Weekend Update – January 17, 2016


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
pe
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.

 

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technolgy

Double-Dip Dividend: Williams-Sonoma (1/22 $0.35)

Premiums Enhanced by EarningsNetflix (1/19 PM), Verizon (1/21 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may become actionable – most often coupling a sh

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.

Weekend Update – October 4, 2015

If you’re a parent, even if 50 years have passed since the last episode, you can probably still remember those wonderful situations when your child was having a complete meltdown, even as the kid really didn’t know what it is that they wanted.

Sometimes a child can get so out of control over something that they wanted so badly that even when finally getting it, they just couldn’t regain control. We’ve all seen kids carry on as if there was some horrible void being perceived in their lives that was still gaping and eating away at their very core even when their immediate issue had already been resolved.

I think that’s the only way to explain the market ups and downs that we’ve been seeing, starting from the week of the most recent FOMC Statement release and all the way through to the last trading day of the past week.

The market has gone from a condition of apoplexy over the very thought of an interest rate hike to a melt down when that very same interest rate hike didn’t materialize.

Whether the moves have been up or down the rational basis has become more elusive and knowing what to do in response has been difficult. It’s been a little bit easier to simply accept the fact that there is such a phenomenon as “the terrible twos” and just ride out the storm.

Trying to understand that kind of behavior is tantamount to trying to use rational thought processes when dealing with a child in the midst of an uncontrollable outburst.

Sometimes it’s just best to ignore what you see unfolding before your eyes and let events run their course. That may not be a call for total passivity, though, and completely giving up on things, but the belief that you can outsmart or out-think a rampaging child or a rampaging market is destined for failure.

Followings Friday’s 1.4% gain in the S&P 500 that index was down only about 8.7% from its summer time highs, after having been down as much as 11.9% after the first day of trading this past week.

In doing so, the market has continued its dance around that 10% correction line while having a regular series of irrational outbursts that have alternated between plunges and surges.

Like most parents, there is some pride that comes into play when a child finally is able to come to a stage in life when those uncontrollable and irrational outbursts have run their course. For most kids once they’ve gotten through that phase it never returns, although for some adults it may manifest itself in different ways.

I don’t know if this week is going to be that week when some pride is warranted, but at the very least the market took some time in-between its outbursts this week to collect itself. In doing so, it either continued to hover around that 10% correction line and avoided spiraling out of control or took some positive steps toward finally recovering from that correction.

It started with a 300+ point drop on Monday with almost nothing happening on Tuesday as it geared up for a 200+ point gain on Wednesday.

Then, it did virtually nothing again on Thursday, only to see the bottom drop out after some very disappointing Employment Situation Report numbers on Friday morning.

This time, “disappointing” meant employment numbers that were far lower than expected and lower revisions to the previous month.

Had the same numbers been put forward a few months ago they would have engendered elation, but now that market thinks it knows what it wants and as always, when it doesn’t get it there’s a tantrum at hand.

Then, suddenly, something just seemed to click, just a it occasionally does with a child. Sometimes it may simply be exhaustion or a realization of the futileness of demonstrable outbursts, but at other times a spark may get lit that creates a path to a greater understanding of things.

The morning turnaround on Friday occurred at that point at which the S&P 500 was approaching its lowest level since the correction began and had chartists scurrying to their charts to see where the next stop below awaited.

Instead, however, the S&P 500 climbed 3% from those depths having turned positive for the day by noontime and then continuing so soar even more.

Of course, while there may be some pride in what can be interpreted as a sudden realization of the unwarranted behavior in the morning, I always get wary of such large moves, even when they’re to my benefit. When seeing those kinds of intra-day reversals, my thoughts go from recognizing them as reasonably normal tantrums, to the less normal exhibition of a bipolar disorder.

With earnings season beginning at the end of this coming week, we may soon find out whether the market is capable of exhibiting some rational responses to real news.

I’m optimistic that those responses will be more appropriate than has been the case over the last 2 earnings seasons when the o

ption market had repeatedly under-estimated the magnitude of those responses.

Any sign that top line and bottom line numbers are both heading in the right direction may paint those disappointing Employment Situation Report numbers as an aberration. That could be just the spark we all need to get over the hump of interest rate worries and escape the developmental binds that throw us into fits of rage.

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

I never get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. There may be a psychiatric diagnostic code for that sort of thing, but when it comes to stocks it can be a very rational way of behaving especially when those stocks start falling into a pattern of trading in a narrow price range.

However, if all those stocks did was to trade in that narrow range and didn’t have a moment of explosive behavior or two before returning to a more normal path, there would be no reason to consider owning them for any reason other than perhaps for the relative safety of their dividend income.

But those occasional moves higher and lower make the sale of calls worthwhile even when the shares are seemingly moribund. Both General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) are recently exhibiting the kind of behavior that can generate a very respectable return, both in relative and absolute terms, especially if the opportunity presents to buy shares on a serial basis following share assignment.

I had 2 lots of General Electric assigned this past week and would be very willing to own them for the sixth time in 6 weeks. However, following its late day turnaround on Friday, along with the rest of the market, I would probably only do so if its price came closer to $25.

With a remaining lot of shares and options set to expire this week, I would still have an eye on selling new weekly calls, but if requiring rollover at the end of the week, I would consider bypassing the cycle ending week of October 16th, and perhaps selling extended weekly calls, as General Electric will report earnings that morning.

I now own 2 lots of Bank of America and three lots at any one time is my self imposed limit, but trading at the $15.50 level has a relative feeling of safety for me. As with General Electric, however, if purchasing or adding shares, there is that little matter of upcoming earnings. While most likely beginning the process with a weekly call, if requiring a rollover as being faced with expiration rather than assignment, I would probably opt to bypass the October 16 expirations in the event of some poorly received news on earnings.

Poorly received news is an apt way to describe anything emanating from China these days. While there are lots of potential “poster child” examples of the risks associated with any stock that has exposure in China, among the more respected names has to be caterpillar (NYSE:CAT).

For many rational reasons, well known short seller Jim Chanos laid out his short thesis on caterpillar nearly 30 months ago and following a substantial move higher, the virtue of patience has begun to start its rewards.

With shares now down about 40% from a year ago, there’s still no telling if this is the bottom, but a constellation of events has me considering a position.

With its ex-dividend date the next week and then earnings the following week and a weekly option premium that reflects the near term risk, I’m ready to consider that risk.

If selling a weekly option doesn’t look as if it will result in an assignment, I would probably consider trying to roll over those options to the ex-dividend week, but with a mind toward giving up that dividend by selling a deep in the money call option in an effort to collect some additional premium, but to be out of shares prior to earnings.

Failing that, however, the next step would be to attempt to roll over those shares and again selecting an expiration date that bypasses the immediate threat of earnings and then holding on tightly as one of the least respected CEOs over the past few years may again be in people’s cross-hairs.

YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) reports earnings this week and as ubiquitous as their locations may be in the United States, it’s almost always their Chinese holdings that get the attention of investors.

Following a strong move higher on Friday, I would be reluctant to start the week by selling puts on YUM shares, as it reports earnings Tuesday afternoon, unless there is some significant giveback of those weekending gains. At the moment, the option market is implying a price move of about 5.7%.

A 1% ROI could potentially be obtained through the sale of a weekly put at a strike level 6.7% below Friday’s close, but that may be an insufficient cushion, given YUM’s earnings history, even when the CHinese economy has not been so highly questionable. However, in the event of some price pullback prior to earnings or a large price drop after earnings, I would consider a posit

ion.

In the event of a large pullback after earnings, however, rather than selling puts, as I might usually want to do, YUM is expected to have its ex-dividend date the following week, so I might consider the purchase of shares and the sale of calls. But even then, depending on the prevailing option premiums, I could possibly consider sacrificing the dividend for the premiums that could come from selling deep in the money calls and possibly using an extended option expiration date.

Equally ubiquitous, at least in some portions of the United States is Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN). Following a disastrous reception on Thursday to their forward guidance and the barely perceptible rebound the following day, this is a stock that I’ve wanted to repurchase for nearly a year.

With only monthly options available and without a wide assortment of strike levels, this may be a good position to consider a longer term option sale, as it reports earnings at the beginning of the November 2015 cycle and will likely have its ex-dividend date in the November or December cycle.

During this latest downturn, I’ve had a more profound respect for trying to accumulate dividends, especially as the increased volatility has created option premiums that subsidize more of the dividend related price drop in shares. In doing so, sometimes there may be just as good opportunity in trying to induce early assignment of shares by selling deeper in the money calls that you usually might do in a lower volatility environment and using an extended option timeframe.

Both Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) may benefit from those approaches, although when the size of the dividend is larger than the strike price unit, such as in the case of Verizon, the advantage is a bit muted.

However, with Verizon reporting earnings on October 20th, some consideration might be given toward selling an in the money option expiring on that date, in an effort to get the larger, earnings enhanced premium, even while potentially sacrificing the dividend.

Oracle doesn’t offer the same generous dividend as does Verizon, nor does it have earnings immediately at hand.

