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.
I still have a fascination with license plates and the bumper stickers put on their cars.
The license plate thing these days is more geared toward trying to decipher the message contained on someone’s vanity plates.
That often takes a combination of having a very open mind as to the intended grouping of letters and numbers and to the message.
Of course, the exercise isn’t complete until then driving past the car driver and either giving them a thumbs up or a shoulder shrug.
The bumper sticker thing is more just a question of reading and then trying to imagine what the person in the car will look like once going past them.
For example, in my experience, those with the “Choose Civility” bumper sticker tend to be very rude drivers, but they don’t look rude.
What both fascinations have in common is that as I get older, the distance that I need to get within range to be able to read the plates and the bumper stickers is increasingly getting smaller and smaller.
That brings some danger, but sometimes it’s really hard to resist.
When I say “sometimes,” I mean that I can never resist and it is the reason that my wife won’t let me drive when we’re together.
I need to be within range.
About 25 years ago a character debuted on Saturday Night Live and the recurring joke was to try and guess the character’s gender.
The sketches typically had red herrings and lots of mis-direction and the question of Pat’s gender was never answered.
Never a terribly popular character, someone had the fiscally irresponsible idea of making a feature film and Pat was never heard from again.
The guessing stopped.
Fast forward to 2016 and think of Pat as an FOMC member.
Over the past 2 months or so there has probably been lots of mis-direction coming from Federal Reserve Governors, perhaps as they floated trial balloons to see how interest rate action or inaction would be received by the stock market.
The health of the stock market is not really part of their mandate, but since so much of the nation’s wealth is very closely aligned with those markets, it may only be logical that the FOMC should at least have some passing interest in its health.
Who would have guessed 6 months ago when the first interest rate hike occurred that we would be at a point where that has thus far been the only one?
Who would have thought that in the transpiring 6 months nothing would have validated the December 2015 interest rate increase and that nothing but conflicting economic data would be forthcoming?
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.
Most of us can recall a time when we were embarrassed, unless you need for denial is a stronger than your memory.
It’s probably much worse when there are a lot of people around as witnesses.
It may be even worse if your antics are under embargo, finally being released at 2 PM, say on a Wednesday, and then really called into question the following day with the planned release of the GDP.
There’s nothing like being under the spotlight, especially when purposefully bringing attention to yourself and then somehow messing up.
I imagine, that even as poised and calm as she appears as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a young Janet Yellen may have been as easily subject to embarrassment as a child as any of us.
Obviously, I also imagine that the hairdo hasn’t changed over the years.
Of course, it could be really helpful to know what the actual GDP statistic will be and having your performance altered to meet the demands of reality.
This coming week has an FOMC Statement release which is followed barely 20 hours later by news of the GDP for the first quarter of 2016.
As the FOMC meeting gets underway on Tuesday, there is no doubt awareness of the consensus calling for lackluster GDP growth and the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s own decreased estimate just a few weeks ago.
I used to love comic books, but I was definitely never in the market for comic books based on great literature, unless a book report was due.
Normally engaged in less high brow reading pursuits, I knew enough to focus on key phrases found in the great works of literature. Those often held the theme and offered insight without having to commit to reading from cover to cover.
Unfortunately, sometimes those phrases from different comic books tended to coalesce and my graded book reports were often characterized by large red question marks.
Lyrics to a song may have no relationship to famous snippets from great works of literature, but this week reminded me of the “Talking Heads” always poignant question that one may find oneself asking:
“Well… How did I get here?”
It was really a week with no real direction, but it was the “Same As It Ever Was” and a perfect ending to the first quarter of 2016, which was truly a tale of two very different markets halves with much ado signifying nothing.
Despite there not being anything really different having occurred from one half of that quarter to the next half your head would have irreparably rolled had you succumbed to the temptation to cut loose, sell and run following the first 6 weeks.
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.
The world is awash in oil and we all know what that means.
From Texas to the Dakotas and to the North Sea and everything in-between, there is oil coming out of every pore of the ground and in ways and places we never would have imagined.
