Weekend Update – December 25, 2016

 …And I feel fine.

Whoever thought that we would live to see the day that the President-Elect would be running a parallel foreign policy?

Whoever thought we would live to see the day that Republicans were cozying up to the Russian government while the Democrats were sounding the siren?

Then again, did anyone really believe that Great Britain would split from the European Union?

Maybe it really is the end of the world as we know it.

The one good thing is that as best as we can project, life in a post-apocalyptic world will probably be characterized by lower tax rates.

That can only add to the feeling fine sensation and I certainly look forward to the little considered benefits of an apocalypse.

While the world may not be ending, 2016 is coming to an end and after a very palpable post-election rally, it’s not very clear where we go next.

I certainly don’t know where I go next.

In less than a month populism meets reality and the direction may become more clear. At the moment, the only thing that really is clear is that populism is a world wide phenomenon, which means that lots of world-wide enemies are being identified to account for all of the ills any particular society may be experiencing.

Based upon the rise of populism around the world, you might be justified in believing that there are plenty of ills, but maybe not enough enemies to blame, so we may have to share.

I don’t know too much about Poland, but I imagine that if the public relations campaign is run properly, you could easily get their populace to place the blame for all of their ills on Mexicans, too.

Closer to home, we will soon probably learn of plans to build a wall around the Rockettes, at least those who would prefer not to perform as part of the Inaugural festivities.

With an entirely new playbook in the White House and perhaps in Congress, as well, it remains to be seen if the FOMC can remain reasonably apolitical when faced by a barrage of Presidential Tweets aimed at its actions or inactions.

But with 2017 right around the corner it may appear that if some of that populism does morph into reality, the upcoming role of the FOMC may be to take a back seat to natural market forces.

Rather than being ahead of the curve, the FOMC may just sit back and watch interest rates climb on their own, as was the case in the post-election period and that worked out just fine, too.

With thoughts of nation wide infrastructure projects to help “Make America Great Again” together with a low unemployment rate, let the bidding begin for the workers necessary to make it happen.

The paucity of workers, though, might help to figuratively and literally delay the building of the wall that was one of the early populist positions.

Of course, I would imagine that a President Trump would have some choice words for the bankers that end up making more money in a rising interest rate environment, at least as long as the Trump family has no direct banking interests.

Having once owned a airline, it may be understandable why President-Elect Trump has taken on Boeing (BA) and even Lockheed Martin (LMT). You can be certain, however, that he won’t take on the hotel and hospitality industry.

Imagine how he might castigate the FOMC for making those projects, and perhaps personal family building projects, as well, more expensive by presiding over a rising interest rate environment.

However, maybe having some skin in the game can be a good thing when it comes to public policy. Maybe even an incentive plan, such as a portion of any money saved on the building of the next generation stealth jet fighter.

I, for one, am anxious to get 2017 underway and to see bluster given a chance to come to life.

I don’t know how much of those populist ideas will find life, but with earnings season beginning the week before inauguration, we may finally be getting some of the earnings guidance to really breathe life into markets.

If that’s going to be the case, the elusive 20.000 on the DJIA is just a stopping point.

History books will credit whoever is in office when it finally does happen, regardless of who really deserves the accolade. Economies rarely turn on a dime, but the ingredients that go into the process of change are typically forgotten once the final product is unveiled.

It’s generally easier to share the blame than to share the credit, but if the credit is shared, there can be no better sign that the end of the world has come.

I hope that the new administration is put into a position of taking whatever credit there is for a soaring stock market in 2017, regardless of whether they share that credit or not.

A soaring stock market and a soaring economy would preclude the need for continuing populist rhetoric, but if those don’t happen the next round of populism will really be something to behold.

I’ll be watching from a distance.

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

Could anything have been more pathetic than retail last week?

If your answer was, “Yes, Materials,” then you’ll understand my pain last week, even as I look back fondly on 2016.

With some major retail casualties last week and with just another week left to this holiday season, I think that the first direction that I want to take myself into for 2017 is to add to my retailer holdings.

For the final week of 20116, that means looking at Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU), Macy’s (M) and Under Armour (UAA or UA).

If you follow Crossing Wall Street, you know that its founder, Eddy Elfenbein, is one of the most transparent stock pickers out there and one of the most credible.

He is a true buy and hold investor and his new ETF, AdvisorShares Focused Equity ETF (CWS) is based upon his annual buy list that has had a long term record of market out-performance.

While for many Bill Miller is the name that pops up when thinking long term out-performance, I think of Eddy, who is also a great Twitter follow because he is funny, self-effacing and shares relevant data and facts more readily than anyone I’ve ever seen, read or heard.

I believe that in an era where Quantitative Easing is no longer in effect and thereby no longer indiscriminately propping up most everything, true diligence will make the difference between one stock picker and the next.

You just don’t get more diligent than Eddy Elfenbein.

This year’s buy list has been released and Bed Bath and Beyond is no longer a part. Elfenbein describes it as one of the most frustrating stocks that he has owned and I continue to feel that pain.

But following this past week’s washout of an earnings report, I’m taking another look, but unlike Elfenbein, for whom diligent stock picking validates a buy and hold strategy, I have only short term interest in adding those shares and no interest in doing my due diligence.

For me, all the due diligence that I needed was seeing that its shortfall in earnings was less than the 20% off they offer on any single item with their frequent coupon mailings to my home.

I do see some continued downside risk, perhaps to the $39 level, but I would be very happy to see Bed Bath and Beyond shares tread water for a while as I would seek to serially sell call options on those shares at the $40-$42 level.

Another washout for the week was Macy’s. I was recently in one of their stores on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and was struck by how poorly maintained the exterior of the store had been, even as the interior was bright, clean and shiny and the personnel were friendly and eager to help.

While Eddy Elfenbein is transparent, I tend to be superficial, but somehow overcame that trait and overlooked the exterior.

Right now, from the outside looking in, there really doesn’t seem to be much reason to think that 2017 will be any kinder to Macy’s, as it has badly trailed the S&P 500 in 2016.

As with Bed Bath and Beyond, I think there is some reasonable support at its current price level and would also not mind seeing those shares stand in place for a while in exchange for option premiums and a generous dividend.

Under Armour now has two classes of stock. You can decide for yourself whether you want the shares with voting rights or the shares without those rights. 

The latter, the Class C shares continue to trade at quite a discount to the voting shares, while both have badly trailed the S&P 500 in the past 6 months.

My concerns about this potential position is that it’s not clear where support will come from, as voting rights shares are sitting at 2 year lows and there isn’t anywhere near as much liquidity as I would like to see in the available options.

In exchange for those uncertainties is what could be an attractive option premium, although the bid-ask spread is understandably large with such small interest on behalf of buyers and sellers, making rollovers unnecessarily difficult and expensive.

Finally, it’s not too much of a stretch to see why LuLuLemon may be attractive.

That is, as long as you overlook that bulge in its share price.

That spike creates some risk, but with those option premiums remaining elevated, the risk is a little easier to take.

That’s particularly true when realizing that there is the kind of liquidity in the options market that is missing for Under Armour. 

As a result, the prospects of being able to rollover positions in the event of an adverse price move doesn’t concern me as much as it does with Under Armour.

It has been a long time since I’ve owned any shares, but I think in this instance I would start by selling put options and then taking it on a week by week basis.

For me, however, this is the final week to be putting these thoughts on virtual paper.

I am very, very grateful to the Seeking Alpha editors and to the cast of regular readers over these past few years.

Best wishes for a happy and health New Year to all and for the best in everything that matters in the years ahead.

 

 

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Macy’s

Momentum Stocks: LuLuLemon Athletica, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

 

Weekend Update – January 10, 2016

new year starts off with great promise.

If seems so strange that the stock market often takes on a completely different persona from one day to the next.

Often the same holds true for one year to the next. despite there being nothing magical nor mystical about the first trading day of the year to distinguish it from the last trading day of the previous year.

For those that couldn’t wait to be finally done with 2015 out of the expectation conventional wisdom would hold and that the year following a flat performing year would be a well performing year, welcome to an unhappy New Year.

2015 was certainly a year in which there wasn’t much in the way of short term memory and the year was characterized by lots of ups and downs that took us absolutely nowhere as the market ended unchanged for the year.

While finishing unchanged should probably result in neither elation nor disgust, scratching beneath the surface and eliminating the stellar performance of a small handful of stocks could lead to a feeling of disgust.

Or you could simply look at your end of the portfolio year bottom line. Unless you put it all into the NASDAQ 100 (NDX) or the ProShares QQQ (NASDAQ:QQQ), which had no choice but to have positions in those big gainers, it wasn’t a very good year.

You don’t have to scratch very deeply beneath the surface to already have a sense of disgust about the way 2016 has gotten off to its start.

There are no shortage of people pointing out that this first week of 2016 was the worst start ever to a new year.

Ever.

That’s much more meaningful than saying that this is the worst start since 2019.

A nearly 7% decline in the first week of trading doesn’t necessarily mean that 2016 won’t be a good one for investors, but it is a big hole from which to have to emerge.

Of course a 7% decline for the week would look wonderful when compared to the situation in Shanghai, when a 7% loss was incurred to 2 different days during the week, as trading curbs were placed, markets closed and then trading curbs eliminated.

If you venture back to the June through August 2015 period, you might recall that our own correction during the latter portion of that period was preceded by two meltdowns in Shanghai that ultimately saw the Chinese government enact a number of policies to abridge the very essence of free markets. Of course, the implicit threat of the death penalty for those who may have knowingly contributed to that meltdown may have set the path for a relative period of calm until this past week when some of those policies and trading restrictions were lifted.

At the time China first attempted to control its markets, I believed that it would take a very short time for the debacle to resume, but these days, the 5 months since then are the equivalent of an eternity.

While China is again facing a crisis, the United States is back to the uncomfortable position of being the dog that is getting wagged by the tail.

US markets actually resisted the June 2015 initial plunge in China, but by the time the second of those plunges occurred in August, there was no further resistance.

For the most part the two markets have been in lock step since then.

Interestingly, when the US market had its August 2015 correction, falling from the S&P 500 2102 level, it had been flat on the year up to that point. Technicians will probably point to the fact that the market then rallied all the way back to 2102 by December 1, 2015 and that it has been nothing but a series of lower highs and lower lows since then, culminating in this week.

The decline from the recent S&P 500 peak at 2102 to 1922 downhill since then is its own 8.5%, putting us easily within a day’s worth of bad performance of another correction.

Having gone years without a traditional 10% correction, we’re now on the doorstep of the second such correction in 5 months.

While it would be easy to thank China for helping our slide, this past week was another of those perfect storms of international bad news ranging from Saudi-Iran conflict, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the further declining price of oil, even in the face of Saudi-Iran conflict.

Personally, I think the real kiss of death was news that 2015 saw near term record inflows into mutual funds and that the past 2 months were especially strong.

I’ve never been particularly good at timing, but there may be reason to believe that at the very least those putting their money into mutual funds aren’t very good at it either.

If I still had a shred of optimism left, I might say that the flow into mutual funds might reflect more and more people back in the workforce and contributing to workplace 401k plans.

If that’s true, I’m sure those participants would agree with me that it’s not a very happy start to the year. For those attributing end of the year weakness to the “January Effect” and anticipating some buying at bargain prices to drive stocks higher, that theory may have had yet another nail placed in its coffin.

