOMC is going to toy with us further or the economy isn’t going to show the kind of strength that warranted an interest rate increase or warrants future increases, financials should fare well going forward.

This week I’m considering MetLife (MET), Morgan Stanley and American Express (AXP), all well off from their 2015 highs.

MetLife, down 12% during 2015 is actually the best performer of that small group. As with Morgan Stanley, almost the entirety of the year’s loss has come in the latter half of the year when the S&P 500 was performing no worse than it had during the first 6 months of the year.

Both Morgan Stanley and MetLife have large enough option premiums to consider the sale of the nearest out of the money call contracts in an attempt to secure some share appreciation in exchange for a somewhat lo0wer option premium.

In both cases, I think the timing is good for trying to get the best of both worlds, although Morgan Stanley will be among the relatively early earnings reports in just a few weeks and still hasn’t recovered from its last quarter’s poorly received results, so it would help to be prepared to manage the position if still held going into earnings in 3 weeks.

By contrast, American Express reports on that same day, but all of 2015 was an abysmal one for the company once the world learned that its relationship with Costco (COST) was far more important than anyone had believed. The impending loss of Costco as a branded partner in the coming 3 months has weighed heavily on American Express, which is ex-dividend this week.

I would believe that most of that loss in share has already been discounted and that disappointments aren’t going to be too likely, particularly if the consumer is truly making something of a comeback.

There has actually been far less press given to retail results this past holiday season than for any that I can remember in the recent and not so recent past.

Most national retailers tend to pull rabbits out of their hats after preparing us for a disappointing holiday season, with the exception of Best Buy (BBY), which traditionally falls during the final week of the year on perpetually disappointing numbers.

Best Buy has already fallen significantly in th e past 3 months, but over the years it has generally been fairly predictable in its ability to bounce back after sharp declines, whether precipitous or death by a thousand cuts.

To my untrained eye it appears that Best Buy is building some support at the $30 level and doesn’t report full earnings for another 2 months. Perhaps it’s its reputation preceding it at this time of the year, but Best Buy’s current option premium is larger than is generally found and I might consider purchasing shares and selling out of the money calls in the anticipation of some price appreciation.

Under Armour (UA) is in a strange place, as it is currently in one of its most sustained downward trends in at least 5 years.

While Nike, its arch competitor, had a stellar year in 2015, up until a fateful downtrend that began in early October, Under Armour was significantly out-performing Nike, even while the latter was some 35% above the S&P 500’s performance.

That same untrained eye sees some leveling off in the past few weeks and despite still having a fairly low beta reflecting a longer period of observation than the past 2 months, the option premium is continuing to reflect uncertainty.

With perhaps some possibility that cold weather may finally be coming to areas where it belongs this time of the year, it may not be too late for Under Armour to play a game of catch up, which is just about the only athletic pursuit that I still consider.

Finally, Pfizer (PFE) has been somewhat mired since announcing a planned merger, buyout, inversion or whatever you like to have it considered. The initially buoyed price has fallen back, but as with Dow Chemical (DOW) which has also fallen back after a similar merger announcement move higher, it has returned to the pre-announcement level.

I view that as indicating that there’s limited downside in the event of some bad news related to the proposed merger, but as with Dow Chemical, Best Buy and Under Armour, the near term option premium continues to reflect perceived near term risk.

Whatever Pfizer;’s merger related risk may be, I don’t believe it will be a near term risk. From the perspective of a call option seller that kind of perception in the face of no tangible news can be a great gift that keeps giving.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (1/6 $0.29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – February 1, 2015

At first glance there’s not too much to celebrate so far, as the first month of 2015 is now sealed and inscribed in the annals of history.

It was another January that disappointed those who still believe in or talk about the magical “January Effect.”

I can’t deny it, but I was one of those who was hoping for a return to that predictable seasonal advance to start the new year. To come to a realization that it may not be true isn’t very different from other terribly sad rites of passage usually encountered in childhood, but you never want to give up hoping and wishing.

It was certainly a disappointment for all of those thinking that the market highs set at the end of December 2014 would keep moving higher, buoyed by a consumer led spending spree fueled by all of that money not being spent on oil and gas.

At least that was the theory that seemed to be perfectly logical at the time and still does, but so far is neither being borne out in reality nor in company guidance being offered in what is, thus far, a disappointing earnings season.

Who in their right mind would have predicted that people are actually saving some of that money and using it to pay down debt?

That’s not the sort of thing that sustains a party.

