Weekend Update – February 1, 2015

At first glance there’s not too much to celebrate so far, as the first month of 2015 is now sealed and inscribed in the annals of history.

It was another January that disappointed those who still believe in or talk about the magical “January Effect.”

I can’t deny it, but I was one of those who was hoping for a return to that predictable seasonal advance to start the new year. To come to a realization that it may not be true isn’t very different from other terribly sad rites of passage usually encountered in childhood, but you never want to give up hoping and wishing.

It was certainly a disappointment for all of those thinking that the market highs set at the end of December 2014 would keep moving higher, buoyed by a consumer led spending spree fueled by all of that money not being spent on oil and gas.

At least that was the theory that seemed to be perfectly logical at the time and still does, but so far is neither being borne out in reality nor in company guidance being offered in what is, thus far, a disappointing earnings season.

Who in their right mind would have predicted that people are actually saving some of that money and using it to pay down debt?

That’s not the sort of thing that sustains a party.

What started a little more than a month ago with a strongly revised upward projection for 2015 GDP came to an end with Friday’s release of fourth quarter 2014 GDP that was lower than expected and, at least in part validated the less than stellar Retail Sales statistics from a few weeks ago that many very quick to impugn at the time.

When the week was all said and done neither an FOMC Statement release nor the latest GDP data could rescue this January. Despite a 200 point gain heading into the end of the week in advance of the GDP data, and despite a momentary recovery from another 200 point loss heading into the close of trading for the week fueled by an inexplicable surge in oil prices, the market fell 2.7% for the week. In doing so it just added to the theme of a January that breaks the hearts of little children and investors alike and now leaves markets about 5% below the highs from just a month ago.

Like many, I thought that the January party would get started in earnest along with the start of the earnings season. While not expecting to see much tangible benefit from reduced energy costs reflected in the past quarter, my expectation was that the good news would be contained in forward guidance or in upward revisions.

Silly, right? But if you used common sense and caution think of all of the great things you would have missed out on.

While waiting for earnings to bring the party back to life the big surprise was something that shouldn’t have been a surprise at all for all those who take an expansive view of things. I don’t get paid to be that broad minded, but there are many who do and somehow no one seemed to have taken into consideration what we all refer to as “currency crosswinds.”

Hearing earnings report after earnings report mention the downside to the strong dollar reminded me that it would have been good to have been warned about that sort of thing earlier, although did we really need to be told?

Every asset class is currently in flux. It’s not just stocks going through a period of heightened volatility. Witness the moves seen in Treasury rates, currencies, precious metals and oil and it’s pretty clear that at the moment there is no real safe haven, but there is lots of uncertainty.

A quick glance at the S&P 500’s behavior over the past month certainly shows that uncertainty as reflected in the number of days with gap openings higher and lower, as well as the significant intra-day reversals seen throughout the month.

 I happen to like volatility, but it was really a party back in 2011 when there was tremendous volatility but at the end of the day there was virtually no net change in markets. In fact, for the year the S&P 500 was unchanged.

If you’re selling options in doesn’t get much better than that, but 2015 is letting the party slip away as it’s having difficulty maintaining prices as volatility seeks to assert itself as we have repeatedly found the market testing itself with repeated 3-5% declines over the past 6 weeks.

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

If you were watching markets this past Friday afternoon what was turning out to really be a terrible day was mitigated by the performance of the highest priced stock in the DJIA which added nearly 60 points to the index. That notwithstanding, the losses were temporarily reversed, as has been the case so often in the past month, by an unexplained surge in oil prices late in the trading session.

When it appeared as if that surge in oil prices was not related to a fundamental change in the supply and demand dynamic the market reversed once again and compounded its losses, leaving only that single DJIA component to buck the day’s trend.

So far, however, as this earnings season has progressed, the energy sector has not fared poorly as a result of earnings releases, even as they may have floundered as oil prices themselves fell.

Sometimes lowered expectations can have merit and may be acting as a cushion for the kind of further share drops that could reasonably be expected as revenues begin to see the impact of lower prices.

That may change this coming week as Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) reports its earnings before the week begins its trading. By virtue of its sheer size it can create ripples for Anadarko (NYSE:APC) which reports earnings that same day, but after the close of trading.

Anadarko is already well off of the lows it experienced a month ago. While I generally don’t like establishing any kind of position ahead of earnings if the price trajectory has been higher, I would consider doing so if Exxon Mobil sets the tone with disappointing numbers and Anadarko follows in the weakness before announcing its own earnings.

While the put premiums aren’t compelling given the implied move of about 5%, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares if in risk of assignment due to having sold puts within the strike range defined by the option market. As with some other recent purchases in the energy sector, if taking ownership of shares and selling calls, I would consider using strike prices that would also stand to benefit from some share appreciation.

Although I may not be able to tell in a blinded taste test which was an Anadarko product and which was a Keurig Green Mountain Coffee (NASDAQ:GMCR) product, the latter does offer a more compelling reason to sell puts in advance of its earnings report this week.

Frequently a big mover after the event, there’s no doubt that under its new CEO significant credibility has been restored to the company. Its relationship with Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) has certainly been a big part of that credibility, just as a few years earlier its less substantive agreement with Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) helped shares regain lost luster.

The option market is predicting a 9.3% price move next week and a 1.5% ROI can be attained at a strike price outside of that range, but if selling puts, it would be helpful to be prepared for a move much greater than the option market is predicting, as that has occurred many times over the past few years. That would mean being prepared to either rollover the put contracts or take assignment of shares in the event of a larger than expected adverse move.

While crowd sourcing may be a great thing, I’m always amused when reading some reviews found on Yelp (NYSE:YELP) for places that I know well, especially when I’m left wondering what I could have possibly repeatedly kept missing over the years. Perhaps my mistake was not maintaining my anonymity during repeated visits making it more difficult to truly enjoy a hideous experience.

Yet somehow the product and the service endures as it seeks to remove the unknown from experiences with local businesses. But it’s precisely that kind of unknown that makes Yelp a potentially interesting trade when earnings are ready to be announced.