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

2015 turned out to be my least active year for opening new positions since I’ve been keeping close track. Unfortunately, of those 107 new positions, 29 are still open and 15 of those are non-performing, as they await some opportunity to sell meaningful calls against them.

If you would have told me a year ago that I would not have rushed into to pick up bargains in the face of a precipitous 7% decline, I would have thought you to be insane.

While I did add one position last week, the past 2 months or so have been very tentative with regard to my willingness to ease the grip on cash and for the moment there’s not too much reason to suspect that 2016 will be more active than 2015.

With that said, though, volatility is now at a level that makes a little risk taking somewhat less of a risk.

While volatility has now come back to its October 2015 level, it is still far from its very brief peak in August 2015, despite the recent decline being almost at the same level as the decline seen in August.

Of course that 2% difference in those declines, could easily account for another 10 or so points of volatility. Even then, we would be quite a distance from the peak reached in 2011, when the market started a mid-year decline that saw it finish flat for the year.

The strategy frequently followed during periods of high volatility is to considering rolling over positions even if they are otherwise destined for assignment.

The reason for that is because the increasing uncertainty extends into forward weeks and drives those premiums relatively higher than the current week’s expiring premiums. During periods of low volatility, the further out in time you go to sell a contract, the lower the marginal increase in premium, as a reflection of less uncertainty.

For me, that is an ideal time and the short term outlook taken during a period of accelerating share prices is replaced by a longer term outlook and accumulation of greater premium and less active pursuit of new positions.

The old saying “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” has some applicability following last weeks broad and sharp declines. If you have free cash, everything looks like a bargain.

While no one can predict that prices will continue to go lower as they do during the days after the Christmas shopping season, I’m in no rush to run out and pay today’s prices because of a fear that inventory at those prices will be depleted.

The one position that I did open last week was Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and for a brief few hours it looked like a good decision as shares moved higher from its Monday lows when I made the purchase, even as the market went lower.

That didn’t last too long, though, as those shares ultimately were even weaker than the S&P 500 for the week.

While I already own 2 lots of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), the declines in the financial sector seem extraordinarily overdone, even as the decline in the broader market may still have some more downside.

As is typically the case, that uncertainty brings an enhanced premium.

In Bank of America’s case, the premium for selling a near the money weekly option has been in the 1.1% vicinity of late. However, in the coming week, the ROI, including the potential for share appreciation is an unusually high 3.3%, as the $15.50 strike level offers a $0.19 premium, even as shares closed at $15.19.

With earnings coming up the following week, if those shares are not assigned, I would consider rolling those contracts over to January 29, 2016 or later.

At this point, most everyone expects that Blackstone (NYSE:BX) will have to slash its dividend. As a publicly traded company, it started its life as an over-hyped IPO and then a prolonged disappointment to those who rushed into buy shares in the after-market.

However, up until mid-year in 2015, it had been on a 3 year climb higher and has been a consistently good consideration for a buy/write strategy, if you didn’t mind chasing its price higher.

I generally don’t like to do that, so have only owned it on 3 occasions during that time period.

Since having gone public its dividend has been a consistently moving target, reflecting its operating fortunes. With it’s next ex-dividend date as yet unannounced, but expected sometime in early February, it reports earnings on January 28, 2015.

That presents considerable uncertainty and risk if considering a position. I don’t believe, however, that the announcement of a decreased dividend will be an adverse event, as it is both expected and has been part of the company’s history. WHat will likely be more germane is the health of its operating units and the degree of leverage to which Blackstone is exposed.

If willing to accept the risk, the premium reward can be significant, even if attenuating the risk by either selling deep in the money calls or selling equally out of the money put contracts.

I’m already deep under water with Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY), but after what had been characterized as disappointing earnings last week, it actually traded fairly well, despite the overall tone of the market.

It is now trading near a multi-year low and befitting that uncertainty it’s option premiums are extraordinarily generous, despite having a low beta,

As is often the case during periods of heightened volatility, consideration can be given to the sale of puts options rather than executing a buy/write.

However, given its declines, I would be inclined to consider the buy/write approach and utilize an out of the money option in the hopes of accumulating share appreciation and dividend.

If selling puts, I would sell an out of the money put and settle for a lower ROI in return for perhaps being able to sleep more soundly at night.

During downturns, I like to place some additional focus on dividends, but there aren’t very many good prospects in the coming week.

One ex-dividend position that does get my attention is AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV).

As it is, I’m under-invested in the healthcare sector and AbbVie is currently trading right at one support level and has some additional support below that, before being in jeopardy of approaching $46.50, a level to which it gapped down and then gapped higher.

It has a $0.57 dividend, which means that it is greater than the units in which its strike levels are defined. While earnings aren’t due to be reported until the end of the month, its premium is more robust than is usually the case and you can even consider selling a deep in the money call in an effort to see the shares assigned early. For what would amount to a 2 day holding, doing so could result in a 1.2% ROI, based upon Friday’s closing prices and a $55 strike level.

Finally, retail was especially dichotomous last week as there were some very strong days even during overall market weakness and then some very weak days, as well.

For those with a strong stomach, Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) is well off from its recent lows, but it did get hit hard on Friday, along with the retail sector and everything else.

As with AbbVie, the risk is that while shares are now resting at a support level, the next level below represents an area where there was a gap higher, so there is really no place to rest on the way down to $20.

The approach that I would consider for an Abercrombie and Fitch position to sell out of the money puts, where even a 6% decline in share price could still provide a return in excess of 1% for the week.

When selling puts, however, I generally like to avoid or delay assignment, if possible, so it is helpful to be able to watch the position in the event that a rollover is necessary if shares do fall 6% or more as the contract is running out.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of America, Bed Bath and Beyond

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Blackstone

Double-Dip Dividend: AbbVie (1/13 $0.57)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – November 29, 2015

We used to believe that the reason people so consistently commented about how tired they were after a big Thanksgiving meal was related to the turkey itself.

Within that turkey it was said that an abundance of the basic amino acid,”tryptophan,” which is a precursor of “serotonin”  played a role in its unique ability to induce sleep.

More reasoned people believe that there is nothing special about turkey itself, in that it has no more tryptophan than any other meat and that simply eating without abandon may really explain the drowsiness so commonly experienced. Others also realize that tryptophan, when part of a melange of other amino acids, really doesn’t stand out of the crowd and exert its presence.

Then there’s the issue of serotonin itself, a naturally produced neurotransmitter, which is still not fully understood and can both energize and exhaust, in what is sometimes referred to as “the paradox of serotonin.”

From what is known about serotonin, if dietary tryptophan could exert some pharmacological influence by simply eating turkey, we would actually expect to find reports of people who got wired from their Thanksgiving meals instead of sedated.

Based upon my Thanksgiving guests this year, many of whom found the energy to go out shopping on Thursday and Friday nights, they were better proof of the notion that Black Fridays matter, rather than of the somnolent properties of turkey.

In the case of the relationship between the tryptophan in turkey and ensuing sleep, it may just be a question of taking disparate bits of information, each of which may have some validity and then stringing them together in the belief that their individual validity can be additive in nature.

Truth doesn’t always follow logic.

Another semi-myth is that when traders are off dozing or lounging in their recliners instead of trading, the likelihood of large market moves is enhanced in a volume depleted environment.

You definitely wouldn’t have known it by the market’s performance during this past week, as Friday’s trading session began the day with the S&P 500 exactly unchanged for the week and didn’t succeed in moving the needle as the week came to its end.

Other than the dueling stories of NATO ally Turkey and stuffing ally turkey, there wasn’t much this week to keep traders awake. The former could have sent the market reeling, but anticipation of the latter may have created a calming influence.

You couldn’t be blamed for buying into the tryptophan myth and wondering if everyone had started their turkey celebration days before the calendar warranted doing so.

Or maybe traders are just getting tired of the aimless back and forth that has us virtually unchanged on the DJIA for 2015 and up only 1.5% on the S&P 500 for the year.

Tryptophan or no tryptophan, treading water for a year can also tire you out.

The week started off with the news of China doubling its margin requirements and an agreement on a $160 Billion tax inversion motivated merger, yet the reaction to those news items was muted.

The same held for Friday’s 5.5% loss in Shanghai that barely raised an eyebrow once trading got underway in the United States, as drowsiness may have given way to hibernation.

Even the revised GDP, which indicated a stronger than expected growth rate, failed to really inflate or deflate. There was, however, a short lived initial reaction which was a repudiation of the recent seeming acceptance of an impending interest rate hike. For about an hour markets actually moved outside of their very tight range for the week until coming to its senses about the meaning of economic growth.

Next week there could be an awakening as the Employment Situation Report is released just days before the FOMC begins their December meeting which culminates with a Janet Yellen press conference.

Other than the blip in October’s Employment Situation Report, the predominance of data since seems to support the notion of an improving economy and perhaps one that the FOMC believes warrants the first interest rate hike in almost 10 years.

With traders again appearing to be ready to accept such an increase it’s not too likely that a strong showing will scare anyone away and may instead be cause for a renewed round of optimism.

On the other hand, a disappointing number could send most into a tizzy, as uncertainty is rarely the friend of traders and any action by the FOMC in the face of non-corroborating data wouldn’t do much to inspire confidence in anything or any institution.

For my part, I wouldn’t mind giving the tryptophan the benefit of the doubt and diving deeply into those turkey leftovers with express instructions to be woken up only once 2016 finally arrives.

Knowing that flat years, such as this one has been to date, are generally followed by reasonably robust years, overloading on the tryptophan now may be a good strategy to avoid more market indecision and avoid the wasteful use of energy that could be so much better spent in 2016.

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

A number of potential selections this week fall into the “repeat” category.

Unlike a bad case of post-Thanksgiving indigestion, the kind of repeating that occasionally takes place when selling covered calls, is actually an enjoyable condition and is more likely to result in a look of happiness instead of one of gastric distress.

This week I’m again thinking of buying Bank of America (BAC), Best Buy (BBY), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Pfizer (PFE), all of which I’ve recently owned and lost to assignment.

Sometimes that has been the case on multiple occasions over the course of just a few weeks. Where the real happiness creeps in is when you can buy those shares back and do so at a lower price than at which they were assigned.

With the S&P 500 only about 2% below its all time high, I would welcome some weakness to start the week in hopes of being able to pick up any of those 4 stocks at lower prices. My anticipation is that Friday’s Employment Situation Report will set off some buying to end the week, so I’d especially like to get the opportunity to make trades early in the week.

Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, of course, stand to benefit from increasing interest rates, although I suppose that some can make the case that when the news of an interest rate increase finally arrives, it will signal a time to sell.

If you believe in the axiom of “buying on the rumor and selling on the news,” it’s hard to argue with that notion, but I believe that the financials have so well tracked interest rates, that they will continue doing so even as the rumor becomes stale news.

As an added bonus, Bank of America is ex-dividend this week, although it’s dividend is modest by any standard and isn’t the sort that I would chase after.

Both, however, may have some short upside potential and have option premiums that are somewhat higher than they have been through much of 2015.

While both are attractive possibilities in the coming week or weeks, if forced to consider only one of the two, I would forgo Bank of America’s added bonus and focus on Morgan Stanley, as it has recovered from its recent earnings related drop, but now may be getting ready to confront its even larger August decline.

Bank of America, on the other hand, is not too far from its 2015 high point, but still can be a good short term play, perhaps even being a recurrent one over the next few weeks.

