Weekend Update – October 18, 2015

You have to be impressed with the way the market has rallied back from the morning of the most recent Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks earlier.

At the low point of that morning when the market seemed appropriately disappointed by the very disappointing numbers and the lowered revisions the S&P 500 had sunk to a point more than 11% below its recent high.

At its peak point of return since that low the S&P 500 was only 4.9% below its summer time high.

The difficulty in sustaining a large move in a short period of time is no different from the limitations we see in ourselves after expending a burst of energy and even those who are finally tuned to deliver high levels of performance.

When you think about a sprinter who’s asked to run a longer distance or bringing in a baseball relief pitcher who’s considered to be a “closer” with more than an inning to go, you see how difficult it can be to reach deep down when there’s nothing left to reach for.

Sometimes you feel as if there’s no choice and hope for the best.

You also can see just how long the recovery period can be after you’ve been asked to deliver more than you’ve been capable of delivering in the past. It seems that reaching deep down to do your best borrows heavily from the future.

While humans can often take a break and recharge a little markets are now world wide, inter-connected and plugged into a 24/7 news cycle.

While it may be boring when the market takes a rest by simply not moving anywhere, it can actually expend a lot of energy if it moves nowhere, but does so by virtue of large movements in off-setting directions.

We need a market that can now take a real rest and give up some of the histrionics, even though I like the volatility that it creates so that I can get larger premiums for the sale of options.

The seminal Jackson Browne song puts a different spin on the concept of “running on empty,” but the stock market doesn’t have the problems of a soulless wanderer, even though, as much as it’s subject to anthropomorphism, it has no soul of its own.

Nor does it have a body, but both body and soul can get tired. This market is just tired and sometimes there’s no real rest for the weary.

After having moved up so much in such a short period of time, it’s only natural to wonder just what’s left.

The market may have been digging deep down but its fuel cells were beginning to hit the empty mark.

This week was one that was very hard to read, as the financial sector began delivering its earnings and the best news that could come from those reports was that significantly decreased legal costs resulted in improved earnings, while core business activities were less than robust.

If that’s going to be the basis for an ongoing strategy, that’s not a very good strategy. Somehow, though, the market consistently reversed early disappointment and drove those financials reporting lackluster top and bottom lines higher and higher.

You can’t help but wonder what’s left to give.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) may be on very different ends of the scale, but they’ve both known some very bad days this year.

For American Express it came with the news that it was no longer going to be accepted as the sole credit card at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores around the nation. While that was bad enough, the really bad news came with the realization of just how many American Express card holders were actually holders of the Costco co-branded card.

There was a great Bloomberg article this week on some of the back story behind the American Express and Costco relationship and looks at their respective cultures and the article does raise questions about American Express’ ability to continue commanding a premium transaction payment from retailers, as well as continuing to keep their current Costco cardholders without the lure of Costco.

What American Express has been of late is a steady performer and the expectation should be that the impact of its loss of business in 2016 has already been discounted.

American Express reports earnings this week, but it’s option premiums aren’t really significantly enhanced by uncertainty.

Normally, I look to the sale of puts to potentially take advantage of earnings, but with American Express I might also consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of calls and then strapping on for what could be a bumpy ride.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand only recently starting accepting American Express cards and that relationship was seen as a cheapening of the elite American Express brand, but we can all agree that money is money and that may trump everything else.

Apparently, however, investors didn’t seem to realize that Wal-Mart’s well known plan to increase employee salaries was actually going to cost money and they were really taken by surprise this week when they learned just how much.

What’s really shocking is that some very simple math could have spelled it out with some very reasonable accuracy since the number of workers eligible to receive the raise and the size of the raise have been known for months.

It reminds me of the shock expressed by Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca” as he says “I’m shocked to find gambling is going on in here,” as he swoops up his winnings.

Following the decline and with a month still to go until earnings are reported, this new bit of uncertainty has enhanced the option premiums and a reasonable premium can possibly be found even when also trying to secure some capital gains from shares by using an out of the money strike price.

The Wal-Mart news hit retail hard, although to be fair, Target’s (NYSE:TGT) decline started as a plunge the prior day, when it fell 5% in the aftermath of an unusually large purchase of short term put options.

While I would look at Target as a short term trade, selling a weekly call option on shares, in the hope that there would be some recovery in the coming week, there may also be some longer term opportunities. That’s because Target goes ex-dividend and then reports earnings 2 days later during the final week of the November 2015 option cycle.

DuPont (NYSE:DD), Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) don’t have very much in common, other than some really large share plunges lately, something they all share with American Express and Wal-Mart.

But that’s exactly the kind of market it has been. There have been lots of large plunges and very slow recoveries. It’s often been very difficult to reconcile an overall market that was hitting all time highs at the same time that so many stocks were in correction mode.

DuPont’s plunge came after defeating an activist in pursuit of Board seats, but the announcement of the upcoming resignation of its embattled CEO has put some life back into shares, even as they face the continuing marketplace challenges.

Dupont will report earnings the following week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the November 2015 option cycle.

While normally considering entering a new position with a short term option sale, I may consider the use of a monthly option in this case in an effort to get a premium reflecting its increased volatility and possibly also capturing its dividend, while hoping for some share appreciation, as well.

Seagate Technology is simply a mess at a time that hardware companies shouldn’t be and it may become attractive to others as its price plunges.

Storage, memory and chips have been an active neighborhood, but Seagate’s recent performance shows you the risks involved when you think that a stock has become value priced.

I thought that any number of times about Seagate Technology over the course of the past 6 months, but clearly what goes low, can go much lower.

Seagate reports earnings on October 30th, so my initial approach would likely be to consider the sale of weekly, out of the money puts and hope for the best. If in jeopardy of being assigned due to a price decline, I would consider rolling the contract over. The choice of time frame for that possible rollover will depend upon Seagate’s announcement of their next ex-dividend date, which should be sometime in early November 2015.

With that dividend in mind, a very generous one and seemingly safe, thoughts could turn to taking assignment of shares and then selling calls in an effort to keep the dividend.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn’t really taken the same kind of single day plunge of some of those other companies, but its slow decline is finally making Jim Chanos’ much publicized 2 year short position seem to be genius.

It’s share price connection to Chinese economic activity continues and lately that hasn’t been a good thing. Caterpillar is both ex-dividend this week and reports earnings. That’s generally not a condition that I like to consider, although there are a number of companies that do the same and when they are also attractively priced it may warrant some more attention.

In this case, Caterpillar is ex-dividend on October 22nd and reports earnings that same morning. That means that if someone were to attempt to exercise their option early in order to capture the dividend, they mist do so by October 21st.

Individual stocks have been brutalized for much of 2015 and they’ve been slow in recovering.

Among the more staid selections for consideration this week are Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) and Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

I’ve always liked Fastenal and have always considered it a company that quietly reflects United States economic activity, both commercial and personal. At a time when so much attention has been focused on currency exchange and weakness in China, you would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that it was a perfect time to pick up or add shares of a company that is essentially immune to both, perhaps benefiting from a strong US Dollar.

Well, if you weren’t wrong, I have been and am already sitting on an expensive lot of uncovered shares.

With only monthly option contracts and earnings already having been reported, I would select a slightly out of the money option strike or when the December 2015 contracts are released possibly consider the slightly longer term and at a higher strike price, in the belief that Fastenal has been resting long enough at its current level and is ready for another run.

Colgate-Palmolive is a company that I very infrequently own, but always consider doing so when its ex-dividend date looms.

I should probably own it on a regular basis just to show solidarity with its oral health care products, but that’s never crossed my mind.

Not too surprisingly, given its business and sector, even from peak to trough, Colgate-Palmolive has fared far better than many and will likely continue to do so in the event of market weakness. While it may not keep up with an advancing market, that’s something that I long ago reconciled myself to, when deciding to pursue a covered option strategy.

As a result of it being perceived as having less uncertainty it’s combined option premium and dividend, if captured, isn’t as exciting as for some others, but there’s also a certain personal premium to be paid for the lack of excitement.

The excitement may creep back in the following week as Colgate reports earnings and in the event that a weekly contract has to be rolled over I would considered rolling over to a date that would allow some time for price recovery in the event of an adverse price move.

Reporting earnings this week are Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Other than the controversy surrounding its high technology swim suits at the last summer Olympics, Under Armour hasn’t faced much in the way of bad news. Even then, it proved to have skin every bit as repellent as its swim suits.

The news of the resignation of its COO, who also happened to serve as CFO, sent shares lower ahead of earnings.

The departure of such an important person is always consequential, although perhaps somewhat less so when the founder and CEO is still an active and positive influence in the company, as is most definitely the case with under Armour.

However, the cynic sees the timing of such a departure before earnings are released, as foretelling something awry.

The option market is implying a price move of about 7.5%, while a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained through the sale of puts 9% below Friday’s closing price.

For me, the cynic wins out, however. Under Armour then becomes another situation that I would consider the sale of puts contracts after earnings if shares drop strongly after the report, or possible before earnings if there is a sharp decline in its advance.