The option market has implied a 12% price move in either direction and past earnings seasons have shown that those shares can easily move that much and more. For those willing to take the risk, which apparently is what is done whenever going to a new restaurant without availing yourself of Yelp reviews, a 1% ROI can be attained by selling weekly put contracts at a strike level 16% below Friday’s closing price.

While the market didn’t perform terribly well last week, technology was even worse, which has to bring International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) to mind. As the worst performer in the DJIA over the past 2 years it already knows what it’s like to under-perform and it hasn’t flown beneath anyone’s critical radar in that time.

However, among big and old technology it actually out-performed them all last week and even beat the S&P 500. With more controversy certain for next week as details of the new compensation package of its beleaguered CEO were released after Friday’s close, in an attempt to fly beneath the radar, shares go ex-dividend.

While there may continue being questions regarding the relevance of IBM and how much of the company’s performance is now the result of financial engineering, that uncertainty is finally beginning to creep into the option premiums that can be commanded if seeking to sell calls or puts.

With shares trading at a 4 year low the combination of option premium, dividend and capital appreciation of shares is recapturing my attention after years of neglect. If CEO Ginny Rometty can return IBM shares to where they were just a year ago she will be deserving of every one of the very many additional pennies of compensation she will receive, but she had better do so quickly because lots of people will learn about the new compensation package as trading resumes on Monday.

Also going ex-dividend this week are 2 very different companies, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), that have little reason to be grouped together, otherwise.

After a recent 6% decline, Pfizer shares are now 6% below their 4 year high, but still above the level where I have purchased shares in the past.

The drug industry has heated up over the past few months with increasing consideration of mergers and buyouts, even as tax inversions are less likely to occur. Even those companies whose bottom lines can now only be driven by truly blockbuster drugs have heightened interest and heightened option premiums associated with their shares which are only likely to increase if overall volatility is able to maintain at increased levels, as well.

Following its recent price retreat, its upcoming dividend and improving option premiums, I’m willing to consider re-opening a position is Pfizer shares, even at its current level.

Seagate Technology, after a nearly 18% decline in the past month was one of those companies that reported a significant impact of currency in offering its guidance for the next quarter, while meeting expectations for the current quarter.

While I often like to sell puts in establishing a Seagate Technology position, with this week’s ex-dividend event, there is reason to consider doing so with the purchase of shares and the sale of calls, as the premium is rich and lots of bad news has already been digested.

I missed an opportunity to add eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) shares a few weeks ago in advance of earnings, as eBay was one of the first to show some currency headwinds. However, as has been the case for nearly a year, the story hasn’t been the business it has been all about activists and the saga of its profitable PayPal unit.

After an initial move higher on announcement of a standstill agreement with Carl Icahn, the activist who pushed for the spin-off of PayPal, shares dropped over the succeeding days back to a level just below from where they had started the process and again in the price range that I like to consider adding shares.

From now until that time that the PayPal spin-off occurs or is purchased by another entity, that’s where the opportunity exists if using eBay as part of a covered call strategy, rather than on the prospects of the underlying business. However, after more than a month of not owning any shares of a company that has been an almost consistent presence in my portfolio, it’s time to bring it back in and hopefully continue serially trading it for as long as possible until the fate of PayPal is determined.

Finally, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) reported earnings this past week, but took a page out of eBay’s playbook from earlier in the year and used the occasion to announce significant news unrelated to earnings that served to move shares higher and more importantly deflected attention from the actual business.

With a proposed tax free spin off of its remaining shares of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) many were happy enough to ignore the basic business or wonder what of value would be left in Yahoo after such a spin-off.

The continuing Yahoo – Alibaba umbilical cord works in reverse in this case as the child pumps life into the parent, although this past week as Alibaba reported earnings and was admonished by its real parent, the Chinese government, Yahoo suffered and saw its shares slide on the week.

The good news is that the downward pressure from Alibaba may go on hiatus, at least until the next lock-up expiration when more shares will hit the market than were sold at the IPO. However, until then, Yahoo option premiums are reflecting the uncertainty and offer enough liquidity for a nimble trader to respond to short term adverse movements, whether through a covered call position or through the sale of put options.

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: International Business Machines (2/5), Pfizer (2/4), Seagate Technology (2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Anadarko (APC 2/2 PM), Keurig Green Mountain (2/4 PM), Yelp (2/5 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 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 – September 7, 2014

There was no shortage of news stories that could have prevented the market from setting yet another new closing high this week.

While much of the week was spent on discussing the tragic sequence of events leading to the death of Joan Rivers, markets still had a job to do, but may have been in no position to stop the momentum, regardless of the nature of more germane events.

Despite what everyone agrees to have been a disappointing Employment Situation Report, the market shrugged off that news and closed the week at another new record. They did so as many experts questioned the validity of the statistics rather than getting in the way of a market that was moving higher.

As the saying goes “you don’t step in front of a moving train.”

The previous day, with the announcement by ECB President Mario Draghi of further decreases in interest rates and more importantly the institution of what is being referred to as “Quantitative Easing Lite,” the market chose to ignore the same reasoning that many believed was behind our own market’s steady ascent and could, therefore, pose a threat to that continued ascent.

Many agreed that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing was a major reason for our equity market’s climb, as it fueled a flight of assets from low return bonds and from overseas. Now, with the same ingredients being assembled for a similar environment in European markets “QE Lite” could represent competition to US equity markets through our own flight of assets.

Barry Ritholtz, a noted equities analyst, recently commented that the drop in CNBC viewership to all time low levels was a “hugely bullish” sign for the markets, using their viewership as a contrarian indicator.

Never mind that along with them may be the loss of continued fuel to propel the markets onward, or consistent with disappointing employment numbers perhaps viewers are electing to drop their basic cable service before giving up their smartphone data plans.

There aren’t too many ways to stop a runaway train. The sheer momentum of a heavy projectile moving at high speed is hard to counter. You really don’t want to step in front of it as a primary strategy.

What makes that train run, however, is its fuel and at some point that fuel runs out.

However, by the same token there was no shortage of news that could have sent the markets soaring much higher.

