Weekend Update – January 31, 2016

 

 Whether you’re an addict of some sort, an avid collector or someone who seeks thrills, most recognize that it begins to take more and more to get the same exhilarating jolt.

At some point the stimulation you used to crave starts to become less and less efficient at delivering the thrill.

And then it’s gone.

Sometimes you find yourself pining for what used to be simpler times, when excess wasn’t staring you in the face and you still knew how to enjoy a good thing.

We may have forgotten how to do that.

It’s a sad day when we can no longer derive pleasure from excess.

It seems that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the idea of an expanding and growing economy, historically low interest rates, low unemployment and low prices.

How else can you explain the way the market has behaved for the past 6 months?

Yet something stimulated the stock market this past Thursday and Friday, just as had been the case the previous Thursday and Friday.

For most of 2016 and for a good part of 2015, the stimulus had been the price of oil. but more than often the case was that the price of oil didn’t stimulate the market, but rather sucked the life out of it.

We should have all been celebrating the wonders of cheap oil and the inability of OPEC to function as an evil cartel, but as the excess oil has just kept piling higher and higher the thrill of declining end user prices has vanished.

Good stimulus or bad stimulus, oil has taken center stage, although every now and then the debacles in China diverted our attention, as well.

Every now and then, as has especially been occurring in the past 2 weeks, there have been instances of oil coming to life and paradoxically re-animating the stock market. It was a 20% jump in the price of oil that fueled the late week rally in the final week of the January 2016 option cycle. The oil price rise has no basis in the usual supply and demand equation and given the recent dynamic among suppliers is only likely to lead to even more production.

It used to be, that unless the economy was clearly heading for a slowdown, a decreasing price of oil was seen as a boost for most everyone other than the oil companies themselves. But now, no one seems to be benefiting.

As the price of oil was going lower and lower through 2015, what should have been a good stimulus was otherwise.

However, what last Thursday and Friday may have marked was a pivot away from oil as the driver of the market, just as we had pivoted away from China’s excesses and then its economic and market woes.

At some point there has to be a realization that increasing oil prices isn’t a good thing and that may leave us with the worst of all worlds. A sliding market with oil prices sliding and then a sliding market with oil prices rising.

It seems like an eternity ago that the market was being handcuffed over worries that the FOMC was going to increase interest rates and another eternity ago that the market seemed to finally be exercising some rational judgment by embracing the rate rise, if only for a few days, just 2 months ago.

This week saw a return to those interest rate fears as the FOMC, despite a paucity of data to suggest inflation was at hand, didn’t do much to dispel the idea that “one and done” wasn’t their plan. The market didn’t like that and saw the prospects of an interest rate increase as a bad thing, even if reflecting improving economic conditions.

But more importantly, what this week also saw was the market returning to what had driven it for a few years and something that it never seemed to tire of celebrating.

That was bad news.

This week brought no good news, at all and the market liked that.

Negative interest rates in Japan? That has to be good, right?

A sluggish GDP, oil prices rising and unimpressive corporate earnings should have sent the market into a further downward spiral, but instead the idea that the economy wasn’t expanding was greeted as good news.

Almost as if the Federal Reserve still had some unspent ammunition to throw at the economy that would also serve to bolster stocks, as had been the case for nearly 6 years.

It’s not really clear how much more stimulus the Federal Reserve can provide and if investors are counting on a new and better high, they may in for a big disappointment.

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

I’m a little surprised that my brokerage firm didn’t call me last week, to see if I was still alive,  because it was the second consecutive week of not having made a single trade.

Despite what seem to be bargain prices, I haven’t been able to get very excited about very many of the ones that have seemed alluring. Although this coming Monday may be the day to mark a real and meaningful bounce higher, the lesson of the past 2 months has been that any move higher has simply been an opportunity to get disappointed and wonder how you ever could have been so fooled.

I’m not overly keen on parting with any cash this week unless there some reason to believe that the back to back gains of last week are actually the start of something, even if that something is only stability and treading water.

Building a base is probably far more healthy than trying to quickly recover all that has been quickly lost.

With weakness still abounding I’m a little more interested in looking for dividends if putting cash to work.

This week, I’m considering purchases of Intel (INTC), MetLife (MET) and Pfizer (PFE), all ex-dividend this coming week.

With the latter two, however, there’s also that pesky issue of earnings, as MetLife reports earnings after the close of trading on its ex-dividend date and Pfizer reports earnings the day before its ex-dividend date.

MetLife has joined with the rest of the financial sector in having been left stunned by the path taken by interest rates in the past 2 months, as the 10 Year Treasury Note is now at its lowest rate in about 8 months.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

But if you believe that it can’t keep going that way, it’s best to ignore the same argument used in the cases of the price of oil, coal and gold.

With MetLife near a 30 month low and going ex-dividend early in the week before its earnings are reported in the same day, there may be an opportunity to sell a deep in the money call and hope for early assignment, thereby losing the dividend, but also escaping the risk of earnings. In return, you may still be able to obtain a decent option premium for just a day or two of exposure.

The story of Pfizer’s proposed inversion is off the front pages and its stock price no longer reflects any ebullience. It reports earnings the morning of the day before going ex-dividend. That gives plenty of time to consider establishing a position in the event that shares either go lower or have relatively little move higher.

The option premium, however, is not very high and with the dividend considered the option market is expecting a fairly small move, perhaps in the 3-4% range. Because of that I might consider taking on the earnings risk and establishing a position in advance of earnings, perhaps utilizing an at the money strike price.

In that case, if assigned early, there is still a decent 2 day return. If not assigned early, then there is the dividend to help cushion the blow and possibly the opportunity to either be assigned as the week comes to its end or to rollover the position, if a price decline isn’t unduly large.

Intel had a nice gain on Friday and actually has a nice at the money premium. That premium is somewhat higher than usual, particularly during an ex-dividend week. As with Pfizer, even if assigned early, the return for a very short holding could be acceptable for some, particularly as earnings are not in the picture any longer.

As with a number of other positions considered this week, the liquidity of the options positions should be  sufficient to allow some management in the event rollovers are necessary.

2015 has been nothing but bad news for American Express (AXP) and its divorce from Costco (COST) in now just a bit more than a month away.

The bad news for American Express shareholders continued last week after reporting more disappointing earnings the prior week. It continued lower even as its credit card rivals overcame some weakness with their own earnings reports during the week.

At this point it’s very hard to imagine any company specific news for American Express that hasn’t already been factored into its 3 1/2 year lows.

The weekly option premium reflects continued uncertainty, but I think that this is a good place to establish a position, either through a buy/write or the sale of puts. Since the next ex-dividend date is more than 2 months away, I might favor the sale of puts, however.

Yahoo (YHOO) reports earnings this week and as important as the numbers are, there has probably been no company over the past 2 years where far more concern has focused on just what it is that Yahoo is and just what Yahoo will become.

Whatever honeymoon period its CEO had upon her arrival, it has been long gone and there is little evidence of any coherent vision.

