Weekend Update – June 21, 2015

No matter how old you are, people love getting gifts.

That may even be the case when you end up paying for them yourself.

Sometimes, that’s the real surprise.

Last year, for example, I received a surprise birthday gift when hitting one of those round numbers. It was a trip to my favorite city, New Orleans, and I was further surprised by friends and family that had assembled there and then individually popped up at totally unexpected times and places.

The real surprise was when I received the hotel bill and then subsequently the other bills. While I’ll be forever remembering the moment a tap on my shoulder at a busy restaurant announced, “Sir, your drinks are here,” only to turn around and see one of my sons unexpectedly turn up holding a platter of shots. Priceless, but as long as we’re talking about price, I think that I would have chosen less costly libations had I known what was to be in store for me.

In hindsight, though, it was a great gift, but I paid the price as many expect will be the case after years of the Federal Reserve injecting liquidity into the system and keeping interest rates at historic lows, much as is now occurring throughout Europe and the world.

Following the FOMC Statement release this past week was Janet Yellen’s press conference and as one person said to me, hers was the “best tightrope walking” he’d ever seen.

Janet Yellenda, has a nice ring to it and she certainly did a great job of staying on course while questions came at her trying their best to throw her off message. Many of those questions were posed to see her lose her tight cling to the carefully nuanced words that served to tantalize, while hinting of what was ahead.

Instead of seeing the gift for what it was, they wanted to know when the bill would be coming due and maybe who was going to end up holding the bag when the celebrations were all over.

Of course, there are those really sick people for whom the gift would be seeing someone else fail or fall off that tightrope wire, but Yellen was better than any gust of wind that could come her way.

For those that had so recently come to expect that perhaps the FOMC would raise interest rates with this past week’s statement release, the market made it clear that they considered the delay as a real gift, even if the celebration and enjoyment lasted just for a day or so.

Sooner or later, there’s also a price that needs to be paid.

That gift, withholding the interest rate increase that just a couple of weeks ago seemed as if it might come this past week, not only was being delayed, but perhaps being delayed all the way to September. As if that gift wasn’t enough, there was a suggestion that any rate increase wasn’t necessarily going to be part of a planned series of regular rate increases, as had been the practice during the Greenspan era.

Could it get any better? At least that was how most heard her words as she delicately balanced them against one another, saying only those things that could be construed by willing ears as “Laissez les bons temps rouler,” as they like to say in New Orleans.

On Thursday, the day after the FOMC Statement release and press conference, it didn’t seem that it could get any better, as the market celebrated what could only be interpreted as a gift for stock investors.

Still, the reality is that while we are winding down a monetary policy era that has likely been to the benefit of our stock markets, the rest of the world is now beginning on that path and may offer stiff winds for us as the bill gets tallied.

The gales coming from Europe were evident this past week as the market was also reacting to the tightrope walk that Greece was doing as it vacillated between being reasonable and unrealistic.

Telling its IMF and ECB safety nets that there were better safety nets out there, while forgetting that neither Russia nor China has ever saved anyone without exacting a price that makes simple interest paid to the IMF and ECB look absolutely charitable, our own markets swayed along with those cross currents of uncertainty.

There may be lots of those cross currents ahead, so that balancing skill may come in very handy while waiting for earnings season to begin again in July and offering the possibility of getting grounded in fundamental reality.

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

Last week marked the second consecutive week in which I didn’t open any new positions, something that would have been unimaginable to me at any point during the past 7 or more years. This coming week I can see more of the same, as there’s very little compelling news ahead to make we want to let go of the cash in my hand. As the bill may be ready to come due soon, I’d like to be ready with that cash on hand to balance the challenge of uncertainty.

Of course, as is usually the case, once the reality of the bill finally settles in, most of the time that represents an opportunity to again start moving forward.

For now, unless there is some further compelling reason to come from upcoming GDP, Retail Sales, Employment Situation and JOLTS reports to believe that the economy is heating up sufficiently to warrant a rate increase in July, the next catalyst may very well come from earnings.

This past week Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) reported earnings. It is among a very small handful of significant companies that report late in the cycle. In fact, their report was almost 3 months following the close of the quarter upon which they reported. While many of those reported soon after earnings season started, less than 2 weeks after the close of that quarter, the expectation for currency related revenue declines was so high at that time, that those companies didn’t see stock prices harshly punished for the dollar’s strength.

Now? Not so much.

Most, in fact, took the previous earnings report opportunity to provide decreased forward guidance as the expectation was that we were headed for US Dollar and Euro parity.

