Weekend Update – October 9, 2016

About a year ago at this time, we were all waiting for what would turn out to be the first interest rate increase by the FOMC in nearly 9 years.

Once that increase finally arrived at the end of 2015, we were all preparing for what we were led to believe would be a series of small such increases throughout the course of 2016.

The problem, however, that stood in the way of those increases becoming reality was the FOMC’s insistence that their decisions would be data dependent. As we all know, the data to justify an increase in interest rates just hasn’t been there ever since that first increase.

The cynics, with the advantage of hindsight, might suggest that the data wasn’t even there a year ago, but that didn’t stop the FOMC from their action, which in short order took the market to its 2016 lows.

Back when those lows were hit in February, many credit Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM) for abruptly ending the correction by making a $26 million purchase of his own company’s shares. That wasn’t a terribly large amount of money, but it probably wasn’t a coincidence that the market turned on a dime.

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Weekend Update – August 7, 2016

In the 57 years since “The Day the Music Died,” the S&P 500 has risen about 3800%

What’s not to like about that?

Among those perishing in that February plane crash was “The Big Bopper” whose signature hit song “Chantilly Lace” was telling the world what he liked. 

While it may be cute when a child gives you that kind of information, not much good is to come when an adult lets free with those unfiltered thoughts.

It may be even worse when they act upon those thoughts that no one needed to hear in the first place.

The Big Bopper’s album cover makes the words of the song even more creepy, but there must have been strains of that admittedly catchy tune playing as investors were awaiting last Friday’s Employment Situation Report.

Of course, as we all know, there is nothing creepy at all about being in love with money or letting it know what you especially like about it.

It was pretty obvious what investors wanted and liked when the data was released and seemed to put a nail into the shockingly low number of new jobs reported back in June 2016.

I don’t know what the equivalent is to the obligatory “chantilly lace” in the song, but the market definitely decided it was time to put a pretty face on the impending likelihood of an interest rate increase.

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Weekend Update – July 17, 2016

 

Stock market investing is all about risk and reward and sometimes you do have to stick your neck out.

There is no reward without risk.

It’s sort of like those who say that you will never understand happiness without having experienced sadness.

My preference, however, it to simply experience varying levels of happiness and to ignore anything that might detract anything from the lowest level of happiness.

I ignore lots of things, much to the consternation of those around me.

But I ignore that consternation.

The same thing isn’t really possible with investing as not only is happiness so often of a very temporary nature and fleeting, the only way to avoid risk right now is to look at bonds or your mattress and those carry lots of opportunity risk.

Also, there’s a big difference between the qualitative feel of personal happiness and the quantitative nature of investing.

In other words, instead of being a giraffe, you would have to be an ostrich, although the ostrich is actually doing something of value when their head is below ground.

So you do have to stick your neck out if your happiness is defined in the form of stock gains.

I wasn’t very happy in 2015, but am very happy with 2016, to date.

Much of that has to do with the fact that the very stocks that disappointed me in 2015 are the ones delighting in 2016, even as they still have lots to do to erase the stink of 2015.

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Weekend Update – May 1, 2016


There was potentially lots that could have moved the market last week.

Earnings season was getting into full swing as oil continued its march higher.

As if those weren’t enough, we had an FOMC Statement release and a GDP report and even more earnings to round out the week.

But basically, none of those really mattered.

The FOMC expressed some confidence in the economy even as the GDP may have said otherwise the following day and earnings were all over the place with the market not being very forgiving when already lowered expectations weren’t met or were being pushed out another quarter.

Again, none of that mattered.

What really mattered was when Carl Icahn, who unlike Chicken Little, calmly told the world that he had sold his entire stake in Apple (AAPL) for fears of what China’s “attitude” might be with regard to the company.

The initial interviewer misinterpreted Icahn’s comments to mean that he was worried about the Chinese economy itself and that may have been exactly how traders interpreted Icahn’s words, although a second interviewer correctly interpreted Icahn’s comments and got him to add clarity.

Icahn confirmed that he was actually worried about the possibility that China would be less of a reliable partner for Apple and not that he envisioned a new round of meltdowns in the CHinese economy or in their financial institutions.

Big difference.

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Weekend Update – August 23, 2015

It wasn’t too long ago that China did what it continues to believe that it does best.

It dictated and restricted behavior.

You really can’t blame them, as for the past 67 years the government has done a very good job of controlling everything within its borders and rarely had to give up much in return.

This time it believed that it could control natural market forces with edicts and with the imposition of a very market un-natural prohibition against selling shares in a large number of stocks.

In the immediate aftermath of that decision nearly 2 months ago, the Shanghai Index had actually fared quite well, especially when you consider that in the month prior that index had taken a free fall and dropped 30% over the course of 27 days.

A subsequent 21% rebound over 15 days after the introduction of new “rules” to inactivate gravitational pull, likely re-inforced the belief that the government was omnipotent and emboldened it as it went forth with a series of rapid and significant currency devaluations, even while sending confusing signals when it moved in to support its currency.

I’ve often wondered about people who engage in risky behaviors, such as free fall jumping. What goes on in their mind, besides the obvious thrill, that tells them they can battle nature and natural laws and be on the winning side?

As with lots of things in life, we have the tendency to project in a very optimistic way. A single victory against all odds suddenly becomes the expected outcome in the future, as if nature and its forces had never heard of the expression “fool me once, shame on me….”

Given China’s track record in getting what it wants they can’t be blamed for believing that they are bigger than the laws that govern markets.

When you believe that you are right or invincible, you don’t really think about such pesky matters as consistency and the likelihood that things will eventually catch up with you.

While it may not be unusual to place some restrictions on trading when things are looking dire, the breadth of the Chinese stock trading restrictions was really broad. The suggestion that those responsible for rampant speculation and “malicious” short selling might suffer anirreversible form of punishment simply sought to ensure that any remaining miscreants severed their alliance with their normal behavior.

But when you’re on a streak and no one questions you, what reason is there to not continue in the same path that got you there? It’s just like not selling your stock positions and pocketing the gains.

Since those restrictions were imposed the Shanghai Index has actually gone 1% higher, which is considerably better than our own S&P 500 which has declined 5% after today’s free fall.