What started a little more than a month ago with a strongly revised upward projection for 2015 GDP came to an end with Friday’s release of fourth quarter 2014 GDP that was lower than expected and, at least in part validated the less than stellar Retail Sales statistics from a few weeks ago that many very quick to impugn at the time.

When the week was all said and done neither an FOMC Statement release nor the latest GDP data could rescue this January. Despite a 200 point gain heading into the end of the week in advance of the GDP data, and despite a momentary recovery from another 200 point loss heading into the close of trading for the week fueled by an inexplicable surge in oil prices, the market fell 2.7% for the week. In doing so it just added to the theme of a January that breaks the hearts of little children and investors alike and now leaves markets about 5% below the highs from just a month ago.

Like many, I thought that the January party would get started in earnest along with the start of the earnings season. While not expecting to see much tangible benefit from reduced energy costs reflected in the past quarter, my expectation was that the good news would be contained in forward guidance or in upward revisions.

Silly, right? But if you used common sense and caution think of all of the great things you would have missed out on.

While waiting for earnings to bring the party back to life the big surprise was something that shouldn’t have been a surprise at all for all those who take an expansive view of things. I don’t get paid to be that broad minded, but there are many who do and somehow no one seemed to have taken into consideration what we all refer to as “currency crosswinds.”

Hearing earnings report after earnings report mention the downside to the strong dollar reminded me that it would have been good to have been warned about that sort of thing earlier, although did we really need to be told?

Every asset class is currently in flux. It’s not just stocks going through a period of heightened volatility. Witness the moves seen in Treasury rates, currencies, precious metals and oil and it’s pretty clear that at the moment there is no real safe haven, but there is lots of uncertainty.

A quick glance at the S&P 500’s behavior over the past month certainly shows that uncertainty as reflected in the number of days with gap openings higher and lower, as well as the significant intra-day reversals seen throughout the month.

 I happen to like volatility, but it was really a party back in 2011 when there was tremendous volatility but at the end of the day there was virtually no net change in markets. In fact, for the year the S&P 500 was unchanged.

If you’re selling options in doesn’t get much better than that, but 2015 is letting the party slip away as it’s having difficulty maintaining prices as volatility seeks to assert itself as we have repeatedly found the market testing itself with repeated 3-5% declines over the past 6 weeks.

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

If you were watching markets this past Friday afternoon what was turning out to really be a terrible day was mitigated by the performance of the highest priced stock in the DJIA which added nearly 60 points to the index. That notwithstanding, the losses were temporarily reversed, as has been the case so often in the past month, by an unexplained surge in oil prices late in the trading session.

When it appeared as if that surge in oil prices was not related to a fundamental change in the supply and demand dynamic the market reversed once again and compounded its losses, leaving only that single DJIA component to buck the day’s trend.

So far, however, as this earnings season has progressed, the energy sector has not fared poorly as a result of earnings releases, even as they may have floundered as oil prices themselves fell.

Sometimes lowered expectations can have merit and may be acting as a cushion for the kind of further share drops that could reasonably be expected as revenues begin to see the impact of lower prices.

That may change this coming week as Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) reports its earnings before the week begins its trading. By virtue of its sheer size it can create ripples for Anadarko (NYSE:APC) which reports earnings that same day, but after the close of trading.

Anadarko is already well off of the lows it experienced a month ago. While I generally don’t like establishing any kind of position ahead of earnings if the price trajectory has been higher, I would consider doing so if Exxon Mobil sets the tone with disappointing numbers and Anadarko follows in the weakness before announcing its own earnings.

While the put premiums aren’t compelling given the implied move of about 5%, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares if in risk of assignment due to having sold puts within the strike range defined by the option market. As with some other recent purchases in the energy sector, if taking ownership of shares and selling calls, I would consider using strike prices that would also stand to benefit from some share appreciation.

Although I may not be able to tell in a blinded taste test which was an Anadarko product and which was a Keurig Green Mountain Coffee (NASDAQ:GMCR) product, the latter does offer a more compelling reason to sell puts in advance of its earnings report this week.

Frequently a big mover after the event, there’s no doubt that under its new CEO significant credibility has been restored to the company. Its relationship with Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) has certainly been a big part of that credibility, just as a few years earlier its less substantive agreement with Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) helped shares regain lost luster.

The option market is predicting a 9.3% price move next week and a 1.5% ROI can be attained at a strike price outside of that range, but if selling puts, it would be helpful to be prepared for a move much greater than the option market is predicting, as that has occurred many times over the past few years. That would mean being prepared to either rollover the put contracts or take assignment of shares in the event of a larger than expected adverse move.