Fuel, meet brakes.

Instead, the week closed up only slightly higher, yet continuing the weekly record of more new highs that lasted all throughout August.

What the market didn’t do was to embrace the news of a Ukraine-Russia truce, whereas weeks earlier it had shown that it cared deeply about such news, rallying on its rumor and falling on renewed conflict.

Even runaway trains may be able to be controlled by applying the brakes. The lack of a strong response to the thought of a lasting truce in the Ukraine conflict may be a reflection of some working brakes that may still be part of the equation.

While this week did finish at another new closing high, it did so without real conviction. While a runaway train would have great difficulty staying on track when coming to a curve, that may be precisely where the market now finds itself.

Whether it derails or not may be as much related to whether that curve is an inflection or simply a barrier to seeing what may lay ahead.

This past week, I think the market actually got it right, by not over-reacting to anything, as it demonstrated caution, perhaps aware that the curve ahead was steep.

How unusual would that have been? Rational markets?

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

A number of potential selections this week share the common bond of having been recipients of bad news recently.

British Petroleum (BP), a perennial bad guy when it comes to environmental record and safety received word of an $18 billion fine related to the devastating Gulf Oil spill. Despite a bounce back on Friday and assignment of shares that I had bought just the previous day, the response to that fine is very reminiscent of the initial reaction to similar news that greeted Anadarko (APC).

The bad news is tantamount to nothing more than metaphoric brakes having now been applied and defining the end of their liability. On the other hand, there is certainly the possibility of payment being delayed for years as appeals work their way through the judicial system or an agreement to a lesser penalty, which could only buoy shares. The introduction of this new level of uncertainty certainly buoyed British Petroleum’s option premiums last week and that appears to be carrying through to the coming week.

The Gap (GPS) remains an anachronism as it reports monthly same store sales. For those following those results it appears that every month or two the story is at a polar opposite to previous reports and the stock responds accordingly. This time the report showed a 2% decline, whereas analysts were expecting a 2% increase in sales.

The subsequent sharp decline in shares was eased somewhat my the market’s close and is still somewhat higher than I would like to re-initiate a position, but it is back on the radar screen after having been recently assigned. At the $42 level it has been a very good covered call trade.

eBay (EBAY), despite the steady stream of disparagement, has been one of my favorite positions. It, like The Gap is a little higher than where I would ideally like to start or add to a position, but then again, what isn’t?

The bad news confronting eBay may become reality this week, as Apple (AAPL) unveils its new products on Tuesday, which are rumored to incorporate a payment system that could then compete directly with eBay’s PayPal division.

Based upon the market’s reaction to news of Carl Icahn’s position in eBay and the reaction upon rumor that eBay was telling prospective PayPal officers that it would be spun off, suggests that competition could be beneficial to eBay’s share price, as it could speed up the spin off of a very valuable asset, particularly before that asset has a chance to erode.

eBay’s option premiums for the coming week certainly are reflective of near term uncertainty that is very likely related to what most have probably already discounted.

One of the things that has made eBay a favorite of mine is the serial nature in which I’ve been able to buy shares and sell calls over the past few years. That’s a characteristic that isn’t found frequently enough and depends on a stock’s being able to trade in a reasonably defined range, while still having some occasional spikes and plunges.

T-Mobile (TMUS) is beginning to show some of those same characteristics, although it may not be in the picture for as long as eBay has been, owing to the clear message that it is in play. It needs a capital infusion just as it needs more spectrum. Its parent has already indicated that it would be a willing seller at $35.

Demonstrating some support at $28.50 and having an apparent upper cap, I like when ranges are defined, particularly as its price can easily modulate itself within that range on any news or rumor. Those sort of events help to keep its option premium appealing and enable it to be traded on a serial basis, as well, or simply rolling over option contracts to help the premiums accumulate.

I haven’t owned shares of Kors (KORS) for a while, and have not been particularly fond of it as it has largely been held responsible for the sales and share price woes at Coach (COH), which like eBay, has been one of my covered option favorites, thanks to its price mediocrity, but consistent option premium stream.

With news of a secondary stock offering whose shares represent complete divestiture by the private equity firm that once held a majority interest in the company and the departure of two board members, it can’t get too much worse for shares, unless it too is a runaway train.

News of product discounting and slowing revenue growth compounds the insult of not receiving any of the proceeds of the secondary offering, which is expected to close this coming week. As with a number of other stocks in the “bad news” category, the option premiums are elevated, but much of the bad news may have already been digested.

Among this week’s potential dividend selections, there is some recent bad news at AIG (AIG), which hasn’t been reflected in its share price.

That is additional credit to Robert Benmosche, the past CEO, who recently announced that his longstanding cancer is now thought to be of a terminal nature. His legacy, will undoubtedly include him as one of the heroes coming out of the financial crisis, with a reputation enhanced by his commitment even during periods of personal duress.

While no one is going to chase shares of AIG in order to capture its tiny dividend, it along with a number of other stocks highlighted this week continue the strategy of looking for positions that have trailed the S&P 500 during the past summer. Unlike some of the others burdened by recent bad news, AIG isn’t offering an enriched option premium, again somewhat of a tribute to the stability created by Benmosche.

Both Coca Cola (KO) and Merck (MRK) are ex-dividend this week. Neither is a frequent point of focus for me, but both may represent some reasonable safety, although Merck has out-performed the S&P 500 this summer.

As is commonly the case with companies that are DJIA components that offer better than average dividends, there isn’t as readily obtainable advantage to attempting to “double dip.” For that reason, when considering the purchase of shares in advance of the dividend and if using an in the money strike price, it may make some sense to use something other than a weekly option, so that the additional time value may end up being a factor in limiting the incidence of early exercise.

Despite both companies having significant international exposure I don’t believe that any near term flare ups will unduly drag either of them downward and during a period of continuing low volatility those dividends look ever more attractive, particularly if risk is mitigated.

Finally, Whole Foods (WFM), while not one of my recent favorite stocks, has lately been presenting excellent opportunity to whittle down paper losses on an all too expensive lot of shares that has been sitting fallow, with no hedges sold against it for a while.