Every school aged kid knows the most basic law of economics. The more they want something that isn’t so easy to get the more they’re willing to do to get it.
It works in the other direction, too.
The more you want to get rid of something the less choosy you are in what it takes to satisfy your need.
So everyone innately understands the relationship between supply and demand. They also understand that rational people do rational things in response to the supply and demand conditions they face.
Not surprisingly, commodities live and die by the precepts of supply and demand. We all know that bumper crops of corn bring lower prices, especially as there’s only so much extra corn people are willing to eat as a result of its supply driven decrease in price.
Rational farmers don’t plant more corn in response to bumper crops and rational consumers don’t buy less when supply drives prices lower.
Stocks also live by the same precepts, except that most of the time the supply of any particular stock is fixed and it’s the demand that varies. However, we’ve all seen the frenzy around an IPO when insatiable demand in the face of limited supply makes people crazy and we’ve all seen what happens when new supply of shares, such as in a secondary offering is released.
Of course, much of what gains we’ve seen in the markets over the past few years have come as a result of manipulating supply and artificially inflating the traditional earnings per share metric.
When a deep Florida freeze hits the orange crop in Florida, no one spends too much time deeply delving into the meaning of the situation. The price for oranges will simply go higher as the demand stays reasonably the same, to a point.
If, however, people’s tastes change and there is suddenly an imbalance between the supply and demand for orange juice, reasonable suppliers do the logical thing. They try to recognize whether the imbalance is due to too much supply or too little demand and seek to adjust supply.
Whatever steps they may take, the world’s economies aren’t too heavily invested in the world of oranges, no matter how important it may be to those Florida growers.
Suddenly, oil is different, even as it has long been a commodity whose supply has been manipulated more readily and for more varied reasons. than a farmer simply switching from corn to soybeans.
The price of oil still lives by supply and demand, but now thrown into the equation are very potent external and internal political considerations.
Saudi Arabia has to bribe its citizens into not overthrowing the monarchy while wanting to also inflict financial harm on anyone bringing new sources of supply into the marketplace. They don’t want to cede marketshare to its enemies across the gulf nor its allies across the ocean.
With those overhangs, sometimes irrational behavior is the result in the pursuit of what are considered to be rational objectives.
Oil is also different because the cause for the imbalance says a lot about the world. Why is there too much supply? Is it because of an economic slowdown and decreased demand or is it because of too much supply?
Stock markets, which are supposed to discount and reflect the future have usually been fairly rational when having a longer term vision, but that’s becoming a more rare phenomenon.
The very clear movement of stock markets in tandem with oil prices up or down has been consistent with a belief that the balance between supply and demand has been driven by demand.
Larry Fink, who most agree is a pretty smart guy, as the Chairman and CEO of Blackrock (BLK) was pretty clear the other day and has been consistent in the belief that the low price of oil was supply, and not demand driven. He has equally been long of the belief that lower oil prices were good for the world.
In any other time, supply driven low prices would have represented a breakdown in OPEC’s ability to hold the world’s economies hostage and would have been the catalyst for stock market celebrations.
Welcome to 2016, same as 2015.
But world markets continue to ignore that view and Fink may be coming to the realization that his voice of reason is drowned out by fear and irrational actions that only have a near term vision. That may explain why he now believes that there could be an additional 10% downside for US markets over the next 6 months, including the prospects of job layoffs.
That’s probably not something that the FOMC had high on its list of possible 2016 scenarios.
Ask John McCain how an increasing unemployment rate heading into a close election worked out for him, so you can imagine the distress that may be felt as 7 years of moderate growth may come to an end at just the wrong time for some with great political aspirations.
The only ones to be blamed if Fink’s fears are correct are those more readily associated with the existing power structure.
Just as falling stock prices in the face of supply driven falling oil prices seems unthinkable, “President Trump” doesn’t have a dulcet tone to my ears. More plausible, in the event of the unthinkable is that it probably wouldn’t take too much time for his now famous “The Apprentice” tag line to morph into “You’re impeached.”