I’m of the beli

ef that Google’s new corporate name, “Alphabet” will be no different from so many other projects in beta that were quietly or not so quietly dropped.

There was a time that I very actively traded Google and sold calls on the positions.

That seems like an eternity ago, as Google has settled into a fairly stodgy kind of stock for much of the past few years. Even its reaction to earnings reports have become relatively muted, whereas they once were things to behold.

That is if you ignore its most recent earnings report which resulted in the largest market capitalization gain in a single day in the history of the world.

Now, Alphabet is sitting near its all time highs and has become a target in a way that it hasn’t faced before. While it has repeatedly faced down challenges to its supremacy in the world of search, the new challenge that it is facing comes from Cupertino and other places, as ad blockers may begin to show some impact on Alphabet’s bread and butter product, Google.

Here too, the reward offered for the risk of selling puts isn’t very great, as the option market is implying a 6% move. That $40 move in either direction could bring shares down to the $620 level, at which a barely acceptable 1% ROI for a weekly put sale may be achieved.

With no cushion between what the market is implying and where a 1% ROI can be had, I would continue to consider the sale of puts if a large decline precedes the report or occurs after the report, but I don’t think that I would otherwise proactively trade prior to earnings.

Finally, VMWare (NYSE:VMW) also reports earnings this week.

If you’re looking for another stock that has plunged in the past week or so, you don’t have to go much further than VMWare, unless your definition requires a drop of more than 15%.

While it has always been a volatile name, VMWare is now at the center of the disputed valuation of the proposed buyout of EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC), which itself has continued to be the major owner of VMWare.

I generally like stocks about to report earnings when they have already suffered a large loss and this one seems right.

The option market is implying about a 5.2% move next week, yet there’s no real enhancement of the put premium, in that a 1% ROI could be obtained, but only at the lower border of the implied move.

The structure of the current buyout proposal may be a factor in limiting the price move that option buyers and sellers are expecting and may be responsible for the anticipated sedate response to any news.

While that may be the case, I think that the downside may be under-stated, as has been the case for many stocks over the past few months, so the return is not enough to get me to take the risk. But, as also has been the case for the past few months, it may be worthy considering to pile on if VMWare disappoints further and shares continue their drop after earnings are released.

That should plump up the put premium as there might be concern regarding the buyout offer on the table, which is already suspect.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, DuPont, Target, Wal-Mart

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, YUM Brands

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (10/22 $0.71), Colgate-Palmolive (10/21 $0.38), Fastenal (10/23 $0.28),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alphabet (10/22 PM), Under Armour (10/22 AM), VMWare (10/20 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 – October 11, 2015

If you’re a fan of “American Exceptionalism” and can put aside the fact that the Shanghai stock market has made daily moves of 6% higher in the past few months on more than one occasion, you have to believe that the past week has truly been a sign of the United States’ supremacy extending to its stock markets.

We are, of optiocourse, the only nation to have successfully convinced much of the world for the past 46 years that we put a man on the moon.

So you tell me. What can’t we do?

What we can do very well is turn bad news into good news and that appears to be the path that we’ve returned to, as the market’s climb may be related to a growing belief that interest rate hikes may now be delayed and the party can continue unabated.

While it was refreshing for that short period of time when news was taken at face value, we now are faced with the prospect of markets again exhibiting their disappointment when those interest rate hikes truly do finally become reality.

Once the market came to its old realizations it moved from its intra-day lows hit after the most recent Employment Situation Report and the S&P 500 rocketed higher by 6% as a very good week came to its end on a quiet note.

While much of the gain was actually achieved when the Shanghai markets were closed for the 7 day National Day holiday celebration, it may be useful to review just what rockets are capable of doing and perhaps looking to China as an example of what soaring into orbit can lead to.

Rockets come in all sizes and shapes, but are really nothing more than a vehicle launched by a high thrust engine. Those high thrust rocket engines create the opportunities for the vehicle. Some of those vehicles are designed to orbit and others to achieve escape velocity and soar to great heights.

And some crash or explode violently, although not by design.

As someone who likes to sell options the idea of a stock just going into orbit and staying there for a while is actually really appealing, but with stocks its much better if the orbit established is one that has come down from greater heights.

That’s not how rockets usually work, though.

But for any kind of orbiting to really be worthwhile, those premiums have to be enriched by occasional bumps along the path that don’t quite make it to the level of violent explosions.

It’s just that you never really know when those violent explosions are going to come and how often. Certainly Elon Musk didn’t expect his last two rocket launches to come to sudden ends.

In China’s case those 6% increases have been followed by some epic declines, but that’s not unusual whenever seeing large moves in either direction.

As we get ready to start earnings season for real this week we may quickly learn whether our own 6% move higher was just the first leg of a multi-stage rocket launch or whether it will soon discover that there is precious little below to offer much in the way of support.

Prior to that 6% climb it was that lack of much below that created a situation where many stocks had gone into orbit, taking a rest to regain strength for a bounce higher. That temporary orbit was a great opportunity to generate some option premium income, as some of the risk of a crash was reduced as those stocks had already migrated closer to the ground.

While I don’t begrudge the recent rapid rise it would be nice to go back into orbit for a while and refuel for a slower, but more sustainable ride higher.

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

There aren’t too many data points to go on since that turnaround last week, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been uncharacteristically missing from the party.

It seems as if it’s suddenly becoming fashionable to disparage Apple, although I don’t recall Tim Cook having given Elon Musk a hard time recently. With the opening of the movie, Steve Jobs, this week may or may not further diminish the luster.

Ever since Apple joined the DJIA on March 19, 2015 it has dragged the index 109 points lower, accounting for about 11% of the index’s decline, as it has badly lagged both the DJIA and S&P 500 during that period. The truth, however, is that upon closer look, Apple has actually under-performed both for most of the past 3 year period, even when selecting numerous sub-periods for study. The past 6 months have only made the under-performance more obvious.

With both earnings and an ex-dividend date coming in the next month, I would be inclined to consider an Apple investment from the sale of out of the money puts. If facing assignment, it should be reasonably easy to rollover those puts and continuing to do so as earnings approach. If, however, faced with the need to rollover into the week of earnings, I would do so using an extended weekly option, but one expiring in the week prior to the week of the ex-dividend date. Then, if faced with assignment, I would plan to take the assignment and capture the dividend, rather than continuing to attempt to escape share ownership.

In contrast to Apple, Visa (NYSE:V) which joined the DJIA some 2 years earlier, coincidentally having split its shares on the same day that Apple joined the index, actually added 49 points to the DJIA.

For Visa and other credit card companies there may be a perfect storm of the good kind on the horizon. With chip secured credit cards just beginning their transition into use in the United States and serving to limit losses accruing to the credit card companies, Visa is also a likely beneficiary of increasing consumer activity as there is finally some evidence that the long awaited oil dividend is finding its way into retail.

When it comes to bad news, it’s hard to find too many that have taken more lumps than YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS).

Despite a small rebound in YUM shares on Friday, that came nowhere close toward erasing the 19% decline after disappointing earnings from its China operations.

YUM Brands was a potential earnings related trade last week, but it came with a condition. That condition being that there had to be significant give back of the previous week’s gains.

Instead, for the 2 trading days prior to earnings, YUM shares went higher, removing any interest in taking the risk of selling puts as the option market was still anticipating a relatively mild earnings related move and the reward was really insufficient.

Now, even after the week ending bounce, YUM’s weekly option premium is quite high, especially factoring in its ex-dividend state. As discussed last week, the premium enhancement may be sufficient to look into the possibility of selling a deep in the money weekly call option and ceding the dividend in order to accrue the premium and exit the position after just 2 days, if assigned early.

You needn’t look to China to explain The Gap’s problems. Slumping sales under its new CEO and the departure of a key executive from a rare division that was performing have sent shares lower and lower.

The troubles were compounded late this past week when The Gap did, as fewer and fewer in retail are doing, and released its same store sales figures and they continued to disappoint everyone.

Having gone ex-dividend in the past week that lure is now gone for a few months. The good news about The Gap is that it isn’t scheduled to report news of any kind of news for another month, when it releases same store sales once again, followed by quarterly results 10 days later.

The lack of any more impending bad news isn’t the best of compliments. However, unlike a rocket headed for a crash the floors for a stock can be more forgiving and The Gap is approaching a multi-year support level that may provide some justification for a position with an intended short term time frame as its option premiums are increasingly reflecting its increased volatility.

Coach (NYSE:COH) has earnings due to be reported at the end of this month. It is very often a big mover at earnings and despite some large declines had generally had a history of price recovery. That, however, hasn’t been the case in nearly 2 years.

Over the past 3 years I’ve owned Coach shares 21 times, but am currently weighed down by a single lot that is nearly 18 months old. During that time period I’ve only seen fit to add shares on a single occasion, but am again considering doing so as it seems to be building upon some support and may be one of those beneficiaries of increased consumer spending, even as its demographic may be less sensitive to energy pricing.

With the risk comes a decent weekly option premium, but I might consider sacrificing some of that premium and attempting to use a higher priced strike and perhaps an extended weekly option, but being wary of earnings, even though I expect an upward surprise.