It appears, from its recent price behavior that shares have found some reasonable support at $38.50 and may be ready to begin a climb higher as it may start deriving some benefits from its significant expansion over the past year. Together with the fact that its controversial co-CEO hasn’t said much in the way of inflammatory comments lately, has helped the shares maintain some semblance of stability.

In this case, Whole Foods may be ready to be the beneficiary of some good news. It, along with some others this week, are offering option premiums that are in clear contrast to the steadily decreasing premiums more commonly being seen.

Personally, I’m all for this runaway train to keep running, just as long as it does so at a reasonable speed, so that there’s plenty of opportunity to get off. Perhaps this past week’s performance shows some good common sense, which is what really makes it so unusual, but would represent a welcome change.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, eBay, The Gap, Whole Foods

Momentum: Kors, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: AIG (9/9). Coca Cola (9/11), Merck (9/11)

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.

More and More Earnings

After last week’s deluge of 150 of the S&P 500 companies reporting their earnings this week is a relatively calm one.

For all of its gyrations last week, including the sell-off on Friday, if you simply looked at the market’s net change you would have thought that it was a quiet week as well.

The initial week of earnings season did see seem promise coming from the financial sector. Last week was a mixed one, as names such as Facebook (FB) and Amazon (AMZN) went in very different directions and the initial responses to earnings didn’t necessarily match the final result, such as in the case of NetFlix (NFLX).

While some of the sell-off on Friday may be attributed to the announcement of additional European Council sanctions against Russia and perhaps even the late in the session downgrade of stocks and bonds by Goldman Sachs (GS), earnings had gotten most of the week’s attention.

The coming week offers another opportunity to consider potential trades that can profit regardless of the direction of share price movements, as long as they stay reasonably close to the option market’s predictions of their trading range in response to those reports.

In line with my own tolerance for risk and my own definition of what constitutes a suitable reward for the risk, I prefer the consideration of trades that can return at least 1% for the sale of a weekly put option at a strike level that is below the lower boundary defined by the option market’s assessment. Obviously, everyone’s risk-reward profile differs, but I believe that consistent application or standardizing criteria by individual investors is part of a discipline that can make such trades less anxiety provoking and less tied to emotional factors.

Occasionally, I will consider the outright purchase of shares and the sale of calls, rather than the sale of puts for such trades, but that is usually the case if there is also the consideration of an upcoming ex-dividend date, such as will be the case with Phillips 66 (PSX). Additionally, doing so would most likely be done if I had no hesitancy regarding the ownership of shares. In contrast, often when I sell puts I have no real interest in owning the shares and would much prefer expiration or the ability to roll over those contracts if assignment appeared likely.

This coming week there again appear to be a number of stocks deserving attention as the reward may be well suited to the level of risk, thanks to the option premiums that are enhanced before earnings are released.

As often is the case the stocks that are most likely to be able to deliver a 1% or greater premium at a strike level outside of the implied move range are already volatile stocks, whose volatility is even greater in response to earnings. While at first glance an implied move of 12%, as is the case for Yelp (YELP) may seem unusually large, past history shows that concerns for moves of that magnitude are warranted.

Among the companies that I am considering this coming week are Anadarko (APC), Herbalife (HLF), MasterCard (MA), Mosaic (MOS), Merck (MRK), Outerwall (OUTR), Phillips 66, T-Mobile (TMUS), Twitter (TWTR) and Yelp.

These potential trades are entirely based upon what may be a discrepancies between the implied price movement and option premiums that will return the desired premium. Generally, I don’t think very much about those issues that may have relevance prior to considering a purchase of shares. The focus is entirely on numbers and whether the risk-reward proposition is appealing. Issues such as whether people are tweeting enough or whether a company is based upon a pyramid strategy can wait until the following week. Hopefully, by that time I would be freed from the position and would be less interested in those issues.

Deciding to pull the trigger is often a function of the prevailing price dynamic. My preference when selling put contracts is to do so if shares are falling in price in advance of earnings. For example, last week I did not sell puts on Facebook (FB), as its shares rose sharply prior to earnings. In that case, that represented a missed opportunity, however.

Compared to the previous week’s close of trading when the market had a sizable gain, this past Friday there were widespread losses, perhaps resulting in a different dynamic as the coming week begins its trading.

While I would rather not take ownership of shares, there must be a realization that doing so may be inevitable or may require additional actions in order to prevent that unwanted outcome, such as rolling the put option forward, if possible.

If there is a large decline in share price well beyond that lower boundary, the investor should be prepared for an extended period of needing to juggle that position in order to avoid assignment while awaiting some price recovery. I have some positions, that I’ve done so for months. The end result may be satisfactory, but the process can be draining.

The table may be used as a guide for determining which of this week’s stocks meet risk-reward parameters. Re-assessments should be made as share prices  option premiums and strike levels may change. 

While the list can be used in executing trades before the release of earnings, there may also be opportunity to consider trades following earnings. I typically like to consider those trades if a stock moved higher before earnings and then plunged afterward, if in the belief that the response was an over-reaction to the news. In such cases there may be an opportunity to sell put options whose premiums will still see some enhancement as a reflection of the strong negative sentiment taking shares lower.

Ultimately, if large price movements are either anticipated or have already occurred there is usually some additional opportunity that arises with the perceived risk at hand. If the risk isn’t realized, or if the risk is managed appropriately, the reward can be very addictive.

Weekend Update – April 6, 2014

This week started on such a positive note with the reassuring words of a dove, yet ended so harshly.

This time of the year it’s supposed to be the other way around with the lamb having the final word as months of a less threatening nature await ahead.

Instead, after Friday’s close, whatever optimism may have been generated by setting even more record highs earlier in the week, had given way to caution and perhaps preparation for some ill winds.

Back when I was in college it wasn’t meant as a compliment if you were referred to as being a “dove.” and the proverbial lamb was always being led to slaughter.  In fact, if you were called a “dove,” that was only in polite circles. Otherwise, the words used were far more descriptive and derisive.