Also ex-dividend this week are two retailers, Wal-Mart (WMT) and Coach (COH) and together with Best Buy (BBY) and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) are my retail focus, as I expect this year to be like most others, as the holiday season begins and ends.

While Coach may have lost some of its cachet, it’s still no Wal-Mart in that regard.

Coach has struggled to return to its April 2015 levels, although it may finally be stabilizing and recent earnings have suggested that its uncharacteristically poor execution on strategy may be coming to an end.

With a very attractive dividend and an option premium that continues to reflect some uncertainty, I wouldn’t mind finding some company for a much more expensive lot of shares that I’ve been holding for quite some time. With the ex-dividend date this week, the stars may be aligned to do so now.

I bought some Wal-Mart shares a few weeks ago after a disastrous day in which it sustained its largest daily loss ever, following the shocking revelation that increasing employee wages was going to cost the company some money.

The only real surprise on that day was that apparently no one bothered doing the very simple math when Wal-Mart first announced that it was raising wages for US employees. They provided a fixed amount for that raise and the number of employees eligible for that increase was widely known, but basic mathematical operations were out of reach to analysts, leading to their subsequent shock some months later.

Wal-Mart shares will be getting ready to begin the week slightly higher than where I purchased my most recent shares. I don’t very often add additional lots at higher prices, but the continuing gap between the current price and where it had unexpectedly plunged from offers some continued opportunity.

As with Coach, in advance of an ex-dividend date may be a fortuitous time to open a position, particularly as the option premium and dividend are both attractive, as are the shares themselves.

Neither Best Buy nor Bed Bath and Beyond are ex-dividend this week, although Best Buy will be so the following week.

That may give reason to consider selling an extended option if purchasing Best Buy shares, but it could also give some reason to sell weekly options, but to consider rolling those over if assignment is likely.

In doing so, one strategy might be to select a rollover date perhaps two weeks away and still in the money. In that manner, there may still be reason for the holder of the option contract to exercise early in order to capture the dividend, but as the seller you would receive a relatively larger premium that could offset the loss of the dividend while at the same time freeing up the cash tied up in shares of Best Buy in order to be able to put it to use in some other income producing position.

Bed Bath and Beyond is a company that I frequently consider buying and would probably have done much more frequently, if only it had offered a dividend or consistently offered weekly options for sale and purchase.

It still doesn’t offer a dividend, but sitting near a 2 year low and never being in one of their stores without lots of company at the cash register, the shares really have their appeal during the holiday season.

Finally, even with an emphasis on financials and retail, Pfizer (PFE) continues to warrant a look.

Having purchased shares last week and having seen them assigned, there’s not too much reason to believe that their planned merger with Ireland based Allergan (AGN), is going to be resolved any time soon.

While we wait for that process to play itself out, there may be fits and starts. There will clearly be opposition to the merger, as attention will focus on many issues, but none as controversial as the tax avoidance that may be a primary motivator for the transaction.

If the news for Pfizer eventually turns out to be negative and an immovable roadblock is placed, I don’t think that very much of Pfizer’s current price reflects the deal going to its anticipated completion.

With that in mind, the upside potential may be greater than the downside potential. As long as the option premiums are reflected any increased risk, this can be an especially lucrative trade the longer the process gets stretched out, particularly if Pfizer trades in a defined range and the position can be serially rolled over or purchased anew.

Traditional Stocks:  Bed Bath and Beyond, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks:  Best Buy

Double-Dip Dividend: Bank of America (12/2 $0.05), Coach (12/2 $0.34), Wal-Mart (12/2 $0.49)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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

Weekend Update – September 20, 2015

This past Monday, prior to the market’s opening, I posted the following for Option to Profit subscribers:

“In all likelihood, at this point there are only two things that would make the market take any news badly.

The first is if no interest rate increase is announced.

Markets seem to have finally matured enough to understand that a rate hike is only a reflection of all of the good and future good things that are developing in our economy and are ready to move on instead of being paralyzed with fear that a rate hike would choke off anemic growth.

The second thing, though, is the very unlikely event of a rate hike larger than has been widely expected. That means a 0.5% hike, or even worse, a full 1% hike.

That would likely be met with crazed selling.”

Based on the way the market was trading this week as we were awaiting the FOMC Statement which was very widely expected to announce an interest rate increase, you would have been proud.

The proudness would have arisen as it seemed that the market was finally at peace with the idea that a small interest rate increase, the first in 9 years, wouldn’t be bad news, at all.

Finally, it seemed as if the market was developing some kind of a more mature outlook on things, coming to the realization that an interest rate hike was a reflection of a growing and healthy economy and was something that should be celebrated.

It always seemed somewhat ironic to me that the investing class, perhaps those most likely to endorse the concept of teaching a man how to fish rather than simply giving a handout, would be so aghast at the possibility of a cessation of a zero interest rate policy (“ZIRP”), which may have been tantamount to a handout.

The realization that ours was likely the best and most fundamentally sound economy in the world may have also been at the root of our recent disassociation from adverse market events in China.

So while the week opened with more significant weakness in China, our own markets began to trade as if they were now ready to welcome an interest rate increase and seeing it for what it really reflected.

All was well and in celebration mode as we awaited the news on Thursday.

As the news was being awaited, I saw the following Tweet. 

I don’t follow many people on Twitter, but Todd Harrison, the founder of Minyanville is one of those rare combinations of humility, great personal and professional successes, who should be followed.

I have an autographed copy of his book “The Other Side of Wall Street,” whose full title really says it all and is a very worthwhile read.

Like the beer pitchman, Todd Harrison doesn’t Tweet much, but when he does, it’s worth reading, considering and placing somewhere in your memory banks.

Many people in their Twitter profiles have a disclaimer that when they re-Tweet something it isn’t necessarily an endorsement.

When I re-Tweet something, it is always a reflection of agreement. There’s no passive – aggressiveness involved in the re-Tweet by saying “I endorse the re-Tweeting of this, but I don’t necessarily endorse its content.”

I believed, as Todd Harrison did, some 4 minutes before the FOMC statement release, that the knee jerk reaction to the FOMC decision wasn’t the one to follow.

But a funny thing happened, but not in a funny sort of way.

For a short while that knee jerk reaction would have been the right response to what should have been correctly viewed as disappointment.

What was wrong was a reversion back to a market wanting and believing that it was given another extension of the ZIRP handout. That took a market that had given up all of its substantial gains and made another reversal, this time going beyond the day’s previous gains.

With past history as a guide, going back to Janet Yellen’s predecessor, who introduced the phenomenon of the Federal Reserve Chairman’s Press Conference, the market kept going higher during the prepared statement portion of the conference and continued even higher as some clarification was sought on what was meant by “global concerns.”

Of course, everyone knew that meant China, although one has to wonder whether those global concerns also included the opinions held and expressed by Christine Legarde of the International Monetary Fund and others, who believe that it would be wrong for the FOMC to introduce an interest rate increase in 2015.

While some then began to wonder whether “global concerns” meant that the Federal Reserve was taking on a third mandate, it all turned suddenly downward.

With the exception of a very early Yellen press conference when she mischaracterized the FOMC’s time frame on rate increases and the market took a subsequent tumble, normally, Yellen’s dovish and dulcet tones are like a tonic for whatever may have been ailing the market/ This week, however, the juxtaposition of dovish and hawkish sentiments from the FOMC Statement, the subsequent press conference prepared statement and questions and answers may have been confusing enough to send traders back to their new found friend.

Logic.

Perhaps it was Yellen’s response that she couldn’t give a recipe to define what would cause the FOMC to act or perhaps it was the suggestion that the FOMC needn’t wait until their next meeting to act that sent markets sharply lower as they craved some certainty.

Or maybe it was a sudden realization that if markets had gone higher on the anticipation of a rate increase, logic would dictate that it go lower if no increase was forthcoming.

And so the initial response to the FOMC decision was the right response as the market may have shown earlier in the week that it was finally beginning to act in a mature fashion and was still capable of doing so as the winds shifted.

Perhaps the best question of that afternoon was one that pointed out an apparent inconsistency between expectations for full employment in the coming years, yet also expectations for inflation remaining below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

Good question.

Her answer “If our understanding of the inflation process is correct……we will see further upward pressure on inflation, may have represented a very big “if” to some and may have deflated confidence at the same time as a re-awakening was taking place that suggested that perhaps the economy wasn’t growing as strongly as had been hoped to support continued upward movement in the market.

That’s the downside to focusing on fundamentals.

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

As the market continues its uncertainty, even as it may be returning more to consideration of fundamentals, I continue to like the idea of going with some of the relative safety that may be found with dividends.

Last week I purchased more shares of General Electric (GE), hoping to capture both the dividend and the volatility enhanced premium. Those shares, however were assigned early, but having sold a 2 week option the ROI for the 3 days of holding reflected that additional time value and was a respectable 1.1%.

Even though I still hold some shares with an October 2, 2015 $25 expiration hanging over them, this week I find myself wanting to add shares of General Electric, once again, as was the case in each of the last two weeks.

Although there is no dividend in sight for another 3 months, the $25 neighborhood has been looking like a comfortable one in which to add shares as volatility has made the premiums more and more attractive and there may also be some short term upside to shares to help enhance the return.

A covered option strategy is at its best when the same stock can be used over and over again as a vehicle to generate premiums and dividends. For now, General Electric may be that stock.

Verizon (VZ) doesn’t have an upcoming dividend this week, but it will be offering one within the next 3 weeks. In addition to its recently increased dividend, the yield was especially enhanced by its sharp decline in share price at the end of the week as it gave some dour guidance for 2016.

There’s not too much doubt that the telecommunications landscape is changing rapidly, but if I had to put my confidence in any company within that smallest of sectors to survive the turmoil, it’s Verizon, as long as their debt load isn’t going to grow by a very unneeded and unwanted purchase of a pesky competitor that has been squeezing everyone’s margins.

I see Verizon’s pessimism as setting up an “under promise and over deliver” kind of scenario, as utilities typically find a way to thrive, but rarely want to shout up and down the streets about how great things are, lest people begin taking notice of how much they’re paying for someone else’s obscene profits.

Among those being considered that are going to be ex-dividend this week are Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and Green Mountain Keurig (GMCR).

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor and have a way to go to reach a breakeven on those shares which I purchased after its proposed buyout of another company fell through. I’ve held shares many times over the years and have become very accustomed to its significant and sizable moves, while somehow finding a way to return back to more normative pricing.

Following this past Friday’s decline its well below the $10 level that I’ve long liked for adding shares. With an ex-dividend date on Tuesday, if the trade is to be made, it will be likely done early in the week.

However, the other consideration is that Cypress Semiconductor is among the early earnings reporters and it will be reporting  on the day before its next option contract expires. For that reason, if considering a share purchase, I would probably look at a contract expiration beyond October, in the event of further price erosion.

Also going ex-dividend but not until Monday of the following week are Deere (DE) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

Like so many other stocks, they are badly beaten down and as a result are featuring an even more alluring dividend yield. However, their Monday ex-dividend date is something that can add to that allure, as any decision to exercise the option has to be made on the previous Saturday.

That presents opportunity to look at strategies that might seek to encourage early assignment through the sale of in the money call options utilizing expanded weekly options.

While Caterpillar (CAT) and others are feeling the pain of China’s economic slowdown, that’s not the case for Deere, but as is often the case, there are sympathy pains that become all too real.