The drug sector has seen its share of bad news lately, as well and has certainly been the target of political opportunism and over the top greed that makes almost everyone cringe.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is ex-dividend this week and is nearly 20% lower from the date that the S&P 500 began its descent toward correction territory. Since its spin-off from Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), which is also ex-dividend this week, AbbVie has had more than its share of controversy, including a proposed inversion and the pricing of its Hepatitis C drug regimen.

Shares seem to have respected some price support and have returned to a level well below where I last owned them. With its equally respectable option premium and generous dividend, this looks like an opportune time to consider a position, but I would like it as a short term holding in an attempt to avoid being faced with its upcoming earnings report at the end of the month.

Finally, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reports earnings this week and had been on a tear until mid-August, when a broad brush took nearly every company down 10% or more.

Of course, even with that 10% decline, Icahn Enterprises (NASDAQ:IEP), would have been far better off not having sold its shares and incurring its own 13% loss in 2015.

With earnings coming this week I found it interesting that Netflix would announce a price increase for new customers in advance of earnings. In having done so, shares spiked nearly 10%.

The option market is implying a 14% price move, however, a 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a weekly put at a strike level 19% below Friday’s closing price.

That’s an unusually large cushion even as the option market has been starting to recover from a period of under-estimating earnings related moves in the past quarter.

While the safety net does appear wide, my cynical side has me believing that the subscription increase was timed to offer its own cushion for what may be some disappointing numbers. Given the emphasis on new subscriber acquisitions, I would believe that metric will come in strong, otherwise this wouldn’t be an opportune time for a price increase. However, there may be something lurking elsewhere.

With that in mind, I would consider the same approach as with YUM Brands last week and would only consider the sale of puts if preceded by some significant price pullback. Otherwise, I would hold off, but might become interested again in the event of a large downward move after earnings are released.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, The Gap, Visa

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double-Dip Dividend: AbbVie (10/13), YUM Brands (10/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Netflix (10/14 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 – 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 – July 12, 2015

While mankind has tried and will probably never give up on such attempts, there is a reason many are assigned to the fact that you just can’t fight nature.

In the case of natural disasters, those forces are so powerful and so relentless the best you can hope for is that they will run their course before nature finds its way to you.

Fleeing is probably a better strategy than fighting when faced with the release of unfathomable stores of energy in an effort to buy time until the inevitable reversal of course occurs.

Sure, you can build shelters, fortify dams or enact more stringent building codes in efforts to mollify the impacts of nature, but eventually, we all know who’s in charge.

Economic cycles, stock market cycles, currency cycles and interest rate cycles aren’t very different. They represent incredibly powerful forces that governments attempt to manipulate, but it is really only time that can tame the unwieldy power of an event, regardless of government intervention.

It’s those natural cycles, sometimes a cascade of events coming to a crescendo that are like the worst that Mother Nature has to offer.

Most of us know that trying to best nature is a fairly futile way to expend our own energy, just as is trying to manipulate or change the direction of capital markets. Over the past 50 years there is plenty of evidence to show that heavy handed government attempts to manipulate markets, such as currencies, have exceedingly short impacts.

You can’t really blame the Chinese government for trying to control their stock markets, though, especially in a time of crisis.

They’re pretty new at this capitalism game and it’s only through surviving one of the varied crises that descend upon the cogs of capitalism on occasion that you can continue to reap its many benefits.

Undoubtedly someone in a high position of authority must have seen footage from a 70 year old cartoon and had it mistaken for real news footage of someone successfully battling with a force of nature and then drew the obvious conclusion that the same would be possible as their market was threatening a meltdown.

In a system where it controls everything and has a bully pulpit in more than just figurative terms, it’s only natural to think that it could just as easily exert its will on its stock market and change its behavior.

But what we know is that the forces seen in capital markets is no different from those seen in nature, at least in terms of how unlikely it is that human efforts can suddenly change the course.

Of course, in a nation that executes many for white collar crimes, official condemnation of “malicious short sellers” who being blamed for the bursting bubble and threatened with investigation and arrest can certainly lead to behavioral changes, but not the kind that can stem the inevitable path as gravity takes control of sky high stock prices.

Learning that market forces aren’t as easily controlled as 1.4 billion people isn’t very easy when you actually do have the power to control those 1.4 billion people. That itself is so improbable that everything else must seem like a cakewalk.

When you have the power to tell people that they can only have one child, and they obey the edict, you’ve shown that you’re pretty good at battling nature and what comes naturally. So it’s only natural that when faced with a brewing crisis in their stock markets, the Chinese government would elect to try and alter its natural course.

Good luck with that.

The combination of events in China, the ongoing battle among Greece, the EU, ECB and IMF and the trading halt on the NYSE resulted in a week that saw large moves in both directions, intra-day reversals in both directions and ultimately ended the week unchanged.

There wasn’t too much doubt that events in China determined our own fortunes this past week as the net result of the interventions was to see their markets recover and spill over onto our shores. While I saw reason to establish some new positions last week as the market opened the week on a sharp decline, and was fortunate to have benefited from market strength to close the week, I’m circumspect about the ability of the Chinese government intervention to have anything more than a temporary halting impact. Being mindful of so many past attempts by governments to halt slides in their currency by massive entry into currency markets, makes me want to hold on tightly to any cash that I have as this week is about to begin.

Perhaps some good economic news will be forthcoming this week as earnings season really gets underway in earnest. Maybe some good news can move our attention away from world events, but ignoring those powerful overseas forces would be a mistake, particularly as the Chinese government’s actions may be unpredictable if their initial attempts at controlling their stock markets don’t succeed.

This coming week may offer a wild ride in both stocks and bonds and if so, we’d be very fortunate if the net result was the same as this past week, but you can be lucky only so often in the face of unleashed natural forces.

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

With fewer compelling reasons to spend money this week there aren’t too many stocks that have much in the way of appeal to me at the moment and my selections for this week continue to be limited.

As long as China is front and center, there may be some reason to think about YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) as it both reports earnings this week and goes ex-dividend.

Over the past few years it seems that there have been an infinite number of disasters that have come YUM’s way, as so much of its fortunes rely on its businesses in China which can so easily fall prey to the weakest links in the chain, as well as to the macro-economic picture.

Following a large move higher on Friday, I wouldn’t rush into any kind of position unless there was some pullback. However, in the event that some of that gain is returned prior to earnings on Tuesday, I would consider a covered call trade, rather than the sale of puts, in order to also be able to capture the dividend the following day.

The option market is implying a 6.4% move next week. At Friday’s closing price of $90.87, the implied lower boundary is about $85. The option premium being offered for the weekly $85 strike would offer a 0.75% ROI if assigned early and a 1.2% ROI if the dividend is captured.

Since earnings are reported on Tuesday after the market’s close and the ex-dividend date is the following day, there is a very short window of opportunity for an option holder to exercise following earnings. The owner of shares would have approximately $6 of downside protection, although YUM shares can certainly be very volatile when earnings or any adverse news is reported.

I have some mixed feelings about considering Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) this week, as so much focus is placed on its dependence on Chinese economic activity. Overall revenues from the Asia-Pacific region account for about 20% of total revenue and has already been hard hit as it share price is down nearly 25% since November 2014 and 7% in the past 2 weeks. While its CEO tried putting a positive spin on the Chinese economic slowdown a few months ago, he may have to spin extra hard now.

Caterpillar shares go ex-dividend this week and that is certainly a selling point, as its shares are approaching their 52 week low and I have been wanting to add shares for quite a while.

I would be willing to take the risk of their China exposure in the event of any additional price weakness as the week begins in the belief that any disappointing earnings or guidance the following week may have already been discounted.

I have less mixed feelings about Lowes (NYSE:LOW) which goes ex-dividend the following Monday. Lowes shares are down about 10% in the past 3 months and 4% in the past 2 weeks.

What I don’t have mixed feelings about is the quality of the shopping experience at Lowes. I’ve spent lots of time there lately, having become a convert from Home Depot (NYSE:HD) on the advice of a friend who suggested that I try them for a large DIY project I was ready to undertake.

In the past 2 months I have probably made about 20 trips, bypassing that Home Depot store and have noticed that the store always seemed busy and I tended to make more purchases as their sales associates were proactive and helpful.

While I generally like to consider Monday ex-dividend positions, that’s more true when weekly options are available, in an attempt to get 2 weeks of premium instead of the dividend, in the hopes of an early assignment. However, Lowes no longer has weekly options available and while this is the final week of the July 2015 cycle, the ex-dividend date is part of the August 2015 cycle.

With that potential purchase comes the potential liability associated with earnings, which are scheduled to be reported 2 days before the end of the monthly cycle. For that reason I might consider a purchase coupled with the sale of a September or later option, in order to capture the dividend and provide some cushion in the event of a downward price move.

I haven’t owned Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) in almost 2 years and have a very difficult time understanding why that has been the case, as it traded in a very narrow band that entire time while offering a reasonable option premium and attractive dividend.