By the same token, the doves out there may not have had the kindest of words for the hawks, but in nature, it’s usually the hawk that triumphs. In fact, recalling the recent mauling of a peace dove that had been just released by Pope Francis and some children, it didn’t really even require a hawk. A seagull and a lowly crow were enough for the task.

This week, though, it was the dove that ruled the day and set the tone for the week. Well, at least most of it, until its fragile nature beset itself.

A fragile market can be equally susceptible even to less formidable foes, as Friday’s sell-off had little basis and came on the day of the Employment Situation Report, which for the past 20 months or so has been strongly correlated to a higher moving market on the day of release and for the week as a whole. While the week as a whole did show an advance, the former correlation stood for only a short time before strong selling set in.

Whatever doubts there may have been regarding where Janet Yellen stood on that continuum from dove to hawk following her initial press conference, she made it clear that on issues of the Federal Reserve’s actions to help lower the unemployment rate, she was an unabashed dove and while there may be more dissenting voting members than before sitting on the Federal Reserve, she still controls the hawks, but probably keeps at least one eye wary at all times.

The stock market loved that re-affirmation of policy the way we love the beauty of a dove, even though like short sellers, we may privately relish its obliteration by a swooping predator hawk.

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

While this was an especially brutal week for stocks on the NASDAQ and particularly for many of those stocks that had borne a disproportionate amount of everyone’s attention as they moved ever higher, many others were included in whatever wrath took hold.

With earnings season beginning this coming week there may be some return to fundamentals, however, disappointments, particularly if weather hasn’t been fully factored in or discounted may further exploit market fragility.

MasterCard (MA) was one such casualty of the stampede. There was little to account for its 2.5% drop on Friday, bringing it to its 5 month low. The previous week, faced with some potentially adverse decisions regarding swipe fees it reacted well, yet this week it did otherwise without any new challenges being sent its way. While it goes ex-dividend on Monday it’s puny dividend isn’t something that’s likely to be missed by those entering into new positions as shares find themselves at a 5 month low. Believing that last week’s selling was overdone I would consider a slightly longer option contract and the use of an out of the money strike as a means to allow some time for price repair while collecting an option premium while waiting.

While not falling quite as much as MasterCard on Friday, shares of Starbucks (SBUX) also succumbed to selling pressure. While the past week was filled with news regarding other players entering into the breakfast marketplace, including offering free cups of coffee, there was really an absence of Starbucks specific news. While breakfast taco waffles may garner some attention, Starbucks has become as much a way of life as it has a product provider. It’s current price is one where it has shown considerable strength and it too may warrant the use of slightly longer term option contracts and an out of the money strike.

Apollo Education (APOL) was a stock that I highlighted last week as a possible earnings trade. As usual, I prefer those through the sale of well out of the money put contracts prior to earnings, especially if share price is trending downward prior to earnings. In Apollo’s case shares had instead shown strength prior to the earnings release, so I stayed away from selling puts at that time. After earnings shares did sustain a drop and I then sold some out of the money puts in the hope that the drop wouldn’t continue beyond another few strike levels. While there was almost a need to roll them over on Friday as the market was crumbling, Apollo shares showed resilience, even as the market did not.

While I still don’t have much confidence in the product it offers nor the manner in which it generates its revenues, that’s largely irrelevant, as it continues to offer some reasonable returns even if shares continue to experience some decline. Once again, however, I would most likely consider the sale of puts rather than an outright purchase of shares and concomitant sale of calls.

There’s probably very little that can be added to make a discussion of Herbalife (HLF) newsworthy, but when there is, it will really be worth paying attention. While Herbalife has been a good target of put sellers following the severe price drop in the wake of regulatory and legal investigations that are being escalated, it has recovered very nicely with the realization that any real news is likely to be in the distance. It too, is a position that I would likely consider entry through the sale of out of the money puts.

This week’s dividend stocks for consideration are two that I haven’t owned for a while, as I’ve been waiting for them to return to more reasonable price levels. Sometimes the realization comes that waiting only prevents being an active participant. Aetna (AET) Abbott Labs (ABT) have long been absent from my portfolio despite continually thinking about adding them back.

With a large number of existing positions already going ex-dividend this week I’m not as anxious to add any additional ones. However, of those two, Abbott Labs is more appealing for having a higher dividend rate and for having already come off some recent price peaks. In need of additional health care sector stocks, Abbott also carries that personal appeal at this point in time. However, it reports earnings the following week so my preference, if purchasing shares, would be a quick holding and given its current option premium would even be willingly accepting of an early assignment.

Aetna has simply left me behind in the dust as I’ve been waiting for it to return to what I believed was a fair price, but apparently the market has long disagreed. While it may be some time until we all realize whether new healthcare mandates are a positive or negative for the insurers, the one thing that most everyone can agree is that the long term is always positive when your fee structure is highly responsive to actuarial data. Add to that an increasing interest rate environment and the future may be bright for insurers.

Among the shares that I had assigned this past week were Comcast (CMCSA) and Coach (COH). Following the week ending sell-off I was grateful to have as many assignments as there were, especially to replenish cash reserves in the event of buying opportunities ahead. However, among those assigned, these two are ones that I’m eager to re-incorporate into my portfolio.

Comcast, despite my personal feelings about the product and service, has just been a spectacular growth story and has had great guidance under the control of the Roberts family. My celebration of “Comcast Liberation Day” a few years ago didn’t mean that I would boycott share ownership or overlook its attributes as an investment. It’s recent 10% price drop in the past two months from its highs has offered an opportunity to find some more realistic entry points. While I’ve been following shares for quite some time, it only recently began offering weekly and expanded weekly options. For me, that was the signal, combined with the reduced share price to start initiating positions.  I envision a similar opportunity with Comcast shares on a serial basis as I have experienced with Coach.

Coach remains a stock that I feel like I could happily buy most week in and out as long as it’s trading in a $48-$54 range and have done so repeatedly when it has done so. Despite a near absence of positive news in almost two years and the company having been written off as a loser in the competitive wars, especially with Michael Kors (KORS), for those who can recognize that multiple small stock gains can be very meaningful it has been a consistent performer. With earnings approaching at the end of the month I would be less inclined to use longer term option contracts at this time, as Coach has had a recent history of sharp and unpredictable moves following earnings.