So clearly erecting a dam, even if on the wrong side of the natural flow, has helped and the score is Chinese Government 1, Natural Forces 0.

Except of course if you drill down to the past few days and see a drop of about 13%, while the S&P 500 has gone down 6%.

When the dam breaks, it’s not just the baby in the bath water that’s going to get wet, but more on that, later. That downdraft that we felt on our shores blew in from China as we got sucked in by the vacuum created from their free fall.

As with other instances of trying to do battle with nature there may be the appearance of a victory if you have a very, very short timeframe, but at some point the dam is going to burst and only time can really get things back under control enough to allow an opportunity to rebuild.

This past week was the worst in over 4 years as the S&P 500 fell 5.8%. At this point people are looking at individual stocks and are no longer marveling about how many are in correction territory, but rather how many are approaching or are in bear territory.

I haven’t kept track, but 2015 has been a year in which it seems that the most uttered phrase has been “and the markets have now given up all of their gains for the year.”

While I don’t spend too much time staring at charts and thinking about technical factors, you would have had a very difficult time escaping the barrage of comments about the market having dipped below its 200 Day Moving Average.

The level that I had been keeping my eye on as support was the 2045 level on the S&P 500 and that was breached in the final hour of trading on Thursday, leaving the 2000 level the next likely stop.

That too was left behind in the dust, as is the usual case when in free fall.

As mentioned earlier in the month, those technicals were showing a series of lower highs and higher
lows, which is often interpreted as meaning that a break-out is looming, but gives no clue as to the direction.

Now we know the direction, not that it helps any after the fact.

While the DJIA ended the week down a bit more than 10% off from its all time highs, allowing this to now be called a “correction,” the broader S&p 500 is only 7.8% lower. While many elected to sell on their way out in the final hour of the week, I wasn’t, but don’t expect to be very actively buying next week, without some sign of a functioning parachute or at least some very soft land at the bottom.

Buying is something that I will probably leave to those people who are more daring than I tend to be.

However, even they seem to have been a little more careful as this most recent sell-off hasn’t shown much in the way of enticing dare devils to buy on the substantial dips.

Even people prone to enjoying the thrill of a nice free fall are exercising some abundance of caution. While I prefer not to join them on the way down, I don’t mind keeping their company for now.

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

I succumbed a little to the sell off late in the week on Thursday and purchased some shares of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) in the final hour, right before another leg downward in a market that at that point was already down nearly 300 points.

That simply was a lesson in the issue that faces us all when prices seem to be so irrationally low. Distinguishing between a value priced stock and one that is there to simply suck money out of your pocket isn’t terribly easy to do.

As the sell off continued the following day to bring the August 2015 option cycle to its end the financial sector continued to be hit very hard as interest rates continued their decline.

It wasn’t very long ago that the 10 Year Treasury was ready to hit 2.5% and many were looking at that as being the proverbial “hand writing on the wall,” but in the past month those rates have fallen more than 40% and suddenly that wall is as clean as that baby that is continually mentioned as having been thrown out with the bath water, which coincidentally may be the second most uttered phrase of late.

After committing some money to Bank of America, I’m actually considering adding more financial sector positions in the expectation that the decline in interest rates will be coming to an end very soon as there’s some reason to believe that the FOMC’s dependence on data may be lip service.

Generally, the association between interest rates and the performance of stocks in the financial sector is reasonably straight forward. With some limitations, an increasing interest rate environment increases the margins that such companies can achieve when they put their own money to work.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is a good example of that relationship and its share price has certainly followed interest rates lower in the past few weeks, just as it dutifully followed those rates higher.

The decline in its shares has been swift and has finally brought them back to the mid-point of the range of the past dozen purchases. While that decline has been swift, the range has been fairly consistent and as the lower end of that range is approached there’s reason to consider braving some of the prevailing winds.

With the swiftness of the decline and with the broader market exhibiting volatility, the option premiums now associated with MetLife are recapturing some of the life that they had earlier in this year and all throughout 2014.

I often like to consider adding shares of MetLife right before an ex-dividend date, but I find the current stock price level to be compelling reason enough to consider a position and perhaps consider a longer term option contract to ride out any storm that may continue to be ahead.

Blackstone (NYSE:BX) hasn’t exactly followed that general rule, but lately it has fallen back in line with that very general rule, as it has plunged in share price since its earnings report and news of some insider selling.

As an example of how easy it has been to be too early in expressing optimism, I thought that Blackstone might be ready for a purchase just 2 weeks ago, but since then it has fallen 12%, although having had nothing but positive analyst comments directed toward it during those weeks. It, too, seems to have been caught in a significant downdraft and continued uncertainty in its near term fortunes are reflected in the very rich option premiums it’s now offering.

My major concern with Blackstone at the moment is whether its dividend, now at an 8.4% yield, can be sustained.

At a time when uncertainty is the prevailing mood, there’s some comfort that could come from having dividends accrue, as long as those dividends are safe.

While it’s dividend isn’t huge, at 2.5% and very safe, Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) again looks inviting as it followed other media companies lower this week and is now at a very appealing part of its trading range.

They have no worries about exchange rates, the Chinese economy or any of those “stories du jour” that have everyone’s attention.

Having reached an agreement with DISH Network earlier in the week to allow retransmission of its signal it saw shares plummet the following day.

Sinclair Broadcasting is ubiquitous around the nation but not exactly a household name, even in its home turf in the Mid-Atlantic. It offers only monthly options and has generally been a longer holding for me, having owned shares on six occasions in the past 15 months.

Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) was one of the early and very pronounced casualties of this most recent earnings season and it has shown no sign of recovery. The market didn’t even cheer as Lexmark announced workforce reductions.

What Lexmark has done since earnings hasn’t been encouraging as its total decline has been in excess of 30%, with a substantial portion of that coming after the initial wave of selling upon earnings being released.

Lexmark also only offers monthly options and it has a dividend yield that’s both enticing and unnerving. The good news is that expected earnings for the next quarter are sufficient to cover the dividend, but there has to be some concern going forward, as Lexmark has found itself in the same situation as its one time parent IBM (NYSE:IBM) having pivoted from its core business and perhaps needing to do so again.