It can be approached in a much more simplistic fashion in an attempt to capture both the dividend and the option premium by considering a sale of a call hovering near the current price. because it is ex-dividend on a Friday, there may be some opportunity to enhance the yield by selling an extended weekly option, again, possibly risking early assignment, but atoning for some of that with some additional premium

Finally, how can there be anything good to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF)? I’ve been practicing Chanos like patience on a much more expensive lot of shares, but in the meantime have found some opportunity by buying shares and selling calls in the $20-22 range.

Having now done so on 4 occasions in 2015 it nay be time to do so again as it closed in at the lower end of that range. With its earnings due relatively late in the current cycle this position can be considered either through the sale of puts or as a buy/write.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Dunkin Donuts, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Oracle (10/9 $0.15), Verizon (10/7 $0.565)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/6 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 20, 2015

This past Monday, prior to the market’s opening, I posted the following for Option to Profit subscribers:

“In all likelihood, at this point there are only two things that would make the market take any news badly.

The first is if no interest rate increase is announced.

Markets seem to have finally matured enough to understand that a rate hike is only a reflection of all of the good and future good things that are developing in our economy and are ready to move on instead of being paralyzed with fear that a rate hike would choke off anemic growth.

The second thing, though, is the very unlikely event of a rate hike larger than has been widely expected. That means a 0.5% hike, or even worse, a full 1% hike.

That would likely be met with crazed selling.”

Based on the way the market was trading this week as we were awaiting the FOMC Statement which was very widely expected to announce an interest rate increase, you would have been proud.

The proudness would have arisen as it seemed that the market was finally at peace with the idea that a small interest rate increase, the first in 9 years, wouldn’t be bad news, at all.

Finally, it seemed as if the market was developing some kind of a more mature outlook on things, coming to the realization that an interest rate hike was a reflection of a growing and healthy economy and was something that should be celebrated.

It always seemed somewhat ironic to me that the investing class, perhaps those most likely to endorse the concept of teaching a man how to fish rather than simply giving a handout, would be so aghast at the possibility of a cessation of a zero interest rate policy (“ZIRP”), which may have been tantamount to a handout.

The realization that ours was likely the best and most fundamentally sound economy in the world may have also been at the root of our recent disassociation from adverse market events in China.

So while the week opened with more significant weakness in China, our own markets began to trade as if they were now ready to welcome an interest rate increase and seeing it for what it really reflected.

All was well and in celebration mode as we awaited the news on Thursday.

As the news was being awaited, I saw the following Tweet. 

I don’t follow many people on Twitter, but Todd Harrison, the founder of Minyanville is one of those rare combinations of humility, great personal and professional successes, who should be followed.

I have an autographed copy of his book “The Other Side of Wall Street,” whose full title really says it all and is a very worthwhile read.

Like the beer pitchman, Todd Harrison doesn’t Tweet much, but when he does, it’s worth reading, considering and placing somewhere in your memory banks.

Many people in their Twitter profiles have a disclaimer that when they re-Tweet something it isn’t necessarily an endorsement.

When I re-Tweet something, it is always a reflection of agreement. There’s no passive – aggressiveness involved in the re-Tweet by saying “I endorse the re-Tweeting of this, but I don’t necessarily endorse its content.”

I believed, as Todd Harrison did, some 4 minutes before the FOMC statement release, that the knee jerk reaction to the FOMC decision wasn’t the one to follow.

But a funny thing happened, but not in a funny sort of way.

For a short while that knee jerk reaction would have been the right response to what should have been correctly viewed as disappointment.

What was wrong was a reversion back to a market wanting and believing that it was given another extension of the ZIRP handout. That took a market that had given up all of its substantial gains and made another reversal, this time going beyond the day’s previous gains.

With past history as a guide, going back to Janet Yellen’s predecessor, who introduced the phenomenon of the Federal Reserve Chairman’s Press Conference, the market kept going higher during the prepared statement portion of the conference and continued even higher as some clarification was sought on what was meant by “global concerns.”

Of course, everyone knew that meant China, although one has to wonder whether those global concerns also included the opinions held and expressed by Christine Legarde of the International Monetary Fund and others, who believe that it would be wrong for the FOMC to introduce an interest rate increase in 2015.

While some then began to wonder whether “global concerns” meant that the Federal Reserve was taking on a third mandate, it all turned suddenly downward.

With the exception of a very early Yellen press conference when she mischaracterized the FOMC’s time frame on rate increases and the market took a subsequent tumble, normally, Yellen’s dovish and dulcet tones are like a tonic for whatever may have been ailing the market/ This week, however, the juxtaposition of dovish and hawkish sentiments from the FOMC Statement, the subsequent press conference prepared statement and questions and answers may have been confusing enough to send traders back to their new found friend.

Logic.

Perhaps it was Yellen’s response that she couldn’t give a recipe to define what would cause the FOMC to act or perhaps it was the suggestion that the FOMC needn’t wait until their next meeting to act that sent markets sharply lower as they craved some certainty.

Or maybe it was a sudden realization that if markets had gone higher on the anticipation of a rate increase, logic would dictate that it go lower if no increase was forthcoming.

And so the initial response to the FOMC decision was the right response as the market may have shown earlier in the week that it was finally beginning to act in a mature fashion and was still capable of doing so as the winds shifted.

Perhaps the best question of that afternoon was one that pointed out an apparen

t inconsistency between expectations for full employment in the coming years, yet also expectations for inflation remaining below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

Good question.

Her answer “If our understanding of the inflation process is correct……we will see further upward pressure on inflation, may have represented a very big “if” to some and may have deflated confidence at the same time as a re-awakening was taking place that suggested that perhaps the economy wasn’t growing as strongly as had been hoped to support continued upward movement in the market.

That’s the downside to focusing on fundamentals.

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

As the market continues its uncertainty, even as it may be returning more to consideration of fundamentals, I continue to like the idea of going with some of the relative safety that may be found with dividends.

Last week I purchased more shares of General Electric (GE), hoping to capture both the dividend and the volatility enhanced premium. Those shares, however were assigned early, but having sold a 2 week option the ROI for the 3 days of holding reflected that additional time value and was a respectable 1.1%.

Even though I still hold some shares with an October 2, 2015 $25 expiration hanging over them, this week I find myself wanting to add shares of General Electric, once again, as was the case in each of the last two weeks.

Although there is no dividend in sight for another 3 months, the $25 neighborhood has been looking like a comfortable one in which to add shares as volatility has made the premiums more and more attractive and there may also be some short term upside to shares to help enhance the return.

A covered option strategy is at its best when the same stock can be used over and over again as a vehicle to generate premiums and dividends. For now, General Electric may be that stock.

Verizon (VZ) doesn’t have an upcoming dividend this week, but it will be offering one within the next 3 weeks. In addition to its recently increased dividend, the yield was especially enhanced by its sharp decline in share price at the end of the week as it gave some dour guidance for 2016.

There’s not too much doubt that the telecommunications landscape is changing rapidly, but if I had to put my confidence in any company within that smallest of sectors to survive the turmoil, it’s Verizon, as long as their debt load isn’t going to grow by a very unneeded and unwanted purchase of a pesky competitor that has been squeezing everyone’s margins.

I see Verizon’s pessimism as setting up an “under promise and over deliver” kind of scenario, as utilities typically find a way to thrive, but rarely want to shout up and down the streets about how great things are, lest people begin taking notice of how much they’re paying for someone else’s obscene profits.

Among those being considered that are going to be ex-dividend this week are Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and Green Mountain Keurig (GMCR).

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor and have a way to go to reach a breakeven on those shares which I purchased after its proposed buyout of another company fell through. I’ve held shares many times over the years and have become very accustomed to its significant and sizable moves, while somehow finding a way to return back to more normative pricing.

Following this past Friday’s decline its well below the $10 level that I’ve long liked for adding shares. With an ex-dividend date on Tuesday, if the trade is to be made, it will be likely done early in the week.

However, the other consideration is that Cypress Semiconductor is among the early earnings reporters and it will be reporting  on the day before its next option contract expires. For that reason, if considering a share purchase, I would probably look at a contract expiration beyond October, in the event of further price erosion.

Also going ex-dividend but not until Monday of the following week are Deere (DE) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

Like so many other stocks, they are badly beaten down and as a result are featuring an even more alluring dividend yield. However, their Monday ex-dividend date is something that can add to that allure, as any decision to exercise the option has to be made on the previous Saturday.

That presents opportunity to look at strategies that might seek to encourage early assignment through the sale of in the money call options utilizing expanded weekly options.

While Caterpillar (CAT) and others are feeling the pain of China’s economic slowdown, that’s not the case for Deere, but as is often the case, there are sympathy pains that become all too real.

Dow Chemical, on the other hand has continued to suffer from the belief that its fortunes are closely tied to oil prices. It;s CEO refuted that barely 9 months ago and subsequent earnings reports have borne out his contention, yet Dow Chemical continues to suffer as oil prices move lower.

If looking for a respite from dividends, both Bank of America (BAC) and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) may be worth a look this week.

The financial sector was hard hit the past few days and Bank of America was additionally in the spotlight regarding the issue of whether its CEO should also hold the Chairman’s title.

As with Jamie Dimon before him who successfully faced the same shareholder issue and retained both designations, no one is complaining about the performance of Brian Moynihan.

Even as I sit on some more expensive shares that have options sold on them expiring in two weeks, I have no reason to complain.