In the 16 months since spinning off a portion of its most valuable asset, Ali Baba (BABA), it has been nothing more than a tracking stock of the latter. Ali Baba has gone 28.6% lower during that period and Yahoo 28% lower, with their charts moving in tandem every step of the way.

With Ali Baba’s earnings now out of the way and not overly likely to weigh on shares any further, the options market is implying a price move of 7.6%.

While I usually like to look for opportunities where I could possibly receive a 1% premium for the sale of puts at a strike price that’s outside of the lower boundary dictated by the option market, I very much like the premium at the at the money put strike and will be considering that sale.

The at the money weekly put sale is offering about a 4% premium. With a reasonably liquid option market, I’m not overly concerned about difficulty in being able to rollover the short puts in the event of an adverse move and might possibly consider doing so with a longer term horizon, if necessary.

Finally, there was a time that it looked as if consumers just couldn’t get enough of Michael Kors (KORS).

Nearly 2 years ago the stock hit its peak, while many were writing the epitaph of its competitor Coach (COH), at least Coach’s 23% decline in that time isn’t the 60% that Kors has plunged.

I haven’t had a position in Kors for nearly 3 years, but do still have an open position in Coach, which for years had been a favorite “go to” kind of stock with a nice dividend and a nice option premium.

Unfortunately, Coach, which had long been prone to sharp moves when earnings were announced, had lost its ability to recover reasonably quickly when the sharp moves were lower.

While Coach is one of those rare gainers in 2016, nearly 13% higher, Kors is flat on the year, although still far better than the S&P 500.

While I don’t believe that Coach has turned the tables on Kors and is now “eating their lunch” as was so frequently said when Kors was said to be responsible for Coach’s reversal of fortune, I think that there is plenty of consumer to go around for both.

Kors reports earnings this week and like COach, is prone to large earnings related moves.

With no dividend to factor into the equation, Kors may represent a good  opportunity for those willing to take some risk and consider the sale of out of the money puts.

WIth an implied move of 8.5% next week, it may be possible to get a 1.1% ROI even if shares fall by as much as 11.3% during the week.

A $4.50 move in either direction is very possible with Kors after having dropped nearly $60 over the past 2 years. However, if faced with the possibility of assignment of shares, particularly since there is no dividend, I would just look for any opportunity to continue rolling the short puts over and over.

If not wanting to take the take the risk of a potential large drop, some consideration can also be given to selling puts after earnings, in the event of a large drop in shares. If that does occur, the premiums should still be attractive enough to consider making the sale of puts after the event.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express

Momentum Stocks:  none

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (2/3 $0.26), MetLife (2/3 $0.38), Pfizer (2/3 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (2/2 AM), Yahoo (2/2 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 25, 2015

There’s an old traditional Irish song “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” that has had various interpretations over the years.

The same title was used for a book about President John F. Kennedy, but in that case, it was fairly clear that the title was referring to the short time in which we had a chance to get to know the 35th President of the United States, whose life was cut down in its prime.

But in either case, both song and book are generally a combination of sadness over hopes dashed, although the song somehow finds a way to reflect the expression of some positive human traits even in the face of betrayal and tragedy.

While hardly on the same level as the tragedies expressed by song and written word, I hold a certain sadness for the short lived period of volatility that was taken from us far too soon.

The pain is far greater when realizing just how long volatility had been away and just how short a chance some of us had to rejoice in its return.

Even though rising volatility usually means a falling market and increasing uncertainty over future market prospects, it drives option premiums higher.

I live on option premiums and don’t spend very much time focusing on day to day price movements of underlying shares, even while fully cognizant of them.

When those premiums go higher I’m a happy person, just as someone might be when receiving an unexpected bonus, like finding a $20 bill in the pockets of an old pair of pants.

Falling prices leads to volatility which then tends to bring out risk takers and usually brings out all sorts of hedging strategies. In classic supply and demand mode those buyers are met by sellers who are more than happy to feed into the uncertainty and speculative leanings of those looking to leverage their money.

Good times.

But when those premiums dry up, it’s like so many things in life and you realize that you didn’t fully appreciate the gift offered while it was there right in front of you.

I miss volatility already and it was taken away from us so insidiously beginning on that Friday morning when the bad news contained in the most recent Employment Situation Report was suddenly re-interpreted as being good news.

The final two days of the past week, however, have sealed volatility’s fate as a combination of bad economic news around the world and some surprising good earnings had the market interpreting bad news as good news and good news as good news, in a perfect example of having both your cake and the ability to eat that cake.

With volatility already weakened from a very impressive rebound that began on that fateful Friday morning, there then came a quick 1-2-3 punch to completely bring an end to volatility’s short, yet productive reign.

The first death blow came on Thursday when the ECB’s Mario Draghi suggested that European Quantitative easing had more time to run. While that should actually pose some competitive threat to US markets, our reaction to that kind of European news has always been a big embrace and it was no different this time around.

Then came the second punch striking a hard blow to volatility. It was the unexpectedly strong earnings from some highly significant companies that represent a wide swath of economic activity in the United States.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) painted a healthy picture of spending in the technology sector. After all, what prolonged market rally these days can there be without a strong and vibrant technology sector leading the way, especially when its a resurgent “old tech” that’s doing the heavy lifting?

In addition, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) painted a healthy picture among advertisers, whose budgets very much reflect their business and perceived prospects for future business. Finally, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) reflected that key ingredient in economic growth. That is the role of the consumer and those numbers were far better than expected.

As if that wasn’t enough, the real death blow came from the People’s Bank of China as it announced an interest rate cut in an effort to jump start an economy that was growing at only 7%.

Only 7%.

Undoubtedly, the FOMC, which meets next week is watching, but I don’t expect that watching will lead to any direct action.

Earlier this past week my expectation had been that the market would exhibit some exhilaration in the days leading up to the FOMC Statement release in the anticipation that rates would continue unchanged.

That expectation is a little tempered now following the strong 2 day run which saw a 2.8% rise in the S&P 500 and which now has that index just 2.9% below its all time high.

While I don’t expect the same unbridled enthusiasm next week, what may greet traders is a change in wording in the FOMC Statement that may have taken note of some of the optimism contained in the combined earnings experience of Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon as they added about $80 billion in market capitalization on Friday.

If traders stay true to form, that kind of recognition of an economy that may be in the early stages of heating up may herald the kind of fear and loathing of rising interest rates that has irrationally sent markets lower.

In that case, hello volatility, my old friend.

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

As is typically the case when the market closes on some real strength for the week, it’s hard to want to part with cash on Monday when bargains may have disappeared.

Like volatility, those bargains are only appreciated when they’re gone. Even though you may have a strong sense that they’ll be back, the waiting is just so difficult sometimes and it’s so easy to go against your better judgment.

Although the market has gone higher in each of the past 4 weeks, the predominant character of those weeks had been weakness early on and strength to close the week. That’s made a nice environment for adding new positions on some relative weakness and having a better chance of seeing those positions get assigned or have their option contracts rolled and assigned in a subsequent week.