With virtually no exposure to China you might have thought that Deere (NYSE:DE) would have had somewhat of an easier time of things as reporting its earnings for the past quarter.

If so, you would have been wrong, but getting it right hasn’t been the norm of late, regardless of what company is being considered.

The drop seen in Deere shares definitely came as a surprise to the options markets and to most everyone else as they became yet another to beat on earnings, but to miss on revenues.

As is the general theme, as volatility is climbing, at nearly its highest level in 3 years, the premiums are welcoming greater risk taking, even as they provide some cushion to risk.

Following its loss on Friday, even Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is now among those in correction, having sustained that decline over the past 2 weeks. With some significant exposure in China it may be understandable why Starbucks was a full participant in the market’s weakness.

Like many other stocks, the sudden decline in the context of a market decline that has led to a surge in volatility, option premiums are beginning to look better and better.

As volatility increases, which itself is a reflection of increasing risk, there is the seeming paradox of more of that risk being mollified through the sale of in the money options. The cushion provided by those in the money options increases as the volatility increases, so that the relative risk is reduced more than an upward moving market.

Starbucks, after a prolonged period of very mediocre option premiums is now beginning to show some of the reason why option sellers prefer high volatility. It’s not only for the increased premium, but also for the premium on that premium which allows greater reward even when willing to see shares assigned at a loss.

As an example, at Starbuck’s closing price of $52.84, the weekly $52 option sale would have delivered a premium of $1.64, which would net $0.80, a 1.5% yield, if shares were assigned, even if those shares fell 1.6%.

Those kind of risk and reward end points on otherwise low risk stocks haven’t been seen in a few years and is very exciting for those who do sell options on a regular basis.

Finally, not many companies have had their obituaries prepared for release as frequently as GameStop (NYSE:GME) has had to endure for many years.

Somehow, though, even as we think that the model for gaming distribution is changing there exists a strong core of those still yearning for physicality, even if in a virtual world.

GameStop reports earnings this week and it is no stranger to strong moves. The option market, however is implying only an 8.8% move, which seems substantial, but as this most recent earnings season will attest, may be under-stated.

For those bold enough to consider the sale of puts before earnings, a 1% ROI can be achieved if shares fall less than 12.1%.

As with a number of other earnings related trades over the past few months, I’m not so bold as to consider the trade in advance of earnings, but might consider selling puts after earnings in the event of a large move downward.

Lately, that has been a better formula for balancing reward and risk, although it may result in some lost opportunities in the event that shares don’t plummet beyond the strike prices implied by the option market. That, however, can be a small price to pay when the moves have so frequently been out-sized in their magnitude and offering a reward that ends up being dwarfed by the risk.

Considering that GameStop has fallen only 4.6% from its highs, it may be under additional pressure in the event of even a mild disappointment or less than optimistic guidance.

While it may be premature to begin the flow of tears and recount the good memories of GameStop and a youth wasted, I would be cautious about discounting the concerns entirely as far as the market’s reaction may be concerned.

Traditional Stock: Blackstone, Deere, General Electric, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Lexmark (8/26 $0.36), Sinclair Broadcasting (8/28 $0.16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/27 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 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 – November 2, 2014

 It’s really hard to know what to make of the past few weeks, much less this very past one.

On an intra-day basis having the S&P 500 down 9% from its high point seemed to be the stop right before that traditional 10% level needed to qualify as a bona fide “correction.”

But something happened.

What happened isn’t really clear, but if you were among those that credited the words of Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard, who suggested that the exit from Quantitative Easing should be delayed, the recovery that ensued now appears more of a coincidence than a result.

That’s because a rational person would have believed that if the upcoming FOMC Statement failed to confirm Bullard’s opinion there would be a rush to the doors to undo the rampant buying of the preceding 10 days that was fueled under false pretenses.

But that wasn’t the case.

In fact, not only did the FOMC announce what they had telegraphed for almost a year, but the previously dissenting hawks were no longer dissenters and a well known dove was instead the one doing the dissenting.

I don’t know about you, but the gains that ensued on Thursday, had me confused, just as the markets seemed confused in the two final trading hours after the FOMC Statement release. You don’t have to be a “perma-bear” to wonder what it’s going to take to get some of your prophesies to be fulfilled.

Even though Thursday’s gains were initially illusory owing to Visa’s (V) dominance of the DJIA, they became real and broadly applied as the afternoon wore on. “How did that make any sense?” is a question that a rationally objective investor and a perma-bear might both find themselves asking as both are left behind in the dust.

I include myself in that camp, as I didn’t take advantage of what turned out to be the market lows as now new closing highs have been set.

Those new highs came courtesy of the Bank of Japan on Friday as it announced the kind of massive stimulus program that we had been expecting to first come from the European Central Bank.

While the initial reaction was elation and set the bears further into despair it also may have left them wondering what, if any role rational thought has left in the processes driving stocks and their markets.

Many, if not most, agree that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing was the primary fuel boosting U.S. stock markets for years, having drawn foreign investor demand to our shores. Now, with Japan getting ready to follow the same path and perhaps the ECB next in line, we are poised to become the foreigners helping to boost markets on distant shores.

At least that what a confused, beaten and relatively poorer bear thinks as the new week gets underway.

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

I love listening to Howard Schultz defending shares of Starbucks (SBUX) after the market takes the stock lower after earnings. No one defends his company, its performance and its outlook better than Howard Schultz.

But more importantly, he has always followed up his assertions with results.

As with many stocks over the past two weeks, Starbucks is one, that in hindsight I should have purchased two weeks ago, while exercising rational thought processes that got in the way of recognizing bargain prices. Friday’s drop still makes it too late to get shares at their lows of 2 weeks ago, but I expect Schultz to be on the correct side of the analysis once again.

There’s not much disagreement that it has been a rough month for the energy sector. While it did improve last week, it still lagged most everything else, but I think that the Goldman Sachs (GS) call for $75 oil is the turning point. Unfortunately, I have more energy stocks than I would have liked, but expect their recovery and am, hesitatingly looking to add to the position, starting with British Petroleum (BP) as it is ex-dividend this week. That’s always a good place to start, especially with earnings already out of the way.

