Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – April 20, 2014

I really didn’t see this past week coming at all.

Coming off of an absolutely abysmal week that saw the market refuse to follow up good news with further gains and instead plunging some 400 points in 2 days there were so many reasons to believe that markets were finally headed lower and for more than just a quick dip.

While I strongly believe in not following along with the crowd there has to be some bit of you that tells the rest of you not to completely write off what the crowd is thinking or doing. On horse racing, for example, the favorite does still have its share of wins and the Cinderella long short story just doesn’t happen as often as everyone might wish.

To completely ignore the crowd is courting disaster. At least you can occasionally give the crowd their due.

But this past week wasn’t the week to have done so. This was absolutely the week to have ignored virtually everyone. Unfortunately, this was also the week that I chose not to do so and went along with the crowd. The argument seemed so compelling, but that probably should have been the first clue.

What made this past week so unusual was that hardly anyone tried to offer a reason for the inexplicable advance forward. Not only did the market climb strongly, but it even reversed a late day attempt to erase large gains and ended up closing at its highs for the day. We haven’t seen anything like that lately, as instead we’ve seen so many gains quickly evaporate. For the most part I felt like an outsider because i didn’t open very many new positions last week, but it was rewarding enough to have heard such little pontification, as few wanted to admit that the unexpected had occurred.

With the S&P 500 now less than 2% from its high, it does make you wonder whether the concept of a correction being defined on the basis of a 10% decline is relevant anymore. Although its much better to think in terms of relative changes, as expressed by percentages, but perhaps our brains are wired to better understand absolute movements. Maybe we interpret a 400 point move as being no different from any other 400 point move, regardless of what the baseline is for either and simply take the move as a signal to reverse.

It’s tempting to think that perhaps we’re simply returning to the recent pattern of small drops on the order of 5% and then returning to unchecked climbs to new records. Of course, that would be in the realm of the "expected."

I have little expectation for what the next week may bring, as trying to figure out what is now driving the markets seems very futile of late. While I don’t think of "going along for the ride" as a very satisfying strategy I may be content to do so if the market continues moving higher for no apparent reason. But without any real indication of a catalyst I’m not terribly excited about wholeheartedly endorsing the move higher in a tangible way.

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

Not all stocks shared in last week’s glory. JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Unitedhealth Group (UNH) in part accounted for the DJIA lagging the S&P 500 for the week.

JP Morgan and Unitedhealth both felt some backlash after some disappointing earnings reports. For JP Morgan, however, it has been about a year since there’s actually been anything resembling good news and yet its stock price, up until the past week had well out-performed the S&P 500. I’ve been waiting for a return to a less pricey entry point and after the past week it’s arrived following a 9% drop this month. With little reason to believe that there’s any further bad news ahead it seems to offer low enough risk for its reward even with some market weakness ahead.

Unitedhealth Group’s decline was just slightly more modest than that of JP Morgan and it, too, has returned to a price level that I wouldn’t mind owning shares. I haven’t done so with any regularity but the entry price is getting less expensive. As more news emerges regarding the Affordable Care Act there is potential for Unitedhealth Group to go in either direction. While its most recent earnings disappointed, there may be some optimism as news regarding enrollments by younger people.

Fastenal (FAST) is a company that I like very much, but am a little reluctant to purchase shares at this level, if not for the upcoming dividend that I would like to capture. I’ve long thought of Fastenal as a proxy for the economy and lately shares have been trading near the upper end of its range. While that may indicate some downside weakness, Fastenal has had good resilience and has been one of those monthly contracts that I haven’t minded rolling over in the past, having owned shares 5 times in the past 6 months.

You probably can’t get much more dichotomous than Kohls (KSS) and Abercrombie and FItch (ANF). While Kohls has reliably sat its current levels and doesn’t live and die by fads and arrogance, Abercrombie has had its share of ups and downs and always seems to find a way to snatch defeat from victory. Yet they are both very good covered option trades.

With Kohls having recently joined Abercrombie in the list of those stocks offering expanded weekly options it is an increasing attractive position that offers considerable flexibility, good option premiums and a competitive dividend.

Abercrombie, because of its volatility tends to offer a more attractive option premium, but still offers an attractive enough dividend. Following some recent price weakness I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts of Abercrombie and might be willing to take assignment of shares, if necessary, rather than rolling over put contracts.

This week there are a number of companies reporting earnings that may warrant some consideration. A more complete list of those for the coming week are included in an earlier article that looks at opportunities in selling put contracts in advance of, or after earnings. Of the companies included in that article the ones that I’ll most likely consider this week are Cree (CREE), Facebook (FB) and Deckers (DECK).

All are volatile enough in the own rights, but especially so with earnings to be released. I have repeatedly sold puts on Cree over the past few months with last week having been the first in quite a while not having done so. It can be an explosive mover after earnings, just as it can be a seemingly irrational mover during daily trading. It has, however, already fallen approximately 8% in the past month. My particular preference when considering the sale of puts is to do so following declines and Cree certainly fulfills that preference, even though my target ROI comes only at a strike level that is at the very edge of the range defined by its implied volatility.

Deckers has only fallen 5% in the past month and it, too can be explosive at earnings time. As with Cree, for those that are adventurous, the sale of deep out f the money puts can offer a relatively lower risk way of achieving return on investment objectives. In this case, while the implied volatility is 10.1%, a share drop of less than 13.2% can still return a weekly 1% ROI.

Facebook has generally performed well after earnings announcements. Even the past quarter, when the initial reaction was negative, shares very quickly recovered and surpassed their previous levels. As with all earnings related trades entered through the sale of puts my goal is to not own shares at a lower price, but rather to avoid assignment by the rollover of put contracts, if necessary, in the hope of waiting out any unforeseen price declines and eventually seeing the put contracts expire, while having accumulated premiums.

Finally, it seems as if there’s hardly a week that I don’t think about adding or buying shares of Coach (COH). Having already owned it on 5 occasions in 2014 and having shares assigned again this past week, it’s notable for its stock price having essentially stayed in place. That’s what continually makes it an attractive candidate.

This week, however, there is a little more risk if shares don’t get assigned, as earnings are reported next week and Coach has been volatile at earnings for the past two years.

