Weekend Update – October 23, 2016

This past week was the first full week of earnings for this most recent earnings season and you could be excused for wondering just how to interpret the data coming in.

The financial sector had fared well, but if you were looking for a pattern of revenue and earnings beats, or even looking for a shared sense of optimism going forward from a more diverse group of companies, you’ve been disappointed to date.

For the most part, this past week was one of mixed messages and the market really rewarded the messages that it wanted to hear and really punished when the messages didn’t hit the right notes.

With so much attention being placed on the expectation that the FOMC would have sufficient data to warrant an interest rate increase in December, you might have thought that companies would start painting a slightly more optimistic image of what awaited their businesses, perhaps based upon a building trend from the past quarter.

That optimistic guidance has yet to prevail even as some have been reporting better than expected revenues.

But no one should be surprised with the mixed messages that the market hasn’t been able to interpret and then use as a foothold to move in a sustained direction.

The mixed messages coming from those reporting just follows the wonderful example of streaming mixed messages that have been coming at us all year long from members of the Federal Reserve.

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Weekend Update – July 7, 2013

Much has been made of the recent increase in volatility.

As someone who sells options I like volatility because it typically results in higher option premiums. Since selling an option provides a time defined period I don’t get particularly excited when seeing large movements in a share’s price. With volatility comes greater probability that “this too shall pass” and selling that option allows you to sit back a bit and watch to see the story unwind.

It also gives you an opportunity to watch “the smart money” at play and wonder “just how smart is that “smart money”?

But being a observer doesn’t stop me from wondering sometimes what is behind a sudden and large movement in a stock’s price, particularly since so often they seem to occur in the absence of news. They can’t all be “fat finger ” related. I also sit and marvel about entire market reversals and wildly alternating interpretations of data.

I’m certain that for a sub-set there is some sort of technical barrier that’s been breached and the computer algorithms go into high gear. but for others the cause may be less clear, but no doubt, it is “The Smart Money,” that’s behind the gyrations so often seen.

Certainly for a large cap stock and one trading with considerable volume, you can’t credit or blame the individual investor for price swings, especially in the absence of news. Since for those shares the majority are owned by institutions, which hopefully are managed by those that comprise the “smart money” community, the large movements certainly most result in detriment to at least some in that community.

But what especially intrigues me is how the smart money so often over-reacts to news, yet still can retain their moniker.

This week’s announcement that there would be a one year delay in implementing a specific component of the Affordable Care Act , the Employer mandate, resulted in a swift drop among health care stocks, including pharmaceutical companies.

Presumably, since the markets are said to discount events 6 months into the future, the timing may have been just right, as a July 3, 2013 announcement falls within that 6 month time frame, as the changes were due to begin January 1, 2014.

By some kind of logic the news of the delay, which reflects a piece of legislation that has regularly alternated between being considered good and bad for health care stocks, was now again considered bad.

But only for a short time.

As so often is seen, such as when major economic data is released, there is an immediate reaction that is frequently reversed. Why in the world would smart people have knee jerk reactions? That doesn’t seem so smart. This morning’s reaction to the Employment Situation report is yet another example of an outsized initial reaction in the futures market that saw its follow through in the stock market severely eroded. Of course, the reaction to the over-reaction was itself then eroded as the market was entering into its final hour, as if involved in a game of volleyball piting two team of smart money against one another.

Some smart money must have lost some money during that brief period of time as they mis-read the market’s assessment of the meaning of a nearly 200,000 monthly increase in employment.

After having gone to my high school’s 25th Reunion a number of years ago, it seemed that the ones who thought they were the most cool turned out to be the least. Maybe smart money isn’t much different. Definitely be wary of anyone that refers to themselves as being part of the smart money crowd.

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

As a caveat, with Earnings Season beginning this week some of the selections may also be reporting their own earnings shortly, perhaps even during the July 2013 option cycle. That knowledge should be factored into any decision process, particularly since if you select a shorter term option sale that doesn’t get assigned, since yo may be left with a position that is subject to earnings related risk. By the same token, some of those positions will have their premiums enhanced by the uncertainty associated with earnings.

Both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) were on my list of prospective purchases last week. Besides being a trading shortened week in celebration of the FOurth of July, it was also a trade shortened week, as I initiated the fewest new weekly positions in a few years. Both shares were among those that took swift hits from fears that a delay in the ACA would adversely impact companies in the sector. In hindsight, that was a good opportunity to buy shares, particularly as they recovered significantly later in the day. Lilly is well off of its recent highs and Abbott Labs goes ex-dividend this week. However, it does report earnings during the final week of the July 2013 option cycle. I think that healthcare stocks have further to run.

AIG (AIG) is probably the stock that I’ve most often thought of buying over the past two years but have too infrequently gone that path. While at one time I thought of it only as a speculative position it is about as mainstream as they come, these days. Under the leadership of Robert Ben Mosche it has accomplished what no one believe was possible with regard to paying back the Treasury. While its option premiums aren’t as exciting as they once were it still offers a good risk-reward proposition.

Despite having given up on “buy and hold,” I’ve almost always had shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) over the past 5 years. They just haven’t been the same shares f
or very long. It’s CEO, Andrew Liveris was once the darling of cable finance news and then fell out of favor, while being roundly criticized as Dow shares plummeted in 2008. His star is pretty shiny once again and he has been a consistent force in leading the company to maintain shares trading in a fairly defined channel. That is an ideal kind of stock for a covered call strategy.