Following a second consecutive day of large declines, Bank of America is trading near its support that has seemed to hold up well under previous assault attempts. As with other stocks that have suffered large declines, there is greater ability to attempt to capitalize on price gains without giving up much in the way of option premiums.

Bed Bath and Beyond reports earnings this week and has seen its price in steady decline for the past 4 months. Unlike others that have had a more precipitous decline as they’ve approached the pleasure of a 20% decline, Bed Bath and Beyond has done it in a gradual style.

While those intermediate points along the drop down may represent some resistance on the way back up, that climb higher is made easier when the preceding decline
wasn’t vertical.

When considering an earnings related trade I usually look for a weekly return of 1% or greater by selling put options at a strike price that’s below the bottom range implied by the option market. The preference is that the strike price that provides that return be well below that lower boundary, The lower, the better the safety cushion.

For Bed Bath and Beyond the implied move is about 6.3%, but there is no safety cushion below a $56.50 strike level to yield that 1% return. Therefore, instead of selling puts before earnings, I would consider, as has been the predominant strategy of the past two months, of considering the sale of puts after earnings are announced, but only if there is a significant price decline.

Finally, Green Mountain Keurig is going ex-dividend this coming week, but it hardly qualifies as being among the relatively safe universe of stocks that I would prefer owning right now.

I usually like to think about opening a position in Green Mountain Keurig through the  sale of puts. However, with the ex-dividend date this week that would be like subsidizing someone who was selling those puts for the dividend related price decline.

Other than the dividend, there’s is little that I could say to justify a long term position on Green Mountain and even have a hard time justifying a short term position.

However, Green Mountain’s ex-dividend day is on Friday and expanded weekly options are available.

I would consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of deep in the money expanded weekly calls in an attempt to see those shares assigned early.

As an example, with Green Mountain closing at $56.74 on Friday, the October 2, 2015 $54.50 call option would have delivered a premium of $3.08.

For a rational option buyer to consider early exercise on Thursday, the price of shares would have to be above $54.79 and likely even higher than that, due to the inherent risk associated with owning shares, even if only for minutes on Friday morning after taking their possession.

However, if assigned early, there would be a 1.5% ROI for the 4 days of holding even if the shares fell somewhat less than 3.4%.

Their coffee and their prospects for continued marketplace success may both be insipid, but I do like the tortured logic and odds of the dividend related trade as we look ahead to a week where logic seeks to re-assert itself.

 

Traditional Stock: General Electric, Verizon

Momentum Stock: Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (9/22), Deere (9/28), Dow Chemical (9/28), Green Mountain Keurig (9/25)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Bed Bath and Beyond (9/24 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 – June 14, 2015

The investing community is either really old or thinks it’s really well versed in history.

The prospects of interest rates going higher must be evoking memories of the Jimmy Carter era when personal experiences may have been pretty painful if on the wrong side of a prime interest rate of 21.5%.

I’d be afraid, too, of reliving the prospects of having to take out a 20% loan on my Chevrolet Vega.

The interest rate isn’t what would bother me, though. That Vega still evokes nightmares.

If not old enough to have had those personal experiences, then investors must be great students of history and simply fear the era’s repeat.

Unfortunately, neither group seems to readily recall the experiences of the intervening years when hints of inflation appearing over the horizon were addressed by a responsive Federal Reserve and not the Federal Reserve presided over by the last Chairman to have come from a corporate background.

It’s unfortunate only because the stock market has been held hostage, despite having reached new highs recently, by fears of a return to a long bygone era, which was also characterized by a passive Federal Reserve Chairman who opposed raising interest rates as a fiscal tool and while inflation was rapidly growing, believed that it would self-correct. 

G. William Miller was certainly correct on that latter belief as rates did self-correct once reaching that 21.5% level, although they lasted longer than did most people’s Vegas, while Miller’s length of tenure as Chairman of the Federal Reserve did not.

Passivity and benign neglect weren’t the best ways to approach an economy then and probably not a very good way to do so now.

This past week seemingly provided more of the confirmatory data the FOMC has been waiting upon to make the long signaled move that has also been long feared. Following the previous week’s Employment Situation Report and this past week’s JOLTS report and Retail Sales report, every indication is now pointing to an economy that is heating up.

Not as much as the crankcase of my Vega that caused so many engine blocks to crack, but enough to get the FOMC to act in a way that the interest rate dovish Miller would not.

Still, the various bits of information coming in during the week caused major moves in both stock and bond markets, although the cumulative impact was negligible, even while the details were attention getting.

 

While Janet Yellen has been referred to as a “dove,” when compared to Miller, she is a ravenous hawk who only needs a clear signal of when to swoop. While the FOMC will meet this week it’s not too likely that there will be any policy changes announced, although sometimes it’s all about the wording used to describe the committee’s thoughts.

As recently as 2 weeks ago many were thinking that rate hikes might not come until 2016. However, now the prevailing chatter is that September 2015 is the target date for action.

However with the July 2015 meeting coming at the very end of the month and the opportunity to peruse another month’s worth of data what would be easier than making that decision then, particularly coming in-between June and September scheduled press conferences?

That would take most by surprise, but at least it gets this ordeal over.

Like so many things in life, the anticipation can be the real ordeal as the reality pales in comparison. Somehow, though, that’s not a lesson that’s readily learned.

Unless the upcoming earnings season will have some very nice upside surprises due to a continuing strengthening of the US Dollar that never arrived, there doesn’t appear to be any catalyst on the horizon to prompt the stock market to test its highs. That is unless we finally get a chance to remove the yoke of fear.

Real students of history will know that the fear of those interest rate hikes, especially in the early stages of an overtly improving economy, is unwarranted.

After a week of not opening a single new position I’d love to see some clarity that can only come from FOMC decisiveness. It may well be a long hot summer ahead, but it’s time to embrace the heating up of the economy for what it is and celebrate its arrival and put the ghost of G. William to rest.

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

While markets were gyrating wildly this past week and news regarding Greece, the IMF and ECB kept going back and forth, I found myself shaking my head as the biggest story of the week seemed to be the upcoming CEO change at Twitter (TWTR). 

Although I am short puts and have a real interest in seeing shares rise, I sat wondering why a company that was so small, employed so few people and contributed so little to the economy, could possibly receive so much attention for a really inconsequential story.

Beyond that, the company could go away tomorrow and its 300 million monthly active users wouldn’t be facing a gap very long others in Silicon Valley could step in to fill that gap in a heartbeat and do so without all of the dysfunction characterizing the company.

One thing that strikes me is that with the change the Board of Directors will continue to have 3 past CEOs. A friend of mine was once Chairman of an academic department that had 4 past Chairman still active on the faculty. He said it was absolutely intolerable and he couldn’t act with

out continuing second guessing and sniping.

Among the characteristics of some selections this week is strong and unequivocal leadership. Right or wrong, it helps to be decisive.

It also helps to offer a dividend, as that’s another recurring theme for me, of late.

General Electric (GE) has been led by the same individual for nearly 15 years. While it may not be helpful to his legacy to compare General Electric’s stock performance relative to the S&P 500 under his tenure to that of his predecessor, no one can accuse GE of standing still and being indecisive.

The one thing that I continually bemoan is that I haven’t owned shares of GE as often as I should have over the past few years. Despite it’s relative under-performance over the years, other than 2015 YTD, it has been a very reliable covered call position. Its fairly narrow trading range, reasonable premium and its safe and excellent dividend are a great combination if not looking for dizzying growth and the risk that attends such growth.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and that may be the motivator I need to consider committing some funds at a time when I’m not terribly excited about doing so.

Although Larry Ellison has stepped back from some of his responsibilities at Oracle (ORCL), there’s not too much doubt that he is in charge. Who other than such a powerful leader could convince two other powerful business leaders to be in a CEO sharing arrangement?

Oracle reports earnings this week and is expected to go ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle. The options market is predicting only a 3.9% price move over the course of the coming week. 

There isn’t an appealing premium available for selling puts outside of the price range predicted by the options market, but Oracle is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning, rather than simply taking advantage of it to generate earnings volatility induced premiums. It’ like GE, is a company that I haven’t owned frequently enough over the years, as it has also been a very good covered call position, even while frequently trailing the S&P 500 over recent years.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) is another company with a strong leader, who also happens to be a visionary. It’s stock price surged upon news that it was going to acquire Integrated Silicon Solution (ISSI), but over the past week has been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride as the buyout went from Cypress Semiconductor missing a self-designated deadline to obtain regulatory approval, to then arranging financing and culminating in ISSI announcing that it had accepted the Cypress offer.

Or so it seemed.

That rollercoaster ride is likely to continue next week as the coveted buyout target has just recommended accepting an offer from a Chinese private equity consortium just a day after announcing it had accepted Cypress’ offer.

A special meeting of ISSI stockholders has now been called for June 19, 2015. With a close eye on that meeting and its outcome, I would consider waiting until then to make a decision of Cypress Semiconductor shares, that will go ex-dividend the following week.

While it’s clear that the market valued the combination of the two companies, the disappointment may now be factored in, although perhaps not fully. Cypress Semiconductor is a company that I’ve long admired, particularly as it has acted as an technology incubator and have liked as a covered option trade, although at a lower price. 