Any weakness to begin the coming week will be a signal to part with some of that cash, but I do expect to be a little tighter fisted than I have in the past month.

If you hold shares in EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC), as I do, you have to wonder what’s going on, as a buyout offer from privately held Dell is far higher than EMC’s current price.

The drag seems to be coming from VMWare (NYSE:VMW), which still has EMC as its majority owner. The confusion had been related to the implied value of VMWare, with regard to its contribution to the package offered by Dell.

Many believed that the value of VMWare was being over-stated. Of course, that belief was even further solidified when VMWare reported earnings that stunned the options market by plunging to depths for which there were no weekly strikes. That’s what happens when Microsoft and Amazon, both with growing cloud based web storage services, start offering meaningful competition.

With VMWare’s decline, EMC shares followed.

EMC isn’t an inherently volatile stock, however, the recent spike higher upon news of a Dell offer and the sharp drop lower on VMWare’s woes have created an option premium that’s more attractive than usual. With EMC now back down to about $26, much of the Dell induced stock price premium has now evaporated, but the story may be far from over.

Ford Motors (NYSE:F) reports earnings on Tuesday morning and is ex-dividend the following day.

Those situations when earnings and dividends are in the same week can be difficult to assess, but despite Ford’s rapid ascent in the past month, I believe that it will continue to follow the same trajectory has General Motors (NYSE:GM).

There are a number of different approaches to this trade.

For those not interested in the risk associated with earnings, waiting until after earnings can still give an opportunity to capture the dividend. Of course, that trade would probably make more sense if Ford shares either decline or remain relatively flat after earnings. If so, the consideration can be given to seeking an in the money strike price as would ordinarily be done in an attempt to optimize premium while still trying to capture the dividend.

For those willing to take the earnings risk, rather than selling an in the money option in advance of the ex-dividend date, I would sell an out of the money option in hopes of capturing capital gains, the option premium and the dividend.

I sold Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) puts last week and true to its nature, even when the sector isn’t in play, it tends to move up and down in quantum like bounces. However, with its competition on the prowl for acquisitions, Seagate Technolgy may have been a little more volatile than normal in an already volatile neighborhood.

I would again be interested in selling puts this week, but only if shares show any kind of weakness, following Friday’s strong move higher. If doing so and the faced with possible assignment, I would likely accept assignment, rather than rolling over the put option, in order to be in a position to collect the following week’s dividend.

I had waited a long time to again establish a Seagate Technology position and as long as it can stay in the $38-$42 range, I would like to continue looking for opportunities to either buy shares and sell calls or to sell put contracts once the ex-dividend date has passed.

So with the company reporting earnings at the end of this week and then going ex-dividend in the following week, I would like to capitalize on the position in each of those two weeks.

Following its strong rise on Friday, I would sell calls on any sign of weakness prior to earnings. With an implied price move of 6.6% there is not that much of a cushion of looking for a weekly 1% ROI, in that the strike price required for that return is only 7.4% below Friday’s closing price.

However, in the event of opening weakness that cushion is likely to increase. If selling puts and then being faced with assignment at the end of the week, I would accept that assignment and look for any opportunity to sell call contracts the following week and also collect the very generous dividend.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) reports earnings this week and health care and pharmaceuticals are coming off of a bad week after having had a reasonably good year, up until 2 months ago.

AbbVie, though, had its own unique issues this year and for such a young company, having only been spun off 3 years, it has had more than its share of news related to its products, product pricing and corporate tax strategy.

This week, though, came news calling into question the safety of AbbVie’s Hepatitis C drug, after an FDA warning that highlighted an increased incidence of liver failure in those patients that already had very advanced liver disease before initiating therapy.

I had some shares of AbbVie assigned the previous week and was happy to have had that be the case, as I would have preferred not being around for earnings, which are to be released this week.

As it turns out, serendipity can be helpful, as no investor would have expected the FDA news nor its timing. However, with that news now digested and the knee jerk reaction now also digested, comes the realization that it was the very sickest people, those in advanced stages of cirrhosis were the ones most likely to require a transplant or succumbed to either their disease or its treatment.

With the large decline prior to earnings I’m again interested in the stock. Unlike most recent earnings related trades where I’ve wanted to wait until after earnings to decide whether to sell puts or not, this may be a situation in which it makes some sense to be more proactive, even with some price rebound having occurred to close the week.

The option market is implying only a 5.1% price move next week. Although a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained at a strike level just outside the bounds defined by the option market, I would be more inclined to purchase shares in advance of earnings and sell calls, perhaps using an extended option expiration date, taking advantage of some of its recent volatility and possibly using a higher strike price.

Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA) also reports earnings this week and like much of what is reported from China, Ali Baba may be as much of a mystery as anything else.

The initial excitement over its IPO has long been gone and its founder, Jack Ma, isn’t seen or heard quite as much as when its shares were trading at a significant premium to its IPO price.

Having just climbed 32% in the past month I’d be reluctant to establish any kind of position prior to the release of earnings, especially following a 6.6% climb to close out this week.

Even if a sharp decline occurs in the day prior to earnings, I would still not sell put options prior to the report, as the option market is currently implying only an 8.5% move at a time when it has been increasingly under-estimating the size of some earnings related price moves.

However, in the event of a significant price decline after earnings some consideration can be given to selling puts at that time.

Finally, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) was my most frequent trade of 2014 and very happily so.

2015, however, has been a very different situation. I currently have a single lot of puts at a far higher price that I’ve rolled over to January 2016 in an attempt to avoid assignment of shares and to wait out any potential stock recovery.

That wait has been far longer than I had expected and January 2016 is even further off into the future than I ever would have envisioned.

With the announcement that Jack Dorsey was becoming the CEO, there’s been no shortage of activity that is seeking to give the appearance of some kind of coherent strategy to give investors some reason to be optimistic about what comes next.

What may come next is something out of so many new CEO playbooks. That is to dump all of the bad news into the first full quarter’s earnings report during their tenure and create the optics that enables them to look better by comparison at some future date.

With Twitter having had a long history of founders and insiders pointing fingers at one another, it would seem a natural for the upcoming earnings report to have a very negative tone. The difference, however, is that Dorsey may be creating some good will that may limit any downside ahead in the very near term.

The option market is implying a move of 12.1%. However, a 1% ROI could be potentially delivered through the sale of put contracts at a strike price that’s nearly 16% below Friday’s close.

That kind of cushion is one that is generally seen during periods of high volatility or with individual stocks that are extremely volatile.

For now, though, I think that Twitter’s volatility will be on hiatus for a while.

While I think that there may be bad news contained in the upcoming earnings release, I also believe that Jack Dorsey will have learned significantly from the most recent earnings experience when share price spiked only to plunge as management put forward horrible guidance.

I don’t expect the same kind of thoughtless presentation this time around and expect investor reception that will reflect newly rediscovered confidence in the team that is being put together and its strategic initiatives.

Ultimately, you can’t have volatility if the movement is always in one direction.