For that reason, this week, Coach may best be considered as a trade through the sale of puts with the possible need to rollover the puts if assignment seems likely. That rollover, if necessary, would then probably be able to be done at a lower strike price as the implied volatility will be higher in the week of earnings.

Traditional Stocks: Momentum Stocks: JP Morgan, Kohls, United Healthcare

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Coach

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 4/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (4/22 PM), Deckers (4/24 PM), Facebook (4/23 AM)

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

Weekend Update – January 19, 2014

As you get older you realize certain truths and realities and they aren’t always warm and fuzzy.

One of those realities is that often many years of marriage come to an end once the children have left the household. Without the diversion of children always in need comes the realization that there is nothing of substance to hold together a failing foundation. Sometimes the realization is there, but swept under the rug as other events take precedence, but you always know that someday reality can no longer be delayed.

With my youngest child having graduated college that appears to be the story that we’ve heard on multiple occasions from like aged acquaintances and friends. Like most everything else in life there are parallels to the stock market.

We now find ourselves in a market faced with certain realities but without the diversions offered by European monetary crises, sequestration, fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns, quantitative easing, credit downgrades and budgetary deadlines. Those diversions conveniently removed focus from the very foundation upon which stocks find their fair price and to which markets have traditionally responded.

All that is now left behind is earnings and it’s not a pretty prospect.

Perhaps in a manner similar to those in long standing unions who suddenly suffer from improved judgment following a youth blinded by the superficial, the market went through a period of not being terribly discerning and always finding reason to go higher. Interpreting economic news to be something other than what it is has its counterpart in idealizing the idea more than the hard facts.

The reality that is being faced is that of earnings and the failing of earnings to support an ongoing rise in the stock market.

Early suggestions that this earnings season would result in a 6% increase could only be the result of optics as publicly held shares have diminished through massive stock buybacks. However, it doesn’t take much insight to realize that the abysmal state of retail earnings has to have some meaning with regard to the ability of individuals to find discretionary spending within their reality.

As with the past two quarters with the big money financial centers reporting positive earnings, there is little reason to believe that will extend to the other members of the S&P 500 as they begin their reporting in earnest this week.

I’m prepared for the reality, but I still like the fantasy, so I expect to continue playing along this week, just a little more mindful of the obstacles that have a lot of catching up to do.

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).

Among those reporting earnings this week is Coach (COH) which had fallen 6.2% last week, in preparation for what has become a near regular occurrence in the past 18 months upon earnings. While its most recent past has been to shed significant value when all is bared the option market is expecting an implied move of nearly 10%, in addition to the recent weakness. While Coach has had its competitive challenges it has somehow been able to find a fairly well defined trading range, punctuated with some significant moves and periods of recovery or occasionally, decline. In 2013, I traded Coach for all earnings reports, three of which were through the sale of puts. Despite the dramatic moves following all of last year’s earnings reports, predominantly lower, Coach has been and may continue to be an erratic position that offers acceptable reward for defined risk.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) also reports earnings this week. Just a few months ago, prior to its last report, it did what many have been doing of late and offered some earnings warnings and saw shares plummet more than 20%, leaving virtually nothing more to fall. Like Coach, Cypress Semiconductor has a habit of seeing its share price gravitate back toward a set level with some regularity. Having already fallen approximately 4% in the past two weeks. While the option market is implying a 9% move this week as earnings are announced, I think that it will be much less pronounced and more likely to have some upside potential. After having shares assigned this past Friday, rather than selling puts,as I often do when earnings are at hand, I am considering the purchase of shares and sale of calls on only a portion of shares or at both the $10 and $11 levels to potentially capitalize on share appreciation.

Anadarko (APC) had a brief spike in price this past week, nearly three weeks after plummeting upon news that it might be facing a $14 billion judgment in a case involving a company that it had purchased several years ago. The spike came as Anadarko stated that it believed the judge in the case set damages that were punitive, rather than remedial and believed that the appropriate amount was more in the $2 billion range. It will likely take a long time to come to some resolution, but even at $14 billion there is certainty and the ability to move forward. As shares seem to be creating a new base I think this is a good entry point, as well as a good point to add shares to start the process of offsetting the paper losses from older shares.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK), while trading in a range of late, has also been trading with relatively large daily and intra-day moves. As a result shares enjoy generous option premiums that reflect the volatility, despite having traded in a very stable range for the past 5 months. Offering expanded weekly options I would consider selecting an expiration prior to the scheduled February 20, 2014 earnings report date.

Having already announced earnings Unitedhealth Group (UNH) added to its recent losses and is now down approximately 5% since its recent high. It appears to have some price support a dollar lower than its current price, which may be a good thing considering the unknowns that await as more news trickles in regarding registration demographics and utilization among newly enrolled health care policy holders. While I never move into a position with the idea that it will be a long term holding, I don’t hold too much concern for that unwanted possibility as it’s as likely to recover from any price drops as most anything else and could easily be justified as being a core holding.

The potential dividend choices this week share a “household theme” covering aspects of the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom, but represent different ends of the consumer spectrum when defensive investing is foremost.

While Clorox (CLX) and Colgate Palmolive (CL) may be best known for consumer staples and nothing terribly ostentatious, Williams Sonoma (WSM) offers products that are every bit as critical to some. Those who would sacrifice anything to ensure that they can purchase an oversized block of Mediterranean pink salt have money every bit as valuable as those that like bright white shirt collars and bright white teeth.

More importantly, at least for me, they have all recently under-performed the S&P 500 and all trade with a low beta at a time that I want to balance risk and still generate a reasonable income stream from premiums and dividends. While both Clorox and Colgate Palmolive have earnings reports due in the February option cycle, WIlliams Sonoma, which tends to trade with more volatility upon earnings, does not report until the end of the March 2014 cycle.

Finally, for those who really seek reckless adventure, perhaps only frolicking in a landfill brimming with its products offers more excitement than considering shares of LED light bulb maker Cree (CREE) in advance of earnings. The last time I considered an earnings related trade in Cree I didn’t recommend the purchase or sale of puts to my subscribers, but did make the put sale for my personal account. However, I did so only after earnings, believing that the 16% drop offered sufficient protection to make an out of the money put sale with relative impunity.

Like some other stocks this past week that continued to fall even days after earnings plunges, that’s what Cree did. Rolling over the puts on a few occasions, eventually taking assignment and then selling calls until its final assignment at a strike level 5% higher than the original put strike price made it worthwhile, but more thrilling than necessary.