American Express (AXP) has also been led by a strong CEO for nearly 15 years. Of late, he may have been subject to some criticism for the opacity related to the company’s relationship with Costco (COST), as their co-branding credit card agreement will be ending in 2016 and surprisingly represented a large share of American Express’ profits. However, for much of the earlier years American Express was a good investment vehicle and offered a differentiated and profitable product.

Since that announcement and once the surprise was digested, American Express has traded in a narrow range following a precipitous drop in shares that discounted the earnings hit that was still to be a year away.

That steadiness in share price with the overhang of uncertainty, has made shares another good covered call and they, too, will be ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle.

International Paper (IP) may stand as the exception to the previous stocks. It has a new CEO and won’t be offering a dividend until the August or September 2015 cycle.

In fact, its recently retired CEO was once on a CNNMoney list of the 5 most over-paid CEOs.

What it does have is a recent 10% decline in share price that has finally brought it back to the neighborhood in which I wouldn’t mind considering shares. Like GE and Oracle, in hindsight, I wish I had owned shares more frequently over the years, not because of its share out-performance, as that certainly figured into the poor value received from its past CEO, but rather from that steady combination of option premiums and dividends along with a reasonably steady share price. 

Finally, although the sector isn’t very large, there hasn’t been a shortage of activity going in within the small universe of telecommunications companies and cable and satellite providers, of late.  

Verizon (VZ) has been making its own news with a proposed buyout of AOL (AOL), which is a relatively small one when compared to the other deals being made or proposed.

While matching the performance of the S&P 500 YTD, it is lagging well behind in the past month, but in doing so, it is also becoming more attractive, as it returns to the $47 neighborhood. It also will be going ex-dividend in the July 2015 option cycle and always has a reasonable option premium relative to the manageable risk that it generally offers.

At a time when there is ongoing market certainty there is a certain amount o

f comfort that comes from dividends and that comfort makes decisions easier to make.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Cypress Semiconductor, International Paper, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: General Electric (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Oracle (6/17 PM)

 

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

 

 

Weekend Update – May 3, 2015

For all the talk about how April was one of the best months of the year, that ship sailed on April 30th when the DJIA lost 192 points, to finish the month just 0.2% higher.

It will take complete Magellan-like circumnavigation to have that opportunity once again and who knows how much the world will have changed by then?

Higher Interest rates, a disintegrating EU, renewed political stalemate heading into a Presidential election, rising oil prices and expanding world conflict are just some of the destinations that may await, once having set sail.

Not quite the Western Caribbean venue I had signed up for.

With the market getting increasingly difficult to understand or predict, I’m not even certain that there will be an April in 2016, but I can’t figure out how to hedge against that possibility.

But then again, for all the talk about “Sell in May and go away,” the DJIA recovered all but 9 of those points to begin the new month. With only a single trading day in the month, if there are more gains ahead, that ship certainly hasn’t sailed yet, but getting on board may be a little more precarious when within just 0.4% of an all time closing high on the S&P 500.

The potential lesson is that for every ship that sails a new berth is created.

What really may have sailed is the coming of any consumer led expansion that was supposed to lead the economy into its next phase of growth. With the release of this month’s GDP figures, the disappointment continued as the expected dividend from lower energy prices hasn’t yet materialized, many months after optimistic projections.

How so many esteemed and knowledgeable experts could have been universally wrong, at least in the time frame, thus far, as fascinating. Government economists, private sector economists, CEOs of retail giants and talking heads near and far, all have gotten it wrong. The anticipated expansion of the economy that was going to lead to higher interest rates just hasn’t fulfilled the logical conclusions that were etched in stone.

Interestingly, just as it seems to be coming clear that there isn’t much reason for the FOMC to begin a rise in interest rates, the 10 Year Treasury Note’s interest rate climbed by 5%. It did so as the FOMC removed all reference from a ticking clock to determine when those hikes would begin, in favor of data alone.

I don’t know what those bond traders are thinking. Perhaps they are just getting well ahead of the curve, but as this earnings season has progressed there isn’t too much reason to see any near term impetus for anything other than risk. No one can see over the horizon, but if you’re sailing it helps to know what may be ahead.

What started out as an earnings season that was understanding of the currency related constraints facing companies and even gave a pass on pessimistic guidance, has turned into a brutally punishin

g market for companies that don’t have the free pass of currency.

All you have to do is look at the reactions to LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Yelp (NYSE:YELP) this week, as they all reported earnings. Some of those would have gladly seen their stocks tumble by only 20% instead of the deep abyss that awaited.

Before anyone comes to the conclusion that the ship has sailed on those and similar names, I have 4 words for you: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now simply known as Keurig Green Mountain (NASDAQ:GMCR).

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) reported earnings last week and in 2015, up until that point, had quietly diverged from the S&P 500 in a positive way, if you had owned shares. As the luster of some of its competitors was beginning to fade and in the process of implementing a new global strategy, it appeared that Coach was ready to finally recover from a devastating earnings plunge a year ago.

It was at that time that everyone had firmly shifted their favor to competitor Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) and had started writing Coach off, as another example of a company sailing off into oblivion as it grew out of touch with its consumers.

Who knew at that time that Kors itself would so quickly run out of steam? At least the COach ride had been a sustained one and was beginning to show some signs of renewed life.

I’ve owned shares of Coach many times over the years and have frequently purchased shares after earnings or sold puts before or after earnings, always in the expectation that any earnings plunge would be short lived. That used to be true, but not for that last decline and I am still suffering with a lot that I optimistically sold $50 August 2015 calls upon, the day before earnings were released.

Unlike many stocks that have suffered declines and that then prompts me to add more shares, I haven’t done so with Coach, but am ready to do so now as shares are back to where they started the year.

With a dividend payout that appears to be safe, an acceptable option premium and the prospects of shares re-testing its recently higher levels, this seems like an opportune time to again establish a position, although I might consider doing so through the sale of puts. If taking that route and faced with an assignment, I would attempt to rollover the puts until that time in early June 2015 when shares are expected to go ex-dividend, at which point I would prefer to be long shares.

As far as fashion and popularity go, Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) may have seen its ship sail and so far, any attempt to right the ship by changing leadership hasn’t played out, so clearly there’s more at play.

What has happened, though, is that shares are no longer on a downward only incline, threatening to fall off the edge. It’s already fallen off, on more than one occasion, but like Coach, this most recent recovery has been much slower than those in the past.

But it’s in that period of quiescence for a stock that has a history of volatility that a covered option strategy, especially short term oriented, may be best suited.

Just 2 weeks ago I created a covered call position on new shares and saw them assigned that same week. They were volatile within a very narrow range that week, just as they were last week. That volatility creates great option premiums, even when the net change in share price is small.

With earnings still 3 weeks away, as is the dividend, the Abercrombie and Fitch trade may also potentially be considered as a put sale, and as with Coach, might consider share ownership if faced with the prospect of assignment approaching that ex-dividend date.

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), at least if you listen to its always opinionated CEO, John Legere, definitely has the wind blowing at its back. Some of that wind may be coming from Legere himself. There isn’t too much doubt that the bigger players in the cellphone industry are beginning to respond to some of T-Mobile’s innovations and will increasingly feel the squeeze on margins.

So far, though, that hasn’t been the case. as quarterly revenues for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) are at or near all time highs, as are profits. T-Mobile, on the other hand, while seeing some growth in revenues on a much smaller denominator, isn’t consistently seeing profits.

The end game for T-Mobile can’t be predicated on an endless supply of wind, no matter how much John Legere talks or Tweets. The end game has to include being acquired by someone that has more wind in their pockets.

But in the meantime, there is still an appealing option premium and the chance of price appreciation while waiting for T-Mobile to find a place to dock.

Keurig Green Mountain was the topic of the second article I everpublished on Seeking Alpha 3 years ago this week. It seems only fitting to re-visit it as it gets to report earnings. Whenever it does, it causes me to remember the night that I appeared on Matt Miller’s one time show, Bloomberg Rewind, having earlier learned that Green Mountain shares plunged about 30% on earnings.

Given the heights at which the old Green Mountain Coffee Roasters once traded, you would have been justified in believing that on that November 2011 night, the ship had sailed on Green Mountain Coffee and it was going to be left in the heap of other momentum stocks that had run into potential accounting irregularities.

But Green Mountain had a second act and surpassed even those lofty highs, with a little help from a new CEO with great ties to a deep pocketed company that was in need of diversifying its own beverage portfolio.

Always an exciting earnings related trade, the options market is implying a 10.2% price move upon earnings. In a week that saw 20% moves in Yelp, LinkedIn and Twitter, 10% seems like child’s play.

My threshold objective of receiving a 1% ROI on the sale of a put option on a stock that is about to report earnings appears to be achievable even if shares fall by as much as 12.1%.

It will likely be a long time before anyone believes that the ship has sailed on Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), but there was no shortage of comments about how the wind had been taken out of Intel’s sales as it missed the mobile explosion.

As far as Intel’s performance goes, it looks as if that ship sailed at the end of 2014, but with recent rumors of a hook-up with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) and the upcoming expiration of a standstill agreement, Intel is again picking up some momentum, as the market initially seemed pleased at the prospects of the union, which now may go the hostile route.