Having now completed its spin off of Baxalta (NYSE:BXLT), it may join other companies that fell out of favor as they were perceived as less desirable after spinning off their faster growing assets. Whether that’s actually supported by reality may be questionable, but there’s no question that spin-offs, such as Baxalta and the upcoming PayPal (PYPLV) have gotten attention.

For its part, what remains of Baxter is a company that offers an excellent dividend and attractive option premiums in an industry sector that shows little sign of slowing down.

Finally, I purchased shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) last week and happily saw them assigned. I still hold a much more expensive lot of shares and every little bit of premium derived from additional short term lot holdings helps to ease the pain of that non-performing lot.

Last week’s purchase was the third such in the past 10 weeks as Abercrombie and Fitch’s shares have been trading in a very narrow range, but its option premiums still reflect its historical ability to make large moves. Lately, those large moves have been predominantly lower and certainly any time new shares are added the risk remains of continued erosion of value.

While teen retailers haven’t been terribly good stores of stock value of late, and while there’s certainly nothing positive that can be said of Abercrombie and Fitch, it won’t report earnings again until the end of August and continues to present a short term opportunity.

However, following a price reversal during Friday’s session, that saw it’s shares close higher for the day, I would consider an entry this coming week only on weakness, if considering a covered call position. Alternatively, the sale of puts may have some more appeal, especially if there’s price weakness as the week begins and moves the share price closer to $21.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (7/16), Lowes (7/20)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/14 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 11, 2015

Somewhere buried deep in my basement is a 40 year old copy of the medical school textbook “Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s.”

After a recent bout wearing a Holter Monitor that picked up 3000 “premature ventricular contractions” I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in finding and dusting off that copy to refresh my memory, not having had any interest nearly 40 years ago, either.

All I really cared about was what the clinical consequence of those premature depolarizations of the heart’s ventricle meant for me and any dreams I still harbored of climbing Mount Everest.

Somewhere in the abscesses of my mind I actually did recall the circumstances in which they could be significant and also recalled that I never aspired to climb Mount Everest.

But it doesn’t take too much to identify a premature ventricular contraction, even if the closest you ever got to medical school was taking a class on Chaucer in junior college.

Most people can recognize simple patterns and symmetry. Our mind is actually finally attuned to seeing breaks in patterns and assessing even subtle asymmetries, even while we may not be aware. So often when looking askance at something that just seems to be “funny looking,” but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that bothers you, it turns out to be that lack of symmetry and the lack of something appearing where you expect it to appear.

So it’s probably not too difficult to identify where this (non-life threatening) premature ventricular contraction (PVC) is occurring.

While stock charts don’t necessarily have the same kind of patterns and predictability of an EKG, patterns aren’t that unheard of and there has certainly been a pattern seen over the past two years as so many have waited for the classic 10% correction.

 

What they have instead seen is a kind of periodicity that has brought about a “mini-correction,” on the order of 5%, every two months or so.

The quick 5% decline seen in mid-December was right on schedule after having had the same in mid-October, although the latter one almost reached that 10% level on an intra-day basis.

But earlier this week we experienced something unusual. There seemed to be a Premature Market Contraction (NYSE:PMC), occurring well before the next scheduled mini-correction.

You may have noticed it earlier this week.

The question that may abound, especially following Friday’s return to the sharp market declines seen earlier in the week is just how clinically important those declines, coming so soon and in such magnitude, are in the near term.

In situations that impact upon the heart’s rhythm, there may be any number of management approaches, including medication, implantation of pacemakers and lifestyle changes.

The market’s sudden deviation from its recently normal rhythm may lend itself to similar management alternatives.

With earnings season beginning once again this week it may certainly serve to jump start the market’s continuing climb higher. That may especially be the case if we begin to see some tangible evidence that decreasing energy prices have already begun trickling down into the consumer sector. While better than expected earnings could provide the stimulus to move higher, rosy guidance, also related to a continuing benefit from decreased energy costs could be the real boost looking forward.

Of course, in a nervous market, that kind of good news could also have a paradoxical effect as too much of a good thing may be just the kind of data that the FOMC is looking for before deciding to finally increase interest rates.

By the same token, sometimes it may be a good thing to avoid some other stimulants, such as hyper-caffeinated momentum stocks that may be particularly at risk when the framework supporting them may be suspect.

This week, having seen 5 successive days of triple digit moves, particularly given the context of outsized higher moves tending to occur in bear market environments, and having witnessed two recent “V-Shaped” corrections in close proximity, I’d say that it may be time to re-assess risk exposure and take it easier on your heart.

Or at least on my heart.

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

Dividends may be just the medication that’s needed to help get through a period of uncertainty and the coming week offers many of those opportunities, although even within the week’s upcoming dividend stocks there may be some heightened uncertainty.

Those ex-dividend stocks that I’m considering this week are AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV), Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM).

AbbVie is one of those stocks that has been in the news more recently than may have been envisioned when it was spun off from its parent, Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

AbbVie has been most notably in the news for having offered an alternative to Gilead’s (NASDAQ:GILD) product for the treatment of Hepatitis C. Regardless of the relative merits of one product over another, the endorsement of AbbVie’s product, due to its lower cost caused some short term consternation among Gilead shareholders.

AbbVie is now trading off from its recent highs, offers attractive option premiums and a nice dividend. That combination, despite its upward trajectory over the past 3 months, makes it worth some consideration, especially if your portfolio is sensitized to the whims of commodities.

Caterpillar is finally moving in the direction that Jim Chanos very publicly pronounced it would, some 18 months ago. There isn’t too much question that its core health is adversely impacted as economic expansion and infrastructure projects slow, as it approaches a 20% decline in the past 2 months.

That decline takes us just a little bit above the level at which I last owned shares and its upcoming dividend this week may provide the impetus to open a position. I suppose that if one’s time frame has no limitation any thesis may find itself playing out, for Chanos‘ sake, but for a short time frame trade the combination of premium and dividend at a price that hasn’t been seen in about a year seems compelling.

It has now been precisely a year since the last time I purchased shares of YUM Brands and it is right where I last left it. Too bad, because one of the hallmarks of an ideal stock for a covered option position is no net movement but still traveling over a wide price range.

YUM Brands fits that to a tee, as it is continually the recipient of investor jitteriness over the slowing Chinese economy and food safety scares that take its stock on some regular roller coaster rides.

I’m often drawn to YUM Brands in advance of its ex-dividend date and this week is no different, It combines a nice premium, competitive dividend and plenty of excitement. While I could sometimes do without the excitement, I think my heart and, certainly the option premiums, thrive on the various inputs that create that excitement, but at the end of the day seem to have no lasting impact.

Whole Foods also
goes ex-dividend this week and while its dividend isn’t exactly the kind that’s worthy of being chased, shares seem to be comfortable at the new level reached after the most recent earnings. That level, though, simply represents a level from which shares plummeted after a succession of disappointing earnings that coincided with the height of the company’s national expansion and the polar vortex of 2014.

I think that shares will continue to climb heading back to the level to which they were before dropping to the current level more than a year ago.

For that reason, while I usually like using near the money or in the money weekly options when trying to capture the dividend, I’m considering an out of the money February 2015 monthly option in consideration of Whole Foods’ February 11th earnings announcement date.

I don’t usually follow interest rates or 10 Year Treasury notes very carefully, other than to be aware that concerns about interest rate hikes have occupied many for the entirety of Janet Yellen’s tenure as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

With the 10 Year Treasury now sitting below 2%, that has recently served as a signal for the stock market to begin a climb higher. Beyond that, however, declining interest rates have also taken shares of MetLife (NYSE:MET) temporarily lower, as it can thrive relatively more in an elevated interest rate environment.

When that environment will be upon us is certainly a topic of great discussion, but with continuing jobs growth, as evidenced by this past week’s Employment Situation Report and prospects of increased consumer spending made possible by their energy dividend, I think MetLife stock has a bright future. 

Also faring relatively poorly in a decreasing rate environment has been AIG (NYSE:AIG) and it too, along with MetLife, is poised to move higher along with interest rates.

Once a very frequent holding, I’ve not owned shares since the departure of Robert ben Mosche, whom I believe deserves considerable respect for his role in steering AIG in the years after the financial meltdown.

In the meantime, I look at AIG, in an increasing rate environment as easily being able to surpass its 52 week high and would consider covering only a portion of any holding in an effort to also benefit from share price advances.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) isn’t a very exciting company, but it is one that I really like owning, especially at its current price. Like so many others that I like, it trades in a relatively narrow range but often has paroxysms of movement when earnings are announced, or during the occasional “earnings warnings” announcement.

It announces earnings this week and could easily see some decline, although it does have a habit of warning of such disappointing
numbers a few weeks before earnings.

Having only monthly options available, but with this being the final week of the January 2015 option cycle, one could effectively sell a weekly option or sell a weekly put rather than executing a buy/write.