Traditional Stocks: EMC Corp

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Ford (10/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: AbbVie (10/30 AM), Ali Baba (10/27 AM), Ford (10/27 AM), Seagate Technology (10/30 AM), Twitter (10/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – August 9, 2015

In an age of rapidly advancing technology, where even Moore’s Law seems inadequate to keep up with the pace of advances, I wonder how many kids are using the same technology that I used when younger.

It went by many names, but the paper “fortune teller” was as good a tool to predict what was going to happen as anything else way back then.

Or now.

It told your fortune, but for the most part the fortunes were binary in nature. It was either good news that awaited you later in life or it was bad news.

I’m not certain that anything has actually improved on that technology in the succeeding years. While you may be justified in questioning the validity of the “fortune teller,” no one really got paid to get it right, so you could excuse its occasional bad forecasting or imperfect vision. You were certainly the only one to blame if you took the results too seriously and was faced with a reality differing from the prediction.

The last I checked, however, opinions relating to the future movements of the stock market are usually compensated. Those compensations tend to be very generous as befitting the rewards that may ensue to those who predicate their actions on the correct foretelling of the fortunes of stocks. However, since it’s other people’s money that’s being put at risk, the compensations don’t really reflect the potential liability of getting it all wrong.

Who would have predicted the concurrent declines in Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) that so suddenly placed them into correction status? My guess is that with a standard paper fortune teller the likelihood of predicting the coincident declines in Disney and Apple placing them into correction status would have been 12.5% or higher.

Who among the paid professionals could have boasted of that kind of predictive capability even with the most awesome computing power behind them?

If you look at the market, there really is nothing other than bad news. 200 Day Moving Averages violated; just shy of half of the DJIA components in correction; 7 consecutive losing sessions and numerous internal metrics pointing at declining confidence in the market’s ability to move forward.

While this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report provided data that was in line with expectations, wages are stagnant If you look at the economy, it doesn’t really seem as if there’s the sort of news that would drive an interest rate decision that is emphatically said to be a data driven process.

Yet, who would have predicted any of those as the S&P 500 was only 3% away from its all time highs?

I mean besides the paper fortune teller?

Seemingly paradoxical, even while so many stocks are in personal correction, the Volatility Index, which many look at as a reflection of uncertainty, is down 40% from its 2015 high.

As a result option premiums have been extraordinarily low, which in turn has made them very poor predictors of price movements of late, as the implied move is based upon option premium levels.

Nowhere is that more obvious than looking at how poorly the options market has been able to predict the range of price movements during this past earnings season.

Just about the only thing that could have reasonably been predicted is that this earnings season who be characterized by the acronym “BEMR.”

“Beat on earnings, missed on revenues.”

While a tepid economy and currency exchange have made even conservative revenue projections difficult to meet, the spending of other people’s money to repurchase company shares has done exactly what every CEO expected to be the case. Reductions in outstanding shares have boosted EPS and made those CEOs look great.

Even a highly p[aid stock analyst good have predicted that one.

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

Not too surprisingly after so many price declines over the past few weeks, so many different stocks look like bargains. Unfortunately, there’s probably no one who has been putting money at risk for a while who hasn’t been lured in by what seemed to be hard to resist prices.

It’s much easier to learn the meaning of “value trap” by reading about it, rather than getting caught in one.

One thing that is apparent is that there hasn’t been a recent rush by those brave enough to “buy on the dip.” They may simply be trading off bravery for intelligence in order to be able to see yet another day.

With my cash reserves at their lowest point in years, I would very much like to see some positions get assigned, but that wish would only be of value if I could exercise some restraint with the cash in hand.

One stock suffering and now officially in correction is Blackstone (NYSE:BX). It’s descent began with its most recent earnings report. The reality of those earnings and the predictions for those earnings were far apart and not in a good way.

CEO Schwarzman’s spin on performance didn’t seem to appease investors, although it did set the tone for such reports as “despite quarterly revenues and EPS that were each 20% below consensus. That consensus revenue projection was already one that was anticipating significantly reduced levels.

News of the Blackstone CFO selling approximately 9% of his shares was characterized as “unloading” and may have added to the nervousness surrounding the future path of shares.

But what makes Blackstone appealing is that it has no debt on its own balance sheet and its assets under management continue to grow. Even as the real estate market may present some challenges for existing Blackstone properties, the company is opportunistic and in a position to take advantage of other’s misery.

Shares command an attractive option premium and the dividend yield is spectacular. However, I wouldn’t necessarily count on it being maintained at that level, as a look at Blackstone’s dividend payment history shows that it is a moving target and generally is reduced as share price moves significantly lower. The good news, however, is that shares generally perform well following a dividend decrease.

Joining Blackstone in its recent misery is Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY). While it has been in decline through 2015, its most recent leg of that decline began with its earnings report in June.

That report, however, if delivered along with the most recent reports beginning a month ago, may have been met very differently. Bed Bath and Beyond missed its EPS by 1% and met consensus expectations for revenue.

Given, however, that Bed Bath and Beyond has been an active participant in share buybacks, there may have been some disappointment that EPS wasn’t better.

However, with more of its authorized cash to use on share buy backs, Bed Bath and Beyond has been fairly respectful in the way it uses other people’s money and has been more prone to buying shares when the stock price is depressed, in contrast to some others who are less discriminating. As shares are now right near a support level and with an option premium recognizing some of the uncertainty, these shares may represent the kind of value that one of its ubiquitous 20% of coupons offers.

The plummet is Disney shares this week following earnings is still somewhat mind boggling, although short term memory lapses may account for that, as shares have had some substantial percentage declines over the past few years.

Disney’s decline came amidst pervasive weakness among cable and content providers as there is a sudden realization that their world is changing. Words such as “skinny” and “unbundling” threaten revenues for Disney and others, even as revenues at theme parks and movie studios may be bright spots, just as for Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA).

As with so many other stocks as the bell gets set to ring on Monday morning, the prevailing question will focus on value and relative value. Disney’s ascent beyond the $100 level was fairly precipitous, so there isn’t a very strong level of support below its current price, despite this week’s sharp decline. That may provide reason to consider the sale of puts rather than a buy/write, if interested in establishing a position. Additionally, a longer term time frame than the one week that I generally prefer may give an opportunity to generate some income with relatively low risk while awaiting a more attractive stock price.

While much of the attention has lately been going to PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) and while I am now following that company, it’s still eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) that has my focus, after a prolonged period of not having owned shares. Once a mainstay of my holdings and a wonderful covered option trade it has become an afterthought, as PayPal is considered to offer better growth prospects. While that may be true, I generally like to see at least 6 months of price history before considering a trade in a new company.

However, as a covered option trader, growth isn’t terribly important to me. What is important is discovering a stock that can have some significant event driven price movements in either direction, but with a tendency to predictably revert to its mean. That creates a situation of attractive option premiums and relatively defined risk.

eBay is now again trading in a narrow range after some of the frenzy associated with its PayPal spin-off, albeit the time frame for that assessment is limited. However, as it has traded in a relatively narrow range following the spin-off, the option premium has been very attractive and I would like to consider shares prior to what may be an unwanted earnings surprise in October.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) reported earnings last week beating both EPS and revenue expectations quite handily. However, the market’s initial response was anything but positive, although shares did recover about half of what they lost.