Dow Chemical, on the other hand has continued to suffer from the belief that its fortunes are closely tied to oil prices. It;s CEO refuted that barely 9 months ago and subsequent earnings reports have borne out his contention, yet Dow Chemical continues to suffer as oil prices move lower.

If looking for a respite from dividends, both Bank of America (BAC) and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) may be worth a look this week.

The financial sector was hard hit the past few days and Bank of America was additionally in the spotlight regarding the issue of whether its CEO should also hold the Chairman’s title.

As with Jamie Dimon before him who successfully faced the same shareholder issue and retained both designations, no one is complaining about the performance of Brian Moynihan.

Even as I sit on some more expensive shares that have options sold on them expiring in two weeks, I have no reason to complain.

Following a second consecutive day of large declines, Bank of America is trading near its support that has seemed to hold up well under previous assault attempts. As with other stocks that have suffered large declines, there is greater ability to attempt to capitalize on price gains without giving up much in the way of option premiums.

Bed Bath and Beyond reports earnings this week and has seen its price in steady decline for the past 4 months. Unlike others that have had a more precipitous decline as they’ve approached the pleasure of a 20% decline, Bed Bath and Beyond has done it in a gradual style.

While those intermediate points along the drop down may represent some resistance on the way back up, that climb higher is made easier when the preceding decline wasn’t vertical.

When considering an earnings related trade I usually look for a weekly return of 1% or greater by selling put options at a strike price that’s below the bottom range implied by the option market. The preference is that the strike price that provides that return be well below that lower boundary, The lower, the better the safety cushion.

For Bed Bath and Beyond the implied move is about 6.3%, but there is no safety cushion below a $56.50 strike level to yield that 1% return. Therefore, instead of selling puts before earnings, I would consider, as has been the predominant strategy of the past two months, of considering the sale of puts after earnings are announced, but only if there is a significant price decline.

Finally, Green Mountain Keurig is going ex-dividend this coming week, but it hardly qualifies as being among the relatively safe universe of stocks that I would prefer owning right now.

I usually like to think about opening a position in Green Mountain Keurig through the  sale of puts. However, with the ex-dividend date this week that would be like subsidizing someone who was selling those puts for the dividend related price decline.

Other than the dividend, there’s is little that I could say to justify a long term position on Green Mountain and even have a hard time justifying a short term position.

However, Green Mountain’s ex-dividend day is on Friday and expanded weekly options are available.

I would consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of deep in the money expanded weekly calls in an attempt to see those shares assigned early.

As an example, with Green Mountain closing at $56.74 on Friday, the October 2, 2015 $54.50 call option would have delivered a premium of $3.08.

For a rational option buyer to consider early exercise on Thursday, the price of shares would have to be above $54.79 and likely even higher than that, due to the inherent risk associated with owning shares, even if only for minutes on Friday morning after taking their possession.

However, if assigned early, there would be a 1.5% ROI for the 4 days of holding even if the shares fell somewhat less than 3.4%.

Their coffee and their prospects for continued marketplace success may both be insipid, but I do like the tortured logic and odds of the dividend related trade as we look ahead to a week where logic seeks to re-assert itself.

 

Traditional Stock: General Electric, Verizon

Momentum Stock: Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Cypress Semiconductor (9/22), Deere (9/28), Dow Chemical (9/28), Green Mountain Keurig (9/25)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Bed Bath and Beyond (9/24 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 – April 19, 2015

When I was a kid just about the funniest word any of us had ever heard was “fink.” Way back then that was pretty much the way Mad Magazine felt too, as it used that word with great regularity.

I was stunned the very first time I actually met someone whose last name was “Fink,” but that came only after some giggles. I think the only thing funnier was when I met Morris Lipschitz.

Sadly, I thought that was funny even though it was after college, as it reminded me of the prank phone calls we used to make as kids.

I think “fink” has since fallen out of common parlance. Back then hearing the word “Fink” word evoked the same reactions as today’s kids may experience when hearing a sentence such as “but I do do what you tell me to do.”

I don’t think that’s very funny after the first 20 or so times, but I’ve gained a certain level of maturity over the years.

I don’t know very much with any degree of certainty, but I do know that I’m never likely to meet Larry Fink, the CEO and Chairman of BlackRock (NYSE:BLK).

With more than $4 trillion under management people at least give the courtesy of listening when Larry Fink speaks, even if they may not agree with the message or the opinion. The only giggles that he may get are when people may feel the need to laugh when they’re not certain if he’s joking.

This week, he wasn’t joking, although there were certainly some, at whom his message was directed, that won’t take it seriously or to heart.

I never really thought about Larry Fink very much until this week whenhe said something that needed to be said.

While investors seem to love buybacks and dividend hikes Fink politely said that CEOs were being “too nice to shareholders.”

The most conventional interpretation is that buybacks and dividends may be coming at the expense of future growth, research and investment in the business. It also calls into question whether you really need a CEO and a board to do any long range strategic planning if companies are going to become something on the order of a REIT and just return earnings to shareholders in one form or another while effectively mortgaging the future.

Of course, that also calls into question the role or responsibility of activists, who now take great pains to distinguish themselves from what used to be called corporate raiders back in the days when I thought the very mention of Lipschitz was hilarious.

They may be more genteel in their ways and they may stick around longer, but so do buzzards as long as there’s still something left on the carcass.

What Fink didn’t directly say was that CEOs and their Board of Directors were being far too nice to themselves at the expense of the future health of their company. Their paydays, both direct and indirect, benefit far more from short term strategies than do shareholders, especially those who are truly investors and not traders.

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric (NYSE:GE) which has certainly been in the news lately for its own buybacks, may, in hindsight begin to seem like an Emperor without much of a wardrobe. The haze from hot air may have obscured the view, but to his never ending credit, Welch has long criticized incompetent board directors and the roles they may play in the diminution of once great American companies.

Sooner or later the cash needed for buybacks is going to start to dry up, especially when the predominant buying of shares may be at price far removed from bargain share prices.

What then?

It’s difficult to argue that fundamentals have been altered through intervention in the form of buybacks, but that fuel may have peaked with the recent General Electric announcement. It’s hard to imagine, but we may soon get to that point that quarter to quarter comparisons will actually have to depend on real earnings and not simply benefiting from having fewer and fewer shares in the float from one quarter to the next.

The prevailing question, at least in my mind, is where will the next real catalyst come from to drive markets higher. As currency exchange issues have been making themselves tangible as earnings are forthcoming, the impact has, thus far been minimal as we’ve been expecting the drag on earnings.

Prior to Friday’s sell off, the limited earnings reports received where currency was a detrimental factor in earnings and forward guidance was greeted positively, as the news wasn’t as bad as expected.

Fortunately, the market reacted to the expected bad news in a more mature manner than I’ve been known to react to names.

But going higher on less disappointing than expected results is not a good strategy to keep banking on. There has to be something more tangible than things not being as bad as we thought, especially as energy prices may be stabilizing and interest rates moving higher.

Larry Fink has the perfect solution, although it’s a little old fashioned.

Invest in yourself.

That’s sound advice for individuals, just as it is for businesses that care about growth and prosperity.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) has not had a very good ride since Costco (NASDAQ:COST) announced that it was terminating its co-branding agreement with them, that allowed it to be the exclusive card accepted at its shopping warehouses. While that may not have been a huge surprise, what was a surprise was just how important of a player Costco may have been in American Express revenues. As a result, those shares have fallen more than 10% in the 2 months since the announcement of the split, which will occur in the first quarter of 2016.

American Express reported earnings this past week and dropped heavily on Friday, having done so before the overall market turned very sour. But buried in the bad news of decreased revenue, that supposedly stemmed from decreased gas sales, was the fact that they don’t anticipate further revenue declines this year.

Based on my perception of recent degradation in customer service, I think that they may have already become cost cutting through workforce reductions prior to the end of their agreement with Costco. SO while revenue may not be growing any time in 2015, the bottom line may end up better than expected.

While there may not be much in the way of growth prospects this year a rising interest rate environment will still help American Express and it is now offering a better option premium than it has in quite some time as uncertainty has taken hold.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) both report earnings this week and both will likely report the adverse impact of a stronger US dollar and provide guarded guidance, but if the past week is any guide the market will be understanding.

Despite the bump received from their new CEO and the bump received from having an activist pushing eBay’s Board’s buttons, Microsoft and eBay respectively have trailed the S&P 500 over the past year.

Microsoft still hasn’t recovered from its last earnings decline, although eBay has, but in the past month has been making its way back toward those near term lows as it may be getting closer to spinning off its profitable PayPal unit having just completed a 5 year non-compete contract with PayPal.

As eBay approaches that lower price level it has returned within the range that I’m comfortable buying shares. While I usually consider the sale of puts as the primary way to engage with a stock getting ready to report earnings, I wouldn’t mind owning shares and the enhanced premium offsets some of the added risk of entering a position at this point.

As with eBay, I prefer considering an earnings related trade when shares have already had some downside pressure on shares. While eBay is a better candidate in that regard, Microsoft also has a premium that will also offset some of the earnings related risk. Like eBay, the options market is anticipating a relatively sedate price move, that if correct in magnitude, even if an adverse direction, could be relatively easily managed while awaiting some recovery.

Colgate (NYSE:CL) goes ex-dividend this week and I continually tell myself that I will be someday be buying shares. As a one time Pediatric Dentist it’s probably the least I could do after a lifetime of being the fifth out of those 5 dentists on the panel. But somehow that’s never happened, to the best of my recollection.

While it does have a low beta and isn’t necessarily shares that you buy in anticipation of excitement, if those shares are not assigned during the upcoming week, there is a need to be prepared for earnings the following week and potentially the need for a longer term commitment if earnings disappoint.

I like considering Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) whenever its shares have gotten to the point of having declined 10%. It has done just that and a little bit more in the past month and does it on a fairly regular basis. But in doing so over the past 14 months the lows have been higher as have the highs along the way.

That has been a good formula for considering either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts. In either case the premium has long reflected the risk, but the risk appears to be definable and at lest there aren’t too many currency exchange concerns to cloud whatever issues Best Buy faces as it is currently once again relevant.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) was on my list last week as a potential candidate to join the portfolio. However, with cash reserves low, it wasn’t a very active week, with only a single new position opened.

This week, despite the sell-off on Friday, I had the good fortune of still being able to see a number of positions get assigned and was able to replenish cash reserves. With a 2.5% decline last week, considerably worse than the S&P 500, Bed Bath and Beyond added to its post-earnings losses from the previous week, as it often does after previous earnings declines. But what it also has done after those declines is to relatively quickly recover.

I think the weakness this week brings us simply one week closer to recovery and while waiting for that recovery the shares do allow you to generate a competitive return for option sales. Because of that anticipated recovery, I might consider using an out of the money option and a time frame longer than a single week, however, particularly as Friday’s market weakness may need its own time for recovery.

Finally, SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) didn’t disappoint when it announced its earnings this past week. It was certainly in line with all of the warnings that it had given over the past month and may make many wonder whether or not they may be Jack Welch’s new poster child for dysfunction at the C-suite and board levels.

With everyone seeming to pile on in their criticism of the company and calling for even more downward price pressure, I’m reminded that SanDisk has been down this path before and arose for the ashes that others had defined for it.

The year to date descent in share price has been impressive and it is only a matter of great luck that I had shares assigned right before another one of its precipitous plunges.