So there’s always that as a distraction from a basic breakdown in what we knew to be an inviolate law of economics.
With 2016 already down 8% and sending us into our second correction in just 5 months so many stocks look so inviting, but until there’s some evidence that the demand to meet the preponderance of selling exists, to bite at those inviting places may be even more irrational than it would have been just a week earlier.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in the Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
One stock that actually does look like a bargain to me reports earnings this week. Verizon (VZ) is the only stock in this week’s list that isn’t in or near bear correction territory in the past 2 months.
Even those few names that performed well in 2015 and hel
d to obscure the weakness in the broader market are suffering in the early stages of 2015.
Not so for Verizon, even though the shares have fallen nearly 5% from its near term resistance level on December 29, 2015, the S&P 500 fell almost 9% in that time.
While there is always added risk with earnings being reported, Verizon and some of its competitors stand to benefit from their own strategic shifts to stop subsidizing what it is that people crave. That may not be reflected in the upcoming earnings report, but if buying Verizon shares I may consider looking beyond the weekly options that I tend to favor in periods of low volatility. Although I usually am more likely to sell puts when earnings are in the equation, I’m more likely to go the buy/write route for this position.
The one advantage of the kind of market action that we’ve had recently is the increase in volatility that it brings.
When that occurs, I start looking more and more at longer term options. The volatility increase typically means higher premiums and that extends into the forward weeks. Longer term contracts during periods of higher volatility allow you to lock in higher premiums and give time for some share price recovery, as well.
Since Verizon also has a generous dividend, but won’t be ex-dividend for another 3 months, I might consider an April 2016 or later expiration date.
One of the companies that is getting a second look this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM), which is also ex-dividend this week and only offers monthly options.
Shares are nearly 45% lower since the August 2015 correction and have not really had any perceptible attempt at recovering from those losses.
What it does offer, however. is a nice option premium, that even if shares declined by approximately 1% for the month could still deliver a 3.8% ROI in addition to the quarterly 0.7% dividend.
Literally and figuratively firing on all cylinders is General Motors (GM), but it is also figuratively being thrown out with the bath water as it has plunged alongside the S&P 500.
With earnings being reported in early February and with shares probably being ex-dividend in the final week of the March 2016 option cycle, there may be some reason to consider using a longer term option contract, perhaps even spanning 2 earnings releases and 2 ex-dividend dates, again in an attempt to take advantage of the higher volatility, by locking in on longer term contracts.
Netflix (NFLX) reports earnings this week and the one thing that’s certain is that Netflix is a highly volatile stock when reporting earnings, regardless of what the tone happens to be in the general market.
With the market so edgy at the moment, this would probably not be a good time for any company to disappoint investors.
The option market definitely demonstrates some of the uncertainty that’s associated with this coming week’s earnings, as you can get a 1% ROI even if shares drop by 22%.
As it is, shares are down nearly 20% since early December 2015, but there seem to be numerous levels of support heading toward the $81 level.
If shares do take a plunge, there would likely be a continued increase in volatility which could make it lucrative to continue rolling over puts, even if not faced with impending assignment.
Of some interest is that while call and put volumes for the upcoming weekly options were fairly closely matched, the skew was toward a significant decline in shares next week, as a large position was established at a weekly strike level $34 below Friday’s close.
Finally, last week wasn’t a very good week for the technology sector, as Intel (INTC) got things off on a sour note, which is never a good thing to do in an already battered market.
Seagate Technology (STX) wasn’t spared any pain last week, either, as it has long fallen into the same kind of commodity mindset as corn, orange juice and even oil back in the days when things made sense.
Somehow, despite having been written off as nothing more than a commodity, it has seen some good times in the past few years. That is, if you exclude 2015, as it has now fallen more than 50% since that time, but with nearly 35% of that decline having occurred in just the past 3 months.
I usually like entering a Seagate Technology position through the sale of puts, as its premium always reflects a volatile holding.
For example the sale of a weekly put at a strike price 3% below Friday’s closing price could provide a 1.9% ROI. When considering that next week is a holiday shortened week, that’s a particularly high return.