While crowd sourcing may be a great thing, I’m always amused when reading some reviews found on Yelp (NYSE:YELP) for places that I know well, especially when I’m left wondering what I could have possibly repeatedly kept missing over the years. Perhaps my mistake was not maintaining my anonymity during repeated visits making it more difficult to truly enjoy a hideous experience.

Yet somehow the product and the service endures as it seeks to remove the unknown from experiences with local businesses. But it’s precisely that kind of unknown that makes Yelp a potentially interesting trade when earnings are ready to be announced.

The option market has implied a 12% price move in either direction and past earnings seasons have shown that those shares can easily move that much and more. For those willing to take the risk, which apparently is what is done whenever going to a new restaurant without availing yourself of Yelp reviews, a 1% ROI can be attained by selling weekly put contracts at a strike level 16% below Friday’s closing price.

While the market didn’t perform terribly well last week, technology was even worse, which has to bring International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) to mind. As the worst performer in the DJIA over the past 2 years it already knows what it’s like to under-perform and it hasn’t flown beneath anyone’s critical radar in that time.

However, among big and old technology it actually out-performed them all last week and even beat the S&P 500. With more controversy certain for next week as details of the new compensation package of its beleaguered CEO were released after Friday’s close, in an attempt to fly beneath the radar, shares go ex-dividend.

While there may continue being questions regarding the relevance of IBM and how much of the company’s performance is now the result of financial engineering, that uncertainty is finally beginning to creep into the option premiums that can be commanded if seeking to sell calls or puts.

With shares trading at a 4 year low the combination of option premium, dividend and capital appreciation of shares is recapturing my attention after years of neglect. If CEO Ginny Rometty can return IBM shares to where they were just a year ago she will be deserving of every one of the very many additional pennies of compensation she will receive, but she had better do so quickly because lots of people will learn about the new compensation package as trading resumes on Monday.

Also going ex-dividend this week are 2 very different companies, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), that have little reason to be grouped together, otherwise.

After a recent 6% decline, Pfizer shares are now 6% below their 4 year high, but still above the level where I have purchased shares in the past.

The drug industry has heated up over the past few months with increasing consideration of mergers and buyouts, even as tax inversions are less likely to occur. Even those companies whose bottom lines can now only be driven by truly blockbuster drugs have heightened interest and heightened option premiums associated with their shares which are only likely to increase if overall volatility is able to maintain at increased levels, as well.

Following its recent price retreat, its upcoming dividend and improving option premiums, I’m willing to consider re-opening a position is Pfizer shares, even at its current level.

Seagate Technology, after a nearly 18% decline in the past month was one of those companies that reported a significant impact of currency in offering its guidance for the next quarter, while meeting expectations for the current quarter.

While I often like to sell puts in establishing a Seagate Technology position, with this week’s ex-dividend event, there is reason to consider doing so with the purchase of shares and the sale of calls, as the premium is rich and lots of bad news has already been digested.

I missed an opportunity to add eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) shares a few weeks ago in advance of earnings, as eBay was one of the first to show some currency headwinds. However, as has been the case for nearly a year, the story hasn

‘t been the business it has been all about activists and the saga of its profitable PayPal unit.

After an initial move higher on announcement of a standstill agreement with Carl Icahn, the activist who pushed for the spin-off of PayPal, shares dropped over the succeeding days back to a level just below from where they had started the process and again in the price range that I like to consider adding shares.

From now until that time that the PayPal spin-off occurs or is purchased by another entity, that’s where the opportunity exists if using eBay as part of a covered call strategy, rather than on the prospects of the underlying business. However, after more than a month of not owning any shares of a company that has been an almost consistent presence in my portfolio, it’s time to bring it back in and hopefully continue serially trading it for as long as possible until the fate of PayPal is determined.

Finally, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) reported earnings this past week, but took a page out of eBay’s playbook from earlier in the year and used the occasion to announce significant news unrelated to earnings that served to move shares higher and more importantly deflected attention from the actual business.

With a proposed tax free spin off of its remaining shares of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) many were happy enough to ignore the basic business or wonder what of value would be left in Yahoo after such a spin-off.

The continuing Yahoo – Alibaba umbilical cord works in reverse in this case as the child pumps life into the parent, although this past week as Alibaba reported earnings and was admonished by its real parent, the Chinese government, Yahoo suffered and saw its shares slide on the week.