In the meantime, with that agreement expiring in 4 weeks, Intel is ex-dividend this week. The anticipation of events to come may explain why the premium on the weekly options are relatively high during a week that shares go ex-dividend.

Finally, perhaps one of the best examples of a company whose ship had sailed and was left to sink as a withered company was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Funny how a single product can turn it all around.

it was an odd week for Apple , though. Despite a nearly $4 gain to close the week, it finished the week virtually unchanged from where it started, even though it reported earnings after Monday’s close.

While it’s always possible to put a negative spin on the various components of the Apple sales story, and that’s done quarter after quarter, they continue to amaze, as they beat analyst’s consensus for the 10th consecutive quarter. While others may moan about currency exchange, Apple is just too occupied with execution.

Still, despite beating expectations yet again, after a quick opening pop on Tuesday morning shares finished the week $4 below that peak level when the week came to its end.

None of that is odd, though, unless you’ve grown accustomed to Apple moving higher after earnings are released. What was really odd was that the news about Apple as the week progressed was mostly negative as it focused on its latest product, the Apple Watch.

Reports of a tepid reception to the product; jokes like “how do you recognize the nerd in the crowd;” reports of tattoos interfering with the full functioning of the product; criticizing the sales strategy; and complaints about how complicated the Apple Watch was to use, all seemed so un-Apple-like.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and in the very short history of Apple having paid a dividend, the shares are very likely to move higher during the immediate period following the dividend distribution.

With the announcement this past week of an additional $50 billion being allocated to stock buybacks over the next 23 months, the ship may not sail on Apple shares for quite some time.

Traditional Stocks: Coach

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (5/5), Apple (5/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Keurig Green Mountain (5/6 PM)

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

Weekend Update – January 4, 2015

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

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

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

That rarely worked out well.

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

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

Remember “Sell in May and then go away”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just ask them.

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

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

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

Popularity is superficial, while history runs deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among those are three members of the DJIA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – December 14, 2014

On a cruise ship you only know the answer to the question of “How low can you go” once you’ve met the physical limits of your body and the limit of your ability to balance yourself.

Other than losing a little self-respect, maybe a little embarrassment in front of a bunch of drunken strangers, there’s not too much downside to playing the game.

When it comes to the price of oil the answer isn’t so clear, mostly because the answer seemed so clear for each of the past few weeks and has turned out to be anything other than clear. Besides the lack of clarity, the game has consequences that go well beyond self-respect and opening yourself up to embarrassment.

While we all know that at some point the law of “Supply and Demand” will take precedence over the intrusion of a cartel, the issue becomes one of time and how long it will take to set in motion the actions that are in response to the great opportunities created by low cost energy.

Until a few days ago we thought we were in recently uncharted territory, believing that the reduction in oil prices was due to an increase in supply that itself was simply due to increasing production in the United States.

However, with Friday’s release of China’s Industrial Production data, as well as an earlier remark by a Saudi Arabian Oil Minister, there was reason to now believe that the demand side of the equation may not have been as robust as we had thought.

While there’s not a strong correlation between sharply declining oil prices and recession, that has to now be considered, at least for much of the rest of the world.

The United States, on the other hand, may be going in a very different direction as is the rest of the world, until such factors as the relative strength of the US dollar begin to catch up with our good fortunes, as an example of yet another kind of cycle that has real meaning on an every day basis in an ever more inter-connected world.

While there may not be a substantive decoupling between the US and other world economies, at the moment all roads seem to be leading to our shores and cheap oil can keep that road a one way path longer than is usually the case with economic cycles.

When considering the amount of evil introduced into the world as a result of oil profits supporting nefarious activities and various political agenda in countries many of us never even knew existed, the idea that energy self-reliance is paramount strategically becomes tangible. It also should make us wonder why we’ve essentially ignored doing anything for the past 40 years and why we would delay, even for another second the ability to break free from a position of submissiveness.

While most free market capitalists don’t like the idea of a government hand, there is something to be said for government support of US oil production and exploration activities particularly when they are suffering from low prices due to their successes and might have to curtail activity, as some in the world would like to see.

Insofar as the success of US producers adds to the tools with which we may face the rest of the sometimes less than friendly world, there is reason for our government to act as an anti-cartel a

t times and keep prices artificially low, while protecting local producers from short term pain they endure that helps to make the nation lass susceptible to pressures from other nations who are more than happy to control our destiny.

Great time to increase the Strategic Petroleum reserve, anyone?

In the meantime, though, that pain is being shared among investors in most every sector, as the volatility index, which usually moves in a direction opposite the market, is again moving higher as it has a habit of doing every two months, or so.

As an option seller that’s one bar I like seeing moved higher and higher, until someone asks the obvious question”

“How high will it go?”

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

From just about every perspective the stocks considered this week reads as a “Who’s Who of Losers.”

Sometimes there are good reasons, other times the reasons aren’t quite as clear, but even as oil prices may be playing a game of “how low can you go,” individual stocks across all sectors are being taken along for a nasty ride, that thus far has been nothing more than a 3.5% move from its recent high.

McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) is an example of a stock that continually finds itself on the wrong side of $100 and periodically finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion, as well. At the moment, it’s on the wrong side of each of those challenges and there is probably an association between the two.

While the news can get worse for McDonalds, a DJIA component, as it releases more US and international sales data, it is finally doing something that its franchisees have been wanting for quite a while, as it returns to some sense of simplicity in its menu. That simplicity will help reign in costs that can then reign in customers who have to balance cost and health consciousness.

Another DJIA component, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) also had a bad week, as it lowered profit forecasts and is feeling the pain of its competition with other carriers. It is also feeling the pain of underwriting the true costs of the wildly popular iPhone 6.

Having patiently waited for shares to return to the $47.50 level, it breezed right through that, heading straight to its low point for 2014.

With an upcoming dividend and option premiums increasing along with the volatility of its share price, Verizon is again becoming appealing, although there will be the matter off those earnings next month, that we’ve already been warned about, but are still likely to come as a surprise when reality hits.

Yet another DJIA component, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was on everyone’s “worst company and worst CEO” list and was even famously Jim Chanos’ short of the year back in July 2013. As most know, shares have traded well above those July 2013 levels and even with its recent 20% decline, it is still well above those levels.

While Caterpillar has some Chinese exposure there is often a reaction that is out of proportion to that exposure and that brings opportunity. I have long liked shares at $85, but it has been a long time since that level has been seen, much to Jim Chaos’ dismay. On the other hand, $90 may be close enough to consider initiating a position following this most recent round of weakness.

While EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) isn’t close to being a member of the DJIA it certainly wasn’t shielded from the losses, as it fell 6.5% on the week that was harsh to the technology sector, despite it being difficult to draw a straight line connecting oil and technology sectors.

Just a week or two ago I was willing to buy EMC shares at $30, but now, as with so many stocks, the question of “how low will it go?” must be raised, even if there is no logical reason to suspect anything lower, as long as it’s majority owned VMWare (NYSE:VMW) can do better than a 12% decline for the week.

The China story is reflected in 3 stocks highlighted this week and none of the stories are very good. Neither Joy Global (NYSE:JOY), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) nor YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) had very good weeks, as a combination of stories from China struck at the core of their respective businesses.

Las Vegas Sands goes ex-dividend this week and despite its name, has significant interests in Macao. The gaming news coming from Macao has been a stream of negativity for the past 4 months, including such issues as the impact of smoking bans on casino income.

I already own 2 lots of Las Vegas Sands and have traded in and out of some additional lots these past few months, It’s Chinese exposure certainly has risk at the moment, but the dividend and premiums at this very low price level can serve as a good entry point or even to average down on existing shares.

YUM Brands has had years of experience in the Chinese marketplace and has had numerous challenges and obstacles come its way. Public health scares of airborne diseases, tainted food supplies and more, in addition to the normal cycles that economies go through.

Somehow, YUM Brands has been able to survive an onslaught of challenges, although it has been relatively slow in boun

cing back from the latest food safety related issue. It lowered its profit forecasts this past week and took a very large hit, however, it subsequently recovered about half of the loss during the final two days of the week when the broader market was substantially lower.

Joy Global reports earnings next week and tumbled on Friday upon release of Chinese government data. The drop would seem consistent with Joy Global’s interests in China. However, what has frequently been curious is that Joy Global often paints a picture of its activity and importantly its forward activity in a light different from “official” government reports.

Following Friday’s pessimistic report from China, Joy Global plunged to its 5 year low in advance of earnings. Ideally, that is a more favorable condition if considering a position in advance of earnings, particularly if selling puts, as the concern for further drops can amplify the premiums on the puts and potentially provide a more appealing entry point for shares.

Blackberry (NASDAQ:BBRY) also reports earnings next week and it, too, has fallen significantly in the past month, having declined nearly 20% in that time.

I’m not really certain that anyone knows what its CEO John Chen has in mind for the company, but most respect his ability to do something constructive with the carcass that he was left with, upon arriving on the scene.

My intuition tells me that his final answer will be a sale to a Chinese company, as a last resort, and that will understandably be met with lots of resistance on both security and nationalism concerns. Until then, there’s always hope for making some money from the shares, but once that kind of sale is scuttled, the Blackberry story will have sailed.