Seagate Technology is no stranger to wild intra-weekly swings. If selling puts, I prefer to try and delay assignment of shares if they fall below the strike level. Since the company reports earnings the following week, I would likely try to roll over to the week after earnings, but if then again faced with assignment, would be inclined to accept it, as shares are expected to be ex-dividend the following week.
The caveat is that those shares may be ex-dividend earlier, in which case there would be a need to keep a close eye out for the announcement in order to stand in line for the 8% dividend.
For now, Seagate does look as if it still has the ability to sustain that dividend which was increased only last quarter.
are 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.
The recently deceased Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, had many quotes attributed to him, some of which he admitted were uttered by him.
One of those allegedly genuine quotes had Yogi Berra giving directions to his home, ending with the words “when you get to the fork in the road, take it.”
People have likely written PhD dissertations on the many levels of meaning that could be contained in that expression in the belief that there was something more deep to it when it was originally uttered.
We’ll probably never know whether the original expression had an underlying depth to it or was simply an incomplete thought that took on a life of its own.
Nearly each month during the Janet Yellen reign as Chairman of the Federal Reserve we’ve been wondering what path the FOMC would take when faced with a potential decision.
Each month it seems that investors felt that they were being faced with a fork in the road and there was neither much in the way of data to decide which way to go, just as the FOMC was itself looking for the data that justifies taking action.
While that decision process hasn’t really taken on a life of its own, the various and inconsistent market responses to the decisions all resulting in a lack of action have taken on a life of their own.
Over much of Yellen’s tenure the market has rallied in the day or days leading up to the FOMC Statement release and I had been expecting the same this past week, until having seen that surge in the final days of the week prior.
Once that week ending surge took place it was hard to imagine that there would still be such unbridled enthusiasm prior to the release of the FOMC’s decision. It was just too much to believe that the market would risk even more on what could only be a roll of the dice.
Last week the market stood at the fork in the road on Monday and Tuesday and finally made a decision prior to the FOMC release, only to reverse that decision and then reverse it again.
I don’t think that’s what Yogi Berra had in mind.
With the FOMC’s non-decision now out of the way and in all likelihood no further decision until at least December, the market is now really standing at that fork in the road.
With retail earnings beginning the week after next we could begin seeing the first real clues of the long awaited increase in consumer spending that could be just the data that the FOMC has been craving to justify what it increasingly wants to do.
The real issue is what road will the market take if those retail earnings do show anything striking at all. Will the market take the “good news is bad news” road or the “good news is good news” path?
Trying to figure that out is probably about as fruitless as trying to understand what Yogi Berra really meant.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in the Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
When it comes to stocks, I’m often at my happiest when I can go in and out of the same stocks on a serial basis.
While it may be more exciting to discover a new stock or two every week to trust with your money, when it comes to making a choice, I’d much rather take the boring path at the fork.
For those inclined to believe that Yogi Berra meant to tell his prospective guests that they shouldn’t worry when they got to the fork in the road, because both paths could lead to his home, I’m inclined to believe that the boring path will have fewer bumps in its road.
Morgan Stanley, which was ex-dividend last week, has now recovered about half of what it lost when it reported earnings earlier in the month. Its decline this past Friday and hopefully a little more as the new week gets set to begin, would again make it an attractive stock to (“re”)-consider.
While volatility has been declining, Morgan Stanley’s premium still continues elevated, even though there’s little reason to believe that there will be any near term reason for downward price pressure. In fact, a somewhat hawkish FOMC statement might give reason to suspect that the financial sector’s prospects may be brighter in the coming quarter than they were in this quarter past.
Seagate Technology, w
hich reported earnings last week is ex-dividend this week and I would like to take advantage of either the very generous dividend, the call option premium or both.
For the past 2 weeks I had sold puts, but was prepared to take assignment rather than rolling over the short put option position in the event of an adverse price movement.