While I continue to incorrectly refer to BP as “British Petroleum” that is part of my legacy, just as its Russian exposure and legal liabilities are part of its legacy. However, I think that all of those factors are fully  priced in. Where I believe the opportunity exists is that since the September 2014 highs up to the Friday’s highs, BP hasn’t performed as well as some of its cohorts and may be due for some catch-up.

I purchased shares of Intel (INTC) the previous week and was hoping to capture its dividend, as its ex-dividend date is this week. 

Last week Intel had quite a ride as it alternated 4% moves lower and then higher on Thursday and Friday. 

Thursday’s move, which caught most everyone by surprise was accompanied by very large put option trading, including large blocks of aggressive in the money puts with less than 2 days until expiration and even larger out of the money puts expiring in 2 weeks.

Most of the weekly puts expired worthless, as there was fairly low activity on Friday, with no evidence of those contracts getting rolled forward, as shares soared.

While initially happy to see shares take a drop, since it would have meant keeping the dividend for myself, rather than being subject to early assignment, I now face that assignment as shares are again well above the strike. 

However, while entertaining thoughts of rolling those shares over to a higher strike at the same expiration date or the same strike at next week’s expiration, I may also consider adding additional shares of Intel,  for its dividend, premiums and share appreciation, as well. Given some of the confusion recently about prospects for the semi-conductor industry, I think Intel’s vision of what the future holds is as good as the industry can offer if looking for a crystal ball.

What can possibly be said about Herbalife (HLF) at this point that hasn’t already been said, ad nauseum. I’m still somewhat stunned that a single author can write 86 or so articles on Herbalife in a 365 day period and find anything new to say, although there is always the chance that singular opinion expressed may be vindicated.

The reality is that we all need to await some kind of regulatory and/or legal decisions regarding the fate of this company and its business practices.

So, like any other publicly traded company, whether under an additional microscope or not, Herbalife reports earnings this week, having announced it also reached an agreement on Friday regarding a class action suit launched by a past dis

tributor of its products.

The options market is predicting a 16% movement in shares upon earnings release. At its Friday closing price, the lower end of that range would find shares at approximately $44. However, a weekly 1% ROI could still be obtained if selling a put option 35% below Friday’s close.

That is an extraordinary margin, but it may be borne out of extraordinary circumstances, as Monday’s earnings release may include other information regarding pending lawsuits, regulatory or legal actions that could conceivably send shares plummeting.

Or soaring.

On a more sedate, and maybe less controversial note, Whole Foods (WFM) reports earnings this week. I’m still saddled with an expensive lot of shares, that has been offset a bit by the assignment of 4 other lots this year, including this past week.

After a series of bad earnings results and share declines I think the company will soon be reporting positive results from its significant national expansion efforts.

While I generally use the sale of puts when considering an earnings related trade, usually because I would prefer not owning shares, Whole Foods is one that I would approach from either direction. While its payout ratio is higher than its peers, I think there may also be a chance that there will be a dividend increase, particularly as some of the capital expenditures will be decreasing.

While not reporting earnings this week, The Gap (GPS) is expected to provide monthly same store sales. It continues to do so, going against the retail tide, and it often sees its shares move wildly. Those moves are frequently on a monthly alternating basis, which certainly taxes rational thought.

Last month, it reported decreased same store sales, but also coupled that news with the very unexpected announcement that its CEO was leaving. Shares subsequently plummeted and have been very slow to recover.

As expected, the premium this week is significantly elevated as it reflects the risk associated with the monthly report. As with Whole Foods, this trade can also justifiably be approached wither from the direction of a traditional buy/write or put sale. In either case, some consideration should also be given to the fact that The Gap will also report its quarterly earnings right before the conclusion of the November 2014 option cycle, which can offer additional opportunity or peril.

Also like Whole Foods, I currently own a much more expensive lot of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), but have had several assigned lots subsequently help to offset those paper losses. Shares have been unusually active lately, increasingly tied to news from China, where Las Vegas Sands has significant interests in Macao.

Share ownership in Las Vegas Sands can be entertaining in its own right, as there has lately been a certain roller coaster quality from one day to the next, helping to account for its attractive option premium. In the absence of significant economic downturn news in China, which was the root cause of the recent decline, it appears that shares have found some support at its current level. Together with those nice premiums and an attractive dividend, I’m not adverse to taking a gamble on these always volatile shares, even in a market that may have some uncertainty attached to it.

Finally, Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) each reported earnings last week and were mentioned as potential earnings related trades, particularly through the sale of put options.

Both saw their shares drop sharply after the releases, however, the option markets predicted the expected ranges quite well and for those looking to wring out a 1% weekly ROI even in the face of post-earnings price disappointment were rewarded.

I didn’t take the opportunities, but still see some in each of those companies this week.

While Twitter received nothing but bad press last week and by all appearances is a company that is verging on some significant dysfunction, it is quietly actually making money. It just can’t stick with a set of metrics that are widely accepted and validated as having relevance to the satisfaction of analysts and investors.

It also can’t decide who to blame for the dysfunction, but investors are increasingly questioning the abilities of its CEO, having forgotten that Twitter was a dysfunctional place long before having gone public and long before Dick Costolo became CEO.

At its current price and with its current option premiums the sale of out of the money puts looks as appealing as they did the previous week, as long as prepared to rollover those puts or take assignment of shares in the event the market isn’t satisfied with assurances.

Facebook, on the other hand is far from dysfunctional. Presumably, its shares were punished once Mark Zuckerberg mentioned upcoming increased spending. Of course, there’s also the issue of additional shares hitting the markets, as part of the WhatsApp purchase.

Both of those are reasonable concerns, but it’s very hard to detract from the vision and execution by Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg.

However, the option market continues to see the coming week’s options priced as if there was more than the usual amount of risk inherent in share pricing. I think that may be a mistake, even while its pricing of risk was well done the previous week.

Bears may be beaten and wondering what hit them, but a good tonic is profit and the sale of puts on Facebook could make bears happy while hedging their bets on a market that may put rational thought to rest for a little while longer.

Traditional Stocks:   Starbucks, The Gap

Momentum: Facebook, Twitter, Las Vegas Sands

Double Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (11/5), Intel (11/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (11/3 PM), Whole Foods (11/5 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 – July 27, 2014

It seems that almost every week over the past few months have both begun and ended with a quandary of which path to take.