For now, however, the option market is implying an 11.6% move in shares upon earnings news. Meanwhile, a 1.5% weekly ROI can be achieved through the sale of puts if shares do not fall more than 15%

Finally, after nothing but horrid news from the energy sector over the past weeks, at some point there comes a time when it just seems appropriate to pull the trigger and commit to a turnaround that is hopefully coming sooner, rather than later.

There is no shortage of names to choose from among, in that regard, but the one that stands out for me is the one that was somewhat ahead of the curve and has taken more pain than others, by virtue of having eliminated its dividend, which had been unsustainably high for quite a while.

Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) is now simply an offshore drilling and services company, that is beleaguered like all of the rest, but not any longer encumbered by its dividend.

What it offers may be a good example of just how low something can go and still be a viable and respectable company, while offering a very attractive option premium that reflects the risk or the opportunity that is implied to come along with ownership of shares.

Although the bar on Seadrill’s price may still be lowered if more sector bad news is forthcoming, Seadrill may also be the first poised to pop higher once that

cycle reawakens.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, EMC Corporation, McDonalds, Verizon

Momentum: Seadrill, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (12/16 $0.50)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/17 AM), Blackberry (12/19 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 – September 14, 2014

Two weeks ago the factors that normally move markets were completely irrelevant. Instead, investors focused much of their attention on the tragic story that ended with the passing of Joan Rivers, while allowing the market to go on auto-pilot.

The fact that economic and geo-political news was ignored during that week wasn’t really much of a concern as markets went on to secure their fifth straight weekly gain.

This past week was essentially another one where the the typical kind of news we look to was irrelevant, at least as far as gaining our attention. This week most of our efforts focused on the unfortunate story of a talented, but abusive football player and the introduction of new products from Apple (AAPL).

There was a time, not so very long ago, when that football player was considered a soft spoken role model. In fact, somewhere is a photo of my wife, in a Baltimore Ravens jersey, and he at a charitable event, one of many that he attended and supported.

Amazingly, as the home Baltimore Ravens played their game on Thursday night, there were reportedly many female fans wearing the jersey of that abusive player, even though there were plenty of offers and incentives to exchange such jerseys in for pizza, drinks and other items.

The memory of the past is apparently more relevant than the reality of the present, sometimes.

There was a time, also not so very long ago, that Apple’s fate was the same as the fate of the markets, except that when Apple went higher, the market lagged and when Apple went lower, the market outpaced in the decline. Now, its ability to lead is less evident and so its place in the week’s news was mostly as a products release event, rather than as a marking moving event.

Those days of past are now irrelevant and Apple’s reality is tied and the market routinely part ways.

Unfortunately, that football player’s brutish actions made the new iPhone 6’s planned publicity campaign appear to be ill-conceived. Equally unfortunate was that this past week’s irrelevancies weren’t sufficient to allow markets to return to auto-pilot and instead snapped that weekly winning streak, as fears of liquidity may have captured investor’s attention.

Weeks filled with irrelevancy are likely to come to an end as the coming week is filled with lots of challenges that could easily build upon the relatively mild losses that broke that successive streak of weekly gains.

In the coming week there is an FOMC statement release as well as the Chairman’s press conference. Many are expecting some change in wording in the FOMC statement that would indicate a willingness to commence interest rate increases sooner than originally envisioned. That could have an adverse impact on equity markets as a drying up of liquidity could result.

Perhaps even more of a impetus for decreased liquidity is the planned Ali Baba (BABA) IPO. Likely to be the largest ever for US markets, the money to pay for those shares has to be coming from someplace and could perhaps have contributed to this week’s preponderance of selling. It’s not too likely that a lot of money will be coming off the sidelines for these share purchases, so it’s reasonable to expect that funds have been and will be diverted.

Unfortunately, the IPO comes at the end of the week, so I don’t expect much in the way of discretionary spending to buy markets before that, unless some nice surprise in the way the FOMC’s statement is interpreted.

Let’s not also forget this week’s referendum on Scotland’s independence. No one knows what to expect and a nervous market doesn’t like surprises, nor sudden adverse shifts in currency rates.

It’s hard to know whether these events will be more relevant than some of the irrelevancies of preceding weeks, but they certainly represent upcoming challenges.

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

This is a week that I don’t have too much interest in earnings or in “momentum” kind of stocks, unless there’s also a dividend involved in the equation. Having watched some well known and regarded companies take their knocks during this past week, yet fully aware that the market is not even 2% below its recent high level, there’s not too much reason to be looking for risk.

As volatility rises concurrent with the market dropping, the option premiums themselves should show evidence of the perceived increased risk and can once again make even the most staid of stocks start looking appealing.

With my personal cash reserves at lower levels than I would like, I’m not eager to make many new purchases this week, despite what appear to be some relative bargains.

While the market was broadly weak I was fortunate in having a few positions assigned and may be anxious to re-purchase those very same positions at any sign of weakness or even if they stay near their Friday closing prices.

Those stocks were British Petroleum (BP), T-Mobile (TMUS) and Walgreen (WAG). Although they’re not included in this week’s listing, they may be among the first potential purchases that I look toward completing and may be satisfied being an onlooker for the rest of the week.

Among other stocks that may warrant some interest are those that have under-performed the S&P 500 since the beginning of the summer, a completely arbitrary measure that I have been using for the past few weeks, particularly during the phase of the market’s continuing climb.

^SPX ChartGeneral Electric (GE) is

one of those staid stocks whose option premiums of late have been extraordinarily low. It goes ex-dividend this week and is starting to look a little bit more inviting. Having now spun off some of its financial assets and made preparations to sell its appliances divisions to my old bosses at Electrolux (ELUXY), General Electric is slowly refocusing itself and while not having looked as a stellar performer, it has greatly out-paced the S&P 500 since the bottom of the financial crisis in 2009. In hindsight it is a position that I’ve owned far too infrequently over those years.

Dow Chemical (DOW) and DuPont (DD) have both lagged the S&P 500 over the past two months, much of it having come in the past week. Those drops have brought shares back to levels that I would entertain share re-purchases.

The option premium pricing may indicate some greater risk in Dow Chemical, however both companies have some activists interests that may help to somewhat offset any longer term pressures.

I’ve been waiting for Verizon (VZ) shares to drop for a while and while it has done so in the past week, it’s still not down to the $47.50 level that I my eyes on. However, its current level may offer sufficient attraction to re-enter a position in advance of its upcoming, and increased dividend.

Without a doubt the mobile telephone sector has been an active one of late and I suspect that T-Mobile’s very aggressive strategy to acquire customers will soon show up in everyone’s bottom line and not in the way most would like. However, with strong price support at $45, a combination of option premiums and dividends could help ownership of Verizon shares offset those pressures while awaiting assignment of shares.

While Intel (INTC) hasn’t followed the pattern of the preceding selections and has performed well since the beginning of summer, it did give back enough ground in the past week to return to a level that interests me. On the downside is the credible assertion that perhaps shares of Intel have accelerated too much in the past few months and can be an easy target for any profit taking. WHile that may certainly be true, by all appearances the once moribund Intel has new life and I suspect will be reflected in earnings, should the goal of short term ownership turn into something longer.

As with Verizon, and hopefully General Electric, as its option premiums could still stand to improve, the combination of a strong dividend yield and option premiums can be helpful in waiting out any unexpectedly large and sudden price declines.

Given the mediocrity of performance by eBay (EBAY) over the past couple of years, it may be hard for anyone to find much relevance in the company, except for that potential jewel, PayPal. I purchased more shares last week and did expect that there might be some downside pressure if Apple announced a new payment system, as had been widely expected. Moving higher into the upcoming Apple event shares did go strikingly lower once details of “Apple Pay” became known. The use, however, of an expanded weekly option provided a rich premium related to the uncertainty surrounding the Apple event and time to dig out of any hole.

The bounce back came sooner than expected as some rumors regarding Google’s (GOOG) interest in eBay made their rounds. Whether valid or not, there’s not too much question that the pressure to consider a spin off of the PayPal unit is ramping up and may, in fact, be seen as necessary by eBay if it perceives any erosion on PayPal’s value as a result of a successful Apple Pay launch. In such a case, it’s far better to spin off that asset while it is still in its ascendancy, rather than to await some evidence of erosion. That is known as the “take the money and run” strategy and may serve eBay’s interests well, despite earlier assertions that PayPal functioned best and provided greatest value as an eBay subsidiary division.

While Visa (V) has announced its alignment with Apple, MasterCard (MA) always seems to be somewhat left out or at least not in a proactive position in the changing payments landscape. Yet even while it has ceded much of the debit card arena to Visa, it continues to be a very steady performer trading in a reasonably narrow range and offering an equally reasonable premium for the risk of owning shares. While selling those options also gives up the potential for upside share appreciation, that upside potential has been limited since the stock split. Much in the way as with eBay, the consideration of a covered option trade may be warranted and a means to generate returns from a position that has little net movement.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is the lone momentum stock for the week and it has a dividend this week that warrants some consideration. Having been brutalized in the last few weeks as the gaming sector, particularly those with interests in Macao have seen significant price erosion it appears to be developing some support in the $62.50 level. While I wish I knew that with certainty, what I do know with some degree of confidence is that when Las Vegas Sands does find that level of support it has consistently been a very good covered options position.