The recent rise in oil prices and the worries regarding oil transport through the Suez Canal, hasn’t pushed British Petroleum (BP) shares higher, perhaps due to some soon to be completed North Sea pipeline maintenance. British Petroleum is also a company that I almost always own, currently owning two higher priced lots. Generally, three lots is my maximum for any single stock, but at this level I think that shares are a worthy purchase. With a dividend yield currently in excess of 5% it does make it easier to make the purchase or to add shares to existing lots.

General Electric (GE) is one of those stocks that I only like to purchase right after a large price drop or right before its ex-dividend date. Even if either of those are present, I also like to see it trading right near its strike price. Its big price drop actually came 3 weeks ago, as did its ex-dividend date. Although it is currently trading near a strike price, that may be sufficient for me to consider making the purchase, hopeful of very quick assignment, as earnings are reported July 19, 2013.

Oracle (ORCL) has had its share of disappointments since the past two earnings releases. Its problems appear to have been company specific as competitors didn’t share in sales woes. The recent announcement of collaborations with Microsoft (MSFT and Salesforce.com (CRM) says that a fiercely competitive Larry Ellison puts performance and profits ahead of personal feelings. That’s probably a good thing if you believe that emotion can sometimes not be very helpful. It too was a recent selection that went unrequited. Going ex-dividend this week helps to make a purchase decision easier.

This coming week and next have lots of earnings coming from the financial sector. Having recently owned JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) I think I will stay away from those this week. While I’ve been looking for new entry points for Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), I think that they’re may be a bit too volatile at the moment. One that has gotten my attention is Bank of New York Mellon (BK). While it does report earnings on July 17, 2013 it isn’t quite as volatile as the latter two banks and hasn’t risen as much as Wells Fargo (WFC), another position that I would like to re-establish.

YUM Brands (YUM) reports earnings this week and as an added enticement also goes ex-dividend on the same day. People have been talking about the risk in its shares for the past year, as it’s said to be closely tied to the Chinese economy and then also subject to health scare rumors and realities. Shares do often move significantly, especially when they are stoked by fears, but YUM has shown incredible resilience, as perhaps some of the 80% institutional ownership second guess their initial urge to head for the exits, while the “not so smart money” just keeps the faith.

Finally, one place that the “smart money” has me intrigued is JC Penney (JCP). With a large vote of confidence from George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, it’s hard to not wonder what it is that he sees in the company, after all, he was smart enough to have fled Hungary. The fact that I already own shares, but at a higher price, is conveniently irrelevant in thinking that Soros is smart to like JC Penney. In hindsight it may turn out that ex-CEO Ron Johnson’s strategy was well conceived and under the guidance of a CEO with operational experience will blossom. I think that by the time earnings are reported just prior to the end of the August 2013 option cycle, there will be some upward surprises.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, General Electric,

Momentum Stocks: AIG, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 7/11), Oracle (ex-div)7/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/10 PM)

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

   

Weekend Update – May 5, 2013

ADP. ISM. FOMC. ECB

They came one after another at us last week. Not to mention the Jobless Report and the Employment Situation Reports to end the week.

Following the previous week where I had temporarily gone on one of my wild and drunken spending ways buying new shares with assignment proceeds, I returned to a more cautious note this past week.

Maybe it was the soup. While I have much greater comfort when on a shopping spree, usually borne out of a bullish view of the world, this week even the comfort food was sending me some kind of misleading message, spoonful after spoonful. I don’t always listen to my soup, but when I do, I know that things are serious. This week’s message wasn’t exactly cryptic in nature. For certain, the message wasn’t “Buy, Buy, Buy.”

But to simply assume the message is correct is bordering on lunacy, so I just decided not to buy quite as much, proving that we can all get along. Besides, “sell, sell, sell,” seemed so draconian.

Although so often a drastically sharp move downward comes from unexpected or lightly regarded catalysts, there’s not too much of an excuse to overlook some potentially obvious catalysts when the market appears to be in an overbought condition. For me, already sensitized to a possible drop, the FOMC, ECB and Employment Situation were individually capable of initiating and speeding a sudden descent.

Aligned? Had the Federal Reserve given a strong hint of an end to Quantitative Easing, had they suggested an earlier timetable for interest rate hikes, or had the European Central Bank not lowered rates that combination had the makings of a nasty punch. Throw a second successive month of disappointing employment numbers, perhaps with downward revisions of previous months and now you’ve got a party.

For short sellers, at least.

While the market did have a slightly delayed reaction to the FOMC minutes, it was fairly mute, despite doubling the early losses. The following day, which is often the day the real action occurs after an FOMC meeting, had its tone already set earlier by the ECB decision to drop rates.

That just left Friday, with a little hint from Wednesday’s release of the ADP statistics. that job growth may be slowing due to some headwinds in the economy. Much of the talk on Wednesday was how fearful everyone was that the number on Friday would be terribly negative.

The fact that the number was, in fact, an indication of a growing economy and there were massive upward revisions to earlier months was the surprise that should never have been a surprise, as thesis changing revisions are routine.

So all of the important letters were aligned, as no one really cares about ISM, and there was reason for a party. The order of the day on Friday was “buy, buy, buy,” once again delaying the “Sell in May” crowd’s ascent and giving me cause to reflect as the majority of my monthly covered call positions are now in the money and do not stand to further profit in the event of a continued market rise.