Perhaps shares were caught in the maelstrom that was directed toward cable and content providers as one thing that you can predict is that a very broad brush is commonly used when news is at hand. But as a plebian provider of terrestrial television access, Sinclair Broadcasting isn’t subject to the same kind of pressures and certainly not to the same extent as their higher technology counterparts.

I often like to consider the purchase of shares just before Sinclair Broadcasting goes ex-dividend, which it will do on August 28th. However, with the recent decline, I would consider a purchase now and selling the September 18, 2015 option contract at a strike level that could generate acceptable capital gains in addition to the dividend and option premium, while letting the cable and content providers continue to take the heat.

It seems only appropriate on a week that is focused on an old time paper fortune teller that some consideration be given to International Paper (NYSE:IP) as it goes ex-dividend this week. With its shares down nearly 17% from their 2015 high, the combination of perceived value, very fair option premium and generous dividend may be difficult to pass up at this time, while having passed it up on previous occasions during the past month.

International Paper’s earnings late last month fell in line with others that “BEMR,” but it shares remained largely unchanged since that report and shares appear to have some price support at its current level.

You may have to take my word for it, but Astra Zeneca (NYSE:AZN) is going ex-dividend this week. That information didn’t appear in any of the 3 sources that I typically use and my query to its investor relations department received only an automated out of office response. The company’s site stated that a dividend announcement was going to be made when earnings were announced on July 30th, but a week after earnings the site didn’t reflect any new information. Fortunately,someone at NASDAQ knew what I wanted to know.

Astra Zeneca pays its dividends twice each year, the second of which will be ex-dividend this week and is the smaller of the two distributions, yet still represents a respectable 1.3% payment.

I already own shares and haven’t been disappointed by shares lagging its peers. What I have been disappointed in, however, has been it’s inability to mount any kind of sustained move higher and the inability to sell calls on those shares, particularly as there had been some liquidity issues.

The recent stock split, however, has ameliorated some of those issues and there appears to be some increased options trading volume and smaller bid-ask discrepancies. Until that became the case, I had no interest in adding shares, but am now more willing to do so, also in anticipation of some performance catch-up to its other sector mates.

The promise that seemed to reside with shares of Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA) not so long ago has long since withered along with many other companies whose fortunes are closely tied to the Chinese economy.

Ali Baba reports earnings this week and the option market is predicting only a 6.7% price move. That seems to be a fairly conservative assessment of the potential for exhilaration or the potential for despair. However, a 1% ROI through the sale of a weekly put option is not available at a strike that’s below the bottom of the implied range.

For that reason, I would approach Ali Baba upon earnings in the same manner as with Green Mountain Keurig’s (NASDAQ:GMCR) earnings report. That is to only consider action after earnings are released and if shares drop below the implied lower end of the range. There is something nice about letting others exercise a torrent of emotion and fear and then cautiously wading into the aftermath.

Finally, during an earnings season that has seen some incredible moves, especially to the downside, Cree (NASDAQ:CREE) should feel right at home. It has had a great habit of surprising the options market, which is supposed to be able to predict the range of a stock’s likely price move, on a fairly regular basis.

With its products just about every where that you look you would either expect its revenues and earnings to be booming or you might think that it was in the throes of becoming commoditized.

What Cree used to be able to do was to trade in a very stable manner for prolonged periods after an earnings related plunge and then recover much of what it lost as subsequent earnings were released. That hasn’t been so much the case in the past year and its share price has been in continued decline in 2015, despite a momentary bump when it announced plans to spin-off a division to “unlock its full value.”

The option market is implying a 9.4% move when earnings are announced this coming week. By historical standards that is a low estimation of what Cree shares are capable of doing. While one could potentially achieve a 1% weekly ROI at a strike price nearly 14% below Friday’s closing price, as with Ali Baba, I would wait for the lights to go out on the share’s price before considering the sale of short term put options.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Blackstone, Disney, eBay, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Astra Zeneca (8/12 $0.45), International Paper (8/12 $0.40)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Ali Baba (8/12 AM), Cree (8/11 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 – 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.

Earnings Make The Adrenaline Flow

There’s nothing like earnings season to really get the adrenaline flowing.

Basically, whether you employ a covered option strategy or not, earnings season is always going to be one that leaves investors alternating rapidly between elation and despair and just as frequently not understanding why the market reacted as it did when news seemed so benign.

Really, can a penny miss on earnings be that significant to cause a massive sell-off, especially when we know that analysts are working from a position of less than complete and perfect information? What kind of guide to action can a half-blindfolded and shackled outside analyst really provide?

You would think that under those conditions missing by just a penny or two would be pretty close, unless you then consider that there may be billions of outstanding shares, demonstrating the adage that pennies do add up.

But then there’s also the issue of estimates not being remotely close to reality and the earnings miss or beat seems to take even the whisperers by surprise. Unfortunately, there’s no weighting system to the earnings estimates provided by the myriad of analysts following a single stock when the average estimate is calculated. The ones with questionable track records are on equal footing with the ones providing more accurate estimates.

I especially like a comment that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase made the other day, although attributed to someone else, with regard to analysts;

“We don’t miss our estimates, you miss our actuals.”

The reactions that can send share prices plunging or surging so frequently also raise an obvious question regarding just how well versed the professional investing community actually is, versus what they pretend to be, regarding their knowledge of the value of any stock and its future prospects.

There certainly seem to be an awful lot of surprises, in both directions, if professionals are really on the case. If they can be so deficient and fooled so frequently, leading to knee jerk responses, what hope is there for the lowly individual investor?

If you’re a buy and hold trader there’s nothing more maddening than seeing your paper gains get eroded by earnings reports. Even if they eventually recover, you wonder about all of the wasted price energy that goes into the roller coaster ride, especially if it occurs on a regular quarterly basis. The long term ride higher, which the hope for any buy and hold investor, is often one that follows a very inefficient course.

That results in lots of effort and frequently without much to show for it.

While considering the sale of calls on existing positions in advance of earnings, in order to take advantage of the enhanced premiums that come along with the uncertainty that the earnings process brings, I particularly like to consider the sale of puts on positions that I may not already own, as long as there is an acceptable balance between the risk of a surprisingly large move and the reward for taking that risk.

The risk is defined by the option market and is based upon the premiums that are willing to be paid for options. The next part of the equation is defining the reward that makes the risk worthwhile for what is envisioned to be a short term position.

I’m more than happy to be able to generate a 1% ROI for the week on such a trade, but individual temperament can determine what reward suits the risk. The greater the potential reward, however, the more likely that the strike level necessary to achieve that return will be within the price boundaries dictated by the option market, which may then result in the need for further action.

Among the stocks for consideration this week are many that generally carry inherent risk and even more so in advance of earnings. Often, and perhaps counter-intuitively, those provide the best balance of risk and reward as the option market occasionally implies a large price move but still provides attractive option premiums outside of the range implied.