However, with an upcoming dividend early in the February 2015 cycle I would be inclined to consider a purchase of shares and sale of the February calls and then buckle up for the possible ride, which is made easier knowing that Fastenal can supply you with the buckles and any other tools, supplies or gadgets you may need to contribute to national economic growth, as Fastenal is a good reflection on all kinds of construction activity.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) also reports earnings this week and I unexpectedly found myself in ownership of shares last week, being unable to resist the purchase in the face of what seemed to be an unwarranted period of weakness in the financial sector and specifically among large banks.

Just as unexpectedly was the decline it took in Friday’s trading that caused me to rollover shares that i thought had been destined for assignment, as my preference would have been for that assignment and the possibility of selling puts in advance of earnings.

Now, with shares back at the same price that I liked it just last week, its premiums are enhanced this week due to earnings. In this case, if considering adding to the position I would likely do so by selling puts. However, unlike many other situations where I would prefer not to take assignment and would seek to avoid doing so by rolling over the puts, I wouldn’t mind taking assignment and then turning around to sell calls on a long position.

Finally, while it may make some sense to stay away from momentum kind of stocks, Freeport McMoRan, which goes ex-dividend this week may fall into the category of being paradoxically just the thing for what may be ailing a portfolio.

Just as stimulants can sometimes have such paradoxical effects, such as in the management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a stock that has interests in both besieged metals, such as copper and gold, in addition to energy exploration may be just the thing at a time when weakness in both of those areas has occurred simultaneously and has now become well established.

Freeport McMoRan will actually report earnings the week after next and that will present its own additional risk going forward, but I think that the news will not be quite as bad as many may expect, particularly as there is some good news associated with declining energy prices, as they represent the greatest costs associated with mining efforts.

I’ve suffered through some much more expensive lots of Freeport McMoRan for the past 2 years and have almost always owned shares over the past 10 years, even during that brief period of time in which the dividend was suspended.

As surely as commodity prices are known to be cyclical in nature at some point Freeport will be on the right end of climbs in the price of its underlying resources. If both energy and metals can turn higher as concurrently as they turned lower these shares should perform exceptionally well.

After all, they’ve already shown that they can perform exceptionally poorly and sometimes its just an issue of a simple point of inflection to go from one extreme to the next.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: AbbVie (1/13), Caterpillar (1/15), Freeport McMoRan (1/13), Whole Foods !/14), YUM Brands (1/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Bank of America (1/15 AM), Fastenal (1/15 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 – 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 – October 12, 2014

As The Federal Reserve’s policy of “Quantitative Easing” comes to an end the next phase considered should perhaps be one of instituting some form of “Quantitative Muzzling.”

Given comments contained in this past week’s FOMC statement had recognized global economic concerns, perhaps the Federal Reserve should consider expanding its dual mandate and reaching across the ocean to affix, adjust and tighten the right remedy.

As most of us learned sometime in childhood, words have consequences. However, we tend not to mind when the consequences are positive for us or when what we all know is left unsaid and ignored.

In each of the past two weeks words from the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi have had adverse impacts on global markets. While no one is overtly suggesting that ECB President’s should be seen and not heard, undoubtedly at least one person is thinking that, having applied a sloppy test of correlation to the market’s moves and Draghi’s words.

Such sloppy tests may have at least as much validity as the much discussed “key reversal” seen as trading closed on Wednesday and said to presage a bullish turnaround to the downtrend.

How did that work out for most people?

This week Draghi told us what everyone knows to be the truth, but what no one wants to hear. He simply said that there can be no growth in the European economies without economic reform.

That’s not different from what he said the previous week, as he pointed out that political solutions were necessary to deal with economic woes.

We also all know if it we have to rely on politicians to do the right thing, or make the difficult decisions, we’re not going to fare terribly well, hence the sell-offs. Why the Europeans can’t simply kick things down the road and then forget about it is a question that needs to be asked.

Compare the response to Draghi’s comments to the absolutely effusive response to this past week’s FOMC statement that simply said nothing and ignored answering the question that everyone wanted to ignore.

Despite everyone knowing what Draghi has been saying to be true, having had the same scolding take place in the U.S. just two years ago, no one with an investment portfolio wants to hear of such a thing, especially when it’s followed up with downgrades of Finland’s and France’s credit ratings.

Add to the mix the International Monetary Fund’s cut to its global growth forecast and you have spoken volumes to an already wary US market that was now eagerly eying any breach of the 200 day S&P 500 moving average (dma), as that had taken the place of the “key reversal” in the hearts and minds of technicians and foisted upon investors as being the gateway to what awaits.

Unfortunately, the message being sent with that technical indicator is a bearish one. While it has been breached on numerous occasions in the past 5 years, the most pronounced and prolonged stay below the 200 dma came in the latter half of 2011, a period when triple digit daily moves were commonplace and volatility was more than double the now nearly 2 year high level.

I miss those days.

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

When I first started thinking about a theme for this week’s article I decided to focus on stocks that had already undergone their own personal 10% correction.

That list grew substantially by the time the week came to its close following a brief FOMC induced rally mid-week and that thesis was abandoned.

As trading in the coming week opens at a DJIA level lower than where it began the year, there’s not much reason to start the week with any sense of confidence.

While the S&P 500 is only 5.2% below its recent high, putting it on par with numerous “mini-corrections” over the past two years, you don’t have to do a quantitative assessment to know that this decline feels differently from the others, as volatility is at a two year high point. The sudden appearance of triple digit moves have now gone from the mundane 100 point variety and have added 200 and 300 point ones into the arsenal.

For me, this week may be a little different. Heading into the week I have less cash reserves than I would like and less confidence than I would ordinarily need to dwindle it down further.

While it appears as if there are so many values to be had I would prefer to see some sign of stability before committing resources in my usual buy/write manner. Instead, I may be more likely to add new positions through the sale of out of the money puts, unless there is a dividend involved.

Additionally, while individual stocks may have compelling reasons to consider their purchases, this week I’m less focused on those specific reasons rather than the nature of their recent price declines and the ability to capitalize on the heightened option premiums associated with their recent volatility.

One of the benefits of this rising volatility environment is that option premiums grow as does the uncertainty. The sale of puts and anticipation of the need to rollover those puts in the event of further price erosion may be better suited to an environment of continuing price declines, rather than utilizing a traditional buy/write strategy.

Furthermore, as the premiums become more and more attractive, I find myself more inclined to attempt to rollover positions that might otherwise be assigned, as the accumulation of premiums can offer significant downside protection and reduces the need to find alternative investment candidates.

If you’re looking for a sector that is screaming “correction” you really don’t have to look beyond the Energy Sector. Hearing so many analysts calling for continued
decline in oil prices may be reason enough to begin considering adding positions.

Over the years I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve owned Halliburton (HAL), but other than during the 2008-2009 market crash, the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and during the tumultuous market of 2011, there haven’t been such precipitous declines in its price, as it has just plunged below its own 200 dma.

Although Halliburton doesn’t report earnings until the following week, next week’s premiums are reflective of the volatility anticipated. For anyone considering this position through a buy/write one factor to keep in mind is that it will be imperative to rollover the contract if expiration looks likely. That is the case because earnings are reported on the following Monday morning before trading opens so there won’t be a chance to create a hedging position unless done the previous week.

I have been waiting for an opportunity to repurchase shares of Anadarko Petroleum (APC) ever since a bankruptcy judge approved a pollution related settlement, that was part of its years earlier purchase of Kerr-McGee. Like Halliburton, it is now trading below its 200 dma, but it doesn’t report earnings until a week after Halliburton. However, it also offers exceptionally high option premiums as the perceived risk remains heightened in anticipation of further sector weakness.

Owing to its drops the final two days of the previous week, Dow Chemical (DOW) is now also trading below its 200 dma. It, too, is demonstrating an option premium that is substantially higher than has been the case recently, although the risk appears to be considered less than that seen for both Halliburton and Anadarko. With the exception of having received an “outperform” rating those past two days, Dow Chemical appears to have just been caught up in the market’s downturn.

Fastenal (FAST) has traded below its 200 dma since its last earnings report in July 2014 and was not helped by its latest report this past Friday. That was the case despite generally good revenues, but with softer margins that were expected to continue. Unlike the preceding stocks the option premiums are not expanded in reflection of heightened risk. In the event that this position is initiated with a put sale that is likely to be assigned, I would consider taking possession of shares rather than rolling over the puts, as shares go ex-dividend during the November 2014 option cycle.

For a stock whose price hasn’t done very much, eBay (EBAY) has been getting lots and lots of attention and perhaps it is that attention which has prompted it to finally decide to do what so many have suggested, by releasing plans to spin off its PayPal unit. eBay reports earnings this week and is always a prospect to exhibit a sizeable move. It is currently trading below the point that consider the mid-point of the price range that I like to see when considering a new position. As with some other potential earnings trades, it is a candidate for out of the money put sales before earnings or for those more cautious the sale of puts after earnings in the event of a large price drop upon earnings having been released.

Intel (INTC) reports earnings this week after having already been brutalized this past week along with the rest of the chip sector. Most recently I discussed some hesitancy regarding a position in Intel because it had two price gaps higher in the past few months. However, thanks to the past week it has now erased one of those price gaps that represented additional risk. As with Fastenal there is an upcoming ex-dividend date that may be a consideration in any potential trade.