Finally, I jumped the gun with one of this week’s selections, having purchased shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) on Friday afternoon. I particularly like this company for non-investing reasons because it has been a fertile breeding ground for innovation in an number of different areas. However, by the same token, the same broad thinking that allows it to serve as an incubator also has its CEO spend too much time in the spotlight on policy related issues, when all I really want is for its share price to grow and to return to profitability.

In this case I was eager to purchase shares again in anticipation of its upcoming dividend early in the October 2014 option cycle. However, I also wouldn’t mind early assignment, having sold a deep in the money option. EIther way, the prospects of a satisfactory return look good, as even if not assigned early, there is a potential ROI of 2.5% even if shares fall nearly 5% from the purchase price.

The one caveat, if you find such things to be relevant, is that earnings will be released just two days before the end of the October cycle so there may be reason to consider rolling this forward at that point that the November 2014 options are available for sale.

Of course, all relevancy is in the eye of the

beholder and sometimes it is nice to not have any weighty issues to consider. After this coming week we may find ourselves wishing for those mindless days glued to “Access Hollywood” rather than the stock ticker.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, Dow Chemical, DuPont, eBay, Intel, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (9/18), Las Vegas Sands (9/18)

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 – June 29, 2014

There wasn’t much going on last week, but for what there was, you can be certain that there was a role played by some branch of government.

By no means I am a libertarian and I certainly understand the need for a beneficent government to protect those things that we hold dear, from assets to zoning, but this past week government seemed to be the singular driver of news during a week that was otherwise devoid of news.

For starters, we received yet another revision to the first quarter GDP, indicating a 2.9% decrease. That’s not the sort of growth that engenders much confidence in the economy, but it’s also the sort of report that doesn’t engender much confidence in the reporter.

Certainly for a market that is said to discount the future, learning that what you believed to have been true was patently false has to also shake confidence, particularly when you begin to wonder whether your own government’s reporting of economic data is any better than that from the nation we so readily disparage for the veracity of its reporting – China.

With the economic calendar so important each week, this coming week’s early Employment Situation Report, which has been fairly inconsequential for the past 6 months, may prove otherwise if either it offers data consistent with the  abysmal GDP statistic or is qualified by large downward revisions of previous months.

But with objective data reporting out of the way, the early part of the week was focused on Supreme Court rulings that were scheduled to be released as the current session comes to its end. The decision regarding the novel technology behind the Aereo product that delivers broadcast transmission to any internet enabled device was ruled unconstitutional and any company with local broadcasting interests soared on the decision. Essentially, the Supreme Court said that an antennae that is leased and captures broadcasts is illegal, while an antennae that is purchased and captures broadcast television is not.

Then the Internal Revenue Service came into focus as it ruled favorably on Iron Mountain’s (IRM) request to convert to a REIT, which was especially surprising since it had tentatively given an adverse opinion last year. The result was a surge in share price confounding those who believed that the price already fully discounted the opinion. This ruling could open the way for others to consider separating that portion of their business that generates revenues in corporate owned facilities into a REIT and enjoy those tax benefits.

Then there was the matter of the refiners that awoke Thursday morning to the shocking news that the US Department of Commerce was going to allow essentially unrefined oil to be exported, even without a license, thereby likely reducing margins at the refiners. That sector saw some brutalized victims and some clear victors from the decision.

Then there was the case of Verizon (VZ) that had a contract in Germany canceled for fears that the NSA could use the devices as an easy conduit for surreptitiously gathering intelligence. 

Finally, Barclays (BCS) drew attention from local government as the New York State Attorney General’s office filed suit against Barclays claiming “fraud and deceit” in the manner their dark pool trading was executed. Of course, when there’s one cockroach you can be certain that there are more to be found, so the financial sector becomes more widely suspect as Barclays is scrutinized.

But to be clear, I was certainly on the side of government when Janet Yellen, just the previous week gave reason to believe that interest rates would remain low, thereby suggesting that equities would be a more advantageous investment vehicle than bonds. Unfortunately, as soon as this past week started, that news was old and long forgotten, as the message had no carry over to this week’s trading.

While some of last week’s events were scheduled, others came as a surprise in more than their content. Hopefully this week will be one when the hand of government will remain invisible and allow the market to trade on something that hasn’t been seen in a long while – fundamentals.

However, now isn’t the time to hold one’s breath and it’s not necessarily likely that next week’s beginning of another earnings season will be the time to do so, either.

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

Holly Frontier (HFC) was one of those brutalized refiners whose shares plummeted upon the news that certain unrefined products could now be exported. The share drop has brought Holly Frontier to the lower end of the range in which it had been trading and in which I currently own shares. I’ve done so on five occasions this year and have watched shares go up and down in alternating quantum stages during that time. While I believe the reaction to the news may have been overdone and would like to add shares, as Holly Frontier has an appealing option premium, regular dividend and routinely pays a special dividend, as well, I would likely await to see some stability in its price as the week opens before making the decision.

I’ve been waiting a while to re-purchase shares of DuPont (DD) and after its surprise announcement of a lower earnings forecast on reduced seed sales that time may have arrived. At one time DuPont was a very frequent holding, but it’s been nearly two years since that last purchase. Since that time DuPont has started offering weekly options and much more recently expanded weekly options, greatly increasing its appeal. Like many other stocks that I consider for purchase, DuPont has that nice troika of option premium, dividend and price stability that can serve to minimize some market tremors.

Another major decliner this week was Dollar General (DG), which plunged upon news that its CEO was planning to retire sometime in 2015. Presumably, the rational for that plunge was that the company was therefore, less likely to be involved in a buyout or merger with Family Dollar Stores (FDO) as has been rumored, in the near term.

That doesn’t really seem to make very much sense to me. If the union of those two companies makes sense, as many believe that it does for both companies, it’s not terribly likely that a company would giv

e up on the idea and simply go on hiatus. They would most certainly get the process moving at an appropriate time, while ensuring that CEO succession was closely aligned with the objectives defined by the board, which will continue to be chaired by its current CEO who has indicated he would stay on during the transition period.

I actually purchased some shares in the final couple of hours on Friday in the belief that I could get a quick assignment while shares recovered and anticipated doing another purchase this coming week.

Instead, shares stumbled while trading in a wide range in the final hour and I eventually rolled over shares. However, I think that the reaction was very much not only an over-reaction, but also the wrong reaction to what was really benign news. That leaves me in a position to consider further adding shares this week.

Verizon seems to be paying a price for the US government’s alleged spying on German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and is reportedly losing government contracts in Germany to Deutsche Telecom (DT) over concerns that Verizon cell phones may be eminently capable of doing the NSA’s bidding overseas. A late day recovery restored shares above $49, but I would be anxious to purchase shares if approaching that level again, mindful of its ex-dividend date the following week.

The potential dividend payers for the week are Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY), Medtronic (MDT) and Sysco (SYY).

Bristol Myers is a frequent holding and I currently own two lots, having saved one from assignment specifically because I wanted to retain the dividend this week. It has traded in a range recently as some good news about a drug used in the treatment of melanoma has lifted shares from the low end of that range that I believe may carry shares back toward the $52 range if the overall market doesn’t fade. 

Medtronic has been much in the news lately due to its proposed $43 billion buyout of Covidien (COV), an Ireland based company. While inversions are increasingly in our lexicon these days, this merger makes sense on more than just a tax basis.

Trading near its yearly highs isn’t generally a place I want to be when opening a position, but I don’t foresee any near term threat to Medtronic’s share price and it does offer a decent dividend, made more appealing if shares are assigned relatively quickly. 

Sysco is just one of those companies that is everywhere you probably don’t always want to be. It’s non-flashy, utilitarian and below the radar, yet it is fairly indispensable and reliable in terms of what if offers to a broad range of customers. Shares have only recently begun trading weekly and expanded weekly options and while offering a nice dividend and option premium, also offers some opportunity for share appreciation, as well.

Finally, Whole Foods (WFM) also goes ex-dividend on July 1, but purchasing for the purposes of capturing the paltry dividend may be as bad of an idea as it has been for me to have purchased shares in the past. I currently own shares and have watched them tumble as the company faced increasing competition, bad weather and significant expansion efforts. In addition, an occasional comment too many and too controversial by one of its co-CEOs does nothing to help it recover its former glory.

Whole Foods is one of those rare companies that has previously recovered its lost glory, although it did take nearly 7 years to return to its 2005 price peak. I don’t really have the kind of patience, but the extent of the climb isn’t as steep as in the past.

I think that it’s bad news is behind it and it has shown some stability at its current price. While I often like to purchase shares after a price drop, especially if I already own shares, I haven’t found the reason to do so with Whole Foods while watching its value erode.

Unless there’s a report coming from government agencies next week citing health hazards of organic food, I’m finally ready to add to my Whole Food holdings and may as well take that puny dividend for my troubles.