While Coach has been unable to do anything right in the eyes of many, until recently, Under Armour (UA) could do no wrong. WHile it’s still not clear whether the design of their latest skating wear for US Olympians was in any way related to their disappointing performance, Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, was a perfect study in how to present his company when under public scrutiny. 

While it received a downgrade about 3 weeks ago and subsequently fell more than 7% in that aftermath, it fell an additional 9% from that sentinel point late this week as it was carried along with the rest of the deluge. As with many others the selling was in the absence of substantive news.

With earnings season beginning this coming week, Under Armour is among those announcing early in the process on April 17, 2014. It’s volatility is commanding a health option premium at a time when many others are languishing, however, the risk may be compounded during the following week. For that reason, if considering the purchase of shares I would likely use a weekly contract and if necessary roll that over to a longer term contract in anticipation of that enhanced risk. As earnings approach, Under Armour may also turn out to be a potential earnings related trade through the sale of out of the money put options.

Finally, a number of years ago I was studying two stocks with an eye toward adding one to my regular rotation in need of another energy sector position. They were Anadarko (APC) and Apache (APA). For a while I would get their stock symbols confused and really had a difficult time discerning their differences. I still have no real idea of what those differences may be, but for some reason I gravitated toward Anadarko.

This week, that dalliance may have come to an end, at least for the time being, as my shares were assigned following an untimely and unexpected end to the Tronox litigation that was an unwelcome part of its Kerr McGee purchase.

Whatever positive comments I would normally make about Anadarko relative to its prospects for trading in a range and offering an attractive premium can now be transferred to Apache. The best part, though, is that Apache is approximately 10% below its recent high and can make me forget about Anadarko for now.

Traditional Stocks: Apache, Comcast, MasterCard, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Apollo Educational, Coach, Herbalife, Under Armour

Double Dip Dividend: Aetna (4/8), Abbott Labs (4/11)

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.

Earnings Still Matter

Last week confirmed that I still like earnings season, which as behavioral adaptations go, is a good idea, as it never seems to end. Better to learn to like it than to fight it.

Based upon comments heard over the past few weeks, approximately 25% of the year represent critical earnings weeks. You simply can’t escape the news, nor more importantly the impact.

Or the opportunity.

Of the earnings related trades examined last week, I made trades in two: Facebook (FB) and Seagate Technolgy (STX). The former trade being before earnings and the latter after, both involving the sale of out of the money puts. Both of those trades met my criteria, as in hindsight, did Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), but there’s always next quarter.

While hearing stellar numbers from Netflix (NFLX) and Facebook are nice, they are not likely to lead an economy and its capital markets forward, although they can lead your personal assets forward, as long as you’re willing to accept the risks that may be heightened during a weakening market.

Withimplied volatilitycontinuing to serve as my guide there are a number of companies that are expected to make large earnings related moves this week and they have certainly done so in the past.

Again, while I seek a 1% ROI on an investment that is hoped to last only for the week, the individual investor can always adjust the risk and the reward. My preference continues to be to locate a strike price that is outside the range suggested by the implied volatility, yet still offers a 1% or greater ROI.

Typically, the stocks that will satisfy that demand already trade with a high degree of volatility and see enhanced volatility as earnings and guidance are issued.

The coming week is another busy one and presents more companies that may fit the above criteria. Among the companies that I am considering this coming week are Anadarko (APC), British Petroleum (BP), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), International Paper (IP), Michael Kors (KORS), LinkedIn (LNKD), Twitter (TWTR), Yelp (YELP) and YUM Brands (YUM).

As with all earnings related trades I don’t focus on fundamental issues. It is entirely an analysis of whether the options market has provided an opportunity to take advantage of the perceived risk. A quick glance at those names indicates a wide range of inherent volatility and relative fortunes during the most recent market downturn.

Since my preference is to sell puts when there is already an indication of price weakness this past week has seen many such positions trading lower in advance of earnings. While they may certainly go lower on disappointing news or along with broad market currents, the antecedent decline in share price may serve to limit earnings related declines as previous resistance points may be encountered and serve as brakes to downward movement. Additionally, the increasing volatility accompanying the market’s recent weakness is enhancing premiums, particularly if sentiment is further eroding on a particular stock.

Alternatively, rather than following the need for greed, one may decide to lower the strike price at which puts are sold in order to get additional protection wile still aiming for the ROI objective.

As always when considering these trades, especially through the sale of put options, the investor must be prepared to own the shares if assigned or to manage the options contract until some other resolution is achieved.

Strategies to achieve an exit include rolling the option contract forward and ideally to a lower strike or accepting assignment and then selling calls until assignment of shares.

The table above may be used as a guide for determining which of selected companies may meet the riskreward parameters that an individual sets, understanding that adjustments may need to be made as prices and, therefore, strike prices and premiums may change.

The decision as to whether to make the trade before or after earnings is one that I make based on perceived market risk. During a period of uncertainty, such as we are presently navigating, I’m more inclined to look at the opportunities after earnings are announced, particularly for those positions that do see their shares declining sharply.

While it may be difficult to find the courage to enter into new positions during what may be the early stages of a market correction, the sale of puts is a mechanism to still be part of the action, while offering some additional downside protection if using out of the money puts, while also providing some income.

That’s not an altogether bad combination, but it may require some antacids along the way.

Weekend Update – January 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

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

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

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

Weekend Update – December 15, 2013

People tend to have very strong feelings about entitlements.

Prior to this week there were so many people waiting for the so-called “Santa Claus Rally” that you would have thought that it was considered to be an entitlement.

After the week we’ve just had you can probably add it to the other market axioms that haven’t really worked out this year. If anything, so far it appears that you should have taken your vacation right now along with Santa Claus, who must have not realized that his vacation conflicted with the scheduled rally. You also should probably not taken the wizened advice to vacation months ago when the traditional prevailing attitude implored you to “sell in May and go away.”