Following YUM Brands’ (YUM) earnings report last week, many over-reacted during after hours trading and shares quickly recovered to end the following day higher, perhaps buoyed by the enthusiasm following the FOMC Statement. Shares did trend lower the rest of the week, but fared much better than the overall market. This coming week YUM Brands is ex-dividend and based upon its option premium is a veritable sea of calm, although it too is demonstrating growth in premiums as risk is generally heightened.

Finally, Best Buy (BBY) is one of those stocks that has seen its own personal correction, having fallen nearly 13% since the market high just 3 weeks ago. With so much attention having been placed on European concerns it’s hard to think of too many stocks that are so well shielded from some of those perceived risks. Although it doesn’t report earnings for more than a month, this is a position that I would like to maintain for an extended period of time, particularly with its currently bloated option premiums, heading into earnings, which I believe will reflect an improving discretionary spending environment, to Best Buy’s benefit.

Unless of course the muzzle falls off, in which case all bets are off for this week.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Fastenal, Halliburton

Momentum: Best Buy

Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (10/15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (10/15 AM), Intel (10/14 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 – October 5, 2014

This week’s markets didn’t respond so positively when Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank failed to deliver on what many had been expecting for quite some time.

The financial markets wanted to hear Draghi follow through on his previous market moving rhetoric with an ECB version of Quantitative Easing, but it didn’t happen. After two years of waiting for some meaningful follow through to his assertion that “we will do whatever it takes” Draghi’s appearance as simply an empty suit becomes increasingly apparent and increasingly worrisome.

On a positive note, as befitting European styling, that suit is exquisitely tailored, but still hasn’t shown that it can stand up to pressure.

It also wasn’t the first time our expectations were dashed and no one was particularly pleased to hear Draghi place blame for the state of the various economies in the European Union at the feet of its politicians as John Chambers, the head of Standard and Poor’s Sovereign Debt Committee did some years earlier when lowering the debt rating of the United States.

Placing the blame on politicians also sends a message that the remedy must also come from politicians and that is something that tends to only occur at the precipice.

While the Biblical text referring to a young child leading a pack of wild animals is a forward looking assessment of an optimistic future, believing that an empty suit can lead a pack of self-interested politicians is an optimism perhaps less realistic than the original passage.

At least that’s what the markets believed.

Befitting the previous week’s volatility that was marked by triple digit moves in alternating fashion, Draghi’s induced 238 point decline was offset by Friday’s 208 point gain following the encouraging Employment Situation Report. Whereas the previous week’s DJIA saw a net decline of only 166 points on absolute daily moves of 810 points, this past week was more subdued. The DJIA lost only 103 points while the absolute daily changes were 519 points.

The end result of Friday’s advance was to return volatility to where it had ended last week, which was a disappointment, as you would like to see volatility rise if there has been a net decline in the broader market. Still, if you’re selling options, that level is better than it was two weeks ago.

While Friday’s gain was encouraging it is a little less so when realizing that such memorable gains are very often found during market downtrends. There is at least very little doubt that the market behavior during the past two weeks represents some qualitative difference in its behavior and an isolated move higher may not be very reflective of any developing trend, but rather reactive to a different developing trend.

As with Draghi, falling for the rhetoric of such a positive response to the Employment Situation Report, may lead to some disappointment.

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

Many of the positions being considered this week are recently highlighted positions made more appealing following recent price pullbacks rather than on any company specific factors. Of course, when looking at stocks whose price has recently fallen at some point the question regarding value versus “value trap” has to be entertained.

With some increase in volatility, despite the rollback this week, I’ve taken opportunity to rollover existing positions to forward weeks when expanded option contracts have been available. As those premiums have increased a bit being able to do so helps to reduce the risk of having so many positions expire concurrently and being all exposed to a short term and sudden price decline.

Just imagine how different the outcome for the week may have been if Thursday’s and Friday’s results were reversed if you were relying on the ability to rollover positions or have them assigned.

However, with the start of earnings season this week there’s reason to be a little more attentive when selecting positions and their contract expiration dates as earnings may play a role in the premiums. While certainly making those premiums more enticing it also increases the risk of ownership at a time when the relative market risk may outweigh the reward.

One stock not reporting earnings this week, but still having an enriched option premium is The Gap (GPS). It opens the week for trading on its ex-dividend date and later in the week is expected to announce its monthly same store sales, being one of the few remaining companies to do so. Those results are inexplicably confusing month to month and shares tend to make strong price movements, frequently in alternating directions from month to month. For that uncertainty comes a very attractive option premium for shares that despite that event driven volatility tend to trade in a fairly well defined range over the longer term.

When it comes to their fashion offerings you may be ambivalent, but when it comes to that kind of price movement and predictability, what’s not to like?

If you’re waiting for a traditional correction, one that requires a 10% pullback, look no farther than Mosaic (MOS). While it had been valiantly struggling to surpass the $50 level on its long road to recovery from the shock of the break-up of the potash cartel, it has now fallen about 13% in 5 weeks. Most recently Mosaic announced a cutback in phosphate production and lowered its guidance and when a market is already on edge it doesn’t need successive blows like those offered by Mosaic as it approaches its 52 week low.

Can shares offer further disappointment when it reports earnings at the end of this month? Perhaps, but for those with a longer term outlook, at this level shares may be repeating the opportunity they offered upon hitting their lows on the cartel’s dissolution for serial purchase and assignment, while offering a premium enhanced by uncertainty.

Seagate Technology (STX) is also officially in that correctio

n camp, having dropped 10% in that same 5 week period. It has done so in the absence of any meaningful news other than perhaps the weight of its own share price, with its decline having come directly from its 52 week high point.

For a company that has become fairly staid, Pfizer (PFE) has been moving about quite a bit lately. Whether in the news for having sought a tax inversion opportunity or other acquisitions, it is clearly a company that is in need of some sort of catalyst. That continuing kind of movement back and forth has been pronounced very recently and should begin making its option premium increasingly enticing. With shares seemingly seeking a $30 home, regardless of which side it is currently on and an always attractive dividend, Pfizer may start getting more and more interesting, particularly in an otherwise labile market.

Dow Chemical (DOW) is one of those stocks that used to be a main stay of my investing. It’s price climb from the $40 to $50 range made it less so, but with the realization that the $50 level may be the new normal, especially with activist investor pressure, it is again on the radar screen, That’s especially true after this week’s price drop. I had been targeting the $52.50 level having been most recently assigned at $53.50, but now it appears to be gift priced. Unfortunately, it may be a perfect example of that age old dilemma regarding value, having already greatly under-performed the market since its recent high the “value trap” part may have already been played out.

While MasterCard (MA) is ex-dividend this week, it is certainly not one to chase in order to capture its dividend. With a payout ratio far below its competitors it would seem that an increase might be warranted. However, what makes MasterCard attractive is that it has seemingly found a trading range and is now situated at about the mid-point of that range. While there is some recent tumult in the world of payments and with some continuing uncertainty regarding its presence in Russia, MasterCard continues to be worth consideration, particularly as it too has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past two weeks.

Equal in its under-performance to MasterCard during that period has been Texas Instruments (TXN). I’ve been eager to add some technology sector positions for a while and haven’t done so as often as necessary to develop some better diversification. Along with Intel (INTC) which I considered last week, as well, Texas Instruments is back to a price level that has my attention. Like Intel, it reports earnings soon and also goes ex-dividend during the October 2014 option cycle. Unlike Intel, however, Texas Instruments doesn’t have a couple of gap ups in price over the past three months that may represent some additional earnings related risk.

When it comes to under-performance it is possible that Coach (COH) may soon qualify as being synonymous with that designation. Not too surprisingly its past performance in the past two weeks, while below that of the S&P 500 may be more directly tied to an improved price performance seen in its competitor for investor interest, Michael Kors (KORS). However, Coach seems to have established support at its current level and may offer a similar opportunity for serial purchase and assignment as had been previously offered by Mosaic shares.

Finally, with the exception of YUM Brands (YUM) all of the other stocks highlighted this week have under-performed the S&P 500 since hitting its recent high on September 18, 2014. YUM Brands reports earnings this week and is often very volatile when it does so. This time, hover, the options market doesn’t seem to be expecting a very large move, only about 4.5%. Neither is there an opportunity to achieve a 1% ROI through the sale of a put option at a strike outside of the range implied. However, YUM Brands is one of those stocks, that if I had sold puts upon, I wouldn’t mind owning if there was a likelihood of assignment.

So often YUM Brands share price is held hostage to food safety issues in China and so often it successfully is able to  see its share price regain sudden losses. That, however, hasn’t been the case thus far since it’s summertime loss. There are probably little expectations for an upside surprise upon release of earnings and as such there may be some limited downside, perhaps explaining the option market’s subdued pricing.