So unnecessary that I may be ready to do so again.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate Palmolive (ex div 1/22), Clorox (ex-div 1/27), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/21 PM), Coach (1/22 AM), Cypress Semiconductor (1/22 AM)

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

Weekend Update – November 17, 2013

Things aren’t always as they seem.

As I listened to Janet Yellen face her Senate inquisitors as the hearing process began for her nomination as our next Federal Reserve Chairman, the inquisitors themselves were reserved. In fact they were completely unrecognizable as they demonstrated behavior that could be described as courteous, demur and respectful. They didn’t act like the partisan megalomaniacs they usually are when the cameras are rolling and sound bites are beckoning.

That can’t last. Genteel or not, we all know that the reality is very different. At some point the true colors bleed through and reality has to take precedence.

Closing my eyes I thought it was Woody Allen’s sister answering softball economic questions. Opening my eyes I thought I was having a flashback to a curiously popular situational comedy from the 1990s, “Suddenly Susan,” co-starring a Janet Yellen look-alike, known as “Nana.” No one could possibly sling arrows at Nana.

These days we seem to go back and forth between trying to decide whether good news is bad news and bad news is good news. Little seems to be interpreted in a consistent fashion or as it really is and as a result reactions aren’t very predictable.

Without much in the way of meaningful news during the course of the week it was easy to draw a conclusion that the genteel hearings and their content was associated with the market’s move to the upside. In this case the news was that the economy wasn’t yet ready to stand on its own without Treasury infusions and that was good for the markets. Bad news, or what would normally be considered bad news was still being considered as good news until some arbitrary point that it is decided that things should return to being as they really seem, or perhaps the other way around..

While there’s no reason to believe that Janet Yellen will do anything other than to follow the accommodative actions of the Federal Reserve led by Ben Bernanke, political appointments and nominations have a long history of holding surprises and didn’t always result in the kind of comfortable predictability envisioned. As it would turn out even Woody Allen wasn’t always what he had seemed to be.

Certainly investing is like that and very little can be taken for granted. With two days left to go until the end of the just ended monthly option cycle and having a very large number of positions poised for assignment or rollover, I had learned the hard way in recent months that you can’t count on anything. In those recent cases it was the release of FOMC minutes two days before monthly expiration that precipitated market slides that snatched assignments away. Everything seemed to be just fine and then it wasn’t suddenly so.

As the markets continue to make new closing highs there is division over whether what we are seeing is real or can be sustained. I’m tired of having been wrong for so long and wonder where I would be had I not grown cash reserves over the past 6 months in the belief that the rising market wasn’t what it really seemed to be.

What gives me comfort is knowing that I would rather be wondering that than wondering why I didn’t have cash in hand to grab the goodies when reality finally came along.

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).

Sometimes the most appealing purchases are the very stocks that you already own or recently owned. Since I almost exclusively employ a covered option strategy I see lots of rotation of stocks in and out of my portfolio. That’s especially true at the end of a monthly option cycle, particularly if ending in a flourish of rising prices, as was the case this week.

Among shares assigned this past week were Dow Chemical (DOW), International Paper (IP), eBay (EBAY) and Seagate Technology (STX).

eBay just continues to be a model of price mediocrity. It seems stuck in a range but seems to hold out enough of a promise of breaking out of that range that its option premiums continue to be healthy. At a time when good premiums are increasingly difficult to attain because of historically low volatility, eBay has consistently been able to deliver a 1% ROI for its near the money weekly options. I don’t mind wallowing in its mediocrity, I just wonder why Carl Icahn hasn’t placed this one on his radar screen.

International Paper is well down from its recent highs and I’ve now owned and lost it to assignment three times in the past month. While that may seem an inefficient way to own a stock, it has also been a good example of how the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole when tallying the profits that can arise from punctuated ownership versus buy and hold. Having comfortably under-performed the broad market in 2013 it doesn’t appear to have froth built into its current price

Although Dow Chemical is getting near the high end of the range that I would like to own shares it continues to solidify its base at these levels. What gives me some comfort in considering adding shares at this level is that Dow Chemical has still under-performed the S&P 500 YTD and may be more likely to withstand any market downturn, especially when buoyed by dividends, option premiums and some patience, if required.

Unitedhealth Group (UNH) is in a good position as it’s on both sides of the health care equation. Besides being the single largest health care carrier in the United States, its purchase of Quality Software Services last year now sees the company charged with the responsibility of overhauling and repairing the beleague
red Affordable Care Act’s web site. That’s convenient, because it was also chosen to help set up the web site. It too, is below its recent highs and has been slowly working its way back to that level. Any good news regarding ACA, either programmatically or related to the enrollment process, should translate into good news for Unitedhealth

Seagate Technology simply goes up and down. That’s a perfect recipe for a successful covered option holding. It’s moves, in both directions, can however, be disconcerting and is best suited for the speculative portion of a portfolio. While not too far below its high thanks to a 2% drop on Friday, it does have reasonable support levels and the more conservative approach may be through the sale of out of the money put options.

While I always feel a little glow whenever I’m able to repurchase shares after assignment at a lower price, sometimes it can feel right even at a higher price. That’s the case with Microsoft (MSFT). Unlike many late to the party who had for years disparaged Microsoft, I enjoyed it trading with the same mediocrity as eBay. But even better than eBay, Microsoft offered an increasingly attractive dividend. Shares go ex-dividend this week and I’d like to consider adding shares after a moth’s absence and having missed some of the run higher. With all of the talk of Alan Mullally taking over the reins, there is bound to be some let down in price when the news is finally announced, but I think the near term price future for shares is relatively secure and I look forward to having Microsoft serve as a portfolio annuity drawing on its dividends and option premiums.

I’m always a little reluctant to recommend a possible trade in Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Actually, not always, only since the trades that still have me sitting on much more expensive shares purchased just prior to the dividend cut. Although in the interim I’ve made trades to offset those paper losses, thanks to attractive option premiums reflecting the risk, I believe that the recent sustained increase in this sector is for real and will continue. Despite that, I still wavered about considering the trade again this week, but the dividend pushed me over. Although a fraction of what it had been earlier in the year it still has some allure and increasing iron ore prices may be just the boost needed for a dividend boost which would likely result in a significant rise in shares. I’m not counting on it quite yet, but think that may be a possibility in time for the February 2014 dividend.