The past week saw the S&P 500 drop 1.7% to a closing level not seen in a 22 trading sessions. This week’s drop places us a full 1.8% below the recent record high. Yet, like during a number of other smallish declines in 2013, this one is also being warily eyed as being the precursor to the long overdue, but healthy, 10% decline. We have simply become so accustomed to advances that even what would ordinarily be viewed as downward blips are hard to accept.

For those that have a hard time dealing with conflict, these are not good times, as the Santa Claus Rally is being threatened by the specter of a correction in the waiting. While there’s still time for the traditional rally it’s hard to know whether Santa Claus factored the thought of an outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman presiding over his final FOMC meeting and holding his final press conference.

Oh, and then there’s also the little matter of possibly announcing the beginning of the taper to Quantitative Easing. Just a week earlier the idea that such an announcement would come in December was considered highly unlikely. Now it seems like a real possibility and not the kind that the markets were altogether comfortable with, even as they expressed comfort with the previous week’s Employment Situation Report.

While I admire Ben Bernanke and believe that he helped to rescue the world’s financial markets, it may not be far fetched to cast him as the “Grinch” who stole the Santa Claus Rally if the markets are taken off guard. Personally, I don’t believe that he will make the decision to begin the tapering, in deference to Janet Yellen, his expected successor, privilege to decide on timing, magnitude and speed.

However, I’m not really willing to commit very much to that belief and will likely exercise the same caution as I did last week.

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

Last week was one of my slowest trading weeks in a long time. Even with cash to spend there never seemed to be a signal that price stability would temper downward risk. Moving forward to this week comes the challenge of trying to distinguish between value and value trap, as many of the stocks that I regularly follow are at more appealing prices but may be at at continued risk.

With lots of positions set to expire this week, the greatest likelihood is that whatever new positions I do establish this week will be with the concomitant use of expanded weekly options or even the January 18, 2014 option, rather than options expiring this coming Friday. The options market is certainly expecting some additional fireworks this coming week as option premiums are generally considerably higher than in recent months.

Microsoft (MSFT) is one of those stocks that has come down in the past week, but like so many still has some downside potential. Of its own weight it can easily go down another 3%, but under the burden of a market in correction its next support level is approximately 8% lower. Since the market’s recent high just a few weeks ago, Microsoft has slightly under-performed the market, but it does trade with a low beta, perhaps offering some relative down side protection. As with many other stocks this week its option premium is far more generous than in the recent past making it perhaps more difficult to resist, but with that reward comes the risk.

There’s probably not much reason or value in re-telling the story of Blackberry (BBRY). Most already have an idea of how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t quiet those who dream of a better future. For some, the future is defined by a weekly option contract and Blackberry reports earnings this week. The options market is implying about a 12% move and for the really adventurous the sale of a put with a strike level almost 17% below Friday’s close could yield a weekly ROI of 1.4%. On a note that shouldn’t be construed as being positive, as the market itself appears a bit more tenuous, Blackberry’s own beta has taken a large drop in the past 3 months. The risk, still remains, however.

Although I discussed the possibility of purchasing shares of Joy Global (JOY) in last week’s article after they reported earnings, I didn’t do so, as it fell hostage to my inactivity even after a relatively large price drop. Despite a recovery from the low point of the week, Joy Global, which has been very much a range bound trading stock of late is still in the range that has worked well for covered call sales. The same is a little less so for Caterpillar (CAT) which is approaching the upper end of its range as it has worked its way toward the $87.50 level. However, with even a mild retreat I would consider once again adding shares buoyed a little bit with the knowledge that shares do also go ex-dividend near the end of the January 2014 option cycle.

Citibank (C) was another that I considered purchasing last week and following a small price drop it continues to have some appeal, also having slightly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past three weeks. However, despite its beta having fallen considerably, it is still potentially a stock that could respond far more so than the overall market. Its option premium for an at the money weekly strike is approximately 18% higher than last week, suggesting that the week may be somewhat more risky than of late.

While my shares of Halliburton (HAL) haven’t fared well in the past week, I am looking at reuniting my “evil troika” by considering purchases of both British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean (RIG), which are now also down from their recent highs. Following in a week in which Anadarko (APC) plunged after a bankruptcy court ruling from a nearly decade old case, the “evil troika” is proof that there is life after litigation and after jury awards, fines and clean up costs. While oil and oil services have been volatile of late, both British Petroleum and Transocean share with Microsoft the fact that they have already under-performed the S&P 500 during this latest downturn but have low betas, hopefully offering some relative downside protection in a faltering market. Perhaps even better is that they are beyond the point of significant downward movement emanating from judicial decisions.

Coach (COH) hasn’t been able to garner much respect lately, although there has been some insider buying when others have been disparaging the company. Meanwhile it has been trading in a fairly well defined range of late. It is a stock that I’ve owned eight times during 2013 and regret not having owned more frequently, particularly since it began offering weekly and then expanded options. Like a number of stocks that I’m considering this week, it too is still closer to the upper end of the range than I would normally initiate new positions and wouldn’t mind seeing a little more weakness.

Seagate Technology (STX) may have a higher beta than is warranted to consider at a time that the market may be labile, however it has recently traded well at the $47.50 level and offers an attractive reward for those willing to accept the frequent movements its shares make, even on an intraday basis. My expectation is that If I do consider a trade it would either be the sale of puts before Wednesday’s big events or otherwise waiting for the aftermath and looking at expanded option dates.

Finally, and yet again, it seems as if it may be time to consider a purchase of eBay (EBAY). While I’ll never really lose count of how many times I own a specific stock, going in and out of positions as they are assigned, eBay is just becoming the perfect example of a stock trading within a range. For anyone selling options on eBay, perhaps the best news was its recent downgrade that chided it for trading in a range and further expecting that it would continue range bound. Although you can’t necessarily trade on the basis of the absolute value of price movements of a stock, the next best way to do so is through buying shares and selling covered calls and then repeating the process as often as possible.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, Caterpillar, eBay, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Coach, Joy Global, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (12/20 AM)

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

Weekend Update – April 21, 2013

I’m finally feeling bullish. Sort of.