Of course, if I wanted to continue the lunacy, I would simply rationalize it all and convince myself that I now have a nice cushion between share and strike prices to withstand a fall between now and May 18, 2013. Sooner or later my call for a significant market drop will have to take on broken clock qualities.

Yet, the rationalizations aren’t working. Maybe I need another spoonful of soup.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the “PEE” category, despite earnings season still going strong (see details). Additionally, this week the emphasis is once again on dividend paying stocks and still giving greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any pauses in the runaway train. Of course, after Friday’s run higher capping off a week when the S&P 500 moved 2% higher, good luck finding any bargain priced shares. Bargains may be justifiably so. Sometimes there’s a reason no one asks you to dance. You just refuse to look in the mirror, justifiably so.

I jumped the gun a bit on Friday afternoon and purchased shares of Pfizer (PFE). After a very impressive share run higher, which hasn’t really occurred in the post-Viagra era, Pfizer reported earnings last week and continued the weakness that immediately preceded the report, after some European regulatory disappointments. A case of too much and too fast from my perspective, but the shares appear as a reasonably low risk over the coming weeks, particularly with a safe and healthy dividend and an upcoming ex-dividend date this week.

Wells Fargo (WFC) has been a frequent purchase target. While I do like shares, it along with so many others is more expensive than I would like. However, it has proven resilient in defending its share price when tested and the test levels have been slowly climbing higher. That’s certainly a more healthy way to see appreciation and I think offers less risk in what may become a risky environment. Additionally, their new ad campaign, “At least we’re not JP Morgan” (JPM) speaks volumes with regard to superfluous risk. As often before, my entry point is not so coincidentally synchronized with an ex-dividend date.

Weyerhauser (WY) is not a stock that I buy very often, but in hindsight I wonder why. Not because it does anything spectacular, but rather because it is so unspectacular that it has the core requirements of being an ideal covered call stock. It generally trades in a narrow range, has an options premium that is more than symbolic and pays a competitive dividend. What’s not to like, especially this week as it also goes ex-dividend.

Although I don’t have any “PEE” selections this week, Marathon Oil (MRO) does report earnings on May 7, 2013. However, unlike the usual earnings related plays that I prefer, it isn’t expected to trade in a wide range after the announcement. It’s implied move is far less than the 10% or greater that I usually look for while still offering a 1% ROI. Instead, it’s just like any other stock that happens to be reporting earnings, except that it’s approximately 5% off of its recent high, satisfying another of the criteria I look for when considering the risk associated with trading around earnings season.

I already own shares of St. Jude Medical (STJ) at a price slightly higher than Friday’s close. I rarely think about adding additional shares unless the price has had a significant drop. However, St. Judes Medical has had a fall relative to the market and certainly to the heath care sector. I don’t envision it as being at undue risk in the event of a market downturn, due to its modest existence during the upturn.

Parker Hannefin (PH) and W.W. Grainger (GWW) both go ex-dividend this week. Although their share rise on Friday adds to some reluctance to add them to the portfolio next week, if the Employment Situation statistics and the revisions are any guide, there may be very good reason to suspect that industrials and the companies that support the industrials may be ready for a little bit of a resurgence. Neither offer incredibly exciting dividends, but share appreciation may be more a part of the equation than it is for most stocks that I consider due to their option and dividend income potential.

I’ve been looking for a re-entry point in Goldman Sachs (GS) for a while. Again, hindsight told me that may have been a couple of weeks ago as shares were a relative bargain. The fact that shares have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 12 weeks has appeal for me, as I believe it marks a company that may be better equipped to out-perform going forward, particularly in a downturn.

Finally, Abercrombie and FItch (ANF) is an always exciting stock to own, especially as earnings are approaching. In this case earnings aren’t expected until May 15, 2013, so there is a little bit of breathing space to consider shares before the added volatility kicks in. When it moves, the moves are spectacular and certainly the option premiums reflect that kind of risk. My bias at the moment is that if an opportunity will arise it will likely take the form of put sales. However, that is only something that I would do if emotionally prepared to hold shares going into earnings if assigned. If so, a bit of luck may be necessary to turn the tables and sell call contracts going into earnings or sell additional puts if you’re really adventurous.

Traditional Stocks: Goldman Sachs, Marathon Oil, St. Jude Medical

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: W.W. Grainger (ex-div 5/9), Parker-Hannefin (ex-div 5/8), Pfizer (ex-div 5/8), Wells Fargo (ex-div 5/8), Weyerhauser (ex-div 5/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

Weekend Update – April 14, 2013

Increasingly modern science is helping to bring great clarity to an understanding of the very essence of our universe’s existence. Yet there remain some questions that will likely forever escape our ability to comprehend.

Some questions, such as the perennial “what is the meaning of life?” do not have a “Higgs-Boson” to provide a unifying hypothesis and can simultaneously provide contentment as well as contention.

I prefer to ask a very basic question that rarely has an answer. “What were they thinking?” Sometimes I ask a variant of that question – “What was I thinking?” Lately I’ve been asking the latter quite a bit.

What perplexes me, though, is how such two groups of smart people can convincingly commit themselves to opposite sides of an investment or so convincingly change their allegiances. I suppose that same observation can be applied toward the issue of nations going to war and then pursuing peace. The reasons aren’t always clear, yet the convictions are rock solid.