This one is definitely not one for the faint of heart, but I would consider entering a position through the sale of puts, rolling them over, if faced with assignment. However, with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I’d be more inclined to take assignment if faced with it, collect the dividend and work the call sale side of share ownership.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Bed Bath and Beyond

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate (4/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (4/22 PM), Microsoft (4/23 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 – April 12, 2015

This was one of those rare weeks where there wasn’t really any kind of theme to guide or move markets.

The week started with some nervousness about where the opening would take us after the previous Friday’s very disappointing Employment Situation Report statistics. On that day some were obliged to even suggest that it was a conspiracy that the report was released on Good Friday, as the markets were conveniently closed for what was supposedly known in advance to be a report that would have otherwise sent markets tumbling.

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

That was as rational an outlook as was the response of the futures and bond markets trading, as they remained opened for holiday abbreviated sessions. Futures did go tumbling and interest rates plunged, leaving a gap for markets to deal with 3 days later.

But by then, after the mandatory initial response to those S&P 500 levels as the market opened, rational thought returned and the market had a very impressive turnaround beginning within minutes of the open.

Some brave souls may have remembered the market’s out-sized response to the previous month’s extraordinarily strong Employment Situation Report data that took the market down for the month to follow, only to see revisions to the data a month later. The 3 days off may have given them enough presence of mind to wonder whether the same outlandish response was really justified again.

One thing that the initial futures response did show us is that the market may be poised to be at risk regardless of what news is coming our way. One month the market views too many jobs as being extremely negative and the next month it views too few jobs as being just as negative.

Somewhere right in the middle may be the real sweet spot that represents the “No News is Good News” sentiment that may be the only safe place to be.

That is the true essence of a Goldilocks stock market, no matter what the accepted definition may be. It is a market where only the mediocre may be without risk. However, the question of whether mediocrity will be enough to continue to propel markets to new heights is usually easily answered.

It isn’t.

After a while warm porridge loses its appeal and something is needed to spice things up to keep Goldilocks returning. U.S. traded stocks have plenty of asset class competition in the event that they become mediocre or unpredictable.

The coming week may be just the thing to make or break the current malaise, that despite having the S&P 500 within about 0.7% of its all time high from just a month ago, is only 2.1% higher for 2015.

Granted that on an annualized basis that would bill respectable, but if the 2015 pattern of alternating monthly advances and declines continues we would end the year far from that annualized rate.

The catalyst could be this new earnings season which begins in earnest next week as the big banks report and then in the weeks to follow. Where the catalyst may arise is from our lowered expectations encountering a better reality than anticipated, as we’ve come to be prepared for some degree of lowered earnings due to currency considerations.

The real wild card will be the balance between currency losses and lower input costs from declining energy prices, as well as the impact, if any from currency hedges that may have been created. Much like the hedging of oil that some airlines were able to successfully implement before it became apparent how prescient that strategy would be, there may be some real currency winners, at least in relative terms.

I actually don’t really remember how the story of Goldilocks ended, but I think there were lots of variations to the story,depending on whether parents wanted to soothe or scare.

The real lesson is that you have to be prepared for either possibility.

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

WIth General Electric (NYSE:GE) getting most everyone’s attention this past Friday morning with plans to divest itself of most of its non-industrial assets, that may leave us with one fewer “systemically important” financial institution.

Too bad, for MetLife (NYSE:MET), which might find it would be less miserable with that proposed assignment if it had more company. It’s easy to understand why financial institutions would want to rid themselves of the yoke they perceive, however, it may be difficult to imagine how MetLife’s desire to avoid that designation can become reality. That is unless the battle goes a very long distance, which in turn could jeopardize a good deal of whatever confidence exists over the restraints that are intended to prevent another financial meltdown.

I believe that the eventuality of those restraints and capital requirements impacting MetLife’s assets is already factored into its share price. If so, MetLife is simply just a proxy for the direction of interest rates, which continue to be volatile as there is still uncertainty over when the eventual interest rate increases will be coming from the FOMC.

While waiting for that to happen MetLife has been trading in a fairly tight range and offering an attractive option premium and dividend. I’ve already owned shares on 3 occasions in 2015 and look forward to more opportunities while waiting to figure out if the economy is too hot or not hot enough or just right.

With the coming week being dominated by bank earnings, one that isn’t reporting until the following week is Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). Thus far 2015 hasn’t been especially kind to the money center banks, but it has held Morgan Stanley in particular low regard.

With its well respected CFO heading to warmer pastures it still has a fairly young CEO and lots of depth, with key people continually being exposed to different parts of the company, thereby lessening dependence on any one individual.

With earnings from other banks coming this week the option premiums on Morgan Stanley are a little higher than usual. However, since they report their own earnings before the market opens on Monday of the following week, it would be a good idea to attempt to rollover weekly contracts if not likely to be assigned or to simply sell extended weekly contracts to encompass the additionally enhanced premiums for both this week and the next

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is no stranger to significant earnings related price drops. It did so again last week and the options market correctly created the price range in which the stock price varied.

While Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to those kind of drops, it does tend to have another common characteristic in that it frequently recovers from those price drops fairly quickly. That’s one reason that when suggesting that consideration be given to selling puts on it last week prior to earnings, I suggested that if threatened with assignment I would rather accept that than to try and rollover the put contracts.

Now that the damage has been done I think it’s safe to come back and consider another look at its shares. If recent history holds true then a purchase could be considered with the idea of seeking some capital gains from shares in addition to the option premiums received for the call sales.

SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) reports earnings this week and has been on quite a wild ride of late. It has the rare distinction of scaring off investors on two occasions in advance of this week’s upcoming earnings. Despite an 11% price climb over the past week, it is still down nearly 20% in the past 2 weeks.

The option market is implying a relatively small 6.8% move in the coming week which is on the low side, perhaps in the belief that there can’t possibly be another shoe to be dropped.

Normally, when considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings I like to look for a strike price that’s outside of the range defined by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the week. However, that strike level is only 7.1% lower, which doesn’t provide too much of a safety cushion.

However, I would be very interested in the possibility of selling puts on SanDisk shares after earnings in the event of a sharp drop or prior to earnings in the event of significant price erosion before the event.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) also reports earnings this coming week and didn’t change its guidance or offer earnings warnings as it occasionally does in the weeks in advance of the release.

It actually had a nice report last quarter and initially went higher, although a few weeks later, without any tangible news, it nose-dived, along with some of its competitors.

What makes Fastenal interesting is that it is almost entirely US based and so will have very little currency risk. The risk, however, is that it is currently trading near its 2 year lows, so if considering an earnings related trade, I’m thinking of a buy/write and using a May 2015 expiration, to both provide some time to recover from any further decline and to also have a chance at collecting the dividend at the end of April.

With a much more expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) long awaiting an opportunity to sell some calls upon, I’m finally ready to consider adding more shares. The primary goal is to start whittling down some of the losses on those shares and Abercrombie is finally showing some signs of making a floor, at least until the next earnings report at the end of May.

With its dysfunction hopefully all behind it now with the departure of its past CEO it still has a long way to go to reclaim lost ground ceded to others in the fickle adolescent retail market. The reasonable price stability of the past month offers some reason to believe that the time to add shares or open a new position may have finally arrived. Alternatively, however, put sales may be considered, especially if shares open on a lower note to begin the week.

Finally, I don’t know why I keep buying The Gap (NYSE:GPS), except that it never really seems to go anywhere. It does have a decent dividend, but it’s premiums are nothing really spectacular.

What appeals to me about The Gap, however, is that it’s one of those few stocks that is continually under the microscope as it reports monthly sales statistics and as a result it regularly has some enhanced premiums and it tends to alternate rapidly between disappointing and upbeat same store sales.

All in all, that makes it a really good stock to consider for a covered option strategy. It’s especially nice to see a stock that does trade in a fairly tight range, even while it may have occasional hiccoughs that are fairly predictable as to when they will occur, just as their direction isn’t at all predictable.

The Gap reported those same store sales last week and this time they disappointed. That actually marked the second consecutive month of disappointment, which is somewhat unusual, but in having done so, it still hasn’t violated that comfortable range.

I already own some shares and in expectation of a better than expected report for the following month, my inclination is to add shares, but rather than write contracts expiring this week will look at those expiring on either May 8 or May 15, 2015, taking advantage of the added uncertainty coming along with the next scheduled same store sales report. In doing so I would likely think about using an out of the money strike, rather than a near the money strike in anticipation of finally getting some good news and getting back on track at The Gap.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Fastenal (4/14 AM), SanDisk (4/15 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 – April 5, 2015

It was a little odd having the Employment Situation Report released on a day that stock markets were closed yet bond markets and equity futures were trading on an abbreviated schedule.

It reminds me of the frustrations that I sometimes experience when being unable to react to news that moves a stock’s price after the market has closed on the Friday of option expiration. The option holder has the advantage of being able to exercise or not until nearly 90 minutes after the market has closed while as the seller of an option I can do nothing to respond to the news.

In trading circles that is something referred to as “a case of the blue calls.”

Not that I would know, but I would imagine that’s something like being in the old Times Square, before Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up and chased all of the adult entertainment away. Those glass walls between the patrons pumping quarters into the booth and the paid entertainment must have been frustrating for those watching events unfold but being incapable of taking appropriate action. That’s especially the case if knowing that a more genteel, moneyed and privileged clientele was in the back room and had less restricted access.

Or so I’ve heard. I believe that there was an expression describing that situation, as well.

While analysts are going to be spending time trying to find something good to say about the data released, the number of new jobs created was the smallest in more than a year and included downward revisions of the past 2 months. In fact, the 126,000 new jobs created in March was about half of what the consensus had been expecting. The 69,000 jobs downward revisions makes you wonder whether the decidedly negative reaction to what was perceived as a heating up jobs market previously was warranted.

The smaller than expected job creation number caused an immediate and large decline in interest rates and a meaningful decline in stock futures, although on very light volume.

Still, there was a net increase in jobs, and there is no specter of unmanageable and unruly lines queuing up as in scenes from 75 years ago. Yet we will begin trading on Monday on the far end of a 3 day vacuum having been unable to respond to the immediate reactions to Friday morning’s news.

After a few days to mull it over we may learn whether the disappointing employment news is ultimately interpreted as being good or bad for the stock market and more specifically for the likelihood of interest rates being increased sooner rather than later.

After all, lately that seems to be all that markets have cared about and the speculation has gone back and forth as the data has done the same.

As far as the Treasury market is concerned their bet is on lower interest rates after the Employment Situation Report was released and they’re said to be smarter than the average investor.

When rates go back up just as quickly, as they have volleyed back and forth over the past few weeks, we can remind ourselves that the back and forth of rates simply reflects how smart those bond traders really are.

One might think that any further decline in rates would be good for stocks particularly as an alternative to bonds, unless it is interpreted as being bad news that the tepid economic expansion was actually beginning a deceleration phase.

Couple that thought with the worry that the upcoming earnings season is going to highlight currency woes more than costs savings from lower energy and you do have the makings of continued uncertainty about where the next catalyst to move stocks higher will be coming from.

Normally, I like uncertainty, but unfortunately, the uncertainty that we’ve seen over the past few weeks as markets have regularly alternated between triple digit gains and losses hasn’t really moved volatility as much as it would seem to have been logical. That’s because most days have actually traded with great certainty, showing little variance from where the day’s trading started and then giving way to an all new kind of certainty the very next day.

We’ll see how that certainty shows itself on Monday.

It’s anyone’s guess.