The good news is that the downward pressure from Alibaba may go on hiatus, at least until the next lock-up expiration when more shares will hit the market than were sold at the IPO. However, until then, Yahoo option premiums are reflecting the uncertainty and offer enough liquidity for a nimble trader to respond to short term adverse movements, whether through a covered call position or through the sale of put options.

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: International Business Machines (2/5), Pfizer (2/4), Seagate Technology (2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Anadarko (APC 2/2 PM), Keurig Green Mountain (2/4 PM), Yelp (2/5 PM)

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

Weekend Update – 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 – February 9, 2014

Everything is crystal clear now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, Microsoft, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Coach, Morgan Stanley,

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

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

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

Weekend Update – August 4, 2013

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

This was an interesting week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Mosaic

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

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

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

 

Weekend Update – July 28, 2013

Stocks need leadership, but it’s hard to be critical of a stock market that seems to hit new highs on a daily basis and that resists all logical reasons to do otherwise.

That’s especially true if you’ve been convinced for the past 3 months that a correction was coming. If anything, the criticism should be directed a bit more internally.

What’s really difficult is deciding which is less rational. Sticking to failed beliefs despite the facts or the facts themselves.

In hindsight those who have called for a correction have instead stated that the market has been in a constant state of rotation so that correction has indeed come, but sector by sector, rather than in the market as a while.

Whatever. By which I don’t mean in an adolescent “whatever” sense, but rather “whatever it takes to convince others that you haven’t been wrong.”

Sometimes you’re just wrong or terribly out of synchrony with events. Even me.

What is somewhat striking, though, is that this incredible climb since 2009 has really only had a single market leader, but these days Apple (AAPL) can no longer lay claim to that honor. This most recent climb higher since November 2012 has often been referred to as the “least respected rally” ever, probably due to the fact that no one can point a finger at a catalyst other than the Federal Reserve. Besides, very few self-respecting capitalists would want to credit government intervention for all the good that has come their way in recent years, particularly as it was much of the unbridled pursuit of capitalism that left many bereft.

At some point it gets ridiculous as people seriously ask whether it can really be considered a rally of defensive stocks are leading the way higher. As if going higher on the basis of stocks like Proctor & Gamble (PG) was in some way analogous to a wad of hundred dollar bills with lots of white powder over it.

There have been other times when single stocks led entire markets. Hard to believe, but at one time it was Microsoft (MSFT) that led a market forward. In other eras the stocks were different. IBM (IBM), General Motors (GM) and others, but they were able to create confidence and optimism.

What you can say with some certainty is that it’s not going to be Amazon (AMZN), for example, as you could have made greater profit by shorting and covering 100 shares of Amazon as earnings were announced. than Amazon itself generated for the quarter. It won’t be Facebook (FB) either. despite perhaps having found the equivalent of the alchemist’s dream, by discovering a means to monetize mobile platforms.

Sure Visa (V) has had a remarkable run over the past few years but it creates nothing. It only facilitates what can end up being destructive consumer behavior.

As we sit at lofty market levels you do have to wonder what will maintain or better yet, propel us to even greater heights? It’s not likely to be the Federal Reserve and if we’re looking to earnings, we may be in for a disappointment, as the most recent round of reports have been revenue challenged.

I don’t know where that leadership will come from. If I knew, I wouldn’t continue looking for weekly opportunities. Perhaps those espousing the sector theory are on the right track, but for an individual investor married to a buy and hold portfolio that kind of sector rotational leadership won’t be very satisfying, especially if in the wrong sectors or not taking profits when it’s your sector’s turn to shine.

Teamwork is great, but what really inspires is leadership. We are at that point that we have come a long way without clear leadership and have a lot to lose.

So while awaiting someone to step up to the plate, maybe you can identify a potential leader from among this week’s list. As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details).

ALthough last week marked the high point of earnings season, I was a little dismayed to see that a number of this week’s prospects still have earnings ahead of them.

While I have liked the stock, I haven’t always been a fan of Howard Schultz. Starbucks (SBUX) had an outstanding quarter and its share price responded. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the last 20 or so points. What did catch my interest, however, was the effusive manner in which Schultz described the Starbucks relationship with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). In the past shares of Green Mountain have suffered at the ambivalence of Schultz’s comments about that relationship. This time, however, he was glowing, calling it a “Fantastic relationship with Green Mountain and Brian Kelly (the new CEO)… and will only get stronger.”

Green Mountain reports earnings during the August 2013 option cycle. It is always a volatile trade and fraught with risk. Having in the past been on the long side during a 30% price decline after earnings and having the opportunity to discuss that on Bloomberg, makes it difficult to hide that fact. In considering potential earnings related trades, Green Mountain offers extended weekly options, so there are numerous possibilities with regard to finding a mix of premium and risk. Just be prepared to own shares if you opt to sell put options, which is the route that I would be most likely to pursue.