Two months ago I started getting a very uneasy feeling.

Normally, money burns a hole in my pocket. Sadly for the economy, that’s not the case when it comes to consumer goods, but it’s definitely the case when it comes to stocks.

Selling options, and predominantly of the weekly variety, I often have had the pleasure of awaking Monday morning to see freshly deposited cash in my account as shares upon which I had written weekly call contracts were assigned.

But that has changed recently, ever since that uneasy feeling hit.

The principal change was not immediately going out on shopping sprees on Monday mornings and instead building up cash caches. Among the changes were also the use of longer option contract periods because of the realization that so often market downturns happen suddenly and I would prefer not to be caught flat-footed or in-between contracts when and if it does occur.

But now, after what is the worst week of 2013, it may be time for yet another transition, of sorts.

As the April 2013 cycle has come to an end and many of those contracts have been assigned or rolled over to May 2013, being flush with cash at a time that some stocks have had some meaningful declines introduces temptation.

Jim Cramer used to say “there’s always a bull market somewhere.” I may still harbor the belief that the market is poised to mime the same period of 2012, but within that bearish sentiment I do see some glimmers of hope and opportunity as there is a universe of beaten down stocks that may have deserved better.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference, during this period of pessimism is to continue seeking high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, there aren’t many of those to consider this week. Instead, earnings and injured shares predominate.

Anadarko (APC) is one of those stocks that has seen a relatively large drop recently, but has been showing some strength at $79. It does report earnings on May 6, 2013, but the weekly option premium is unusually high for the period two weeks before earnings. While the monthly premiums are also attractive, this may be one of the situations where I would still consider the use of a weekly contract.

eBay (EBAY) also had a rough week. it is among those stocks that have had some significant drops that may have been overdone. Down about 7% following earnings its share price is approaching the $52.50 level where it has had some reasonable strength. It too may warrant a look at the weekly option contracts, especially if it appears as if there may be some market stability early next week.

In a similar situation, General Electric (GE) suffered a 4% earnings related loss on Friday and is down about 8% over the past 2 months. It too is approaching a price level where it has been pretty comfortable and when GE is comfortable, so am I. Flush with cash itself, GE may continue its own spending spree which is sometimes a short term share price depressant. If its current share price is maintained or goes a bit lower on Monday, it may be one of those few positions that I do not immediately cover by selling call options, but rather await some price rebound and then sell options.

I was disappointed when it was decided that Texas Instruments (TXN) would no longer have weekly options offered. However, the concern is now on hold as the monthly contracts look better and better every day, especially as volatility and premiums are increasing. Texas Instruments goes ex-dividend this week and that is a significant repository of its appeal to me. However, before it does so, it reports earnings. I don’t particularly see a compelling trade based on that event on Monday afternoon, so I would likely wait until after that occurs to decide whether the premium offered is still appealing enough to purchase shares.

Although I’m overweight in the Technology Sector, and despite the fact that its performance hasn’t been spectacular, sometimes I do find it hard to resist after price pullbacks. That was certainly the case after re-purchasing shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) after its deep fall upon earnings and disappointing guidance. Although IBM’s (IBM) earnings report on Friday cast a little bit of a pall over the sector some values appear to available. For the coming week, both Cisco (CSCO) and Oracle (ORCL), which I owned just a week ago prior to its assignment are again in a price range that works for me, Even as I hold uncovered shares of sector mate Riverbed Technology (RVBD) which reports earnings this week and often follows Oracle’s pattern, I believe that there are opportunities at these levels even in a weak overall market.

I always like MetLife (MET). So often, however, it seems just as I want to purchase shares the rest of the world has had the same idea and I’m reluctant to chase the stock. This past week, it along with the market settled down a bit. It always offers a fair option premium and it is a resilient performer even in the face of overall market adversity.

Although I also always like YUM Brands (YUM) that, unfortunately, doesn’t give me freedom to extend that to its products, as I’m now sworn to keeping my cholesterol within survivable levels. However, perhaps increasing my use of MetLife products might offset the use of YUM’s goods. After a fairly significant price fall, YUM Brands is back to the range that offers me as much comfort as their foods. I think that it is immune from near term Chinese economic concerns, the market having digested that along with its drumsticks.

With Apple (AAPL) sinking below $400/share and earnings set to be announced this week it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to believe that there may be significant price movement upon their release. Always a volatile holding upon earnings and guidance, there isn’t much pent up frustration any longer. Following more than a 40% drop in share price most shareholders and long time advocates have had ample opportunity to vent. Although Steve Jobs was notorious for his strategy of under-promising and over-delivering, it’s hard to imagine that expectations could get any lower. I think Apple is a good earnings play, factoring in a 10% price drop in return for nearly a 1% ROI. Relative to the market, i expect Apple to trade higher in the aftermath of its eagerly awaited news, which makes the sale of out of the money put options particularly appealing.

Netflix (NFLX) certainly would qualify as a finalist in any “comeback stock of the year” competition. I haven’t owned shares in almost 90 points. Like the other earnings related selections this week, it is certainly capable of a dramatic move when earnings and guidance are released. In this case, there may be opportunity to still derive a 1% ROI even if share price falls by as much as 25%. Risky? Yes, but Green Mountain (GMCR) has shown that momentum stocks can come back more than once. Even a significant price drop can no longer be counted upon as being a conclusion to the Netflix story. What was once considered the end of its run, Netflix has successfully gone on to its second life and could easily have a third.

Finally, Amazon (AMZN) is actually my least compelling earnings related trade in that the price drop cushion in order to achieve a 1% ROI is only about 8%. With a universal chorus deriding the razor thin margins and the P/E one has to wonder when that point will arrive that the market decides to treat Amazon as it does many other companies that spend time in rarefied environments. Still, if the cash in my pocket gets too hot this may be its final resting place.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Cisco, eBay, General Electric, MetLife, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (4/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Amazon (4/25 PM), Apple (4/23 PM), Netflix (4/22 PM)

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

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