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

Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) is one of many stocks that I currently own that are not earning their keep because they’re too far below their purchase price to warrant writing calls and generating premium income. While shares do go ex-dividend this week, the dividend is too small to justify chasing or to make a trade simply in the hopes of capturing that dividend.

However, I’ve been happy to see some of the share gains seen after earnings in February get digested, notwithstanding this past Thursday’ strong gain. The slow and methodical retracement of those gains is providing an opportunity to add shares of Whole Foods again with the goal of using new shares to help offset some of the losses on the non-performing lot, as was done 5 times in 2014.

However, following the previous share increase after earnings those shares just seemed too expensive to use as an offset to paper losses. However, now they appear to be more reasonably priced and ready to stabilize at that lower level.

Having add my General Motors (NYSE:GM) shares assigned last month I’ve wanted to repurchase shares since then. At the time the entry of an activist into the picture was unexpected and poor timing for me, but I’m glad to see shares come down from that activist induced high.

Through several bouts of share ownership during the Mary Barra era I’ve continued to be amazed at how well share price has persevered against a barrage of bad news. The toll on share price has generally been small and short lived, while being able to roll over option contracts helped to increase yield while awaiting assignment.

Shares offer attractive premiums, an increasingly attractive dividend and the watchful eyes of activists. That can be a good combination particularly since earnings are still a month away, giving some opportunity to collect those premiums before contending with the challenge of currency.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) reports earnings this week and used to be one of those traditionally being among the last of S&P 500 members to report earnings. Now it’s either still among the last or possibly among the first, as earnings seasons now just tend to flow one into the next.

While Bed bath and Beyond isn’t likely to suffer much due to the strengthening dollar, in fact it may benefit from increased buying power, it may report some detriment from the west coast port disruptions.

Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to large moves when announcing its earnings, but this time the options market is implying a move of 6.5%. A 1% ROI may be possible by selling put options as much as 7.1% below the week’s closing price. That’s not as large of a cushion as I would prefer seeing, but if selling puts and faced with the possibility of assignment, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares rather than attempting to roll the put options over.

Being booted from the DJIA isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as being added isn’t always a good thing as far as stock prices go.

Few have done as well as Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which despite a nearly 50% decline since reaching it’s peak post-DJIA share price is still about 65% higher and has well out-performed the S&P 500 and the DJIA.

Alcoa, which reports earnings this week, and while perhaps no longer considered to be the kick-off to a new earnings season still remains the first to get much attention.

Shares have been in a considerable decline for the past 2 months after having recovered from most of the decline that preceded the market’s decline in early December 2014. The subsequent recovery in share price at that time was in lock step with the S&P 500 from mid-December to mid-January when earnings intervened.

Unlike most earnings related trades that I consider, for this one I’m not looking at the sale of puts, but rather a buy/write and am further considering the use of a slightly out of the money option, rather than an in the money strike price, in the belief that there’s reason to suspect both on a technical basis and a fundamental basis that there is room to move higher.

While it’s too soon to tell how its continuing performance will be, AT&T (NYSE:T) has joined Alcoa as an ex-member of the DJIA. During the two week period of its exile, shares have out-performed the S&P 500, just as its replacement has trailed.

While 2 weeks doesn’t make for a trend, as AT&T shares are ex-dividend this week, I think there may be enough past history with other ex-members in the immediate period of their expulsion to create a tiny additional increment of confidence. WHile that confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to believing that shares will move higher in the very near term, it does make me feel better about the prospects of it continuing to out-perform the broader market.

With it’s very generous dividend the option premium isn’t very large, but at the very least will offset some of the decline in price that will occur as the dividend is taken into account. With much of the competitive hoopla and pressure now in the past and with less of a concern about currency fluctuations, this may be a good time to consider a position as shares may be a bit more immune to some of the pressures that may face many other multi-national companies as earnings are soon to be released.

Finally, being added to the DJIA isn’t necessarily a golden ticket, either, as some more recently added members may attest.

In exchange for AT&T’s departure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was added and has since trailed the narrow index as excitement mounts over the prospects for its latest product entry.

I’m not as excited about that as I am about the prospects of Apple announcing a dividend increase most likely concurrent with its next earnings release in 3 weeks. Between now and then I think there are going to be many opportunities for Tim Cook and others to increasingly whip up excitement and demand for a product that has a fairly low bar being set.

In the meantime Apple continues to offer an attractive option premium and can easily be considered as either a buy/write or put sale, as there is considerable liquidity on either side of the options aisle.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (4/8), Whole Foods (4/8 $0.13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (4/8 PM), Bed Bath and Beyond (4/8 PM)

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

Weekend Update – July 13, 2014

In the past month Janet Yellen has reaffirmed the commitment to keeping stocks the preferred investment vehicle yet after the initial euphoria, skepticism and askance looks greeted any attempts to set even more new record highs.

For stock investors the greatest gift of all was there, delivered on a platter, just waiting to be taken advantage of this past week. But we didn’t do so, maybe having learned a lesson from Greek mythology and avoiding obvious and superficial temptation.

Unfortunately, the application of that lesson may have been misguided as the temptations offered by the Federal Reserve had already run fairly deep, having already been acknowledged to have fueled much of the years long rally in stocks.

Instead of focusing on accepting and making good use of the gifts this past week it didn’t take long to re-ignite talk of the beginning of the long overdue correction after a failed start to the week’s trading.

The week itself was a bizarre one with some fairly odd stories diverting attention from what really mattered.

There was the frivolous news of a wildly successful potato salad Kickstarter campaign, the inconsequential news of the demise of Crumbs (CRMB), the laughably sad news of the sudden appearance of a seemingly phony social media company in Belize with a $5 billion market capitalization while the SEC slept and feel good news of LeBron James taking his talents back to the fine people of Cleveland.

Somewhere in-between was also the news that a Portuguese bank was having some difficulty paying back short term debt obligations.

Talk of an impending correction came before this week’s FOMC statement release, which did much to erase the previous two days of weakness, but it was short lived, as fears related to the European banking system swept through the European markets and made their ways to our shores on Thursday.

This was yet another week when the market wasn’t willing to accept the assurance of continuing gifts from the Federal Reserve after the initial giddiness upon the delivery of its news. While we all know that sooner or later the gifts from the Federal Reserve will slow down and then stop altogether in advance of that time when it actually begins to impede our over-fed avarice, there isn’t too much reason to refuse the gifts that are still there to be given. While perhaps those gifts could be viewed as an entitlement perhaps the additional lesson learned is that we are resilient enough to not allow a natural sense of cautionary behavior to be disarmed.

Somehow, I doubt that’s the case, just as I doubt that Greek mythology has taught very many or lasting lessons to many of us lately.

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

Puts I sold on Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) that I sold a few weeks ago expired this past week, as they were within easy range of assignment or in need of rollover on Friday until murmurings of a leveraged buyout started to lift shares.

Had those murmurings waited until sometime on Monday I might have considered them as a gift, as I wanted to now add shares to my portfolio. However, coming as they did, although securing the ability to see the puts sold expire worthless, may have snatched a gift away, as I rarely want to chase a stock once it has started moving higher. However, on any weakness that see shares trading lower to begin the week, I would be anxious to add shares as I believe Bed Bath and Beyond was already in recovery mode from the strong selling pressure after it reported earnings a few weeks ago.

The Gap (GPS) continues to be one of the dwindling few that report monthly sales statistics. As it does, it regularly has paroxysms of movement when those statistics are released. Rarely does it string together more than two successive months of consistent data, such that its share price bounces quite a bit, despite shares themselves not being terribly volatile in the longer run. Those movements often provide nice option premiums and makes The Gap an attractive buy, although it can also be a frustrating position, as a result. However, it is one that I frequently like as part of my portfolio and currently do own shares. This most recent report on Friday don’t send shares moving as much as in the recent past, however, it did create an opportunity to consider the addition of more shares.

With earnings season beginning to high gear this week there is no shortage of potential candidates. However, unless most weeks when considering earnings related trades I only think in terms of put sales and would prefer not to own shares.

That is certainly the case with SanDisk (SNDK).

The option market believes that there may be a 6.6% movement in either direction next week upon earnings being released. However, a 1.1% ROI can potentially be achieved at a strike level that is outside of the range implied by the option market, making it an appealing trade, if willing to also manage the position in the event that assignment may be likely by attempting to roll over the put sale to a new time period.

On the other hand both Blackstone (BX) and Cypress Semiconductor (CY) are shares that I would want to own at a lower price and would consider accepting assignment rather than rolling over and trying to stay one step ahead of assignment.

In the case of Cypress Semiconductor, whose products are quietly ubiquitous, since it has only monthly options available, there aren’t good opportunies to try such evasive techniques, so being prepared for ownership is a requisite if selling puts. Shares have traded in an identifiable range, so if assigned and patient there’s liukely to be an escape path while collecting option premiums and perhaps dividends, as well.

Blackstone is off from its recent highs and has been a beneficiary of the rash of IPO offerings of late. While I wouldn’t mind owning shares again at this level, the fact that it offers many expanded weekly options does allow for the possibility of managing the position through rollovers in the event that assignment may be imminent. However, with a generous dividend upcoming there may also be reason to consider ownership if assignment may be likely.

Finally, A stock that I love to own is Fastenal (FAST). To me it represents a snapshot of the US economy. Depending on your perspective when the economy does well, Fastenal does well or when Fastenal is doing well the economy is doing well. While that’s fairly simple and easy to understand, even if not entirely validated, what is always less easy to understand is how a stock responds to its earnings reports. In this case shares of Fastenal tumbled as top line numbers were very good, but margins were decreasing.

While that may not be great news for Fastenal and it certainly wasn’t for its shareholders today, the growth in sales revenues may be a positive sign for the economy. For me, the negative response provides opportunity to once again own shares and to do so as either a potential short term purchase or with a longer term horizon.

While Fastenal trades only monthly options with this being the final week of the July 2014 cycle it could potentially be purchased with the mindset of a weekly option trader. However, in the event that shares aren’t assigned, they do go ex-dividend the following week, so there may be reason to consider immediately considering an August 2014 option in hedging the share purchase.

Traditional Stocks: Bad Bath and Beyond, Fastenal, The Gap

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackstone, Cypress Semiconductor, SanDisk

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 – May 25, 2014

This was a good week, every bit as much as it was an odd one. 

You almost can’t spell “good” without “odd.”

We tend to be creatures that spend a lot of time in hindsight and attempting to dissect out what we believe to be the important components of everything that surrounds us or impacts upon us.

Sometimes what’s really important is beyond our ability to  see or understand or is just so counter-intuitive to what we believe to be true. I’m always reminded of the great Ralph Ellison book, “The Invisible Man,” in which it’s revealed that the secret to obtaining the most pure of white paints is the addition of a drop of black paint.

That makes no sense on any level unless you suspend rational thought and simply believe. Rational thought has little role when it calls for the suspension of belief.

This past week there was no reason to believe that anything good would transpire.

Coming on the heels of the previous week, which saw a perfectly good advance evaporate by week’s end there wasn’t a rational case to be made for expecting anything better the following week. That was especially true after the strong sell-off this past Tuesday.

Rational thought would never have taken the antecedent events to signal that the market would alter its typical pattern of behavior on the day of an FOMC statement release. That behavior was to generally trade in a reserved and cautious fashion prior to the 2 PM embargo release and then shift into chaotic knee-jerks and equally chaotic post-kneejerk course corrections.