In this case, it’s one of my long time favorites and most recently under-performing stocks, Microsoft (MSFT) that is at the center of my attention. It happens to report earnings this coming week and any significant price changes ahead of earnings reflect conviction and large bets to back up that conviction.

For many, Microsoft has been an under-performer for a decade. I don’t look at it quite like that because of its option premiums and dividends while trading in a reasonably narrow price range. Lately, however, I haven’t been selling options as regularly as I had over nearly a decade of nearly continual share ownership. That’s because that price range had significantly narrowed and was well below my cost.

But this week really got my attention as shares skyrocketed, at least by Microsoft’s standards, about 6% over 2 days and surpassed $30. You may remember that $30 level, because that was just a bit above the level that many “smart” people finally publicly declared their love of the shares, just in tome to get in before a pronounced course reversal.

That was over a year ago. The price course higher was slow and under the radar. It’s rise, just as what happens to a frog in a pot of water that is slowly heated to the boiling point, went totally unrecognized by those that get paid for the opinions. The subsequent retreat, however was faster, but not of epic proportion.

But it was different this week. On no real news earlier in the week, shares surged. I don’t really recall the last time Microsoft had that kind of move higher without very positive news to propel it. I would assume, given it is a Dow Jones Index stock that it took the money of many smart people to make it rise as high and as quickly as it had done. I guess there was conviction behind the buying ahead of earnings. What else could account for the very high profile movement?

Then, just as quickly, actually even more quickly, the “smartest guys in the room” at Goldman Sachs (GS) downgraded Microsoft from “Neutral” to “Sell,” causing shares to fall 5% at time that the overall market was reaching for yet another new high. To be fair, Goldman Sachs tempered its conviction, having started at “Neutral” and not regressing downward to its “Conviction Sell” category.

Yet the market reacted with great conviction while I sat and asked the age old questions, happily having sold $29 calls earlier in the monthly cycle, finally getting back in that game as shares once again started a slow, below the radar ascent.

The reversals of late are frequent and very often without obvious catalyst, such as may be seen with shares of Baidu (BIDU) and Whole Foods (WFM). Then again, there weren’t necessarily catalysts to send them downward, either.

Sometimes reversing direction may take on a personal nature, as I’ve been bearish for more than a month and reluctant to commit to new positions while building cash and using longer term option contracts, where possible as often as possible. There does come a point when you begin to wonder what carries the greater cost. Missing out on further advances or chasing those advances. Although we don’t experience annual 20-30% gains very often, they do happen and they do have to start someplace. Maybe 10% over the first three months of the year is that place.

What’s missing though, is the conviction. My certainty of a correction was greater that is my current uncertainty. Having been wrong thus far shouldn’t be part of the equation, but it is hard to ignore.

For my personal trades I continue to be inclined to consider the increased safety of longer term monthly contracts, as I continue to expect some market correction, but I’m getting tired of waiting and missing out on some short term opportunities. Whatever convictions I may have or be evolving toward, I want to hedge those convictions.

In other words, I either have no convictions or am very flexible on them.

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

Walgreen (WAG) is one of those stocks that I regret having sold covered call options u
pon. It was also one of those rare instances in the past year that I waited to sell the options because I believed that shares would recover quickly from a precipitous drop. What i didn’t realize was just how great the recovery would be. Lately, the recoveries seem to be less quick and less robust, as the market appears to be more wary of mis-steps, even while in the midst of general enthusiasm. Despite impressive gains for the year, well ahead of the Health Care Index SPDR (XLV), Walgreen continues to be well poised to navigate through any health care model.

EMC Corp (EMC) in recent years has been defined by its wildly successful spin-off, VMWare (VMW). Following VMWare’s most recent disappointing guidance EMC has been defined by that guidance. I currently own shares and have also had other share lots assigned in the past few months. EMC reports earnings during the first week of the May 2013 option cycle, but appears to have developed support in the $23 level. I may consider adding shares or selling puts in advance of earnings, even though I am over-invested in the Technology sector and it has been under-performing.

McGraw Hill (MHP) continues its share rehabilitation after being put in the crosshairs of those that blame its actions for the past fiscal crisis. Whether it can successfully implement the famed “I was just doing my job” defense or not, it is still well below its previous trading levels.

Now that my cardiac rehabilitation has been completed, I don’t think I’ll ever need to don a pair of sneakers again. Fortunately, Footlocker (FL) can draw upon a population that isn’t very much like me and also sees fashion in pieces of rubber and cloth that are assembled far away by those that couldn’t qualify to work at FoxConn. It goes ex-dividend this week and although there is not a terribly large advantage to selling the option and attempting to also secure the dividend, it may be a good opportunity in a week that the general market is not showing large gains

As Chesapeake Energy (CHK) re-approached the $20 level that was my signal to purchase shares again after having owned numerous lots over the course of 2012. With much of the drama gone and the well deserved condemnation of telegraphing their need to sell assets at levels approaching distressed pricing, I think shares will actually even offer long term prospects, not just as a conduit for generating option premium income.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that is very responsive to rumors concerning the Chinese economy, As much as Caterpillar (CAT) is increasingly levered to Chinese growth, Joy Global is much more so and has correspondingly larger moves upon news. Although I own Caterpillar and Deere (DE) at the moment, and those heavy movers are a little out of favor, with Joy Global near its yearly low and with earnings still a few weeks away, I may be tempted to pick up shares and capitalize on its always high option premium.