This week I’m considering the sale of puts of shares of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Coach (NYSE:COH), Conoco Phillips (NYSE:COP), Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Petrobras (NYSE:PBR), Phillips 66 (NYSE:PSX) and VMWare (NYSE:VMW).

 

While there may be many fundamental or technical reasons to consider or avoid any of these stocks, when I look at the possibility of such earnings related trades I tend to dismiss those reasons, focusing entirely on the defined criteria of the implied move price range and the desired ROI.

The table can serve as a guide for other companies reporting earnings this week and can be customized to reflect an individual’s pursuit of return.

Additionally, the same considerations can be made after earnings are released. That’s especially the case when a potential candidate has met my criteria, but is moving higher in advance of earnings as was the case for the broader market to close the previous week and in the immediate aftermath of Mario Draghi’s Quantitative Easing announcement, until more sane heads prevailed the next day.

My preference is to not sell puts as a stock’s price is climbing higher. In general, I like selling calls into price strength and puts into weakness, in the attempt to capitalize on momentum and emotion in the belief that the momentum will not continue at its current pace or direction.

In the event of price strength in advance of earnings I tend to avoid the sale of puts, but would still consider doing so after earnings are released if there is a resultant price drop. Premiums can still remain high after the news has been digested and while emotions may still be running high.

The stocks that are most likely to receive a “YES” rating, indicating that they meet the established criteria, tend to already trade with some volatility even when earnings are not part of the equation.

Somewhat surprisingly a number of the stocks that I had expected would receive a “YES” designation based upon past quarters, did not do see this time, as the option market is predicting less earnings related movement and is not offering adequate premiums outside of the predicted price range.

Based upon some recent price moves observed in companies that have presented disappointing earnings I wouldn’t even consider any of those stocks rated as being “MARGINAL,” as the reward is simply insufficient, even when reward expectations are low.

For those that received a “YES” rating based on Friday’s closing prices, I would re-evaluate as next week’s trading begins in order to avoid a situation that may have greater risk of assignment than is offset by the premium’s reward.

I usually am not interested in taking assignment of such shares in the event of an adverse price move, although even with stronger indications, as with “YES” ratings, any time that you sell puts you have to be prepared to take ownership, unless you have some other exit plans, such as rolling over to a new expiration date, ideally to a lower strike level. The ability to do so is greatly enhanced by dealing with stocks that have adequate trading volume of their underlying options, especially for those deep in the money.

If you are an adrenaline junkie, earnings related trades may be just the fix for you, especially if you take measures to limit risk by limiting greed. Taking those steps can give the thrill while still keeping you in the game for the next round of earnings that will surely come along before you know it.

Weekend Update – September 28, 2014

For those that remember 2011 it was really an incredible year, one that I still miss and was certainly sad to see go.

Although it doesn’t have a very snappy ring to it, this past week was one to party like it was 2011 or at least revel in the thought that 2011 was about to make a return.

What I’m hoping is that this past week has lots of party left in it and will serve as a model for what lies ahead, despite the market having ended the week 1.1% lower.

For those who don’t remember 2011 simply looking at the net change for the year may leave you a little curious why I would think that it was a great year.

That’s because what you would see is that the S&P 500 was unchanged for the year, which is, at the very least, a statistical oddity. For those requiring some precision, the index actually changed 0.04 points for the year or 0.003%.

However, for those that love volatility and what it does for option premiums, despite the superficial appearance of nothing having happened for the year, the volatility increased by 31.8% for that year, ending at 23.4, which is still 57.6% higher than where it closed this past Friday.

How could that be?

That’s because that year the DJIA, which ended the year at 12217, far below the current level, had no fewer than 96 triple digit closing days. That was back in the days when 100 points actually meant something.

What was fascinating was that 46 of those moved lower and 50 moved higher. Lots and lots of exertion, but basically not too much different from running in place.

Now that’s not only volatility, but the ideal kind for an option seller. Lots of ado, but accomplishing absolutely nothing, other than the generation of lots of enriched option premiums because those alternating currents of moves generate uncertainty and anxiety.

For the option seller the nice thing about running in place is that it becomes very difficult to get lost and less necessary to give into the feelings of anxiety that accompany the uncertainty of an unknown path.

Even if you weren’t paying too much attention you may have noticed that this past week had 5 triple digit days. The absolute value of those moves was 810 points, while the net movement was only a loss of 166 points.

This was a week that moved on a wide range of factors and in a wide range.

You could point to the loose cannon words from outgoing Federal reserve Governor Richard Fisher, who, despite being chastised by then FOMC Chairman Greenspan for speaking his mind, never really stopped doing so. Ironically, his first market moving comments back in 2005 for which he was taken to the woodshed was related to suggesting that the Federal Reserve’s series of rate increases would be coming to an end sooner than most expected. This time around he created something of a panic by suggesting that this Federal Reserve, under Janet Yellen, would begin raising interest rates before most people had expected. Those words came barely a week after we found comfort in the belief that a “considerable time” would still pass before those rates would see increases.

The fact that Fisher is fairly dogmatic and has been on the wrong side of history in the past, in addition to no longer having a vote within the next few months, was lost on those who for some reason believe that he has some great insight and sway.

Or you could point to the widespread belief that the Alibaba (BABA) IPO was another in a line of “biggest” IPOs that marked market tops that simply accepted the contention without realizing how precisely cherry picked the data had been and how it had conveniently excluded some significant data points that would have lead to refuting the “obvious” conclusions.

Or you could point to the widespread fascination with the non-validated “death cross” that has adherents and believers, despite its inconsistency as a predictive tool of the market heading into a correction.

Or you could point to the market dipping below its 50 day moving average as a bullish indicator that would coerce some into initiating buying programs.

Clearly, the market had little basis to do much of anything this week, but when it was all said and done, despite the three large downward moves, there wasn’t too much damage done, leaving the S&P 500 only 1.5% off of its all time high point but having raised volatility 21.8% at the same time.

Just like 2011 when all was still good with the world as long as you retain a faulty sense of memory.

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

With Friday’s week ending rally that for a brief while looked as if it was getting poised to erase the previous day’s loss of 264 points some of the apparent price bargains that had developed during that loss were lessened. However, those bargains are always relative to whatever time frame you elect to utilize and whatever direction you believe awaits.

After the past week its exceptionally difficult to have a sense of what kind of market awaits, but the past two years gives reason to believe that we are in store for another of the periodic mini-corrections that have prefaced every climb higher. That periodicity suggests that the current 1.5% decline is but a beginning.

I would gladly trade off additional climbs higher for the type of volatility we’ve seen in the past week. While I’m not anxious to necessarily start a shopping spree, the real challenge is knowing when to get on the party train. Although I don’t place too much emphasis on charts I would be inclined to watch a decided move below the 50 day moving average for a week or so before feeling a sense of confidence.