Instead, the market advanced strongly from the opening bell on that day, erasing the previous day’s losses and had no immediate reaction to the FOMC release and then in an orderly fashion moved mildly higher after the words were parsed and interpreted.

The trading on that day and its timing were entirely irrational. It was odd, but it was good.

Ordinarily it would have also been irrational to expect a rational response to the minutes that offered no new news, as in the past real news was not a necessary factor for irrational buying or selling behavior.

The ensuing rational behavior was also odd, but it, too, was good.

As another new high was set to end the week there should be concern about approaching a tipping point, especially as the number of new highs is on the down trend. However, the market’s odd behavior the past week gives me reason to be optimistic in the short term, despite a belief that the upside reward is now considerably less than the downside risk in the longer term. 

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

This was a week in which those paid to observe such things finally commented on the disappointing results coming from retailers, despite the fact that the past two or three quarters have been similar and certainly not reflective of the kind of increased discretionary spending you might expect with increasing employment statistics.

With some notable exceptions, such as LuLuLemon (LULU) and Family Dollar Store (FDO) I’ve enjoyed being in and out of retailers, although I think I’d rather be maimed than actually be in and out of anyone’s actual store.

This week a number of retailers have appeal, either on their merits or because there may be some earnings related trades seeking to capitalize on their movements. Included for their merits are in the list are Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), eBay (EBAY), Nike (NKE) and The Gap (GPS), while Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) and Kors (KORS) report earnings this week.

After a disappointing earnings report Bed Bath and Beyond has settled into a trading range and gas seemed to establish some support at the $60 level. Along with so many others that have seen their shares punished after earnings the recovery of share price seems delayed as compared to previous markets. For the option seller that kind of listless trading can be precisely the scenario that returns the best results.

eBay has also stagnated. With Carl Icahn still in the picture, but uncharacteristically quiet, especially after the announcement of a repatriation of some $6 billion in cash back to the United States and, therefore, subject to taxes, there doesn’t seem to be a catalyst for a return to its recent highs. That suits me just fine, as I’ve liked eBay at the $52 level for quite a while and it has been one of my more frequent in and out kind of trades. At present, I do own two other lots of shares and three lots is my self imposed limit, but for those considering an initial entry, eBay has been seen as a mediocre performer in the eyes of those expecting upward price movement, but a superstar from those seeking premium income through the serial sale of option contracts week in and out. If you’re the latter kind, eBay can be as rewarding as the very best of the rest.

The Gap reported earnings on Friday and exhibited little movement. It’s currently trading at the high end of where I like to initiate positions, but it, too, has been a very reliable covered option trade. An acceptable dividend and a fair option premium makes it an appealing recurrent trade. The only maddening aspect of The Gap is that it is one of the few remaining retailers that oddly provides monthly same store sales and as a result it is prone to wild price swings on a regular basis. Those price swings, however, tend to be alternating and do help to keep those option premiums elevated.

You simply take the good with the odd in the case of The Gap and shrug your shoulders when the market response is adverse and just await the next opportunity when suddenly all is good again.

Despite all of the past criticism and predictions of its irrelevance in the marketplace Abercrombie and Fitch continues to be a survivor.  This past Friday was the second anniversary of the initial recommendation of taking a position for Option to Profit subscribers, although I haven’t owned shares in nearly 5 months. Since that initial purchase there have been 18 such recommendations, with a cumulative 71.5% return, despite shares having barely moved during that time frame.

Always volatile, especially when earnings are due, the options market is currently implying a 10.2% move in price. For me, the availability of a 1% ROI from selling put contracts at a strike level outside of the lower boundary of that implied range gets my interest. In this case shares could fall up to 13.9% before assignment is likely and still deliver that return.

Kors, also known as “Coach (COH) Killer” also reports earnings this week. It has stood out recently because it hasn’t been subject to the same kind of selling pressure as some other “momentum” stocks. The option market is implying a price movement of 7.4%, while a 1% ROI from put sales may be obtained at a strike level currently 8.8% below Friday’s closing price. However, while Abercrombie and Fitch has plenty of experience with disappointing earnings and has experienced drastic price drops, Kors has yet to really face those kinds of challenges. In the current market environment earnings disappointments are being magnified and the risk – reward proposition with an earnings related trade in Kors may not be as favorable as for that with Abercrombie.

In the case of Kors I may be more inclined to consider a trade after earnings, particularly considering the sale of puts if earnings are disappointing and shares plummet.

After last week’s brief ownership of Under Armour (UA) this week it may be time to consider a purchase of Nike, which under-performed Under Armour for the week. Shares also go ex-dividend this week and have been reasonably range-bound of late. It isn’t a terribly exciting trade, but at this stage of life, who really needs excitement? I also don’t need a pair of running shoes and could care less about making a fashion statement, but I do like the idea of its consistency and relatively low risk necessary in order to achieve a modest reward.

Transocean (RIG) is off of its recent lows, but still has quite a way to go to return to its highs of earlier in the year. Going ex-dividend this week, the 5.7% yield has made the waiting on a more expensive lot of shares to recover a bit easier. As with eBay, I already have two lots of shares, but believe that at the current level this is a good time for initial entry, perhaps considering a longer term option contract and seeking capital gains on shares, as well. As with most everything in business and economy, the current oversupply or rigs will soon become an under supply and Transocean will reap the benefits of cyclicality.

Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) also goes ex-dividend this week. It is an important player in my area and has become the largest operator of local television stations in the nation, while most people have never heard the name. It is an infrequent purchase for me, but I always consider doing so as it goes ex-dividend, particularly if trading at the mid-point of its recent range. CUrrently shares a little higher than I might prefer, but with only monthly options available and an always healthy premium, I think that even at the current level there is good opportunity, even if shares do migrate to the low end of its current range.

Finally, Joy Global (JOY), one of those companies whose fortunes are closely tied to Chinese economic reports, has seen a recent 5% price drop from its April 2014 highs. While it is still above the price that I usually like to consider for an entry, I may be interested in participating this week with either a put sale of a buy/write.

Among the considerations are events coming the following week, as shares go ex-dividend early in the week and then the company reports earnings later in the week.

While my preference would be for a quick one week period of involvement, there always has to be the expectation of well laid out plans not being realized. In this case the sale of puts that may need to be rolled over would benefit from enhanced earnings related premiums, but would suffer a bit as the price decrease from the dividend may not be entirely reflected in the option premium. That’s similar to what is occasionally seen on the call side, when option premiums may be higher than they rightfully should be, as the dividend is not fully accounted.

Otherwise, if beginning a position with a buy/write and not seeing shares assigned at the end of the week, I might consider a rollover to a deep in the money call, thereby taking advantage of the enhanced premiums and offering a potential exit in the event that shares fall with the guidelines predicted by the implied volatility. Additionally, it might offer the chance of early assignment prior to earnings due to the Monday ex-dividend date, thereby providing a quick exit and the full premium without putting in the additional time and risk.

 

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, eBay, The Gap

Momentum: Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Nike (5/29 $0.24), Sinclair Broadcasting (5/28 $0.15), Transocean (5/28 $0.75)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (5/29 AM), Kors (5/28 AM)

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

Weekend Update – April 27, 2014

“The Bear” is waking up.

Whether you interpret that to mean that Russia is seeking to return to some of its faded and faux glory left behind as its empire crumbled, or that the stock market is preparing for a sustained downward journey, neither one likes to feel threatened.

As we prepare for the coming week the two bears may be very much related, at least if you believe in such things as “cause and effect.”

It now seems like almost an eternity when the first murmurings of something perhaps going on in Crimea evoked a reaction from the markets.

On that Friday, 2 months ago, when news first broke, the DJIA went from a gain of 120 points to a loss of 20 in the final hour of trading, but somehow managed to recapture half of that drop to cap off a strong week.

Whatever happened to not going home long on the brink of a weekend of uncertainty?

Since that time the increased tensions always seemed to come along on Fridays and this past was no different, except that on this particular Friday it seems that many finally went home with lighter portfolios in hopes of not having lighter account balances on Monday morning.

As often is the case these kind of back and forth weeks can be very kind to option sellers who can thrive when wandering aimlessly. However, while we await to see what if any unwanted surprises may come this weekend, the coming week packs its own potential challenges as there will be an FOMC announcement on Wednesday and the Employment Situation Report is released on Friday. Although neither should be holding much in the way of surprise, it is often very surprising to see how the market reacts to what is often the lack of news even when that is the expectation.

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

With the prospects of some kind of uncomfortable beginning to the coming week there may be reason to stay away from those companies or sectors that might have enhanced risk related to any kind of escalating “tit for tat” that may occur if events in and around Ukraine and Russia deteriorate.

Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), which as far as I know has little exposure east of Bangor and west of Los Angeles, is one of those companies that suffered the wrath of a disappointed market. Like many that stumble, but whose underlying business, execution or strategies aren’t inherently flawed, there comes a point that price stability and even growth returns. While it has only been 2 weeks since earnings, Bed Bath and Beyond has withstood any further stresses from a wounded market and has thus far settled into some stability. While some may question the legitimacy of using this past winter’s weather as an excuse for slumping sales, I’m not willing to paint with a broad brush. In fact, I would believe that retailers like Bed Bath and Beyond, typically not located in indoor malls would be more subject to weather related issues than mall based, one stop shopping centers.

Having been to a number of other countries and having seen the high regard in which coffee is held, it’s not very likely that Keuring Green Mountain (GMCR) would feel any serious loss if exports to Russia were blocked as part of sanctions. At the current high levels, I’m surprised to be considering shares again, but I have had a long and happy history with this very volatile stock that has taken on significantly greater credibility with its new CEO.

Because of its volatility its option premiums are always attractive, but risk will be further enhanced as earnings are scheduled to be reported the following week. Shares are approaching that level they stood before its explosive rise after the most recent earnings report.

Aetna (AET) for a brief moment looked to be one of those reporting earnings that was going to capitalize on good news. Following a nice advance on the day of earnings it started on this past fateful Friday with another 1.5% advance on top of a nearly 6% advance the day before. Within 10 minutes and well before the market started its own decline, that early gain was completely gone.

As pro-Russian militias may say if they believed that any expatriate nationals might be threatened in France, “C’est la vie.” While that is certainly the case, such unexpected moves re-offer opportunity as the health care insurers are in a position to bounce back from some recent weakness. With earnings now out of the way and little bad news yet to be reported regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act transition, Aetna can get back to what health insurance companies have always been good at doing, besides lobbying. Although it’s dividend is on the low side, Aetna is a company that I could envision as a long term core holding.

Dow Chemical (DOW) also reported earnings this past week and beat projections the old fashioned way. They cut costs in the face of falling revenues. While that says nothing good about an economy that is supposed to be growing, Dow Chemical’s value may be enhanced as it has activists eyeing it for possible break-up. On the other end, defending the status quo is a hardened CEO who is likely to let little fall through the cracks as he pursues his own vision. While shares are trading near their highs the activist presence is potentially helpful in keeping shares trading within a range which entices me to consider shares now, after a small drop, rather than waiting for a larger one on order to re-open a position. With its option premiums, generous dividend and opportunity for share appreciation, Dow Chemical is one stock that I would also consider for longer term holding.