Talk about indecision, for the previous seven weeks the market closed in the an alternating direction to the previous week. This past week was the equivalent of landing on the “green” as the S&P 500 was 0.12 higher for the week, but ending the streak.

Like the biology experiment that shows how a frog immersed in water that is slowly brought to a boil never perceives the impending danger to its life, the market has continued to set new closing record high after record high in a slow and methodical fashion.

With all the talk continuing about how money remains on the sidelines from 2008-9, you do have to wonder how getting into the market now is any different from that frog thinking about climbing into that pot as it nears its boiling point.

Unless there’s new money coming in what fuels growth?

That’s not to say that danger awaits or that the slow climb higher will lead to a change in state or a frenzied outburst of energy leading to some calamitous event, but the thought could cross some minds.

Perhaps Friday’s sell off will prompt some to select one path over another, although a single bubble doesn’t mean that as you’re immersed in a bath that it is coming to a boil. It may entirely be due to other reasons, such as your most recent meal, so it’s not always appropriate to jump to conclusions.

While the frog probably doesn’t really comprehend the slowly growing number of bubbles that seem to be arising from the water, investors may begin to notice the rising number of IPO offerings entering the market and particularly their difficulty in achieving pricing objectives.

I wonder what that might signify? The fact that suddenly my discount brokerage seems to be inundating me with IPO offers makes me realize that it does seem to be getting hotter and hotter around me.

This coming week I’ve had cash reserves replenished with a number of assignments, somehow surviving the week ending plunge and I see many prices having come down, even if just a little. That combination often puts me into a spending mood, that would be especially enhanced if Monday begins either on the downside or just tepidly higher.

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

The big news in the markets this week was Facebook (FB) as its earnings report continued to make clear that it has mastered the means to monetize a mobile strategy. While it produces nothing it’s market capitalization is stunning and working its way closer to the top spot. For those in the same or reasonably close sector, the trickle down was appreciated. One of those, Twitter (TWTR) reports earnings this week and the jury is still very much out on whether it has a viable product, a viable management team and even a viable life as an independent entity.

For all of those questions Twitter can be an exciting holding, if you like that sort of thing. I currently hold shares that were assigned to me after having fallen so much that I couldn’t continue the process of rolling over puts any longer. The process to recover has been slow, but speeded a bit by selling calls on the way higher. However, while that has been emotionally rewarding, but as may be the case when puts are sold and potential ownership is something that is shunned, has required lots of maintenance and maneuvering.

With earnings this week the opportunity arises again to consider the sale of new Twitter puts, either before earnings are released or if shares plunge, afterward.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move in shares upon earnings. a 1% weekly ROI may possibly be obtained at a strike price that’s 14.8% below Friday’s close.

While Twitter is filled with uncertainty, Starbucks (SBUX) has some history behind it that gives good reason to have continuing confidence. With the market having looked adversely at Starbucks’ earnings report, Howard Schultz gave an impassioned and wholly rational defense of the company, its operations and prospects.

In the past few years each time Starbucks shares have been pummeled after earnings and Schultz has done as he did on Friday, it has proven itself an excellent entry point for shares. Schultz has repeatedly shown himself to be among the most credible and knowledgeable of CEOs with regard to his own business and business strategy. He has been as bankable as anyone that can be found.

With an upcoming dividend, always competitive option premiums and Schultz standing behind it, the pullback on Friday may be a good time to re-consider adding shares, despite still trading near highs.

While I suppose Yelp (YELP) could tell me all about the nearest Starbucks and the experience that I might expect there, it’s not a site that gets my attention, particularly after seeing some reviews of restaurants that pilloried the businesses of places that my wife and I frequent repeatedly.

Still, there’s clearly something to be had of value through using the site for someone. What does have me interested is the potential opportunity that may exist at earnings. Yelp is no stranger to large moves at earnings and for those who like risk there can be reward in return. However, for those who like smaller dosages of each a 1% ROI for the week can potentially be achieved at a strike price of $58 based on Friday’s $68.68 closing priced and an implied move of 12%. Back in April 2014 I received an almost 3% ROI for the risk taken, but don’t believe that I’m willing to be so daring now that I’m older.

Following the market’s sharp drop on Friday it was difficult to not jump the gun a little bit as some prices looked to be either “too good” or just ready. One of those was General Motors (GM). Having survived earnings last week,
albeit with a sizeable share drop over the course of a few days and wading its way through so much litigation, it is quietly doing what it is supposed to be doing and selling its products. An energized consumer will eventually trade in those cars that have long passed their primes, as for many people what they drive is perceived as the best insight into their true standing in society. General Motors has traded nicely as it has approached $33 and offers a nice premium and attractive dividend, making it fit in nicely with a portfolio that tries to accentuate income streams even while shares my gyrate in price.

I never get tired of thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY). With some of my shares assigned this past Friday despite some recent price strength after earnings, I think it is now in that mid-point of its trading range from where it has been relatively easy to manage the position even with some moves lower.

Carl Icahn has remained incredibly quiet on his position in eBay and my guess, based on nothing at all, is that there is some kind of behind the scenes convergence of thought between Icahn and eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, regarding the PayPal jewel.

With all of the recent talk about “old tech,” there’s reason to consider one of the oldest, Texas Instruments (TXN) which goes ex-dividend this coming week. Having recently traded near its year’s high, shares have come down considerably following earnings, over the course of a few days. While still a little on the high side, it has lots of company in that regard, but at least has the goods to back up its price better than many others. It, too, offers an attractive combination of dividend, premiums and still possibility of share appreciation.

Reporting earnings this week are both MasterCard (MA) and MetLife (MET). Neither are potential trades whose premiums are greatly enhanced by the prospects of earnings related surprises. Both, however, are companies that I would like to once again own, possibly through the sale of put options prior to earnings being announced.

MasterCard suffered on Friday as collateral damage to Visa’s (V) earnings, which helped drag the DJIA down far more than the S&P 500, despite the outsized contribution by Amazon (AMZN) which suffered a % decline after earnings. On top of that are worries again from the Russian market, which earlier in the year had floated the idea of their own credit system. Now new rules impacting payment processors in Russia is of concern.