Nearly 3 months later that projection hasn’t become reality, as the US dollar has weakened significantly since March 31, 2015 and that can be expected to show up in the next quarter’s earnings reports. Unfortunately for Oracle share holders, had the company reported in April, there’s a chance that they would have gotten the same free pass as did others at that time.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) are both firmly in the control of their founding families and are on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to their approach to bringing content into the home.

The family nature of Comcast was highlighted this past Friday with the passing of its founder, Ralph Roberts, at age 95. My mother used to say, “they should never go younger,” and while I was never a fan of their product and service, the man was an outlier in many good ways.

With Comcast having recently been extricated from a potential buyout of another cable company, it’s also finding that there are opportunities outside of people’s television sets and streaming devices, as its ownership of Universal Studios makes it the beneficiary of some blockbuster movie releases.

On the downside, it is near its 52 week high as it gets ready to go ex-dividend the week after next. That gives some reason for pause, although neither Greece nor currency headwinds should be an issue, although rising interest rates can be particularly hurtful for a capital intensive company.

However, I especially like Monday ex-dividend dates and like the idea of being assigned early on those positions, as you can get an additional week of premium in exchange for giving up the dividend and holding the stock position for a shorter period of time than planned, while having the opportunity to re-invest the assignment proceeds into another position. With the availability of expanded weekly options on Comcast there are a number of different expiration dates that can be used in an effort to capture additional time premium or try to find the right balance between premium, dividend and time.

Sinclair Broadcasting is in the terrestrial business and just keeps getting larger and larger. It’s not particularly an exciting stock, but does trade with a fairly large price range without any particularly moving news.

It is now at a price that is still above its range mid-point, but that however, has been a reliable launching pad for new positions. With only monthly options available the time commitment is longer as the July 2015 cycle begins this coming week. With earnings coming during the August 2015 cycle any short term price decline necessitating a rollover may look to bypass additional earnings risk and go to a September 2015 expiration, which would also include an upcoming dividend.

Philip Morris (NYSE:PM) and Blackberry (NASDAQ:BBRY) can both elicit some emotional responses, but for very different reasons. Both have upcoming events this week that can offer some opportunity.

Philip Morris is ex-dividend this week and that dividend is very attractive. The company recently stopped its aggressive buyback program as it was feeling the pain of currency exchange and did so, ostensibly, in favor of the dividend. With a history of annual dividend increases coming for the third quarter of each year, there is some question as to whether that will be possible this year, as cash flow is decreased from both currency and declining sales.

Earnings are scheduled to be reported on the day prior to the end of the July 2015 monthly cycle, so in the event that shares haven’t been assigned prior to that, I would consider attempting to rollover any expiring option to a date that may give sufficient time to recover from any price decline.

Blackberry reports earnings this week and is sitting precariously near its yearly lows. The options market is implying an 8% price move when earnings are released on Tuesday morning.

Blackberry usually has released earnings on Friday mornings over the past few years and I’ve generally overlooked it because my preference is to sell a weekly put on most earnings related trades. I further prefer those that report early in the week, so as to have time for some price recovery if at risk for assignment, particularly as some price recovery could ease the ability to rollover the position to delay or avoid assignment.

With a Tuesday morning report and the chance of achieving a 1% ROI at a strike just outside the range implied by the options market, the interest in a short put position is rekindled. However, the greatest likelihood is that I would be more inclined to consider a put sale after earnings, if the price declines, as the premium can really get further enhanced as the price challenges that 52 week low.

I currently own shares of Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) and am at risk of having those shares assigned in order to capture the dividend. With those contracts expiring on July 2, 2015 and the ex-dividend date of Friday, June 26th, the $0.42 dividend would require a price of at least $53.92 for the $53.50 options to be assigned early. If that looks like a possibility as trading nears it close on Thursday, I may consider rolling over the option position in order to secure the dividend.

However, with any price decline in shares, particularly if coming early in the week, I would consider adding additional shares and again consider selling call options for the following, holiday shortened week, or even for the week afterward.

Dow Chemical has recently been trading well off its lows that were fueled by decreasing oil prices. CEO Andrew Liveris, who has come under fire on his own for allegedly using his position to finance his lifestyle, did an excellent job in convincing investors that Dow Chemical was a beneficiary of decreasing oil prices, rather than a victim, as it was being treated early in 2015, prior to his going on the offensive.

I think that even if oil prices head moderately higher in the near term, Andrew Liveris would be able to convince people that was also to the benefit of Dow Chemical, just as I expect he’ll be able to convince internal Dow Chemical “watch dogs” that his personal actions were entirely appropriate.

Finally, I had Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) shares assigned this past week, but following weakness among financials on Friday, as well as following the week’s peak in interest rates, shares declined.