If facing assignment of puts being sold with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I would be inclined to accept assignment and proceed from the point of ownership rather than trying to continue avoiding ownership of shares. However, with the slightest indication of political unrest spreading from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland that may be a decision destined for regret, just like the purchase of an ill-fitting and overly priced suit.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Texas Instruments, The Gap

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend:  MasterCard (10/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/7 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 – August 31, 2014

You really can’t blame the markets for wanting to remain ignorant of what is going on around it.

When you’re having a party that just doesn’t seem to want to end the last thing you want to do is answer that unexpected knock on the door, especially when you can see a flashing red and blue light projected onto your walls.

The recent pattern has been a rational one in that any bad news has been treated as bad news. The market has demonstrated a great deal of nervousness surrounding uncertainty, particularly of a geo-political nature and there has been no shortage of that kind of news lately.

On the other hand, the market has thrived during a summer time environment that has been devoid of any news. Over the past four weeks that market has had its climb higher interrupted briefly only by occasional rumors of geo-political conflict.

Given the market’s reaction to such news which seemingly is accelerating from different corners of the world, the solution is fairly simple. But it was only this week that the obvious solution was put into action. Like any young child who wants only to do what he wants to do, the strategy is to hear only what you want to hear and ignore the rest.

Had the events of this week occurred earlier in the summer we might have been looking at another of the mini-corrections we’ve seen over the past two years and perhaps more. The additive impact of learning of Russian soldiers crossing the Ukraine border, Great Britain’s decision to elevate their Terror Alert level to “Severe” and President Obama’s comment that the United States did not yet have a strategy to  deal with ISIS, would have put a pause to any buying spree.

Instead, this week we heard none of those warnings and simply marched higher to even more new record closes, even ignoring the traditional warning to not go into a weekend of uncertainty with net long positions.

To compound the flagrant flaunting the market closed at another new high as we entered into a long holiday weekend. As we return to trading after its celebration the incentive to continue ignoring the world and environment around us can only be reinforced when learning that this past month was the best performing month of August in more than 10 years.

Marking the fourth consecutive week moving higher, the July worries of spiking volatility and a declining market are ancient history, occurring back in the days when we actually cared and actually listened.

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

Bank of America (BAC) may be a good example of ignoring news, although it could also be an example of  the relief that accompanies the baring of news. The finality of its recent $17 billion settlement stemming from its role in the financial crisis was a spur to the financial sector.

Shares go ex-dividend this week and represent the first distribution of its newly raised dividend. While still nothing worthy of chasing and despite the recent climb higher, the elimination of such significant uncertainty can see shares trading increasingly on fundamentals and increasingly becoming less of a speculative purchase as its beta has plunged in the past year.

With thoughts of conflict related risk continuing to be on my mind there’s reason to consider positions that may have some relative immunity to those risks. This week, however, the reward for selling options is unusually low. Not only is the extraordinarily depressed volatility so adversely impacting those premiums, but there are only four days of time value during this trade shortened week. Looking to use something other than a weekly option doesn’t offer much in the way of relief from the low volatility, so I’m not terribly enthusiastic about spending down cash reserves this coming week, particularly at market highs.

Still, there can always be an opportunity in the making. With the exceptions of the first and last selections for this week, like last week I’m drawn to positions that have under-performed the S&P 500 during the summer’s advance.

^SPX ChartThere was a time that Altria (MO) was one of my favorite stocks. Not one of my favorite companies, just one of my favorite stocks, thanks to drawing on the logic of the expression “hate the sin and not the sinner.”

Back in the old days, before it spun off Philip Morris (PM) it was one of those “triple threat” stocks. It offered a great dividend, great option premiums and the opportunity for share gains, as well. Even better, it did so with relatively little risk.

These days it’s not a very exciting stock, although it still offers a great dividend, but not a terribly compelling option premium, especially as the ex-dividend date approaches. However, during a time when geo-political events may take center stage, there may be some added safety in a company that is rarely associated with the word “safe,” other than in a negative context.

Colgate Palmolive (CL) isn’t a terribly exciting stock, but in the face of unwanted excitement, who needs to add to that fiery mix? Last week I added shares of Kellogg (K), another boring kind of position, but both represent some flight to safety. 

Trailing the S&P 500 by 8% during the summer, shares of Colgate Palmolive could reasonably be expected to have an additional degree of safety afforded from that recent decline and that adds to its appeal at a time when risk may be otherwise be an equal opportunity destroyer of assets.

YUM Brands (YUM) and Las Vegas Sands (LVS) both have much of their fortunes tied up in China and both have come down quite a bit during the summer.

YUM Brands has shown some stability of late and I would be happy to see it trading in the doldrums for a while, as that’s the best way to accumulate option premiums. WHile doing bu

siness is always a risk in China, there is, at least, little concern for exposure to other worldwide risks and YUM may have now weathered its latest food safety challenge.

Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, may not yet have seen the bottom to the concerns related to the vibrancy of gaming in Macao. However, the concerns now seem to be overdo and expectations seem to have been sufficiently lowered, setting the stage for upside surprises, as has been the situation in the past. As with concerns regarding decreased business at YUM due to economic downturns, once you get the taste for fast food or gambling, it’s hard to cut down on their addictive hold.

T-Mobile (TMUS), despite the high profile it maintains, thanks to the efforts of its CEO, John Legere, has somehow still managed to trail the S&P500 during the summer. This past week’s comments by parent Deutsche Telecom (DTEGY) seemed to imply that they would be happy to sell their interests for a $35 price on shares. They may be willing to take even less if a potential suitor would also take possession of John Legere, no questions asked.

I think that in the longer term the T-Mobile story will not end well, as there is reason to question the sustainability of its strategy to attract customers and its limited spectrum. It needs a partner with both cash and spectrum. However, since I don;t particularly look at the longer term picture when looking for weekly selections, I’m interested in replacing the shares that were assigned this past week, as its premium is very attractive.

Whole Foods (WFM) is another position that I had assigned this past week, while I still sit on a much more expensive lot. On the slightest pullback in price, or even stability in share price, I would consider a re-purchase of shares, as it appears Whole FOods is finding considerable support at its current level and has digested a year’s worth of bad news.

In an environment that has witnessed significant erosion in option premiums, Whole Foods has recently started moving in the opposite direction. Its option premiums have seen an increase in price, probably reflecting broader belief that shares are under-valued and ready to move higher. Although I’ve been adding shares in an attempt to offset paper losses from that more expensive lot, I believe that any new positions are warranted on their own at this level and would even consider rolling over positions that are likely to be assigned in order to accumulate these enriched premiums.

I currently have no technology sector holdings and have been anxious to add some. With distrust of “new technology” and “old technology” having appreciated so much in the past few months, it has been difficult to find suitable candidates.

Both SanDisk (SNDK) and QualComm (QCOM) have failed to match the performance recently of the S&P 500 and may be worthy of some consideration, although they both may have some more downside risk potential during a period of market uncertainty.

Among challenges that QualComm may face is that it is not collecting payment for its products. That is just another of the myriad of problems that may confront those doing business in China, as QualComm, and others, such as Microsoft (MSFT), may not be receiving sufficient licensing fee payments due to under-reporting of device sales.

In addition, it may also be facing a challenge to its supremacy in providing the chips that connect devices to cellular networks worldwide as Intel (INTC) and others may be poised to add to their market share at QualComm’s expense.

For those believing that the bad news has now been factored into QualComm’s share price, having resulted in nearly a 7% loss as compared to the S&P 500 performance, there may be opportunity to establish a position at this point, although continued adverse news could test support some 6% lower.

SanDisk certainly didn’t inspire much confidence this week as a number of executives and directors sold a portion of their positions.

I don’t have any particular bias as to the meaning of such sales. SanDisk’s price trajectory over the past year certainly leaves significant downside risk, however, the management of this company has consistently steered it against a torrent of  pessimistic waves, as it has survived commoditization of its core products. The risk of share ownership is mitigated by its option premium, that has resisted some of the general declines seen elsewhere, perhaps reflective of the perceived risk.

Finally, Coach (COH) has recently been in my doghouse, despite the fact that it has been a very reliable friend over the course of the past two years. But human nature being what it is, it’s hard to escape the question “what have you done for me lately?”

That’s the case because my most recent lot of Coach was purchased after earnings when it fell sharply and then surprised me by continuing to do so in a significant manner afterward, as well. Unlike with some other earnings related drops over the past two years this most recent one has had an extended recovery period, but I think that it is finally getting started.

The timing may be helped a little bit with shares going ex-dividend this week. That dividend is presumably safe, as management has committed toward maintaining it, although some have questioned how long Coach can continue to do so.

I choose not to listen to those fears.

Traditional Stocks: Altria, Colgate Palmolive, QualComm, Whole Foods, YUM Brands

Momentum:  Las Vegas Sands, SanDisk, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (9/3), Coach (9/5)

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 – July 20, 2014

While I don’t necessarily believe that space aliens will descend upon us with laser rays blazing, there’s reason to increasingly believe that possibility as we learn more and more about the existence of conditions elsewhere in the universe that may be compatible with sustaining life.

Still, even with that knowledge, I don’t let it control my life and quite frankly will probably never do anything that in any way is impacted by the thought of an encounter with an alien.