That was due to the upcoming ex-dividend date and an unwillingness as a put seller to receive a lower premium than would ordinarily be the case if no dividend was in the equation. Just as call buyers often pay a greater premium than they should when a stock is going ex-dividend, put sellers frequently receive a lower premium when selling in advance of an ex-dividend date.
I would rather be on the long end of a pricing inefficiency.
But as Seagate Technology does go ex-dividend and while its volatility remains elevated there are a number of potential combinations, all of which could give satisfactory returns if Seagate spends another week trading in a defined range.
Based upon its Friday closing price a decision to sell a near the money $38 weekly contract, $37.50 or $37 contract can be made depending on the balance between return and certainty of assignment that one desires.
For me, the sweet spot is the $37.50 contract, which if assigned early could still offer a net 1.2% ROI for a 2 day holding period.
I would trade away the dividend for that kind of return. However, if the dividend is captured, there is still sufficient time left on a weekly contract for some recovery in price to either have the position assigned or perhaps have the option rolled over to add to the return.
MetLife (NYSE:MET) is ex-dividend this week and then reports earnings after the closing bell on that same day.
Like Morgan Stanley, it stands to benefit in the event that an interest rate increase comes sooner rather than later.
Since the decision to exercise early has to be made on the day prior to earnings being announced this may also be a situation in which a number of different strike prices may be considered for the sale of calls, depending on the certainty with which one wants to enter and exit the position, relative top what one considers an acceptable ROI for what could be as little as a 2 day position.
Since MetLife has moved about 5% higher in the past 2 weeks, I’d be much more interested in opening a position in advance of the ex-dividend date and subsequent earnings announcement if shares fell a bit more to open the week.
If you have a portfolio that’s heavy in energy positions, as I do, it’s hard to think about adding another energy position.
Even as I sit on a lot of British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) that is not hedged with calls written against those shares, I am considering adding more shares this week as British Petroleum will be ex-dividend.
Unlike Seagate Technology and perhaps even MetLife, the British Petroleum position is one that I would consider because I want to retain the dividend and would also hope to be in a position to participate in some upside potential in shares.
That latter hope is one that has been dashed many times over the past year if you’ve owned many energy positions, but there have certainly been times to add new positions over that same past year. If anything has been clear, though, is that the decision to add new energy positions shouldn’t have been with a buy and hold mentality as any gains have been regularly erased.
With much of its litigation and civil suit woes behind it, British Petroleum may once again be like any other energy company these days, except for the fact that it pays a 6.7% dividend.
If not too greedy over the selection of a strike price in the hopes of participating in any upside potential, it may be possible to accumulate some premiums and dividends, before someone in a position to change their mind, decides to do so regarding offering that 6.7% dividend.
Finally, if there’s any company that has reached a fork in the road, it’s Lexmark (NYSE:LXK).
A few years ago Lexmark re-invented itself, just as its one time parent, International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), did some years earlier.
The days about being all about hardware are long gone for both, but now there’s reason to be circumspect about being all about services, as well, as Lexmark is considering strategic alternatives to its continued existence.
I have often liked owning shares of Lexmark following a sharp drop and in advance of its ex-dividend date. It
won’t be ex-dividend until early in the December 2015 cycle and there may be some question as to whether it can afford to continue that dividend.
However, in this case, there may be some advantage to dropping or even eliminating the dividend. It’s not too likely that Lexmark’s remaining investor base is there for the dividend nor would flee if the dividend was sacrificed, but that move to hold on to its cash could make Lexmark more appealing to a potential suitor.
With an eye toward Lexmark being re-invented yet again, I may consider the purchase of shares following this week’s downgrade to a “Strong Sell” and looking at a December 2015 contract with an out of the money strike price and with a hope of getting out of the position before the time for re-invention has passed.
In Lexmark’s case, waiting too long may be an issue of sticking a fork in it to see if its finally done.
Traditional Stocks: Morgan Stanley
Momentum Stocks: Lexmark
Double-Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (11/4 $0.60), MetLife (11/4 $0.38), Seagate Technology (11/4 $0.63)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: MetLife (11/4 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.