That decline, although still leaving shares near a 6 month high, does provide another entry point opportunity. While its shares may continue to be pressured if the bond market bids interest rates lower, the bond market knows exactly where interest rates are going to be headed and financials should be following along.

While the premiums aren’t spectacular, I would look at a potential purchase of shares with an eye toward a longer term holding trying to capitalize on share gains supplemented by option premiums while awaiting the reality of rate increases to come.

Traditional Stocks: Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (6/29), Dow Chemical (6/26), Philip Morris (6/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (6/23 AM)

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

Weekend Update – December 14, 2014

On a cruise ship you only know the answer to the question of “How low can you go” once you’ve met the physical limits of your body and the limit of your ability to balance yourself.

Other than losing a little self-respect, maybe a little embarrassment in front of a bunch of drunken strangers, there’s not too much downside to playing the game.

When it comes to the price of oil the answer isn’t so clear, mostly because the answer seemed so clear for each of the past few weeks and has turned out to be anything other than clear. Besides the lack of clarity, the game has consequences that go well beyond self-respect and opening yourself up to embarrassment.

While we all know that at some point the law of “Supply and Demand” will take precedence over the intrusion of a cartel, the issue becomes one of time and how long it will take to set in motion the actions that are in response to the great opportunities created by low cost energy.

Until a few days ago we thought we were in recently uncharted territory, believing that the reduction in oil prices was due to an increase in supply that itself was simply due to increasing production in the United States.

However, with Friday’s release of China’s Industrial Production data, as well as an earlier remark by a Saudi Arabian Oil Minister, there was reason to now believe that the demand side of the equation may not have been as robust as we had thought.

While there’s not a strong correlation between sharply declining oil prices and recession, that has to now be considered, at least for much of the rest of the world.

The United States, on the other hand, may be going in a very different direction as is the rest of the world, until such factors as the relative strength of the US dollar begin to catch up with our good fortunes, as an example of yet another kind of cycle that has real meaning on an every day basis in an ever more inter-connected world.

While there may not be a substantive decoupling between the US and other world economies, at the moment all roads seem to be leading to our shores and cheap oil can keep that road a one way path longer than is usually the case with economic cycles.

When considering the amount of evil introduced into the world as a result of oil profits supporting nefarious activities and various political agenda in countries many of us never even knew existed, the idea that energy self-reliance is paramount strategically becomes tangible. It also should make us wonder why we’ve essentially ignored doing anything for the past 40 years and why we would delay, even for another second the ability to break free from a position of submissiveness.

While most free market capitalists don’t like the idea of a government hand, there is something to be said for government support of US oil production and exploration activities particularly when they are suffering from low prices due to their successes and might have to curtail activity, as some in the world would like to see.

Insofar as the success of US producers adds to the tools with which we may face the rest of the sometimes less than friendly world, there is reason for our government to act as an anti-cartel at times and keep prices artificially low, while protecting local producers from short term pain they endure that helps to make the nation lass susceptible to pressures from other nations who are more than happy to control our destiny.

Great time to increase the Strategic Petroleum reserve, anyone?

In the meantime, though, that pain is being shared among investors in most every sector, as the volatility index, which usually moves in a direction opposite the market, is again moving higher as it has a habit of doing every two months, or so.

As an option seller that’s one bar I like seeing moved higher and higher, until someone asks the obvious question”

“How high will it go?”

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

From just about every perspective the stocks considered this week reads as a “Who’s Who of Losers.”

Sometimes there are good reasons, other times the reasons aren’t quite as clear, but even as oil prices may be playing a game of “how low can you go,” individual stocks across all sectors are being taken along for a nasty ride, that thus far has been nothing more than a 3.5% move from its recent high.

McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) is an example of a stock that continually finds itself on the wrong side of $100 and periodically finds itself on the wrong side of public opinion, as well. At the moment, it’s on the wrong side of each of those challenges and there is probably an association between the two.

While the news can get worse for McDonalds, a DJIA component, as it releases more US and international sales data, it is finally doing something that its franchisees have been wanting for quite a while, as it returns to some sense of simplicity in its menu. That simplicity will help reign in costs that can then reign in customers who have to balance cost and health consciousness.

Another DJIA component, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) also had a bad week, as it lowered profit forecasts and is feeling the pain of its competition with other carriers. It is also feeling the pain of underwriting the true costs of the wildly popular iPhone 6.

Having patiently waited for shares to return to the $47.50 level, it breezed right through that, heading straight to its low point for 2014.

With an upcoming dividend and option premiums increasing along with the volatility of its share price, Verizon is again becoming appealing, although there will be the matter off those earnings next month, that we’ve already been warned about, but are still likely to come as a surprise when reality hits.