British Petroleum (BP) fulfills that criteria as does Conoco Phillips (COP), both in the beleaguered energy sector. British Petroleum’s descent below the 5o day moving average has been more prolonged and marked than has Conoco’s, so may have some greater appeal for me, particularly if I plan to be very discerning about spending money on new positions. Part of British Petroleum’s additional burden, beyond what the energy sector is experiencing, continues to be related to its liability in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and it suffered a quantum drop just a few weeks ago when the company was found to be grossly negligent in US District Court for its role in the spill.

Conoco Phillips, on the other hand is just caught up with the rest as energy prices are under pressure. It has, however, traded in a relatively stable range for nearly two months, perhaps making it a reasonable covered option trade, particularly as its ex-dividend date approaches.

Caterpillar (CAT) after having embarrassed the legions of those lambasting it and its CEO, is a stock that has demonstrated the ability to bounce back from having dipped below its 50 day moving average over the past 2 months and following some recent weakness ostensibly related to weakness in China, may also now be ready for a climb higher. Like Conoco, its upcoming dividend late in the October 2014 cycle or early in the November cycle can make the decision to purchase shares somewhat easier.

If Richard Fischer is correct on interest rate hikes and eventually he will be, Citigroup (C) and MetLife (MET) will both stand to benefit from a rising interest rate environment.

Eventually even the phrase “considerable time,” as found in the FOMC statements must give way to something a little less imprecise and some of the uncertainty regarding the timing of interest rate increases will be lost. While I’ve recently had shares of both MetLife and Citigroup assigned, I would like to add them back to the portfolio, despite their current price levels. While both are similarly lower from their very recent highs those levels may represent resting points for what may be deserved climbs even higher.

The Gap (GPS) is one of those stocks that I tend to buy too early during a period of descending price and frequently end up owning longer than I would have liked. However, it has now fallen nearly 10% in the last 3 weeks following a negative response to its most recently monthly same store sales report.

Those reports are a major part of the surprises during previous bouts of ownership, as they, just like this week’s triple digit moves, frequently alternated between well and poorly received results.,

With same store sales again expected the week after next, as well as going ex-dividend in that week, I may consider bypassing the use of a weekly or expanded weekly option and instead considering the monthly expiration in order to create some time cushion in the event of a second consecutive adverse response.

Intel (INTC) and Cisco (CSCO) both regained some lost ground on Friday as technology stocks rebounded from some of their strong losses earlier in the week. In a week that I would like to add some technology exposure both are appealing, although both also have different considerations.

While Intel will be among those companies reporting earnings early in the upcoming cycle, Cisco will not do so for another month, but will be ex-dividend in the coming week. Both are also approaching their 50 day moving averages but from opposite directions.

Making a decision regarding either of these two would likely be predicated on their next decisive price moves around their respective 50 day moving averages. I might be more inclined to purchase either if they stay above the line. However, if moving below, I would defer the purchase, although the Cisco dividend may offer a more compelling reason to decide between these two stocks, particularly as Intel has a tough act to follow after its most recent earnings report.

Finally, Walgreen (WAG) reports earnings this week just as the rest of the world is getting ready to begin the next cycle of quarterly reports the following week.

Walgreen, after having announced that it was not going to pursue a tax inversion, nearly two months ago, is still seeing its shares trading at a significantly depressed level.

While I usually like to consider earnings related trades on the basis of a calculation of the implied price move relative to the potential for achieving a threshold return on investment and would prefer not to own shares, in this case I wouldn’t mind taking ownership at the right price.

With option premiums enhanced somewhat due to the upcoming earnings release I would consider the sale of out of the money weekly puts and if facing the possibility of assignment would consider taking that assignment if the price of shares was near the strike price so that I could initiate a short call position upon taking ownership of shares. However, in the event that shares plunge beyond that price level I would likely prefer to attempt to rollover the puts in an effort to prevent that assignment.

Hopefully, regardless of the outcome there will still be a party going on.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, Caterpillar, Conoco, Intel, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum: Citibank

Double Dip Dividend: Cisco

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Walgreen

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 21, 2014

Somewhere along the line most of us have tried the proven strategy of hanging out with people who were uglier or stupider than we perceived ourselves to be, in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.

There’s nothing really wrong in admitting that to be the case. It’s really the ultimate in victimless opportunism and can truly be a win-win for everyone involved.

The opportunist hopes to break away from that crowd and the crowd feels elevated by its association, or so goes the opportunist’s rationalization.

Markets are no different and this past week was as good of an example of that tried and tested phenomenon as you might ever find. In this case, the opportunist was the US equity market, but it really can rarely be a win-win situation.

Bonds, currencies and precious metals?

Ugly and stupid.

There were three potentially market rocking stories this week that could have struck fear in stock investors, but neither an upcoming FOMC statement, a pending independence referendum in Scotland, nor history’s largest IPO could do what common sense said should occur, particularly with liquidity being threatened from multiple directions.

You can probably thank the less than attractive alternatives for making stocks look so good to investors.

U.S. equity markets just did what we’ve become so accustomed to, other than for brief moments over the past two years, as the week ended on yet another new record high with the DJIA moving higher each day of the week.

Last week was like a perfect storm, except that the winds blew from all different directions during the latter half of the week.

The week started a bit ominously, but after a while it was clear that selling was narrow in scope and appeared to be limited to profit taking in some of the year’s big gainers, ostensibly to raise cash for any hoped for Alibaba (BABA) allocation, that was unlikely to materialize for most retail investors.

But when the competition is weak, it doesn’t take much to shine and stand out from the crowd. With the week’s first challenge being whether the FOMC was going to accelerate their time table for raising interest rates, all it took was The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Hilsenrath expressing the belief that the phrase “considerable time,” would remain intact to allow stocks to stand out from the crowd.

Never mind that Hilsenrath had yet to demonstrate an inside track to the Yellen Federal Reserve, as he seemed to have had during the Bernanke era. Also forget about the fact that the FOMC has been using that phrase since March 2014 and sooner or later it has to give way to the relization that “considerable time” has already passed. That’s best left to deal with at some other time in the future.

Neither of those were important as all of the other options were looking worse.

With the outcome of the independence referendum being far from certain stocks had been smart enough not to have predicted the eventual outcome and put itself in jeopardy if independence was ratified. Instead the risk was borne by currencies and foreign stock markets.

Precious metals? Who in the world has been putting new money into precious metals of late?

So stocks looked great, but after getting a makeover last week, suddenly the crowd may not look so unappealing. Even precious metals may find some suitors because they just don’t want to chase after stocks and wind up getting disappointed.

Who knew that the high school experience could have taught so much about the behavior of stocks?

The behavior of stocks this week, was also similar to how high school “A-listers” may have acted when pulling in someone from the “losers.” The welcome isn’t always a full and complete embrace and somewhat circumspect or still maintaining an aura of superiority.

^SPX ChartIn this case the “A-list” DJIA greatly outperformed other major indexes this past week as the advance didn’t fully embrace a broader selection of stocks.

Despite last week’s nice gains against the odds, in this perfect storm, everything went right. Yet the embrace was with less conviction than it appeared.