I’m on the fence over Cypress Semiconductor (CY). I currently own shares and always like the idea of having some just as it trades near it strike price. It has a good recent habit of calling $10 its home and works hard to get back to that level, whether well above or well below. However, befitting its high beta it fell about 5% on Friday and has placed itself quite a distance from its nearest strike. While I generally like paying less for shares, in the case of Cypress I may be more enticed by some price migration higher in order to secure a better premium and putting shares closer to a strike that may make it easier to roll over option contracts to June 2014, if necessary. Holding shares until June may offer me enough time after all of these years to learn what Cypress Semiconductor actually does, although I’m familiar with its increasingly vocal CEO.

This is another week replete with earnings. For those paying attention last week a number of companies were brutalized last week when delivering earnings or guidance, as the market was not very forgiving.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Herbalife (HLF), Twitter (TWTR) and Yelp (YELP).

There’s not much you can say about Herbalife, other than it may be the decade’s most unpredictable stock. Not so much in terms of revenues, but rather in terms of “is it felonious or isn’t it felonious?” With legal and regulatory issues looming ahead the next bit of truly bad news may come at any moment, so it may be a good thing that earnings are reported on Monday. At least that news will be out of the way. Unlike many other volatile names, Herbalife actually move marginally higher to end the week, rather than plunging along with the rest. My preference, if trading on the basis of earnings, would be to sell puts, particularly if there is a substantive price drop preceding earnings.

Twitter lost much of the steam it had picked up in the early part of the week and finished at its lows. I already have puts on shares having sold them about a month ago and rolled them forward a few times in the hopes of having the position expire before earnings.

However, with its marked weakness in the latter part of the week I’m interested in the possibility of selling even more puts in advance of earnings on Tuesday. However, if there is price strength on Monday, I would be more inclined to wait for earnings and would then consider the sale of puts if shares drop after earnings are released.

Yelp is among those also having suffered a large drop as the week’s trading came to its close. as with Twitter, the option market is implying a large earnings related move in price, with an implied volatility of nearly 15%. However, a drop of less than 21% may still be able to deliver a 1.1% return.

For those that just can’t get enough of earnings related trades when bad news can be the best news of all, a more expanded list of potential trades can be seen.

Finally, Intel (INTC) and Microsoft (MSFT) are part of what now everyone is affectionately referring to as “old tech.” A few months ago the same people were somewhat more derisive, but now “old tech” is everyone’s darling. Intel’s ex-dividend date is May 5, 2014, meaning that shares would need to be owned this week if hoping to capture the dividend. Microsoft goes ex-dividend during the final week of the May 2014 cycle.

Both stocks have been frequent holdings of mine, but both have recently been assigned. Although they are both trading near the top of their price ranges, the basic appeal still holds, which includes generous dividends and satisfactory premiums. Additionally, bit also have in common a new kind of leadership. Intel is much more focused on operational issues, befitting the strength of its new CEO, while Microsoft may finally simply be ready to “get it” and leverage its great assets, recognizing that there may be some real gems beyond Windows.

Traditional Stocks: Momentum Stocks: Aetna, Bed Bath and Beyond, Dow Chemical, Microsoft

Momentum: Cypress Semiconductor, Keurig Green Mountain

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 5/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (4/8 PM), Twitter (4/27 PM), Yelp (4/30 PM)

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

Weekend Update – January 12, 2014

Confusion Reigns.

January is supposed to be a very straightforward month. Everyone knows how it’s all supposed to go.

The market moves higher and the rest of the year simply follows. Some even believe it’s as simple as the first five trading days of the year setting the tone for the remainder still to come.

Since the market loves certainty, the antithesis of confusion, the idea of a few days or even a month ordaining the outcome of an entire year is the kind of certainty that has broad appeal.

But with the fifth trading day having come to its end on January 8th, the S&P 500 had gone down 11 points. Now what? Where do we turn for certainty?

To our institutions, of course, especially our central banking system which has steadfastly guided us through the challenges of the past 6 years. The year started with some certainty as Federal Reserve Chairman nominee Janet Yellen was approved by a vote that saw fewer negative votes cast than when her predecessor Ben Bernanke last stood for Senate approval, although there were far fewer total votes, too. On a positive note, while there was voting confusion among political lines, there was only certainty among gender lines.

While Dr. Yellen’s confirmation was a sign to many that a relatively dovish voice would predominate the FOMC, even as some more hawkish governors become voting members this year, the announcement that Dr. Stanley Fischer was being nominated as Vice-Chair sends a somewhat different message and may embolden the more hawkish elements of the committee.

That seems confusing. Why would you want to do that? But then again, why would you have pulled the welcome mat out from under Ben Bernanke?

Then on Friday morning came the first Employment Situation Report of the new year and no one was remotely close in their guesses. Nobody was so pessimistic as to believe that the fewest new jobs created in 14 months would be the result.

But the real confusion was whether that was good news or bad news. Did we want disappointing employment statistics? How would the “new” Federal Reserve react? Would they step way from the taper or embrace it as hawks exert their philosophical position?

More importantly, how is a January Rally supposed to take root in the remaining 14 trading days in this kind of muddled environment?

Personally, I like the way the year has begun, there’s not too much confusion about that being the case, despite my first week having been mediocre. While the evidence is scant that the first five days has great predictive value, there is evidence to suggest that there is no great predictive value for the remainder of the year if January ends the month lower. I like that because my preference is alternating periods of certainty and confusion, as long as the net result remains near the baseline. That is a perfect scenario for a covered option strategy and also tends to increase premiums as volatility is enhanced.

I prefer to think of it as counter-intuitive rather than confusing.

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

There’s not much confusion when it comes to designating the best in large retail of late. Most everyone agrees that Macys (M) has been the best among a sorry bunch, yet even the best of breed needed to announce large layoffs in order to get a share price boost after being range bound. However, this week the embattled retail sector seems very inviting despite earnings disappointments and the specter of lower employment statistics and spending power.

Finding disappointments among retailers isn’t terribly difficult, as even Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), which could essentially do nothing wrong in 2013 more than made up for that by reporting its earnings report. While earnings themselves were improved, it was the reduced guidance that seems to have sent the buyers fleeing. There was no confusion regarding how to respond to the disappointment, yet its plummet brings it back toward levels where it can once again be considered as a source of option premium income, in addition to some opportunity for share appreciation.

L Brands (LB) shares are now down approximately 12% in the past 6 weeks. It is one of those stocks that I’ve owned, but have been waiting far too long to re-own while waiting for its price to return to reasonable levels. Like Bed Bath and Beyond it offered lower guidance for the coming quarter after heavy promotions that are likely to reduce margins.

Target (TGT) has had enough bad news to last it for the rest of the year. While it recently reported that it sales had been better than expected prior to the computer card data hack, it also acknowledged that there was a tangible decline in shopping activity in its aftermath. Its divulging that as many as 70 million accounts may have been compromised, it seemed to throw all bad news into the mix, as often incoming CEOs do with write-downs, so as to make the following quarter look good in comparison. For its part, Target, recovered nicely on Friday from its initial price decline and has been defending the $62.50 line that I believe will be a staging point higher.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) on the other hand doesn’t even pretend to be a retailer. The promise of great riches in its real estate holdings is falling on deaf ears and its biggest proponent and share holder, Eddie Lampert, has seen his personal stake reduced amid hedge fund redemptions. Shares plummeted after reporting disappointing holiday sales. What’s confusing about Sears Holding is how there is even room for disappointment and how the Sears retail business continues, as it has recently been referred to as a “national tragedy.”

But I have a soft spot in my heart for companies that suffer large event driven price drops. Not that I believe there is sustainable life after such events, but rather that there are opportunities to profit from other people like me who smell an opportunity and add support to the share price. However, my time frame is short and I don’t necessarily expect investor largesse to continue.

I did sell puts on Sears Holding on Friday, but would not have done so if the event and subsequent share plunge had been earlier in the option cycle. Sears Holdings, only offers monthly options and in this case there is just one week left in that cycle. If faced with the possibility of assignment I would hope to be able to roll the puts options forward, but do have some concerns about a month long exposure, despite what would likely be an attractive premium.

While there’s no confusion about the nature of its products, Lorillard’s (LO) recent share decline, while not offering certainty of its end, does offer a more reasonable entry point for a company that offers attractive option premiums even when its very healthy dividend is coming due. Like Sears Holdings, Lorillard only offers monthly option contracts, but in this case I have no reservations about holding shares for a longer time period if not assigned.

Conoco Phillips (COP) has been eclipsed in my investing attention by the enormous success of its spin-off Phillips 66 (PSX), but had never fallen off my radar screen. While waiting for evidence that the same will occur to Phillips 66 through its own subsequent spin-off of Phillips 66 Partners (PSXP), my focus has returned to the proud parent, whose shares appear to be ready for some recovery. However, with a dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle, I don’t mind the idea of shares continuing to run in place and generate option income in a serial manner.

Perhaps not all retailers are in the same abysmal category. Lowes (LOW), while not selling much in the way of fashions or accessories and perennially being considered an also ran to Home Depot, goes ex-dividend this week and has traded reliably at its current level, making it a continuing target for a covered option strategy. I’ve owned in 5 times in 2013, usually for a week or two, and wonder why I hadn’t owned it more often. Following its strong close to end the week I would like to see a little giveback before making a purchase. Additionally, since the ex-dividend date is on a Friday, I’m more likely to consider selling an option expiring the following week or even February, so as to have a greater chance of avoiding early assignment of having sold an in the money option.

Whole Foods (WFM) also goes ex-dividend this week, but its paltry dividend alone is a poor reason to consider share ownership. However, its inexplicable price drop after having already suffered an earnings related drop makes it especially worthy of consideration. While I already own more expensively priced shares and often use lesser priced additional lots in a sacrificial manner to garner option premiums to offset paper losses, I’m inclined to shift the emphasis on share gain over premium at this price level. Reportedly Whole Foods sales suffered during the nation wide cold snap and that may be something to keep in mind at the next earnings report when guidance for the next quarter is offered.

Although earnings season will be in focus this week, especially with big money center banks all reporting, I have no earnings selections this week. Instead, I’m thinking of adding shares of Alcoa (AA) which had fared very nicely after being dis-invited from membership in the DJIA and not so well after leading off earnings season on Thursday.

While I typically am niot overly interested in longer term oiutlooks, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld’s suggestion that demand is expected to increase strongly in 2014 could help to raise Alcoa’s margins. Even a small increase would be large on a percentage basis and could easily be the fuel for shares to continue their post DJIA-explusion climb.

Finally, I was a bit confused as Verizon’s (VZ) shares took off mid-day last week and took it beyond the range that I thought my shares wouldn’t be assigned early in order to capture the dividend. In the absence of news the same didn’t occur with shares of AT&T which was also going ex-dividend the next day and other cell carriers saw their shares drop. In hindsight, the drop in shares the next day, well beyond the impact of dividends, was just as confusing. Where there is certainty, however, is that shares are now more reasonably priced and despite their recent two day gyrations trade with low volatility compared to the market, making them a good place to park money for the defensive portion of a portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Conoco Phillips, L Brands, Lorillard, Target, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Alcoa, Sears Holdings

Double Dip Dividend: Lowes (ex-div 1/17), Whole Foods (ex-div 1/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – April 7, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate guidance that comes out weeks before earnings and catches me off-guard. In the past I’ve seen Cummins Engine (CMI) and Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) seem to regularly upset happy shareholders with that kind of timed guidance. Despite the fact that analysts seem to be in agreement that this is solely an F5 issue, it indiscriminately drags down the sector, perhaps offering opportunities.

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife

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

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

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

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

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