Weekend Update – June 26, 2016

 A week ago, the world was getting ready for what all the polls had been predicting.

Only those willing to book bets seemed to have a different opinion.

Polls indicated that Great Britain was going to vote to leave the European Union, but those willing to put their money where their mouths were, didn’t agree.

Then suddenly there was a shift, perhaps due to the tragic murder of a proponent of keeping the EU intact.

That shift was seen not only in the polls, but in markets.

Suddenly, everyone was of the belief that British voters would do the obviously right thing and vote with their economic health in mind, first and foremost.

The funny thing is that it’s pretty irrational to expect rational behavior.

In a real supreme measure of confidence, just look at the 5 day performance of the S&P 500 leading up to the vote.

Although, if you really want to see what confidence looks like, just look at the gap higher to open Thursday’s trading, as voting had already started “across the pond.”

A rational person might wonder how in the world such confidence could be inspired. Not only confidence that British citizens would vote to stay in the EU, but that the preceding day’s gains were but a prelude to more gains, rather than the prelude to the “sell on the news” phenomenon.

That could all only be explained by the often irrational action provoking “fear of missing out.”

Certainly, Great Britain’s electorate would choose to stay in the EU for fear of missing out on all of the wonderful economic benefits ahead and investors feared missing out on the party that would ensue.

What they should have feared was the arrogance that allows you to get it all wrong.

Besides, if the bookies can get it wrong, what chance do mere mortals have?

With a 4 day advance of 2%, that left the S&P 500 up a whopping 3.4% for the year, that is, until traders realized that they all got “it” wrong.

By “it,” I mean the only thing that mattered at all during 2016.

In general, the only thing that does matter is whatever occurred most recently. Nothing prior to the “Brexit” is important any longer, just as that very same vote may become an ancient and irrelevant memory in just a few days as we now start worrying about the recession that JP Morgan (JPM) economists first put on the radar screen about a month ago.

For the bookies out there, the chance of a recession in the coming 12 months was put at about 35% at that time. I may not have learned a lesson about unwarranted confidence, but I feel pretty certain that those odds may have climbed a little in the past day or so.

Following Friday’s debacle in the European Union and the fears of other member nations considering the same referendum, in addition to Scotland  putting its own breakaway referendum back on the table, there may be turmoil and uncertainty for a while.

The big question is whether with stocks now sitting at the level at which they started the year, it is time to scoop up some bargains after those big one day declines?

I certainly don’t have the confidence to do so.

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

The one thing you may be able to say about Friday’s sell off, if you absolutely have to find a positive spin, is that it wasn’t really marked by panic.

Neither was there any half hearted attempt at a rally. 

Those intra-day rallies often suck people in under the pretense that everything was simply an over-reaction and it’s all alright now.

I’m not expecting any kind of a meaningful bounce higher as we get ready to trade the new week and am not particularly anxious to hunt for bargains.

It might have been easier to consider doing so if “Brexit” had some certainty about its short term impact, but also if there was some certainty that other member nations wouldn’t be lining up to consider their own version of an EU exit.

Where I may be willing to venture is where dividends are forthcoming this week, particularly if Friday took a potentially unwarranted toll on a company’s share price.

The two that come to mind very quickly are Cisco (CSCO) and Dow Chemical (DOW).

Cisco may have actually received some good news late in the week as the International Trade Commission ruled that some of its patents were infringed upon by a competitor. That initial ruling actually came in February and may have already been discounted in Cisco’s price, but the issuance of a “cease and desist” order to the competitor may help moving forward.

Nonetheless, after Friday’s decline, Cisco shares are at about the mid-way point between its recent high and recent low and for me, that is often a good point to consider entry.

With the ex-dividend date upcoming on the first trading day of the following week, which will be a Tuesday, due to the Fourth of July holiday, I would consider the sale of extended weekly call options if purchasing shares and perhaps attempting to get 2 weeks of premium even if shares are lost to early assignment.

Dow Chemical didn’t really get much in the way of good news or any bad news on Friday. it merely went along for the ride lower.

That ride lower does have several minor areas of price support beneath it and shares have traded very steadily for the past 3 months. I tend to like Dow Chemical when it is range bound. 

It generally offers an attractive option premium while doing so and if also capturing the dividend, it can pay to wait.