While earnings season is winding down there are some potentially interesting trades to consider for those with a little bit of a daring aspect to their investing.

Not too long ago Best Buy (BBY) was derided as simply being Amazon’s (AMZN) showroom and was cited as heralding the death of “brick and mortar.” But, things really aren’t always as they seem, as Best Buy has certainly implemented strategic shifts and has seen its share price surge from its lows under previous management. As with most earnings related trades that I consider undertaking, I’m most likely if earnings are preceded by shares declining in price. Selling puts into price weakness adds to the premium while some of the steam of an earnings related decline may be dissipated by the selling before the actual release.

salesforce.com (CRM) has been a consistent money maker for investors and is at new highs. It is also a company that many like to refer to as a house of cards, yet another way of saying that “things aren’t always as they seem.” As earnings are announced this week there is certainly plenty of room for a fall, even in the face of good news. With a nearly 9% implied volatility, a 1.1% ROI can be attained if less than a 10% price drop occurs, based on Friday’s closing prices through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

Then of course, there’s JC Penney (JCP). What can possibly be added to its story, other than the intrigue that accompanies it relating to the smart money names having taken large positions of late. While the presence of “smart money” isn’t a guarantee of success, it does get people’s attention and JC Penney shares have fared well in the past week in advance of earnings. The real caveat is that the presence of smart money may not be what it seems. With an implied move of 11% the sale of put options has the potential to deliver an ROI of 1.3% even if shares fall nearly 17%.

Finally, even as a one time New York City resident, I don’t fully understand the relationship between its residents and the family that controls Cablevision (CVC), never having used their services. As an occasional share holder, however, I do understand the nature of the feelings that many shareholders have against the Dolan family and the feelings that the publicly traded company has served as a personal fiefdom and that share holders have often been thrown onto the moat in an opportunity to suck assets out for personal gain.

I may be understating some of those feelings, but I harbor none of those, personally. In fact, I learned long ago, thanks to the predominantly short term ownership afforded through the use of covered options, that it should never be personal. It should be about making profits. Cablevision goes ex-dividend this week and is well off of its recent highs. Dividends, option premiums and some upside potential are enough to make even the most hardened of investors get over any personal grudges.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 11/20), Cliffs Natural (ex-div 11/20), Microsoft (ex-div 11/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/19 AM), salesforce.com (11/18 PM), JC Penney (11/20 AM)

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

Weekend Update – October 20, 2013

With the S&P 500 having reached an all time high this past week you could certainly draw the conclusion that a government shutdown is a good thing and flirting with default is a constructive strategy. At a reported cost of only $24 Billion associated with closure and nothing more than a symbolic “Fitch slap” credit watch issued, perhaps we should look forward to the next potential round in just a few months.

For me, this past week marked the slowest week of opening new positions that I can recall since the 2009 market bottom. Although history suggests that the eleventh hour is a charm, the zeal of some more newly elected officials was reminiscent of a theological premise that believes in order to save it you must first destroy the world. That kind of uncertainty is the kind in which you get your affairs in order rather than embarking on lots of new and exciting initiatives.

With manufactured uncertainty temporarily removed the market can focus on earnings and other things that most of us believe are somewhat important.

One thing that will be certain is that wherever possible the next earnings season will attempt to lay some blame for any disappointments upon the government shutdown. This past week it certainly didn’t take Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) and eBay (EBAY) very long to already take advantage of that excuse. Who knew that government purchasing agents were unable to use eBay for Blackhawk helicopter replacement parts during their unexpected furlough?

As with the previous earnings season the financial sector started off the reports in a promising way, although early in the season the results are mixed, with some significant surges and plunges. What is clear is that investors are paying particular attention to guidance.

One earnings report that caught my attention was from Pet Smart (PETM). My father always believed that no matter what the economic environment, people would always find the wherewithal to spend on the pets and their kids. Pet Smart’s disappointing earnings focused on a “challenged consumer” and lower customer traffic. That can’t be a good sign. If pets are going wanting what does that portend for the rest of us?

Yet, on the other hand, Align Technology (ALGN) discussed last week, was a different story. Certainly representing discretionary spending and not benefiting from any provisions in the Affordable Care Act, their orthodontic appliances see no barriers from the economy ahead, as they reported great earnings and guidance.

Also clouding the picture, perhaps both literally and figuratively, is the positive guidance provided by Peabody Energy (BTU). For a nation that has been said to “move on coal,” that has to be a signal of something positive going forward.

This week, with lots of cash from assignments of October 2013 option contracts, I’m anxious to get back to business as usual, but still have a bit of wariness. However, despite the appearances of a reluctant consumer, I’m encouraged by recent activity in the speculative portion of my portfoli0, enough so to consider adding to those positions, even at market highs.

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).

The news from Peabody Energy in addition to some recent price stabilization in Walter Energy (WLT), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) have me in a hopeful mood after long having suffered with positions in all three.

A year ago at this time I believed that Freeport McMoRan would be among the best performers in 2013, but subsequent to that it has only recently started on its recovery from the price plunge it sustained when announcing plans to acquire Plains Exploration and Production, as it planned to expand its asset base to include oil and natural gas. While the long term vision may be someday vindicated, 2013 has not been a stellar year. But, like some others this week, there has been a steady strengthening in its price, despite significantly lower gold, oil and copper prices, year to date. While its dividend has made holding shares marginally tolerable through the year, I think it is now ready to start a sustained climb and it offers appealing call premiums to create income or provide downside protection. Earnings are reported this week, but the option market is not expecting a very large move.

Another company slowly climbing higher, but still with a great distance to travel is Walter Energy . In addition to suffering through a proxy fight this year and significant challenges to management, declining coal prices and a slashed dividend, I believe that it is also poised to continue climb higher. I recently tested the waters and added shares along with selling in the money calls. Those were just assigned, but I think that I’m ready to dip deeper.

Sticking to the same theme, Cliffs Natural Resources goes hand in hand with Walter Energy, at least in its price behavior and disappointments. I
t too has slashed its dividend and its CEO has retired. Like Walter Energy, I recently started adding shares and had them assigned this week. Cliffs reports earnings this week and unlike Freeport McMoRan, the option market is expecting a larger price move.