As the financial sector has been alternating between ups and downs in response to hypothetical stress tests and real stresses, none has been more responsive than Bank of America (BAC). After JP Morgan (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) reported earnings on Friday, April 12, 2013, it will be Bank of America’s turn next week. Having owned shares several times already this year, its shares have shown great resilience during that period. Although current option pricing doesn’t seem to be expecting a significant drop after earnings are released, it certainly is possible. However, the resilience provides me some reason to believe that even with a drop it won’t take an undue length of time to see shares ultimately assigned. The presence of extended weekly options on Bank of America also offers an expansion of strategies and premium price points.

Finally, Align Technology (ALGN) is just an incredible profit center for dentists that use the product. Speaking as a one time practicing dentist, basically an idiot can perform an increasingly wide range of orthodontic services utilizing the technology. It is one of the first stocks that I started following in order to validate the “PEE” thesis. Shares are very capable of large earnings related moves, but most recently the put premiums have become a little less welcoming, However, anything less than a 10% drop in share price can still result in a 1.3% ROI for the week. If you don’t mind the fact that its shares have dropped by 30% in the past in the aftermath of earnings that can be a good risk-reward offering, at least for some.

Traditional Stocks: EMC, McGraw Hill, Walgreen

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Footlocker (ex-div 4/17)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Align Technology (4/18 PM), Bank of America (4/17 AM), Microsoft (4/18 PM)

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

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

 

Weekend Update – April 7, 2013

I’m was beginning to feel like one of those Pacific Island soldiers that never found out World War II had ended and remained ever-presently vigilant for an impending attack that never came.

Amazingly, some held up their vow to defend for decades while I’m having difficulty after a bit more than a month waiting for a correction. Nothing big, just in line with this same time period in 2012, as I see lots of similarities to that time, not only in the parallel nature of the charts, but also in my own less than stellar performances, having been selling covered options as religiously as a sentinel keeps an eye on the horizon.

Having weathered the acute shock value of Cyprus, decreasing economic growth in China, currency manipulation in Japan and digested the initial uncertainty of the Korean Peninsula, it looked as if any sentinel for a sell-off would be a lonely soldier.

Now faced with a disappointing employment situation there’s opportunity to wonder over the weekend whether the pole has been sufficiently greased or whether this is simply the very quick mini sell-off of April 2012 that occurred just as Apple (AAPL) hit its high, then quickly recovered, just in time to lead to a 9% sell-off.

Apple had came off its April high by 5% at that point that the greater market downturn began, which is that same point that Google (GOOG) was down from its recent high point, at the close of Thursday’s trading (April 4, 2013). Coincidentally, that was the day before today’s sell-off. For those that have believed that Google has rotated into market leadership, having wrestled the position away from Apple, that may be a cause for concern. as does the fact that Google has traded below that dreaded 50 Day Moving Average.

I don’t know much about those kind of technical factors, but I do recognize that sometimes there is a basis for deja vu being more than just a feeling. What actually exists over the horizon is still anyone’s guess, but unlike those lonely soldiers you can feel relatively assured that at some point an unwelcome visitor will appear and wreak some havoc on the market. From my perspective that comes along every 52 months, so I’m not quite ready to accept that the time has come to drop defenses, but there may be room to let the guard down a bit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (see details). Additionally, for the first time in a few weeks there is a somewhat greater emphasis on Momentum stocks, as a coming downslide might reasonably be expected to unduly impact upon issues that have thrived recently, particularly the more defensive stocks. However, I am still inclined to consider monthly contracts over weekly ones, simply for a little extra breathing room while continuing to await a market heading in a southerly direction.

One Momentum stock that has also thrived up until very recently is YUM Brands (YUM). It also happens to go ex-dividend this week and has already given back much of its gains in the absence of any news. In the past it has demonstrated itself very capable of bouncing back from both real news and speculation regarding its forward prospects. Simultaneously being held hostage to the Chinese economy and also proving to be independent of swirling winds, YUM Brands serves as a model of what can be achieved in a marketplace where the playing field is anything but level.

A real signal that something is evolving, at least from my perspective, is that I no longer classify AIG (AIG) as a Momentum stock. Over the past year, had I followed by frequent suggestions that AIG might be an appropriate covered call position, I think I could have limited my portfolio to a single stock. Robert Ben Mosche, it’s CEO is the poster child for leadership and focus. With some recent share weakness, I think it may be time to add it back to a portfolio in need of income and reasonable price stability.

A couple of months ago I made an earnings related trade in F5 Networks (FFIV) that worked out nicely. Having sold puts just prior to earnings, F5 surpassed expectations and the trade was closed in 4 days. Thursday evening after the closing bell, F5 release disappointing guidance that saw its shares fall more than 15%.

I hate guidance that comes out weeks before earnings and catches me off-guard. In the past I’ve seen Cummins Engine (CMI) and Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) seem t
o regularly upset happy shareholders with that kind of timed guidance. Despite the fact that analysts seem to be in agreement that this is solely an F5 issue, it indiscriminately drags down the sector, perhaps offering opportunities.