MasterCard has been able to generate satisfactory option premiums during an otherwise low volatility environment and despite trading in a $72 – $78 range, as it has regular bounces, such as seen this past week.

I have been waiting for MetLife to trade down to about the $52 range for the past two months and perhaps earnings will be the impetus. For that reason I might be more inclined to consider opening a position through the sale of puts rather than an outright buy/write. However, also incorporated into that decision process is that shares will be going ex-dividend the following week and there is some downside to the sale of puts in the face of such an event, much as their may be advantage to selling calls into an ex-dividend date.

Finally, there hasn’t been much that has been more entertaining of late than the Herbalife (HLF) saga. After this past week’s tremendous alternating plunge and surge and the absolute debacle of a presentation by Bill Ackman that didn’t quite live up to its billing.

While there may certainly be lots of validity to Ackman’s claims, which are increasingly not being nuanced, the opportunity may exist on both sides of the controversy, as earnings are announced next week. Unless some significant news arises in addition to earnings, such as from the SEC or FTC, it is like any other high beta stock about to report earnings.

The availability of expanded weekly options makes the trade more appealing in the event of an adverse move bringing shares below the $61.50 level suggested by the implied volatility, allows some greater flexibility. However, because of the possibility of other events, my preference would be to have this be as short term of a holding as possible, such that if selling puts and seeing a rise in shares after earnings, I would likely sacrifice remaining value on the options and close the position, being happy with whatever quick profits were achieved.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, General Motors, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (7/28 PM), Twitter (7/29 PM), Yelp (7/30 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 – April 6, 2014

This week started on such a positive note with the reassuring words of a dove, yet ended so harshly.

This time of the year it’s supposed to be the other way around with the lamb having the final word as months of a less threatening nature await ahead.

Instead, after Friday’s close, whatever optimism may have been generated by setting even more record highs earlier in the week, had given way to caution and perhaps preparation for some ill winds.

Back when I was in college it wasn’t meant as a compliment if you were referred to as being a “dove.” and the proverbial lamb was always being led to slaughter.  In fact, if you were called a “dove,” that was only in polite circles. Otherwise, the words used were far more descriptive and derisive.

By the same token, the doves out there may not have had the kindest of words for the hawks, but in nature, it’s usually the hawk that triumphs. In fact, recalling the recent mauling of a peace dove that had been just released by Pope Francis and some children, it didn’t really even require a hawk. A seagull and a lowly crow were enough for the task.

This week, though, it was the dove that ruled the day and set the tone for the week. Well, at least most of it, until its fragile nature beset itself.

A fragile market can be equally susceptible even to less formidable foes, as Friday’s sell-off had little basis and came on the day of the Employment Situation Report, which for the past 20 months or so has been strongly correlated to a higher moving market on the day of release and for the week as a whole. While the week as a whole did show an advance, the former correlation stood for only a short time before strong selling set in.

Whatever doubts there may have been regarding where Janet Yellen stood on that continuum from dove to hawk following her initial press conference, she made it clear that on issues of the Federal Reserve’s actions to help lower the unemployment rate, she was an unabashed dove and while there may be more dissenting voting members than before sitting on the Federal Reserve, she still controls the hawks, but probably keeps at least one eye wary at all times.

The stock market loved that re-affirmation of policy the way we love the beauty of a dove, even though like short sellers, we may privately relish its obliteration by a swooping predator hawk.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend and Momentum categories, with no “PEE” selections this week (see details).

While this was an especially brutal week for stocks on the NASDAQ and particularly for many of those stocks that had borne a disproportionate amount of everyone’s attention as they moved ever higher, many others were included in whatever wrath took hold.

With earnings season beginning this coming week there may be some return to fundamentals, however, disappointments, particularly if weather hasn’t been fully factored in or discounted may further exploit market fragility.

MasterCard (MA) was one such casualty of the stampede. There was little to account for its 2.5% drop on Friday, bringing it to its 5 month low. The previous week, faced with some potentially adverse decisions regarding swipe fees it reacted well, yet this week it did otherwise without any new challenges being sent its way. While it goes ex-dividend on Monday it’s puny dividend isn’t something that’s likely to be missed by those entering into new positions as shares find themselves at a 5 month low. Believing that last week’s selling was overdone I would consider a slightly longer option contract and the use of an out of the money strike as a means to allow some time for price repair while collecting an option premium while waiting.

While not falling quite as much as MasterCard on Friday, shares of Starbucks (SBUX) also succumbed to selling pressure. While the past week was filled with news regarding other players entering into the breakfast marketplace, including offering free cups of coffee, there was really an absence of Starbucks specific news. While breakfast taco waffles may garner some attention, Starbucks has become as much a way of life as it has a product provider. It’s current price is one where it has shown considerable strength and it too may warrant the use of slightly longer term option contracts and an out of the money strike.

Apollo Education (APOL) was a stock that I highlighted last week as a possible earnings trade. As usual, I prefer those through the sale of well out of the money put contracts prior to earnings, especially if share price is trending downward prior to earnings. In Apollo’s case shares had instead shown strength prior to the earnings release, so I stayed away from selling puts at that time. After earnings shares did sustain a drop and I then sold some out of the money puts in the hope that the drop wouldn’t continue beyond another few strike levels. While there was almost a need to roll them over on Friday as the market was crumbling, Apollo shares showed resilience, even as the market did not.

While I still don’t have much confidence in the product it offers nor the manner in which it generates its revenues, that’s largely irrelevant, as it continues to offer some reasonable returns even if shares continue to experience some decline. Once again, however, I would most likely consider the sale of puts rather than an outright purchase of shares and concomitant sale of calls.

There’s probably very little that can be added to make a discussion of Herbalife (HLF) newsworthy, but when there is, it will really be worth paying attention. While Herbalife has been a good target of put sellers following the severe price drop in the wake of regulatory and legal investigations that are being escalated, it has recovered very nicely with the realization that any real news is likely to be in the distance. It too, is a position that I would likely consider entry through the sale of out of the money puts.

This week’s dividend stocks for consideration are two that

I haven’t owned for a while, as I’ve been waiting for them to return to more reasonable price levels. Sometimes the realization comes that waiting only prevents being an active participant. Aetna (AET) Abbott Labs (ABT) have long been absent from my portfolio despite continually thinking about adding them back.