While I rarely do more than glance at charts, in the case of Cliffs Natural Resources the 5 Year price chart may suggest a long term pattern that has shares at the beginning of a sustained climb higher.

As with many positions that are preparing to report earnings, I typically consider potential entry through the sale of put options.

Also reporting earnings this week is Cree (CREE). Thanks to legislation its LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous in home improvement stores and homes. It has the features of companies that make potentially alluring earnings trades. In this case, this always volatile moving company can sustain up to a 14% price decline and still return a 1% ROI for the week. The only real consideration is that it is capable of making that decline a reality, so if selling puts you do have to be prepared to take ownership.

While already having reported earnings and falling into the “disappointing” category, Fastenal (FAST), which I look at as being an economic barometer kind of company has already started regaining its price decline. It will be ex-dividend this week offering an additional reason to consider its purchase, even though I already own lower priced shares and rarely buy additional lots at higher prices. However, with W.W. Grainger (GWW) recently reporting positive earnings I’m encouraged that Fastenal will follow, but in the meantime the dividend and option premium make it easier to wait.

Also going ex-dividend this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM). I considered its purchase last week, but it fell victim to a week of my inaction. While perhaps at risk to suffer from decreased spending at some higher end stores it has already fallen about 11% from its recent high point. However, since it reports earnings just prior to the expiration of the November 2013 option cycle, I might consider utilizing a December 2013 covered call sale.

The Gap (GPS) isn’t at risk of losing too many high end customers, it has just been losing customers, at least on the basis of its most recent monthly report. It is one of those retailers that still reports monthly comparison figures. That’s just one more bullet that needs to be dodged in addition to potential surprises during earnings season. Shares went precipitously lower with its most recent retail report and caught me along with it. It is near a price support level and represents an opportunity to either purchase additional shares to attempt to offset paper losses of an earlier lot or to establish an initial covered position.

While eBay may not sell used Blackhawk helicopter parts it somehow found a way to link its coming fortunes to the government shutdown. Suffering a significant price drop following earnings and guidance shares were once again in a channel of great familiarity. Having traded reliably in the $50-$52.50 range the sight of it falling was well received. However, late in the trading session on Friday someone else must have seen the same appeal as shares suddenly jumped $1.65 in about 20 minutes. That takes away some of the appeal. What takes away more of the appeal was the explanation by CEO Donahoe that spurred the surge, when he explained that he and his CFO did not mean to sound so dour about holiday prospects, it’s just that they both had colds.

On the other hand UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is a company that may be able to justifiably point its finger at the Federal government when it reports earnings again in January 2014. Already suffering a nearly 10% drop in the past week related to 2014 guidance, UnitedHealth is a major player in the options available on the Affordable Health Care Act exchanges. While perhaps not being able to blame the shutdown for any revenue related woes, disappointing enrollment statistics may be in the making. The additional price drop on Friday, following the large drop on Thursday may be related to enrollment challenges rather than projections of lower Medicare funding in the coming year. However, nearing a price support and following such a large price drop provides a combination that makes ownership appealing. Perhaps eBay employees should consider signing up en masse in the event they are all prone to colds that effect their ability to perform. In enough numbers that may be helpful to UnitedHealth Group’s 2014 revenues.

Of course, while the market seemed to rejoice at what could only be construed as the return to health of the eBay executives, Groupon (GRPN) is another example of a stock whose price has returned to more lofty levels following surgical removal of its CEO. It is one of a handful of stocks that I sold last year taking a capital loss and swore that I would never buy again. Now down about 15% from its recent high, which itself was up approximately 500% from its not too distant low, Groupon is a different company in leadership, product and prospects. While still a risky position

Finally, a name that everyone seems to disparage these days is Coach (COH). While there is certainly sufficient reason to believe that retailers, even the higher end retailers are being challenged, Coach is beginning to be perceived as taking a back seat to retailer Michael Kors (KORS). SHares have certainly been volatile, especially at earnings and Coach reports earnings this week. Having owned shares a number of times in the past year, my preference is to sell puts in advance of earnings in anticipation of a large drop. Currently, the option market is implying nearly a 9% move. A 1% ROI for the week can be obtained through such a sale if the price drop is less than 12%.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, The Gap, United Health Group

Momentum Stocks: Groupon, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 10/23), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 10/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/22 AM), Freeport McMoRan (10/22), Cree (10/22 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (10/24 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 – September 22, 2013

Generally, when you hear the words “perfect storm,” you tend to think of an unfortunate alignment of events that brings along some tragedy. While any of the events could have created its own tragedy the collusion results in something of enormous scale.

For those that believe in the wisdom that can be garnered from the study of history, thus far September 2013 has been at variance with the conventional wisdom that tell us September is the least investor friendly month of the year.

What has thus far made this September different, particularly in contrast to our experience this past August, has been a perfect storm that hasn’t come.

Yet, but the winds are blowing.

Barely three weeks ago we were all resolved to another bout of military action, this time in Syria. History does tend to indicate that markets don’t like the period that leads up to hostilities.

Then we learned that the likely leading contender to assume the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve, Larry Summers, withdrew his name from consideration of the position that has yet to confirm that its current Chairman will be stepping down. For some reason, the markets didn’t like prospects of Larry Summers being in charge but certainly liked prospects of his being taken out of the equation.

Then we were ready to finally bite the bullet and hear that the Federal Reserve was going to reduce their purchase of debt obligations. Although they never used the word “taper” to describe that, they have made clear that they don’t want their actions to be considered as “tightening,” although easing on Quantitative Easing seems like tightening to me.

There’s not too much guidance that we can get from history on how the markets would respond to a “taper,” but the general consensus has been that our market climb over the past few years has in large part been due to the largesse of the Federal Reserve. Cutting off that Trillion dollars each year might drive interest rates higher and result in less money being pumped into equity markets.

What we didn’t know until the FOMC announcement this past Wednesday was what the market reaction would be to any announcement. Was the wide expectation for the announcement of the taper already built into the market? What became clear was that the market clearly continues to place great value on Quantitative Easing and expressed that value immediately.

As long as we’re looking at good news our deficit is coming down fast, employment seems to be climbing, the Presidents of the United States and Iran have become pen pals and all is good in the world.