The principle reason for not elevating the alarm level is that there is no point in history to serve as an example. The pattern of life on earth has been so far devoid of such occurrences, as best we know. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

However, I just don’t completely discount the possibility, because I believe that it’s of a very low probability. Besides, the vaporization process would be so swift that there would be no time for remorse or regrets. At least that’s what I expect.

By the same token I don’t expect a complete meltdown in the market, even though I know it has and can, likely occur again. Despite its probability of occurrence and my belief of that probability, I’m not really prepared for one if it were to occur, even with the extraordinarily low cost of portfolio protection. The chances of a complete meltdown, as we know, is probably more likely to occur in the near term than the prospect of laser waving aliens in our lifetimes.

For all practical purposes one is a real probability and the other isn’t, yet they aren’t necessarily placed into different risk categories at the moment.

This week’s events, however, served as a reminder that the unexpected should always be expected. With the nice rebound on Friday from Thursday’s news of the tragic downing of the civilian Malaysian airplane, the lesson may be lost, however.

One thing that we seem to have forgotten how to do in the past 5 years is to expect the unexpected. Instead our expectations have been fueled by the relentless climb higher and a feeling of invincibility. To a large degree that feeling has been justified as every attempt to fight back against the gains has been stymied in quick and due course.

I probably wasn’t alone in having that invincible feeling way back in 2007. The vaporization process was fairly swift then, as well.

Even when faced with challenges that in the past would have sent markets tumbling, such as international conflict, we haven’t seen the application of age old adages such as “do not stay long going into a weekend of uncertainty.” This Friday’s market rebound was another example in a long string of uncertainty being expected to not lead to the unexpected.

In essence with the certainty of an ever climbing market having become the new reality there’s been very little reason to exercise caution, or at least to be prepared to act in a cautious manner in the expectation that perhaps the unexpected will occur.

Our minds are wired to like and identify patterns. That’s certainly the strategic basis for stock trading for many. Predictability brings a degree of comfort, but too much comfort brings complacency. The prevailing pattern simply argues against the unexpected, so we have discounted its probability and to a large degree its possibility.

While we may be correct in discounting complete market meltdowns, as their occurrence is still relatively uncommon, that complacency has us discounting intermediate sized moves that can easily come from the unexpected. The world is an increasingly complex and inter-connected place and as seen in the past week there needn’t be advanced warning signs for any of an infinite number of unexpected events to occur.

We did get lucky this past week, but we probably expected the luck to continue if the unexpected did strike. What would really be unexpected would be to draw a lesson from our fragility standing near market highs.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. With many companies reporting earnings this coming week a companion article, “Taking a Gamble with Earnings,” explores some additional potential trades.

As Thursday’s trading was coming to its close at the lows of the session more and more stocks were beginning to return to what seemed to be more reasonable trading levels.

The problem, of course, is dealing with the unexpected and trying to predict what comes next when there are really no data points to characterize what we’ve seen. Someday when we look back at these events and the market impact we may see a pattern, but at the moment the question will be “which pattern?” Is it one that’s simply a blip and short-lived as the event itself is self-limiting or is the pattern consistent with the beginning stages of what is to become an ongoing and escalating series of events that serve to erode confidence and place continuing strains on the market?

In other words, did we just witness a typical over-reaction and subsequent rebound or are we ready to witness a correction?

I think its the former, but it opens the possibility of additional incidents and escalation of hostilities in a part of the world that is far more meaningful to the world’s economies than unheralded internecine conflicts occurring in so many other places.

Interestingly, with that kind of backdrop, this week, while we begin to sort out what the short term holds, “Momentum” kind of stocks, particularly those with little to no international exposure in the hotbed areas, may be more conservative choices than the more Traditional selections.

While I like British Petroleum (BP), General Electric (GE) and Deere (DE) this week, predominantly due to their recent price drops, there is certainly reason to be wary of their exposure to parts of the world in conflict.

British Petroleum certainly has known interests in Russia and could be at unique risk, however, I believe that we will be seeing a lesser chest thumping Russia in the n

ear term as there is some reason to believe that existing sanctions and perhaps expanded ones are beginning to get attention at the highest levels. Above all, pragmatism would dictate not injuring the source of hard currency.

I’ve been waiting a while to re-purchase shares of British Petroleum and certainly welcome any opportunity, even if still at a price higher than my last entry. With earnings scheduled to be reported July 29, 2014 and a healthy dividend sometime during the August 2014 option cycle there may be opportunities over the coming weeks with these shares to generate ongoing income.

General Electric reported its earnings this past Friday and also announced the impending IPO of its consumer finance business. The market was unimpressed on both counts.

I haven’t owned shares of General Electric with the frequency that it deserved. With a generous and increasing dividend, price stability, low beta and decent option premiums, it certainly has had the appeal for ownership, perhaps even using longer term option contracts to better  lock in some of those dividends. While it has significant international exposure the recent price weakness makes entry a little less risky, but even with the quality and size of General Electric unexpected bumpy rides can be possible when uncontrollable events create investor fear.

Deere is simply finally down to the price level that in the past was my upper range for purchase. With Caterpillar (CAT) reporting earnings later this week and trading near its 52 week high, there is room on the downside, as well as some trickle down to Deere shares. However, with Joy Global’s (JOY) recent performance, my anticipation is that Caterpillar’s Chinese related revenues will be enough to satisfy traders and offer some protection to Deere, as well.

On the Momentum side of the equation this week are Best Buy (BBY), Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and YUM Brands (YUM).

While Las Vegas Sands and YUM Brands certainly have international exposure, at the moment if you had to choose where to place your overseas bets, China may be relatively insulated from the unexpected elsewhere in the world.

Both companies are coming off weak earnings reports and the markets reacted accordingly. Both, however, have been very resilient to declines and finding substantive support levels in the past. With some shares of Las Vegas Sands recently assigned at current levels I would look for opportunity to re-purchase them. It’s volatility offers generous option premiums and the availability of expanded weekly options makes it easier to consider rollover opportunities in the event of unexpected price drops in order to wait out any price rebound, which has been the expected pattern.

YUM Brands is, like Deere, finally approaching the upper range of where I have purchased shares in the past. While I would like to see them even lower, I think that due to its dependence on the Chinese economy and market it may be a relative out-performer in the event of internationally induced market weakness.

Best Buy, unlike YUM Brands and Las Vegas Sands, has recently been on an upward price trajectory. I liked it much better when it was trading in the $26 range, but I believe it still has further upside potential in its slow climb back after unexpectedly bad earnings news 6 months ago. It too has an attractive option premium and a dividend and despite its recent price climb higher has come down nearly 5% in the past two weeks.

I have never purchased shares of Pandora (P) before, but love its product. At the moment I don’t particularly have any great desire to own shares, but Pandora does report earnings this week and is notable for its 10.8% implied price move. In the meantime a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike price that is 16.4% below the current price. Those are the kind of characteristics that I like to see when considering what may otherwise be a risk laden trade.

Pandora has certainly shown itself capable of making very large earnings related moves and it is also certainly in the cross hairs of other and bigger players, such as Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). However, even a scathing critic, TheStreet’s Rocco Pendola, has recently commented that its crushing defeat at the hands of those behemoths is not guaranteed.

Expected, maybe, but not guaranteed.

Facebook (FB) is also reporting earnings this coming week and in the two years that it has done so has predominantly surprised to the upside as it has quickly lived up to its vow to monetize its mobile strategy.

With an implied price move of 7.6% the strike level necessary to generate a 1% ROI through the sale of puts is 8.7% below Friday’s closing price. While shares can certainly make a move much larger than what is expected by the option market, in the event of an adverse move Facebook has some qualities that makes it an easier put option position to manage in the effort to avoid assignment.

It trades expanded weekly options and it does so with liquidity and volume, thereby having relatively narrow bid and ask spreads, even for deep in the money options.

Sooner or later, though, the expectation must be that earnings expectations won’t be met. I wouldn’t discount that possibility, although I think the options market may have done so a bit, so in this case I would be more inclined to consider the sale of puts after earnings, if share price drops on a disappointing report.

Finally, Apple reports earnings this week. It doesn’t really fulfill the criteria that I used when considering the sale of puts prior to earnings, in that it doesn’t appear that a 1% ROI can be achieved at a strike level outside of the range defined by the option market when calculating the “implied move.”

It’s probably useless trying to speculate on sales numbers or guidance. Based on its usual earnings related responses in the past, you would be justified in believing that the market had not expected  the news. However, this quarter the implied move is on the small side, at only 4.5%, suggesting that not much in the way of a surprise is expected next week.

With the current option pricing, the sale of Apple puts doesn’t meet my criteria, but I would again be interested in considering either the sale of puts after earnings, if the market’s response is negative or the outright purchase of shares and sale of calls, in anticipation of an ex-dividend date coming up in early August.

Sometimes it’s just
easier dealing with the expected.

Traditional Stocks:  British Petroleum, Deere, General Electric

Momentum: Best Buy, Las Vegas Sands, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/22 PM), Facebook (7/23 PM), Pandora (P)

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.