In this case, I think the opportunities are now in both Cisco (CSCO) and Riverbed Technology (RVBD), both unduly hit in the aftermath of F5 and just a couple of weeks ago by Oracle’s (ORCL) disappointing earnings, which were also agreed to be an Oracle specific shortcoming. I currently own shares of Riverbed and would even consider adding to the position ahead of earnings later in the month.

Western Refining (WNR) returns to the list from last week, as an unrequited purchase. It is, possibly another example of how the market acts indiscriminately and emotionally. Following Valero’s (VLO) moaning about the costs of upcoming EPA initiatives for cleaner gas the market punished the entire sector, despite the fact that the EPA suggested that the costs of compliance were minimal for most refiners. The market made no distinction and assumed that all refiners would be subject to additional costs similar to the $300-400 million suggested by Valero. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the fortitude to pick up shares of Western Refining as it briefly dipped below $30 or Phillips 66 (PSX) as it fell about 10%. It didn’t stay there very long and certainly never confirmed the worst case scenario that Valero so openly shouted.

MetLife (MET) also returns from last week, which was another week of hesitancy to commit cash in favor of building reserves. There were, however, a number of times that I was ready to part with some of the cash, but ultimately resisted. As opposed to Western Refining, MetLife’s shares went down even further, so those decisions to embrace inaction may have balanced one another out. I continue to believe that shares will benefit from an increasingly healthy housing market, although that is far from MetLife’s core and highest profile business.

The financial sector was hit quite hard this past week. Since I owned shares of both Morgan Stanley (MS) and JP Morgan (JPM), I was acutely aware of their duress. However, in addition to JP Morgan and Wells Fargo (WFC) releasing earnings this Friday and perhaps representing some opportunity, Bank of America (BAC), whose shares I had assigned just a week ago has given up much of its recent run-up higher and is becoming attractive again.

Finally, Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) s one of my favorite stores, but not one of my favorite stocks. It has had a bit of a price rise on some buy-out speculation and it has demonstrated past ability to disappoint on earnings. Already down about 4% from its very recent high, I would be comfortable owning shares at $60 and would consider a 1.5% ROI for a 2 week holding period to be a decent reward while anticipating less than a 5% decline in share price in the after-math of earnings.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Bank of America, Riverbed Technology, Western Refining,

Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (ex-div 4/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: JP Morgan (4/12 AM), Pier 1 (4/11 AM), Wells Fargo (4/12 AM)

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

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

 

Weekend Update – March 31, 2013

It’s said that George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak (EKDKQ), was quite methodical as he approached the end of his life and was prepared to put his escape plan into action.

“My work here is done” may be a very logical way to approach any kind of transition, although it doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme that Eastman felt was appropriate under his circumstances. Be prepared, but don’t be crazy.

I’ve been transitioning a portfolio for almost a month in anticipation of the market taking a break and perhaps giving back some of its gains; maybe even a lot of its gains.

Doing so has made me much less fun to be around, but circumstances do change and being prepared for plausible scenarios means having exit strategies and surviving to see them do as planned until it’s time to exit the exit strategy. Once my work is done I can’t wait to get back to work.

I for one was glad to see the first quarter of 2013 come to an end. Fortunately, as a covered option seller, my remaining life span may not be sufficient to see another opening yearly quarter such as this past one, as the last such period was in 1987.

You may or may not remember how that year ended, but let’s just say that a single day 500 point drop back then was a lot more meaningful than it would be today.

I wasn’t prepared back then, in fact, that was the last time I used a margin account. I may end up being wrong this time around, but in watching markets for a number of years, both as a casual observer and as an active participant it’s reasonably clear that the good times don’t just keep rolling.

Selling covered calls is a great strategy when applied methodically, but it does meet its match in markets that just do nothing other than going higher. Hopefully April will usher in some greater variety in outcomes, as the past few weeks, despite having established records in both the Dow Jones and S&P 500 have been showing some signs of tentative behavior.

Part of being a less fun person has meant initiating fewer new positions each week. The first step to creating an environment that wouldn’t entice me to spend money on new positions was to cut off the funding just like you might with any addict. Luckily, most stock traders won’t resort to petty crime and pawning the belongings of loved ones to feed the habit, although that margin account can be very appealing and the answer to an easy fix.

I cut off my flow of funds by moving from weekly to extended weekly or monthly options. Longer contracts means less weekly contracts available to be assigned and less opportunity for new weekly cash to be available to “feed the beast.”.

Unfortunately, I also curtailed my cash flow by some unseemly timing in the purchase of new positions this past quarter, such as Petrobras (PBR) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) that are sitting awaiting opportunities to have call contracts written against them.

The next part of the transition was focusing on reliable dividend paying stocks. The kind your grandfather would feel comfortable owning. Last week, all new positions went ex-dividend last week or this coming week. They’re not very exciting to own, but dividends, especially when their ensuing share price reduction is partially offset by option premiums are especially welcome.

Keeping more cash in reserve, moving away from “Momentum” positions, longer contracts and seeking near term dividends is the exit strategy and my transition is nearly complete.

Now comes the waiting and the period of self-doubt, which includes wondering when it’s time to abandon a thesis. In the meantime, increasing cash reserves doesn’t mean a total prohibition against finding potential new opportunities. After all, being prepared doesn’t have to take you to extremes. Once you’ve reached a crazy state of preparedness it’s hard to turn around to see the light.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend or Momentum categories, with no selections in the “PEE” category, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (see details). Additionally, as in previous weeks there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence.