The perfect storm of good news.

The question arises as to whether any eventual bad news is going to be met with investors jumping ship en masse. But there is still one thing missing from the equation. One thing that could bring us back to the reality that’s been missing for so long.

Today we got a glimpse of what’s been missing. The accelerant, if you will. With summer now officially over, at least as far as our elected officials go, the destructive games have been renewed and it seems as if this is just a replay of last year.

Government shutdowns, debt defaults and add threats to cut off funding for healthcare initiatives and you have the makings of the perfect storm, the bad kind, especially if another domino falls.

Somewhat fortuitously for me, at least, the end of the September 2013 option cycle has brought many assignments and as a result has tipped the balance in favor of cash over open positions.

At the moment, I can’t think of a better place to be sitting as we enter into the next few weeks and may find ourselves coming to the realization that what has seemed to be too good to be true may have been true but could only last for so long.

While I will have much more cash going into the October 2013 cycle than is usually the case and while I’m fully expecting that accelerant to spoil the party, I still don’t believe that this is the time for a complete buying boycott. Even in the middle of a storm there can be an oasis of calm.

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).

After Friday’s loss, I have a difficult time in not being attracted to the idea of adding shares of Caterpillar (CAT). It has been everyone’s favorite stock to deride for its dependence on the Chinese economy and for its lack of proactive leadership in the past year. Jim Chanos publicly proclaimed his love for Caterpillar as his great short thesis for the coming year. Since it has trailed the S&P 500 by 16% on a year to date basis there may be good reason to believe that money goes into Caterpillar shares to die.

However, it has been a perfect stock with which to apply a serial covered option strategy. In 13 trades beginning July 2012, for example, it has demonstrated a 44.9% ROI, by simply buying shares, collecting dividends and premiums and then either re-purchasing shares or adding to existing shares. In that same time the index was up 28%, while Caterpillar has lost 3%.

It’s near cousin Deere (DE) also suffered heavily in Friday’s market and has also been an excellent covered option trade over the past year. Enhancing its appeal this week is that it goes ex-dividend. I currently own shares, but like Caterpillar, in smaller number than usual and purchases would provide the additional benefit of averaging down cost, although I rarely combine lots and sell options based on average cost.

Also going ex
-dividend this week is Dow Chemical (DOW). This has been one of those companies that for years has been one of my favorite to own using the covered option strategy. However, unlike many others, it hasn’t shown much propensity to return to lower price levels after assignment. I don’t particularly like admitting that there are some shares that don’t seem to obey the general rule of gravity, but Dow Chemical has been one of those of late. I also don’t like chasing such stocks particularly in advance of what may be a declining market. However, with the recent introduction of weekly options for Dow Chemical I may be more willing to take a short term position.

YUM Brands (YUM) is similar in that regard to Dow Chemical. I’ve been waiting for it to come down to lower price levels, but just as it had at those lower levels, it proved very resilient to any news that would send its shares downward for a sustained period. As with Caterpillar, YUM Brands is tethered to Chinese news, but even more so, as in addition to economic reports and it’s own metrics, it has to deal with health scares and various food safety issues that may have little to no direct relationship to the company. YUM Brands does help to kick off the next earnings season October 8th and also goes ex-dividend that same week.

Continuing along with that theme, UnitedHealth Group (UNH) just hasn’t returned to those levels at which I last owned shares. In fact, in this case it’s embarrassing just how far its shares have come and stayed. What I can say is that if membership in the Dow Jones Index was responsible, then perhaps I should have spent more time considering its new entrants. However, with the Affordable Care Act as backdrop and now it being held hostage by Congressional Republicans, shares have fallen about 6% in the past week.

Mosaic (MOS) is among the companies that saw its share price plummet upon news that the potash cartel was collapsing. Having owned much more expensive shares at that time, I purchased additional shares at the much lower level in the hope that their serial assignment or option premium generation would offset some of the paper losses on the older shares. Although that has been successful, I think there is continuing opportunity, even as Mosaic’s price slowly climbs as the cartel’s break-up may not be as likely as originally believed.

If you had just been dropped onto this planet and had never heard of Microsoft (MSFT) you might be excused for believing this it was a momentum kind of stock. Between the price bounces that came upon the announcement of the Nokia (NOK) purchase, CEO Ballmer’s retirement, Analyst’s Day and the announcement of a substantial dividend increase, it has gyrated with the best of them. Those kinds of gyrations, while staying within a nicely defined trading range are ideal for a covered option strategy.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes ex-dividend this week. This is a stock that I frequently want to purchase but am most likely to do so when its purchase price is near a strike level. That’s especially true as volatility is low and there is less advantage toward the use of in the money options. With a nice dividend, healthy option premiums, good leadership and product ubiquity, this stock has traded reliably in the $10-12 range to also make it a very good covered option strategy stock selection.

Every week I feel a need to have something a little controversial, as long as there’s a reasonable chance of generating profit. The challenge is always in finding a balance to the risk and reward. This week, I was going to again include Cliffs Natural Resources, as I did the previous week, however a late plunge in share price, likely associated with reports that CHinese economic growth was not going to include industrial and construction related growth, led to the need to rollover those shares. I would have been happy to repurchase shares, but not quite as happy to add them.

Fortunately, there’s always JC Penney (JCP). It announced on Friday that it was seeking a new credit line, just as real estate concern Vornado (VNO) announced its sale of all its JC Penney stake at $13. Of course the real risk is in the company being unable to get the line it needs. While it does reportedly have nearly $2 billion in cash, no one wants to see starkly stocked shelves heading into the holidays. WHether through covered options or the sale of put options, JC Penney has enough uncertainty built into its future that the premium is enticing if you can accept the uncertainty and the accompanying risk.

Finally, I had shares of MetLife (MET) assigned this past week as it was among a handful of stocks that immediately suffered from the announcement that there would be no near term implementation of the “taper.” The thesis, probably a sound one was that with interest rates not likely to increase at the moment, insurance companies would likely derive less investment related income as the differential between what they earn and what they pay out wouldn’t be increasing.