With a large number of existing positions already going ex-dividend this week I’m not as anxious to add any additional ones. However, of those two, Abbott Labs is more appealing for having a higher dividend rate and for having already come off some recent price peaks. In need of additional health care sector stocks, Abbott also carries that personal appeal at this point in time. However, it reports earnings the following week so my preference, if purchasing shares, would be a quick holding and given its current option premium would even be willingly accepting of an early assignment.

Aetna has simply left me behind in the dust as I’ve been waiting for it to return to what I believed was a fair price, but apparently the market has long disagreed. While it may be some time until we all realize whether new healthcare mandates are a positive or negative for the insurers, the one thing that most everyone can agree is that the long term is always positive when your fee structure is highly responsive to actuarial data. Add to that an increasing interest rate environment and the future may be bright for insurers.

Among the shares that I had assigned this past week were Comcast (CMCSA) and Coach (COH). Following the week ending sell-off I was grateful to have as many assignments as there were, especially to replenish cash reserves in the event of buying opportunities ahead. However, among those assigned, these two are ones that I’m eager to re-incorporate into my portfolio.

Comcast, despite my personal feelings about the product and service, has just been a spectacular growth story and has had great guidance under the control of the Roberts family. My celebration of “Comcast Liberation Day” a few years ago didn’t mean that I would boycott share ownership or overlook its attributes as an investment. It’s recent 10% price drop in the past two months from its highs has offered an opportunity to find some more realistic entry points. While I’ve been following shares for quite some time, it only recently began offering weekly and expanded weekly options. For me, that was the signal, combined with the reduced share price to start initiating positions.  I envision a similar opportunity with Comcast shares on a serial basis as I have experienced with Coach.

Coach remains a stock that I feel like I could happily buy most week in and out as long as it’s trading in a $48-$54 range and have done so repeatedly when it has done so. Despite a near absence of positive news in almost two years and the company having been written off as a loser in the competitive wars, especially with Michael Kors (KORS), for those who can recognize that multiple small stock gains can be very meaningful it has been a consistent performer. With earnings approaching at the end of the month I would be less inclined to use longer term option contracts at this time, as Coach has had a recent history of sharp and unpredictable moves following earnings.

While Coach has been unable to do anything right in the eyes of many, until recently, Under Armour (UA) could do no wrong. WHile it’s still not clear whether the design of their latest skating wear for US Olympians was in any way related to their disappointing performance, Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, was a perfect study in how to present his company when under public scrutiny. 

While it received a downgrade about 3 weeks ago and subsequently fell more than 7% in that aftermath, it fell an additional 9% from that sentinel point late this week as it was carried along with the rest of the deluge. As with many others the selling was in the absence of substantive news.

With earnings season beginning this coming week, Under Armour is among those announcing early in the process on April 17, 2014. It’s volatility is commanding a health option premium at a time when many others are languishing, however, the risk may be compounded during the following week. For that reason, if considering the purchase of shares I would likely use a weekly contract and if necessary roll that over to a longer term contract in anticipation of that enhanced risk. As earnings approach, Under Armour may also turn out to be a potential earnings related trade through the sale of out of the money put options.

Finally, a number of years ago I was studying two stocks with an eye toward adding one to my regular rotation in need of another energy sector position. They were Anadarko (APC) and Apache (APA). For a while I would get their stock symbols confused and really had a difficult time discerning their differences. I still have no real idea of what those differences may be, but for some reason I gravitated toward Anadarko.

This week, that dalliance may have come to an end, at least for the time being, as my shares were assigned following an untimely and unexpected end to the Tronox litigation that was an unwelcome part of its Kerr McGee purchase.

Whatever positive comments I would normally make about Anadarko relative to its prospects for trading in a range and offering an attractive premium can now be transferred to Apache. The best part, though, is that Apache is approximately 10% below its recent high and can make me forget about Anadarko for now.

Traditional Stocks: Apache, Comcast, MasterCard, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Apollo Educational, Coach, Herbalife, Under Armour

Double Dip Dividend: Aetna (4/8), Abbott Labs (4/11)

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 23, 2014

When this past week was all said and done, it was hard to discern that anything had actually happened.

Sure, there was an Olympics being staged and fomenting revolution in Ukraine, but it was a week when even the release of FOMC minutes failed to be news. Earnings season was winding down, the weather was in abeyance and the legislative docket was reasonably non-partisan.

I could have spent last week watching the grass grow if it hadn’t been covered in a foot of snow.

In its own way, despite the intermediate and alternating moves approaching triple digits, the past week was a perfect example of reversion to the mean. For those that remember 2011, it was that year in a microcosm.

The coming week promises to be no different, although eight members of the Federal Reserve are scheduled to speak. While they can move markets with intemperate or unfiltered remarks, which may become more meaningful as “hawks” assume more voting positions, most people will likely get their excitement from simply reading the just released 2008 transcripts of the Federal Reserve’s meetings as the crisis was beginning to unfold. While you can learn a lot about people in times of crisis, other than potential entertainment value the transcripts will do nothing to add air to the vacuum of the past week. What they may contain about our new Chairman, Janet Yellen, will only confirm her prescience and humor, and should be a calming influence on investors.

As a covered option investor last week was the way I would always script things if anyone would bother opening the envelope to read what was inside. While I have no complaints about 2012 or 2013, as most everyone loves a rising market, 2011 was an ideal market as the year ended with no change. Plenty of intermediate movement, but in the end, signifying nothing other than the opportunity to seemingly and endlessly milk stocks for their option premiums that were nicely enhanced by volatility.

Although I’ve spent much of the past year expecting, sometimes even waiting at the doorstep for the correction to come, the past few weeks have been potentially dangerous ones as I’ve had optimism and money to spend. That can be a bad combination, but the past 18 months have demonstrated a pattern of failed corrections, at least by the standard definition, and rebounds to new and higher highs.

While there may be nothing to see here, there may be something to see there as the market may again be headed to new neighborhoods.

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). A companion article this week explores some additional earnings related trades.