Among the issues ahead that many have been waiting for is a decision over the proposed complex transaction with DuPont (DD). While there isn’t much too about anything getting in the way of the proposed deal, I think that Dow Chemical is not trading at a level that has any deal premium incorporated into the share price.

I believe that whatever the outcome, Dow Chemical shares are poised to go higher, so I would consider this as a longer term holding and I already do have shares that fall into the longer term category.

Just as with Dow Chemical, I wrote about eBay (EBAY) last week.

There had been lots of speculation that eBay was among those stocks that had substantially more to lose than many others in the event of a vote to leave the European Union.

In this case, they got it right and shares tumbled nearly 7% on Friday, although they were down only 3% for the week.

Only 3%. That’s the kind of week it was.

Now that the immediacy of the shock may have passed, this may be one position that I might have a hard time passing up.

There’s no dividend to entice anyone, but it has traded very well for the past 4 months in its current range, as it now sits near the bottom of that range.

As it has historically, eBay has provided a very nice option premium, despite the fact that it tends to trade for prolonged periods in a tight range, occasionally punctuated by moves such as experienced on Friday.

Those moves help to keep those premiums healthy and attractive.

Finally, I’m not certain that Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) has necessarily done anything really wrong, certainly not by their historical standards of poor behavior and execution, to have warranted such a large decline in the past 2 months.

I continue to hold a single lot of much more expensive shares as shares now sit at a 2 year low.

With the ex-dividend date having been earlier this month, my inclination would be to consider a position through the sale of out of the money puts. While I might not mind taking ownership of shares at a lower price, this is definitely a position that i would prefer to rollover, if faced with assignment of shares.

I’m pretty confident of that.

 

 

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Cisco (7/5 $0.26), Dow Chemical (6/28 $0.46)

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 – March 6, 2016

Depending upon what kind of outlook you have in life, the word “limbo” can conjure up two very different pictures.

For some it can represent a theologically defined place of temporary internment for those sinners for whom redemption was still possible. 

In simple terms it may be thought of as a place between the punishing heat and torment of hell below and the divineness and comfort of heaven above.

Others may just see an image reminding them of a fun filled Caribbean night watching a limber individual dancing underneath and maybe dangerously close to a flaming bar that just keeps getting set lower and lower.

Both definitions of “limbo” require some significant balancing to get it just right.

For example, you don’t get entrance into the theologically defined “Limbo” if the preponderance of your sins are so grievous that you can’t find yourself having died in “the friendship of God.” Instead of hanging around and waiting for redemption, you get a one way ticket straight to the bottom floor.

It may take a certain balance of the quantity and quality of both the good and the bad acts that one has committed during their mortal period to determine whether they can ever have a chance to move forward and upward to approach the pearly gates of heaven.

If you’ve ever watched a limbo dancer, you know that it’s more than just the ability to flex a spinal cord. There’s also the balance that has to be maintained while somehow still moving forward and downward.

One limbo makes you strive to move you to a higher plane and the other strives to make you move to a lower plane.

Why they’re called the same thing confuses me.

After this week’s surprisingly high Employment Situation Report that was coupled with an unexpected lower average wage, the data that the FOMC finds itself analyzing seems itself to be getting more and more confusing to mere mortals.

At the same time more and more people are craving for some pronouncement of clarity.

Along with that confusion comes a need for the FOMC to balance the relative importance and meanings of the individual bits of data coming in and trying to understand what it all means going forward, if you accept that their decisions are data driven.

And, of course, there can’t be a reason to suspect that the decisions made will be anything but data driven. It’s just that there’s no data that assesses the interpretation of those economic data points and to explain why there may be widely differing opinions among the FOMC’s highly capable analysts.

Of course, there will be no shortage of critics ready to excoriate the decision makers for whatever decision they reach. However, if the FOMC members ever feel the heat they certainly do a good job of hiding that fact.

For now, markets continue to follow oil, including during its intra-day reversals and as long as oil continues to move higher, that’s a good thing.

With a nearly 10% increase this past week in oil, stocks had another great week, especially if you were holding any number of a long beleaguered series of stocks.

But as the week is set to begin, with very little of economic news scheduled and no fundamental change in anything, we’re left in limbo as we await the FOMC’s decision the following week.