As that component of the prefect storm is removed one would have to believe that among the beneficiaries would be MetLife.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, MetLife, Microsoft, UnitedHealth Group

Momentum Stocks
: JC Penney, Mosaic, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (ex-div 9/24), Deere (ex-div 9/26), Dow Chemical (ex-div 9/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Weekend Update – March 24, 2013

Common sense tells us that at some point there has to be some retracement following an impressive climb higher. My common sense has never been very good, so I’m beginning to question the pessimism that overtook me about 4 weeks ago.

Maybe the new version of a market plunge is simply staying at or near the same level for a few days. After all, who doesn’t believe that if you’re not moving ahead that you’re falling behind? It is all about momentum and growth. Besides, if history can be re-written by the victors, why not the rules that are based on historical observations?

During the previous 4 weeks I’ve made very few of the trades that I would have ordinarily made, constantly expecting either the sky to fall down or the floor to disappear from underneath. Of the trades, most have fallen in line with the belief that what others consider a timeless bit of advice. Investing in quality companies with reliably safe dividends may be timeless, but it can also be boring. Of course, adding in the income from selling options and it’s less so, but perhaps more importantly better positioned to cushion any potential drops in an overall market.

That makes sense to me, so there must be something flawed in the reasoning, although it did work in 2007-2009 and certainly worked in 1999-2000. I can safely say that without resorting to a re-writing of history.

Among the areas that I would like to consider adding this week are healthcare, industrials and financial sectors, having started doing so last week with Caterpillar (CAT) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories, with no selections in the “Momentum” category, befitting common sense. (see details). Additionally, there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence.

Deere (DE) has been unnecessarily caught in the headlights recently, as it frequently trades in parallel to other heavy machinery giants, despite Deere not having the same kind of global economic exposure. The fact that it goes ex-dividend this week and always offers a reasonable premium, even when volatility is low, makes it a good selection, especially at its current price, which is down about 8% in a time that the S&P 500 has been up 3%. That seems a bit incongruous.

State Street Bank (STT) also goes ex-dividend this week. At a time when banks with global interests are at risk due to European Union and Euro related issues, State Street is probably the lowest profile of all of our “too big to fail” banks that play with the “big boys” overseas. Despite a marked climb, particularly from mid-January, it has shown resistance to potentially damaging international events.

While State Street Bank looks appealing, I have wanted to pick up shares of JP Morgan (JPM) for the past couple of weeks as it and its one time invincible CEO and Chairman, have come under increasing scrutiny and attack. Although it doesn’t pay a dividend this week, if purchased and call options are not assigned, it does offer a better dividend to holders than State Street and will do so on April 3, 2013. Better yet, Jamie Dimon will be there to oversee the dividend as both CEO and Chairman, as the Board of Directors re-affirmed his dual role late Friday afternoon, to which shares showed no response.

If you’re looking for a poster child to represent the stock market top of 2007, then look no further than Blackstone (BX). It was even hotter than Boston Chicken of a generation earlier, and it, too, quickly left a bad after taste. Suddenly, Blackstone no longer seems irrelevant and its name is being heard more frequently as buyouts, mergers and acquisitions are returning to the marketplace, perhaps just in time for another top.

Back in the days when I had to deal with managed care health companies, I wasn’t particularly fond of them, perhaps because I was wrong in the early 1980s when I thought they would disappear as quickly as they arrived. As it turns out, it was only the managed care company on whose advisory board I served that left the American landscape for greener pastures in The Philippines. Humana, one of the early managed care companies at that time was predominantly in the business of providing health care. These days it’s divested itself of that side of the social contract and now markets and offers insurance products.

Humana (HUM) is a low volatility stock as reflected in its “beta” of 0.85 and is trading close to its two year low. The fear with Humana, as with other health care with a large Medicare population is that new reimbursement rates, which are expected to be released on April 1, 2013 will be substantially lower. Shares have already fallen more almost 20% in the past 6 weeks at a time when insurers, on the other side of the equation, have fared well.

UnitedHealth Care (UNH) is the big gorilla in the healthcare room. It has real
ly lagged the S&P 500 ever since being add to the DJIA. However, if your objective is to find stocks upon which you can generate revenue from dividends and the sale of option premiums, you really don’t need much in the way of share performance. In fact, it may be antithetical to what you really want. UnitedHealth Group, though, doesn’t have the same degree of exposure to Medicare fees, as does Humana.

While the insurers and the health care providers battle it out between themselves and the government, there’s another component to healthcare that comes into focus for me this week. The suppliers were in the news this week as Cardinal Health (CAH) reportedly has lost its contract with Walgreens (WAG). Cardinal Health and Baxter (BAX) do not do anything terribly exciting, they just do somethings that are absolutely necessary for the provision of healthcare, both in formal settings and at home. Although also subject to Medicare reimbursement rates and certainly susceptible to pricing pressure from its partners, they are consistently reliable companies and satisfy my need to look for low beta positions. Besides their option premiums, Cardinal Health also goes ex-dividend this week.

Then again, what’s healthcare without pharmaceuticals? Merck (MRK) is another of those companies whose shares I’ve wanted to buy over the past few weeks. It’s now come down from its recent Vytorin related high and may round out purchases in the sector.

With the safe and boring out of the way, there are still a few laggard companies that have yet to report their quarterly earnings before the cycle starts all over again on April 8th. Of those, one caught my attention.

Why anyone goes into a GameStop (GME) store is beyond me. Yet, if you travel around the country you will still see the occasional Blockbuster store, as well. Yet, somehow GameStop shares tend not to suffer terribly when earnings are released, although it is very capable of making large moves at any other time. The current proposition is whether the sale of puts to derive a 2.8% ROI in the event of less than a 12% decline in share price is worthwhile.

Now that’s a challenging game and you don’t even have to leave home to play it.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter, Blackstone, JP Morgan, UnitedHealth Group

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Cardinal Health (3/27), Deere (3/26), Humana (3/26), State Street Bank (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/28 AM)

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

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

Weekend Update – February 24, 2013

We all engage in bouts of wishful thinking.

On an intellectual level I can easily understand why it makes sense to not be fully invested at most moments in time. There are times when just the right opportunity seems to come along, but it stops only for those that have the means to treat that opportunity as it deserves.

I also understand why it is dangerous to extend yourself with the use of margin or leverage and why it’s beneficial to resist the need to pass up that opportunity.

What I don’t understand is why those opportunities always seem to arise at times when the well has gone dry and margin is the only drink of water to be found.