Yet another DJIA component, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was on everyone’s “worst company and worst CEO” list and was even famously Jim Chanos’ short of the year back in July 2013. As most know, shares have traded well above those July 2013 levels and even with its recent 20% decline, it is still well above those levels.

While Caterpillar has some Chinese exposure there is often a reaction that is out of proportion to that exposure and that brings opportunity. I have long liked shares at $85, but it has been a long time since that level has been seen, much to Jim Chaos’ dismay. On the other hand, $90 may be close enough to consider initiating a position following this most recent round of weakness.

While EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) isn’t close to being a member of the DJIA it certainly wasn’t shielded from the losses, as it fell 6.5% on the week that was harsh to the technology sector, despite it being difficult to draw a straight line connecting oil and technology sectors.

Just a week or two ago I was willing to buy EMC shares at $30, but now, as with so many stocks, the question of “how low will it go?” must be raised, even if there is no logical reason to suspect anything lower, as long as it’s majority owned VMWare (NYSE:VMW) can do better than a 12% decline for the week.

The China story is reflected in 3 stocks highlighted this week and none of the stories are very good. Neither Joy Global (NYSE:JOY), Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) nor YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) had very good weeks, as a combination of stories from China struck at the core of their respective businesses.

Las Vegas Sands goes ex-dividend this week and despite its name, has significant interests in Macao. The gaming news coming from Macao has been a stream of negativity for the past 4 months, including such issues as the impact of smoking bans on casino income.

I already own 2 lots of Las Vegas Sands and have traded in and out of some additional lots these past few months, It’s Chinese exposure certainly has risk at the moment, but the dividend and premiums at this very low price level can serve as a good entry point or even to average down on existing shares.

YUM Brands has had years of experience in the Chinese marketplace and has had numerous challenges and obstacles come its way. Public health scares of airborne diseases, tainted food supplies and more, in addition to the normal cycles that economies go through.

Somehow, YUM Brands has been able to survive an onslaught of challenges, although it has been relatively slow in bouncing back from the latest food safety related issue. It lowered its profit forecasts this past week and took a very large hit, however, it subsequently recovered about half of the loss during the final two days of the week when the broader market was substantially lower.

Joy Global reports earnings next week and tumbled on Friday upon release of Chinese government data. The drop would seem consistent with Joy Global’s interests in China. However, what has frequently been curious is that Joy Global often paints a picture of its activity and importantly its forward activity in a light different from “official” government reports.

Following Friday’s pessimistic report from China, Joy Global plunged to its 5 year low in advance of earnings. Ideally, that is a more favorable condition if considering a position in advance of earnings, particularly if selling puts, as the concern for further drops can amplify the premiums on the puts and potentially provide a more appealing entry point for shares.

Blackberry (NASDAQ:BBRY) also reports earnings next week and it, too, has fallen significantly in the past month, having declined nearly 20% in that time.

I’m not really certain that anyone knows what its CEO John Chen has in mind for the company, but most respect his ability to do something constructive with the carcass that he was left with, upon arriving on the scene.

My intuition tells me that his final answer will be a sale to a Chinese company, as a last resort, and that will understandably be met with lots of resistance on both security and nationalism concerns. Until then, there’s always hope for making some money from the shares, but once that kind of sale is scuttled, the Blackberry story will have sailed.

For now, however, the option market is implying an 11.6% move in shares upon earnings news. Meanwhile, a 1.5% weekly ROI can be achieved through the sale of puts if shares do not fall more than 15%

Finally, after nothing but horrid news from the energy sector over the past weeks, at some point there comes a time when it just seems appropriate to pull the trigger and commit to a turnaround that is hopefully coming sooner, rather than later.

There is no shortage of names to choose from among, in that regard, but the one that stands out for me is the one that was somewhat ahead of the curve and has taken more pain than others, by virtue of having eliminated its dividend, which had been unsustainably high for quite a while.

Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) is now simply an offshore drilling and services company, that is beleaguered like all of the rest, but not any longer encumbered by its dividend.

What it offers may be a good example of just how low something can go and still be a viable and respectable company, while offering a very attractive option premium that reflects the risk or the opportunity that is implied to come along with ownership of shares.

Although the bar on Seadrill’s price may still be lowered if more sector bad news is forthcoming, Seadrill may also be the first poised to pop higher once that cycle reawakens.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, EMC Corporation, McDonalds, Verizon

Momentum: Seadrill, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (12/16 $0.50)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/17 AM), Blackberry (12/19 AM)

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

Weekend Update – September 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

Bonds, currencies and precious metals?

Ugly and stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Coach, Joy Global, Yahoo

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (9/23 PM)

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

Weekend Update – December 15, 2013

People tend to have very strong feelings about entitlements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Dip Dividend: none

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

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