Some of this week’s selections are stocks that I already own but may consider adding to existing positions. One such stock is Deere (DE) which left me somewhat exasperated this past Thursday, the final day of a holiday shortened trading week.

At almost precisely noon shares of Deere dropped by about $1.40 in about 8 minutes, taking it from the realm of stocks poised for assignment. The plunge happened while the market was stable and most other heavy machinery and equipment makers were actually going higher. There was no news to account for the sudden and sustained drop. Neither in real time nor hours after.

Caterpillar (CAT) is one of the stocks that has an ignominious reputation during this record setting quarter. It was among the worst performers of the quarter and was routinely tagged as a laggard on those days that the broad market performed well. I recently purchased shares having waited all quarter for them
to reach the price point that was very kind to me in 2012. It accompanied Deere for a small portion of the former’s inexplicable retreat but recovered sufficiently to avoid being tagged yet again.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) and Medtronic (MDT) fit into two ongoing themes. Looking for near term dividend paying shares and belonging to the broadly defined healthcare sector. While healthcare has been the leading sector for the trailing year, I think there are still short term opportunities, even with a specter of a declining market. While both Bristol Myers and Medtronic have had significant advances lately, the combination of dividend and premium continue to make it appealing.

MetLife (MET), also a recent holding, fits into my broad definition of “healthcare” if you stretch that definition to an extreme. Part of my positive outlook for its shares is related to what I believe will be growth in its home insurance business. Of course, I rarely think in terms of fundamentals and certainly don’t have a long term perspective on its shares, but it is well positioned to maintain price stability even in a stock market of reduced stability.

Wells Fargo (WFC) and JP Morgan (JPM) are two very different banks. JP Morgan goes ex-dividend this week and has been beleaguered with domestic attacks from elected officials and international attacks as Cyprus may or may not add risk to global banks, such as JP Morgan.

On the other hand, Wells Fargo is as pure of a domestic play as you can find at a size that still makes it “too big to fail.” With news of improving real estate sales all over the country the Wells Fargo money machine is poised to re-create the glory days that so abruptly ended 5 years ago.

I’ve been looking for an excuse to purchase Lowes (LOW) for the past few weeks and have watched its price show some mild erosion during that time

Dow Chemical (DOW) has been one of my favorite stocks for a long time. I purchased additional shares last week to capture its dividend and after looking at its performance over the past 10 months feel guilty thinking that it’s a “boring” stock.

In fact, it’s been absolutely the poster child for what makes a covered call strategy a successful one. While its stock price has virtually remained unchanged since May 2012, the active cycle of buying shares, selling calls, assignment, buy shares, etc.. has resulted in a nearly 40% ROI.

Finally, Western Refining (WNR) is a company whose shares I briefly owned recently at a much lower price. It was one that got away during the uni-directional market of the first quarter. Its price has come down a bit and I think may now be at its “new normal” making it perhaps an antidote to Petrobras in a sector that has some catching up to do.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Deere, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan, Lowes, MetLife, Wells Fargo

Momentum Stocks: Western Refining

Double Dip Dividend: Bristol Myers (ex-div 4/3), JP Morgan (ex-div 4/3), Medtronic (ex-div 4/3)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

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

 

Weekend Update – March 10, 2013

It only seems fitting that one of the final big stories of the week that saw the Dow Jones eclipse its nearly 6 year old record high would be the latest reports of how individual banks performed on the lmost recent round of “stress tests.” After all, it was the very same banks that created significant national stress through their equivalent of bad diet, lack of exercise and other behavioral actions.

Just as I know that certain foods are bad for me and that exercise is good, I’m certain that the banks knew that sooner or later their risky behavior would catch up with them. The difference is that when I had my heart attack the effects were restricted to a relatively small group of people and I didn’t throw any one out of their homes.

Having had a few stress tests over the years myself, I know that sometimes the anticipation of the results is its own stress test. But for some reason, I don’t believe that the banks that were awaiting the results are facing the same concerns. Although I’m only grudgingly modifying my behavior, it’s not clear to me that the banks are or at least can be counted to stay out of the potato chip bag when no one is looking.

Over the past year I’ve held shares in Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC), Citibank (C), Bank of America (BAC) and Morgan Stanley (MS), still currently holding the latter two. They have been, perhaps, the least stressful of my holdings the past year or so, but I must admit I was hoping that some among that group would just go and fail so that they could become a bit more reasonably priced and perhaps even drag the market down a bit. But in what was, instead, a perfect example of “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” success led to most stressed bank shares falling.

The other story is simply that of the market. Now that its surpassed the 2007 highs it just seems to go higher in a nonchalant manner, not giving any indication of what’s really in the works. I’ve been convinced for the past 2 or three weeks that the market was headed lower and I’ve taken steps for a very mild Armageddon. Raising cash and using longer term calls to cover positions seemed like a good idea, but the only thing missing was being correct in predicting the direction of the market. For what it’s worth, I was much closer on the magnitude.

The employment numbers on Friday morning were simply good news icing on the cake and just added to my personal stress, which reflected a combination of over-exposure to stocks reacting to speculation on the Chinese economy and covered call positions in a climbing market.