Actually, I do understand. I just wish things would be different.

I rely on the continuing assignment of shares and the re-investment of cash on a weekly basis. My preference is for anywhere from 20-40% of my portfolio to be turned over on a weekly basis.

But this past week was simply terrible on many levels. Whether you want to blame things on a deterioration of the metals complex, hidden messages in the FOMC meeting or the upcoming sequester, the market was far worse than the numbers indicated, as the down volume to up volume was unlike what we have seen for quite a while.

On Wednesday the performances of Boeing (BA), Hewlett Packard (HPQ) and Verizon (VZ), all members of the Dow Jones Industrials Index helped to mask the downside, as the DJIA and S&P 500 diverged for the day. Thursday was more of the same, except Wal-Mart (WMT) joined the very exclusive party. So far, this week is eerily similar to the period immediately following the beginning of 2012 climb and immediately preceding a significant month long decline of nearly 10%,beginning May 2012.

That period was also preceded by the indices sometimes moving in opposite directions or differing magnitudes and those were especially accentuated during the month long decline.

So what I’m trying to say is that with all of the apparent bargains left in the carnage of this trading shortened week, I don’t have anywhere near the money that I would typically have to plow in head first. I wish I did; but I don’t. I also wish I had that cash so that I wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to have it all invested in equities.

Although that margin account is overtly beckoning me to approach, that’s something that I’ve developed enough strength to resist. But at the same time, I’m anxious to increase my cash position, but not necessarily for immediate re-investment.

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

Cisco (CSCO) was one of those stocks that I wanted to purchase last week, but like most in a wholly unsatisfying week, it wasn’t meant to be. With earnings out of the way and some mild losses sustained during the past week, it’s just better priced than before.

Although there have been periods of time that I’ve owned shares of both Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE), up until about $10 ago on each stock there has rarely been a time over the past 5 years that I haven’t owned at least one of them. This past week saw some retreat in their prices and they are getting closer to where I might once again be comfortable establishing ownership.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is one of those stocks that I really wished had offered weekly option premiums. Back in the days when there was no such vehicle this was one of my favorite stocks. This week it goes ex-dividend and that always gets me to give a closer look, especially after some recent price drops. Dividends, premiums and a price discount may be a good combination.

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been in my doghouse of late. That’s not any expression of its quality as a company, nor of its leadership. After all, back when the market last saw 14,000, Dow Chemical was among those companies whose shares, dividends and option premiums helped me to survive those frightening days. But after 2009 had gotten well entrenched and started heading back toward 14000, the rest of the market just left Dow behind. Then came weekly options and Dow Chemical didn’t join that party. More recently, as volatility has been low, it’s premiums have really lagged. But now, at its low point in the past two months for no real reason and badly lagging the broad market, it once again looks inviting.

Lorillard (LO) was on my radar screen about a month ago, but as so often happens when it came time to make a decision there appeared to be a better opportunity. This week Lorillard goes ex-dividend. Unfortunately, it no longer offers a weekly option, but this is one of those companies that if not assigned this month will likely be assigned soon, as tobacco companies have this knack for survival, much more so than their customers.

MetLife (MET) was on last week’s radar screen, but it was a week that very little went according to script. Maybe this week will be better, but like the tobacco companies that are sometimes the bane of insurance companies, even when paying out death benefits, somehow these companies survive well beyond the ability of their customers.

United Healthcare (UNH) simply continues the healthcare related theme. Already owning shares of Aetna (AET), I firmly believe that whatever form national healthcare will take, the insurance companies will thrive. Much as they have done since Medicaid and Medicare appeared on the national landscape and they moaned about how their business models would be destroyed. After 50 years of moaning you would think that we would all stop playing this silly game.

The Gap (GPS) reports earnings this week, along with Home Depot (HD) as opposed to most companies that I consider as potential earnings related trades, there isn’t a need to protect against a 10-20% drop. At least I don’t think there is that kind of need. But whereas the concern of holding shares of some of those very volatile companies is real, that’s not the case with these two. Even with unexpected price movements eventually ownership will be rewarded. The fact that Home Depot gained 2% following Friday’s upgrade by Oppenheimer to “outperform” always leads me to expect a reversal upon earnings release.

On the other hand, when it comes to MolyCorp (MCP) there’s definitely that kind of need to protect against a 20% price decline. Always volatile, MolyCorp got caught in last week’s metal’s meltdown, probably unnecessarily, since it really is a different entity. Yet with an SEC overhang still in its future and some investor unfriendly moves of late, MolyCorp doesn’t have much in the way of good will on its side.

Nike (NKE) goes ex-dividend this week and its option premiums have become somewhat more appealing since the stock split.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those companies that I’m really not certain what it is that they do or provide. I know enough to be aware that there is drama regarding the relationship between its CEO, Mark Benioff and Oracle’s mercurial CEO, Larry Ellison, to get people’s attention and become the basis of speculation. I just love those sort of side stories, they’re so much more bankable that technical analysis. In this case, a xx% drop in share price after earnings could still deliver a 1% ROI.

Finally, two banking pariahs are potential purchases this week. I’ve owned both Citibank (C) and Bank of America (BAC) in the past month and have lost both to assignment a few times. As quickly as their prices became to expensive to repurchase they have now become reasonably priced again.

Although Friday’s trading restored some of the temporarily beaten down stocks a bit, a number still appear to be good short term prospects. I emphasize “short term” because I am mindful of a repeat of the pattern of May 2012 and am looking for opportunities to move more funds to cash.

I don’t know if Friday’s recovery is a continuation of that 2012 pattern, but if it is, that leads to concern over the next leg of that pattern.

For that reason I may be looking at opportunities to increase cash levels as a defensive move. In the event that there are further signals pointing to a strong downside move, I would rather be out of the market and miss a continued upside move than go along for the ride downward and have to work especially hard to get back up.

I’ve done that before and don’t feel like having to do it again.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Cisco, Deere, Dow Chemical, MetLife, United Healthcare

Momentum Stocks: Citibank

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (ex-div 2/27), Lockheed Martin (ex-div 2/27), Lorillard (ex-div 2/27), Nike (ex-div 2/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Home Depot (2/26 AM), MolyCorp (2/28 PM), Salesforce.com (2/28 PM), The Gap (2/28 PM)

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

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.