Deere (DE) has languished a bit lately and hasn’t fared well as it routinely is considered to have the same risk factors as other heavy machinery manufacturers, such as Caterpillar and Joy Global. Whether that’s warranted or not, it is their lot. Deere, lie the others, trades in a fairly narrow range and is approaching the low end of that range. It does report earnings prior to the end of the monthly option cycle, so those purchasing shares and counting on assignment of weekly options should be prepared for the possibility of holding shares through a period of increased risk.

Heading into this past Friday morning, I thought that there was a chance that I would be recommending all three of my “Evil Troika,” of Halliburton (HAL), British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean (RIG). Then came word that Halliburton had admitted destroying evidence in association with the Deepwater disaster, so obviously, in return shares went about 4% higher. WHat else would anyone have expected?

With that eliminated for now, as I prefer shares in the $43-44 range, I also eliminated British Petroleum which announces earnings this week. That was done mostly because I already have two lots of shares. But Transocean, which reports earnings the following week has had some very recent price weakness and is beginning to look like it’s at an appropriate price to add shares, at a time that Halliburton’s good share price fortunes didn’t extend to its evil partners.

Pfizer (PFE) offers another example of situations I don’t particularly care for. That is the juxtaposition of earnings and ex-dividend date on the same or consecutive days. In the past, it’s precluded me from considering Men’s Warehouse (MW) and just last week Tyco (TYC). However, in this situation, I don’t have some of the concerns about share price being dramatically adversely influenced by earnings. Additionally, with the ex-dividend date coming the day after earnings, the more cautious investor can wait, particularly if anticipating a price drop. Pfizer’s pipeline is deep and its recent spin-off of its Zoetis (ZTS) division will reap benefits in the form of a de-facto massive share buyback.

My JC Penney (JCP) shares were assigned this past week, but as it clings to the $16 level it continues to offer an attractive premium for the perceived risk. In this case, earnings are reported August 16, 2013 and I believe that there will be significant upside surprise. Late on Friday afternoon came news that David Einhorn closed his JC Penney short position and that news sent shares higher, but still not too high to consider for a long position in advance of earnings.

Another consistently on my radar screen, but certainly requiring a great tolerance for risk is Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). It was relatively stable this past week and it would have been a good time to have purchased shares and covered the position as done the previous week. While I always like to consider doing so, I would like to see some price deterioration prior to purchasing the next round of shares, especially as earning’s release looms in just two weeks.

Sticking to the fashion retail theme, L Brands (LTD) may be a new corporate name, but it retains all of the consistency that has been its hallmark for so long. It’s share price has been going higher of late, diminishing some of the appeal, but any small correction in advance of earnings coming during the current option cycle would put it back on my purchase list, particularly if approaching $52.50, but especially $50. Unfortunately, the path that the market has been taking has made those kind of retracements relatively uncommon.

In advance of earnings I sold Dow Chemical (DOW) puts last week. I was a little surprised that it didn’t go up as much as it’s cousin DuPont (DD), but finishing the week anywhere above $34 would have been a victory. Now, with earnings out of the way, it may simply be time to take ownership of shares. A good dividend, good option premiums and a fairly tight trading range have caused it to consistently be on my radar screen and a frequent purchase decision. It has been a great example of how a stock needn’t move very much in order to derive outsized profits.

MetLife (MET) is another of a long list of companies reporting earnings this week, but the options market isn’t anticipating a substantive move in either direction. Although it is near its 52 week high, which is always a precarious place to be, especially before earnings, while it may not lead entire markets higher, it certainly can follow them.

Finally, it’s Riverbed Technology (RVBD) time again. While I do already own shares and have done so very consistently for years, it soon reports earnings. Shares are currently trading at a near term high, although there is room to the upside. Riverbed Technology has had great leadership and employed a very rational strategy for expansion. For some reason they seem to have a hard time communicating that message, especially when giving their guidance in post-earnings conference calls. I very often expect significant price drops even though they have been very consistent in living up to analyst’s expectations. With shares at a near term high there is certainly room for a drop ahead if they play true to form. I’m very comfortable with ownership in the $15-16 range and may consider selling puts, perhaps even for a forward month.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Dow Chemical, L Brands, MetLife, Transocean

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Pfizer (ex-div 7/31)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 PM), Riverbed Technology (7/30 PM)

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