Fortunately, the news of successful stress test results serves to reduce some of my stress and angst. With news that the major banking centers have enough capital to withstand severe stresses, you do have to wonder whether they will now loosen up a bit and start using that capital to heat up the economy. Not to beat a contrarian horse to death, but since it seems inevitable that lending has to resume as banking portfolios are reaching maturity, it also seems inevitable that the Federal Reserve’s exit strategy is now in place.

For those that believe the Federal Reserve was the prime sponsor of the market’s appreciation and for those who believe the market discounts into the future, that should only spell a market that has seen its highs. Sooner or later my theory has to be right.

I’m fine with that outcome and would think it wonderfully ironic if that reversal started on the anniversary of the market bottom on March 10, 2009.

But in the meantime, individual investment money still has to be put to work. Although I continue to have a negative outlook and ordinarily hedge my positions by selling options, the move into cash needs to be hedged as well – and what better way to hedge than with stocks?

Not just any stocks, but the boring kind, preferably dividend paying kind, while limiting exposure to more controversial positions. People have their own unique approaches to different markets. There’s a time for small caps, a time for consumer defensive and a time for dividend paying companies. The real challenge is knowing what time it is.

As usual, this week’s selections are categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum or Double Dip DIvidend (see details). As earnings season is winding down there appear to be no compelling earnings related trades in the coming week.

Although my preference would be for shares of Caterpillar (CAT) to approach $85, I’m heartened that it didn’t follow Deere’s (DE) path last week. I purchased Deere and subsequently had it assigned, as it left Caterpillar behind, for the first time in 2013, as they had tracked one another fairly closely. With the latest “news du jour” about a Chinese government commitment to maintaining economic growth, there may be enough positive news to last a week, at which point I would be happy to see the shares assigned and cash redeployed elsewhere.

Along with assigned shares of Deere were shares of McGraw Hill (MHP). It’s price spiked a bit early in the week and then returned close enough to the strike price that a re-purchase, perhaps using the same strike price may be a reasonable and relatively low risk trade, if the market can mai
ntain some stability.

There’s barely a day that goes by that you don’t hear some debate over the relative merits of Home Depot (HD) and Lowes (LOW). Home Depot happens to be ex-dividend this week and, unless it causes havoc with you need to be diversified, there’s no reason that both companies can’t be own concurrently. Now tat Lowes offers weekly options I’ve begun looking more frequently at its movement, not just during the final week of a monthly option cycle, which coincidentally we enter on Monday.

I rarely find good opportunity to purchase shares of Merck (MRK). It’s option premium is typically below the level that seems to offer a fair ROI. That’s especially true when shares are about to go ex-dividend. However, this week looks more appealing and after a quick look at the chart there doesn’t appear to be much more than a 5% downside relative to the overall market.

Macys (M) is another company that I’ve enjoyed purchasing to capture its dividend and then hold until shares are assigned. It’s trading about 6% higher than when I last held shares three weeks ago and is currently in a high profile legal battle with JC Penney (JCP). There is certainly downside in the event of an adverse decision, however, it now appears as if the judge presiding over the case may hold some sway as he has suggested that the sides find a resolution. That would be far less likely to be draconian for any of the parties. The added bonuses are that Macys is ex-dividend this week and it too has been added to the list of those companies offering weekly option contracts.

Cablevision (CVC) is one of New York’s least favorite companies. The distaste that people have for the company goes well beyond that which is normally directed at utilities and cable companies. There is animus director at the controlling family, the Dolans, that is unlike that seen elsewhere, as they have not always appeared to have shareholder interests on the list of things to consider. But, as long as they are paying a healthy dividend that is not known to be at risk, I can put aside any personal feelings.

Michael Kors (KORS) isn’t very consistent with the overall theme of staid, dividend paying stocks. After a nice earnings related trade a few weeks ago and rise in share price, Kors ran into a couple of self-made walls. First, it announced a secondary offering and then the founder, Michael Kors, announced a substantial sale of personal shares. It also may have more downside potential if you are one that likes looking at charts. However, from a consumer perspective, as far as retailers go, it is still” hot” and offers weekly options with appealing enough premiums for the risk. This turned out to be one of the few selections for which I couldn’t wait until the following week and sent out a Trading Alert on Friday morning.

Seagate Technology (STX) is another theme breaker. In the past I have had good fortune selling puts after price drops, which are frequent and sudden. The additional downside is that when drops do come, the recoveries are relatively slow, so patience may be required, as well as some tolerance for stress if selling puts and the price starts approaching the strike.

The final theme buster is Transocean (RIG). Is there anything that Carl Icahn is not involved with these days? Transocean has been a frequent trading vehicle for me over the years. Happy when weekly options became available, I was disappointed a few weeks ago when they disappeared. It is part of the “Evil Troika” that I often own concurrently. If purchased, Transocean will once again join British Petroleum (BP) in the portfolio, replacing Halliburton (HAL) which was assigned on Friday. Transocean has re-instituted the dividend, although it will still be a few months until the first such payment. Icahn believes that it is too little and too late. I don’t know how he would have the wherewithal to change the “too late” part, but most people would be happy with the proposed 4+% dividend.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Lowes

Momentum Stocks: McGraw Hill, Michael Kors, Seagate Technology, Transocean

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 3/13), Home Depot (ex-div 3/12), Macys (ex-div 3/13), Merck (ex-div 3/13)

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

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