In a week that Wal-Mart (WMT) again disappointed with its earnings report, once again the market failed to follow its lead. In the past year Wal-Mart has repeatedly disappointed, yet the market has disconnected form its leadership, other than for a brief two hours of panic a few months ago when Wal-Mart announced some increasing inventory levels. That panic quickly resolved once Wal-Mart explained their interpretation of inventory levels.

However, one does have to wonder under what economic circumstances does Wal-Mart not meet expectations? Is the economy thriving and people are moving to other retailers, such as Target (TGT) or even Sears (SHLD) or are they moving to Family Dollar Store (FDO)? WHile it is possible that Wal-Mart may simply be suffering from its own bad economic and internal forecasting, there isn’t much reason to be sanguine about retailing. My money is on Family Dollar.

One source that I use for information lists Family Dollar as going ex-dividend this week, however, I haven’t found that to be corroborated anywhere else and historically the first quarter ex-dividend date is in the second week of March. If shares do go ex-dividend this week I would have significant enthusiasm for adding shares, but even in the absence of that event I’m inclined to make that purchase.

Coming off two successive weeks of garnering more than the usual number of dividends, this week is relatively slim pickings. Weyerhauser (WY) and Molson Coors (TAP) both go ex-dividend this week, but both are near the bottom of my list for new purchases this week.

While I like Molson Coors, at the moment the product holds some more appeal than the stock, which is trading near its yearly high point. However, with earnings now out of the way and Canadians around the world celebrating Olympic victories, what better way to show solidarity than to own shares, even if just for a week? Other than potential technical indicators which may suggest an overbought condition, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that in a flat or higher moving market during the coming week, Molson Coors shares will decline mightily. With shares as the body and a head composed of a nice premium and dividend, it just may be time to indulge.

Weyerhauser is a perfectly boring stock. Often, i mean that in a positive sense, but in this case I’m not so certain. I’ve owned shares since May 2013 and would be happy to see them assigned. Despite Weyerhauser offering a dividend this week, my interests are more aligned with re-establishing a position in International Paper (IP). In addition to offering a weekly option, which Weyerhauser does not, its options liquidity and pricing is superior. While it is trading near its yearly high, it has repeatedly met resistance at that level. As a result, while eager to once again own shares, I would be much more willing to do so even with just a slight drop in price.

While offering only a monthly option is a detriment as far as Weyerhauser is concerned, it may be a selling point as far as Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes. I like to consider adding shares when it is near a strike price as it was after Friday’s close. Shares can be volatile, but it tends to find its way back, especially when home is $10. WHile earnings aren’t due until April 17, 2014, that is just one day before the end of the monthly cycle. Therefore, if purchasing shares of Cypress at this time, I would be prepared to set up for ownership through the May 2014 cycle in the event that shares aren’t assigned when the March cycle comes to an end, in order to avoid being caught in a vortex if a disappointment is at hand. The dividend and the premiums will provide some solace, however.

Although I had shares of Fastenal (FAST) assigned this past week and still own some more expensive shares, this company, which I believe is a proxy for economic activity, has been a spectacular covered call trade and has lent itself to serial ownership as it has reliably traded in a defined range. It doesn’t report earnings until April 10, 2014, but it does have a habit of announcing altered guidance a few weeks earlier. That can be annoying if it comes at the end of an option cycle and potentially removes the chance of assignment or even anticipated rollover, but it’s an annoyance I can live with. After two successive quarters of reduced guidance my expectation is for an improved outlook.

I haven’t owned shares of Deere (DE) for a few months as it had gone on a ride higher, just as Caterpillar (CAT), another frequent holding, is now doing. Deere is now trading at the upper range of where I typically am interested in establishing a position, but after a 7% decline, it may be time to add shares once again. It consistently offers an option premium that has appeal and in the event of longer than anticipated ownership its dividend eases the wait for assignment.

While I would certainly be more interested in Starbucks (SBUX) if its shares were trading at a lower level, sometimes you have to accept what may be a new normal. I had nearly a year elapse before coming to that realization and missed many opportunities in that time with these shares. It does, however, appear that the unbridled move higher has come to an end and perhaps shares are now more likely to be range bound. As with the market in general it’s that range that others may view as mediocrity of performance that instead may be alternatively viewed as the basis for creating an annuity through the collection of option premiums and dividends.

I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense, so it’s unlikely that I would ever own any Deckers (DECK) products at the right time. One minute they sell cool stuff, the next minute they don’t and then back again. Just like the story of most stocks themselves.

What is clear is that they have become cool retailers again and impressively, shares have recovered from a recent large decline. With earnings due to be announced this week the option market is implying a 12.3% potential movement in shares. In the meantime, if you can set your sights on a lowly 1% ROI for the week’s worth of risk a 16.3% drop can still leave you without the obligation to purchase the shares if having sold puts.

Less exciting, at least in terms of implied moves, is T-Mobile (TMUS). It also reports earnings this week and there has to be some thought to what price T-Mobile is paying and will be paying for its very aggressive competitive stance. While its CEO John Legere, may be a hero to some for taking on the competition, that may very quickly fade with some disappointing earnings and cautionary guidance. the option market is pricing a relatively small move of 8.7%, while current option pricing can return a 1% ROI on a strike level 9.5% lower than Friday’s close. Although that’s not much of a margin of difference, I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts if shares drop substantively on Monday in advance of Tuesday morning’s announcement. Alternatively, if not selling puts in advance of earnings and shares do significantly fall following earnings, there may be potential to do the put sale at that time.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) reports earnings this week. It is one of the most frustrating and exhilirating of stocks and I currently own two lots. My personal rule is to never own more than three, so I still have some room to add shares, or more likely sell puts in advance of its earnings. Abercrombie and FItch is a nice example of how dysfunction and lowered expectations can create a stock that is so perfectly suited for a covered option strategy. Its constant gyrations create enhanced option premiums that are also significantly impacted by its history of very large earnings related price changes.

For those that have long invested in shares the prospect of a sharp decline upon earnings can’t come as a surprise. However, with a 10.7% implied price move this coming week, one can still achieve a 1% ROI if shares fall less than 15.3%, based on Friday’s closing price.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Family Dollar Store, Fastenal, International Paper, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

Double Dip Dividend: Molson Coors (ex-div 2/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/26 AM), Deckers (2/27 PM), T-Mobile (2/25 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.