Traditional Stocks: DuPont, Holly Frontier, Verizon, Whole Foods

Momentum: Dollar General

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers Squibb (7/1), Medtronic (7/1), Sysco (7/1)

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 – March 16, 2014

Most of us have, at one time or another believed that we were carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. The reality will always be that unless we are the President of the United States with a decision to be made regarding pressing that red button, those feelings are somewhat exaggerated and unlikely to be borne out in fact.

It’s probably not an exaggeration, however, to suggest that in the past week the burden of the world weighed down heavily on the U.S. stock markets.

Slowing growth and questionable economic statistics from China and an unfolding crisis in Crimea were the culprits identified this week that sapped the momentum out of our markets. The complete list of “reasons” for last week’s performance was compiled by Josh Brown, but ultimately it all came down to our shoulders. Perhaps like a regressive tax the individual investor may feel an exaggerated impact as well when the market behaves badly and may also take longer to recover from the heavy load of losses.

In addition to the global issues then there were also issues of regulation, seeing the SEC and FTC weigh in on Herbalife (HLF), dueling words of umbrage from billionaires over eBay (EBAY) and litigation from the New York State Attorney General’s Office over General Motor’s (GM) role in potentially avoidable vehicular deaths.

What there wasn’t was anything positive or optimistic to be said during the week, other than sooner or later Spring will arrive. For the first time since the last real attempt at a correction nearly two years ago the market closed lower in each trading session of the past week.

While the weekend may change my opinion, as additional news may be forthcoming as Russian war games on Ukraine’s borders play themselves out and a Crimean referendum is held, I find myself optimistic for the coming week.

I usually try to find ten potential trades for each coming week. Last week I struggled to find just nine. This week my preliminary list was nearly twenty and I had a difficult time narrowing down to ten stocks.

That hasn’t happened in a while.

Certainly, as has been discussed in previous weeks following a downward moving market, the challenge is discerning between value and value traps. In that regard this past week is no different, but for inspiration, I look to the option seller’s best friend.

That would be volatility. It creates the kind of premiums that can make me salivate and it is the lack of volatility that makes me wonder whether anyone really cares anymore about the need for stock markets to react appropriately to fundamental factors, as opposed to simply moving higher under all circumstances.  

Since late 2011 we’ve been used to seeing historically low levels of volatility with occasional spikes representing market downturns. For those following along you know that there haven’t been many of those downturns in the past 20 months, although we did just recently quickly recover from an equally quick 7% loss. Those downturns saw spikes in volatility.

Suddenly there has been a lot of discussion about increasing volatility and for those that get excited about technical analysis, much is made of the significance of Volatility Index breaking above the 200 Day Moving Average.

What you don’t hear, however, are the video playbacks of all of the times the Volatility Index has surpassed that 200 Day Moving Average and it did not lead to a market breakdown, as suggested by many.

Instead, a quick look at the past year seems to indicate an alternating current of spikes in volatility between larger spikes and smaller ones. Simply put, I think we’re experiencing a regularly scheduled smaller spike in volatility.

I could be wrong, but that’s what hedging is all about.

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

As with last week, despite the uncertainty that may usher in the coming week I see some possibilities even with some higher beta positions, on a selective basis.

While I’ve been trying to emphasize dividend paying positions for the past three months, the only potential such trades that had any appeal for me this week fell into the higher beta category.

While Best Buy (BBY) is probably immune to any direct impact from an overseas crisis, it has had no difficulty in creating its own and has certainly created a crisis of faith before regaining some respectability under new leadership. But for those that have held shares that all seems so long ago after some disappointing earnings reports. Hit especially hard this most recent earnings season, Best Buy has two months left to acquit itself and another two weeks to have their cash registers ring loudly to offset any weather related disappointments. In the meantime shares do go ex-dividend this week and have been trading in a narrow range of late. In the absence of any news it may be expected to keep doing so long enough to capture a dividend and perhaps a premium or two.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) also goes ex-dividend this week and is also a higher beta stock. While I have traded this stock w

ith some frequency, it’s been a while since doing so as it resists going much lower. While it is at a relative low to its recent high after a 7% decline, it has still had a fairly uninterrupted trajectory. Like Best Buy, there’s not too much reason to suspect that events in Crimea will serve as a direct contagion, the higher beta may be its own heavy weight in the event of a market decline, but like cockroaches, gambling will survive even nuclear holocaust, as may Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman. It may also survive some weakness in China, as there’s no better place to bury your misery than in their Maxao casinos.

It’s usually a fallacy in the making when you use logic to convince yourself of the rationale to buy a stock. That includes the belief that if you liked a stock at one price it must certainly be even more likeable at a lower price. Yet that’s where I find myself with General Electric (GE), whose shares were just assigned from me a week ago and now find themselves priced below that earlier strike price. However, in the case of General Electric, unless there are some horrific surprises around the corner or a complete market meltdown, it’s hard to imagine that it could be classified as being a value trap at this new lower price. Down 4% in the past week and 10% YTD, if the market is heading lower, GE will have been ahead of the curve. While it’s option premium doesn’t reflect much in the way of volatility it does represent a reasonable means to surpass the performance of a flat market.

While retail has been a place that money has gone to die of late, you get a feeling that things may be reversing, at least in the minds of analysts when even Coach (COH), a literal punching leather bag for all, receives an upgrade. While my shares of Coach were assigned this week, as were my shares of Kohls (KSS), I’m ready to repurchase both in their current range, as the long fall down deserves at least a short climb higher.

Coach has shown itself to be able to faithfully defend the $46 level despite so many assaults over the past two years. That ability to consistently bounce back has made it a great covered option position, whether through outright purchase or the sale of puts.

Kohls represents exactly what I like in my stocks. That is a non-descript existence and just happily going along its way without making too much fuss, other than an occasional earnings related outburst. Dependable is far more important than being flashy and as a stock and as a company, Kohls hugs that middle lane reliably, but still provides a competitive premium thanks to those occasional outbursts.

If the thesis that retail is ready for a comeback has more of a basis than just as reflected in share price, but also reflects pent up spending from a harsh winter, MasterCard (MA) is a prime beneficiary. While already somewhat protected from the ravages of weather by virtue of being able to spend your money with just a simple mouse click, there are just some things that need to be done in the real world. Trading well below its pre-split price until recently I had not owned shares in years. Now more readily purchased in scale, I look forward to the opportunity to purchase and re-purchase these shares with some degree of regularity, WHile its dividend is paltry, there is certainly room for growth to rise to the levels of Visa (V) and Discover Financial Services (DFS). However, notwithstanding any potential bump in share price along with a dividend hike, the option premiums can make the wait worthwhile.

In a week of no industry specific news, following a flurry of changes in industry dynamics initiated by T-Mobile (TMUS), Verizon (VZ) fell 3% bringing it down to a level from which it has found significant strength. While General Electric may face some potential liability with events in Crimea or a deteriorating economy in China, I don’t see quite the same liability for Verizon. Instead, whatever burdens it has to carry will come from an increasingly competitive landscape as it and AT&T (T) are continually pushed by T-Mobile and perhaps Sprint (S). In the meantime, while trading in a range and finding support at $46, there’s always the additional lure of a 4.5% dividend.

While Verizon isn’t terribly exciting it meets its match in Intel (INTC). However, the excitement that comes from growth isn’t absolutely necessary to generate predictable profits. Intel is especially well suited when it’s share price is very close to a strike level. If volatility continues to rise the opportunity to purchase Intel expands as the price range at which it may be purchased increases, while still offering an attractive option premium which can be further enhanced by an attractive dividend.

While it was only a matter of time until retail would begin to dig its way out from under the piles of snow, no sector has brutalized me more this past year than the one that requires digging. Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is among that group that hasn’t been terribly kind to me, despite my belief that it would be the “stock of the year” for 2013.

With copper itself being brutalized this past week, despite gold’s relative strength, Freeport McMoRan has itself had the weight of the market’s response to the less than robust Chinese economy to shoulder. But the one thing that you can always count on is that data from China can easily correct reality and that explains the seemingly recurrent see-saw ride that we have been on in those sectors that are tied to their data. The true plunge in copper prices, if sustained, will not be good news for Freeport McMoRan, whose generous dividend payout could conceivably be jeopardized.

On the other hand, shares are now at a level that has repeatedly created substantial returns for those willing to test the waters.

Finally, not many companies, especially those with a newly appointed CEO had as bad a week as General Motors. You might think that having paid its first dividend in years this past Friday there would be reasons to rejoice, but finding yourself at the top of the headlines related to customer deaths isn’t an enviable place, nor one conducive to a thriving share price. When the Attorney General of any state piles on that doesn’t help.

However, with a chorus of those clamoring for General Motors to re-test the $30 level purely on a technical basis there may be reason enough to believe that won’t be the case. Having timed a purchase of shares as inopportunely as possible, I’d like nothing more than to see that position restored to some respect.

As with the recent news that the FTC will b

e investigating allegations that Herbalife was engaged in a Ponzi scheme, the bad news for General Motors, while coming as an acute event, will take a long while to play out, regardless of the merits of the cases or the human tragedies caught up in what is now a story of fines, punishment andperhaps even acquittal.

Traditional Stocks: Coach, General Electric, General Motors, Intel, Kohls, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Best Buy (ex-div 3/18), Las Vegas Sands (ex-div 3/18)

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.