(A version of this article appeared on TheStreet.com)
The bullish case? I can’t possibly make one, having been expecting a market correction similar to that seen in April 2012 since April of this year. Besides. I’m an inveterate covered option writer and by nature see the pitfalls of every single trade that I make or suggest.
After all, why would you need protection in the form of options if your stock thesis was sound?
After nearly 30 years of marriage my wife recently told me that only about 40% of what I say turns out to actually be correct. If it was only that good when it came to selecting stocks and getting the timing just right. I’d be in the pantheon of the world’s greatest investors instead of world’s greatest husbands.
Conveniently ignoring my track record of premature pessimism, the coming week holds lots of risk for portfolios.
At a time, albeit only for a day or two, that good news was actually interpreted by the market as being good news, it was a little disconcerting that the idea of a budget deal wasn’t greeted with great enthusiasm. In fact, even the architects of the deal seemed to minimize the achievement. Considering that the current Congress would even have a difficult time agreeing on what day to celebrate New Years if it fell on a Monday, one would be excused for thinking a budget deal, well ahead of a deadline was actually monumental.
Suggesting that the market had simply discounted the deal is also convenient, but clearly without basis. Certainly watching Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor take the opportunity to rail against the Affordable Care Act, when they addressed the nation, fighting yesterday’s war instead of rallying the markets by celebrating a rare accomplishment, wasn’t helpful.
At this point, however, that’s all yesterday’s news and other than painting a picture of a squeamish market, doesn’t offer any forward looking guidance.
Where the immediate risk enters is from the coming week’s release of the FOMC minutes and perhaps more importantly Chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference that follows.
Having sold many options with an expiration date just two days after the FOMC release, I’m forced to recall two other occasions this year when I was smugly anticipating assignment of many positions and counting the cash, when the market turned on a dime and not in the right way, either.
Just a few days ago there were very few believing that there was any possibility that the dreaded “taper” to Quantitative Easing could begin or be announced in December. That may be why last week’s good Employment Situation Report was greeted as good news, despite the fact it was good news. Without the fear of the taper beginning much sooner rather than later, the market rallied. But remember, that in the previous days the market sputtered as a synthetic version of tapering, the rising yield on 10 Year Treasury Notes showed us what is in store when the real thing hits.
While the outcome of what awaits next week isn’t pre-ordained, I like to know when obstacles are ahead and what lessons can be learned from the past.
I normally spend Wednesday’s scouting out potential new positions for next week’s purchases in anticipation of weekly option assignments and cash flowing into my account. The question is whether it’s time to preserve the cash or simply look for the bullish case that always exists somewhere, although can disappear in an instant.
Since I never look to hit homeruns, the names that I gravitate to for short term plays are only to achieve small returns and are the names so often dismissed by those with traditional mindsets.
No one thumps their chest pounding about a proposed 1% ROI for the week on their recommeed trades.
However, eBay (EBAY), Coach (COH) and Caterpillar (CAT) gravitate to the top even when the foundation around them may be weakening. Not because they necessarily have good fundamental stories, after all, they have all had their recent share of derision, but because they have been reliable in their mediocrity and have simply traded in a range for an extended period of time.
That range is precisely what makes them valuable to an option seller. While exercising a traditional buy and hold approach to these would have been an exercise in futility of the past year, a punctuated form of ownership, essentially a serial buy and hold technique, characterized by repeated purchases, writing of calls and assignments could be an exercise in delight, as seen in these returns in eBay, Caterpillar and Coach. The predictability of that range is more reliable than being able to time a rally or decline. The consistency of trading, particularly over the past nine months or so is the sort of thing that dreams are made of, if you have nothing else to dream about.
They may be boring and they may be out of favor among, but sometimes the bullish case is made out of adding together lots of baby cows.
As I look toward the challenge of the coming week and the message sent by today’s market, I take my seemingly eternal pessimism, but am not inclined to shrink back into my shell. Rather, the time seems exceddingly right for small victories shared with old friends