That doesn’t mean that I want to go and join the losers, but I may be circumspect of the superficial appearance of those “A-listers” as next week is about to begin.

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

By comparison, Yahoo (YHOO) looks even less appealing now that it has given up a portion of its stake in Alibaba.

I purchased a small Yahoo position late this past Thursday, when noticing that the in the money option premium was rising even as shares were declining.

The following day I closed those positions shortly after Alibaba started trading as the gain in shares wasn’t matched by a similar gain the premium, resulting in a net credit greater than allowing the position to be assigned.

The funny thing was that the position never would have been assigned as reportedly Yahoo shares were being used a proxy to shorting Alibaba and share price went substantially lower, as a result, even while the value of Yahoo’s remaining stake in Alibaba appreciated by about an additional 37% from the IPO price.

While that kind of short selling strategy may continue, Yahoo is also reportedly becoming the focus of attention from other sources, while it may still stand to benefit from its continuing Alibaba position.

With lots of attention being directed toward its still unproven CEO, Marissa Mayer, as to what she will do with the IPO proceeds, I expect that the Yahoo option premium will remain elevated as so many factors are now coming into play.

While I like those prospects and expect to re-purchase shares, I don’t think that I’ll be allocating too much to this position because of all of the uncertainty involved, but do like the evolving soap opera.

When it comes to comparisons, there’s little that Blackberry (BBRY) can do to make itself look appealing. Where exactly can it hang out to be able to stand out in the crowd and get the attention of those that vote on popularity? Still, under the leadership of John Chen, Blackberry has ended its slide toward oblivion and at least gives appearances of now having a strategy and the ability to execute.

Blackberry reports earnings this coming week and thanks to a lift provided by a Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst out-performed the NASDAQ 100 for the week. 

The option market has assigned an implied move of 9.7% for the coming week and at Friday’s closing price a 1% ROI could be obtained even if shares fell by 13.7%. That kind of comparison makes Blackberry look good to me.

While maybe not looking good in comparison to its chief competitor, CVS Health (CVS) on the basis of its self proclaimed status of the guardians of the nation’s health after belatedly eliminating the sale of cigarettes from its stores, Walgreen looks food to me. That’s especially the case now that it seems to be settling into a trading range after it, too, belatedly, decided against a tax inversion strategy.

Walgreen, as with many other stocks trading in a range, but occasionally punctuated by substantive price moves related to earnings or other events, offers a nice option premium that may exceed the current risk of share ownership.

Until recently the comparison to gold during the summer worked out well for Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), having out-performed the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD). More recently, however, the Miners Index has had an abysmal month of September and is approaching a 2 year low. However, its beta is still quite low and shares are now trading below their yearly mid-point range, while offering a premium that may offset what I believe to be limited downside risk.

I don’t look at ETF vehicles very often, but this one may be right in terms of timing and price. The availability of expanded weekly options, strike prices in $0.50 increments and manageable bid-ask spreads makes this potentially a good candidate for serial rollover if it finds some support and begins trading in a range.

Fastenal (FAST) is one of those stocks that may not have much glamour and may not stand out sufficiently to get noticed. To me, though, it is a superstar in the world of covered options as it has traded reliably within a range and consistently returned to the mid-point of that range, where it currently resides.

Having rolled over shares this past Friday after a mid-session drop below the strike, I watched as it recovered enough to close above the strike. Had it been assigned, as originally thought would occur, I knew that at its current price I wanted to re-purchase shares. Instead, now I want to add shares, but being mindful that it will report earnings in just a few weeks.

Despite Alibaba’s successful IPO, it’s still difficult for me to have too much confidence in stocks that have either a heavy reliance on the Chinese economy or are Chinese companies. Fortunately or unfortunately, I do make exceptions for both situations, although far fewer for the latter.

Joy Global (JOY) has extensive interests in China and is very dependent on continued growth of the Chinese economy, which is difficult to measure with reliability. Of course with our own GDP being reported this coming Friday, we know all too well, based on the recent pattern of revisions, that data should always be viewed warily.

With some weakness in this sector, witness the recent drop in Caterpillar (CAT), Joy Global is approaching correction territory over the past month and is beginning to once again look appealing, not having owned shares in nearly a year. These shares can be volatile, but with patience and an inner sense of serenity, the option premiums can atone for moments of anxiety.

Despite still holding a very expensive lot of Coach (COH) shares for far too long, it is still one of my favorite stocks over the longer term time frame, having owned it on 21 occasions over 25 months.

Smarting from the pain of that lot I still hold, it took a while before finding the courage to purchase an additional lot, but that recent lot was assigned this past week and I’m ready to add another in its place, as it seems that Coach has found some support at its current level. In the past Coach has been an excellent covered option trade when it traded in a range. The reason for it offering attractive option premiums was due to its predictably large earnings related moves. However, in the past, it had a wonderful habit of its price reverting to the mean.

If so, I don’t mind executing serial trades, reaping premiums and the occasional premium to help offset the existing paper loss. As the luster from Kors (KORS) seems to be waning there is also less populist battering of Coach, which remains very popular internationally. It’s commitment to maintaining its dividend makes it easy to hold shares while awaiting what I hope is an inevitable, albeit, unusually slow recovery.

Whole Foods (WFM) is another of those companies that I own that is currently well below its purchase price. As with Coach, I eventually found the courage to purchase more shares and have done so 4 times in the past 3 months, as it appears to have also found some price support.

Recently its premiums have become more attractive as the company has become a topic of speculation regarding activist intervention. While I don’t think there’s too much to come of that speculation, I do believe that shares are poised to continue climbing and hopefully in a slow and sustained manner. It goes ex-dividend this week and while not the most generous of dividends it does supplement the potential return offered by also selling call options on shares sufficiently to make it an attractive consideration.

Finally, Oracle (ORCL) is back in the news and in the last couple of years that hasn’t really been a good thing. After a number of disappointing earnings reports over that time, its Chairman and CEO, Larry Ellison, blasted those around him, finding plenty of places to lay blame. His absence from last year’s earnings report and conference in order to attend Oracle Team USA’s effort in the Americas Cup race struck me as inappropriate.

Now the news of Ellison stepping down as CEO, while retaining the Chairmanship, preceded this most recent quarter’s disappointing earnings. It also  was a prelude to the announcement of a power sharing plan with the appointment of co-CEOs, because we all know how much high achievers like to share power and glory.

Yet, with this past Friday’s price decline in Oracle it is again becoming a potentially attractive purchase candidate, particularly with an upcoming, albeit modest dividend coming on October 6, 2014.

That happens to be a Monday, and I wish there were more such Monday opportunities for those stocks that I follow. Those are often the best of the “Double Dip Dividend” selections, as early assignment to capture the dividend must occur on the preceding Friday and typically means receiving an entire week’s option premium, while being able to reinvest the exercise proceeds to generate even more income.

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF, Oracle, Walgreen

Momentum: Coach, Joy Global, Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: Whole Foods (9/24 $0.12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (9/23 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 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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