Whether to continue the 3 week rally or to take profits is going to be anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that oil will some day be redeemed.

Not as certain is whether the stock market will come to realize that it is the reason behind prevailing oil prices and not the prices themselves that should determine whether the stock market is worthy of redemption, as well.

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

Unlike Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), many of the week’s extraordinarily performing stocks didn’t take the death of a founder or hedge fund activist to propel them forward, although it did seem as if the market placed a high multiple on death.

Having long suffered through the ownership of far too many commodity related stocks I was happy to see death and non-death related companies move higher, but still have no reason to believe that they are anywhere but remaining in limbo, with their own redemptions still being but a dream.

General Motors (GM) emerged from limbo during the throes of the financial crisis and under new leadership has weathered some difficult issues that could have been far more ruinous in an earlier time.

Like so many stocks over the past few weeks its shares have shown recovery and I believe that there is more ahead being propelled by fundamental factors. With shares being ex-dividend this week it looks like a good time to consider adding shares and selling either a weekly near the money contract or considering adding an additional week if the strike price is in the money.

In the latter case, using the slightly longer term contract would offset the loss of the dividend in the event shares are assigned early.

In a perfect example of how the herd is wrong, while we were all awaiting a rise in interest rates since the FOMC raised rates more than 3 months ago, all of those recommendations based on a rising interest rate environment were ill advised.

You know that if you owned shares of most anything in the financial sector.

I know that I know that to be the case, but I think we now may be in store for some sustained interest rate increases in the 10 Year Treasury and should see more strength being reflected in the financial sector.

One of my favorites in the event that those rates do finally resist making everyone look foolish again is MetLife (MET).

Even after having made up some lost ground over the past 3 weeks it still has more upside following a gap lower after its most recent earnings report.

While it has an admirable dividend as well, it tends to be associated with its earnings report date, which is still 2 months away. I would consider a purchase of shares and the sale of short term call contracts, further considering rolling over those contracts if assignment is likely at a price near the strike level.

It wasn’t so long ago that Seagate Technology (STX) may as well have given up. When storage was being talked about as being a commodity, most had written it off as irrelevant for anyone’s portfolio.

When a product becomes a mere commodity the conventional wisdom is that the stock becomes dead money, but it has been hard to characterize Seagate Technology as having anything but life.

Sometimes that existence has been fairly erratic as it is prone to sharp moves higher and lower, often both in narrow time frames.

That gives options an attractive premium, reflecting the enhanced volatility.

Seagate Technology is a stock that I prefer to consider through the sale of out of the money puts and am often happy rolling those puts over in an attempt to avoid being assigned shares.

With its ex-dividend date is still 2 months away, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to do so on a serial basis and accumulating those premiums in the process. If still faced with assignment in the week leading up to that ex-dividend date I would take assignment in an effort to then grab the dividend.

The caveat is that Seagate Technology’s dividend is unsustainably high. Seagate, during its existence as a publicly traded company did briefly reduce and then suspend its dividend for nearly 2 years, beginning at the depth of the market’s 2009 meltdown. but has been consistently raising it since the resumption.

It may be time for either a respite or some killer earnings. If selling puts I would prefer the latter.

I also like the idea of selling puts into price weakness. In the event that Dow Chemical (DOW) shows some weakness as the week gets ready to begin, I may consider the sale of put options.

What may put some pressure on Dow Chemical is the news that broke after the closing bell on Friday that DuPont (DD), well along the way toward its complex merger with Dow Chemical, may have another suitor with very, very deep pockets.

That suitor is reported to be BASF SE (BASFY) the Germany based chemical company, who may have to dig extra deep due to the Euro insisting that it make its way toward parity with the US Dollar.

For its part, Dow Chemical may be forced to dig deeper to complete the deal, but the after hours trading actually saw some increase in Dow Chemical’s share price, as well, perhaps reflecting the perceived value of the Dow Chemical and DuPont merger, which may be too afar along to be disrupted by something other than regulators.

Finally, while commodities led the week higher, the advance was broad. However, in the “No Stock Left Behind” march higher during the late half of February and beginning of March are some pharmaceutical names.

Pfizer (PFE), while not the poorest of a cohort of under-performers over the past 3 weeks while the market has been working hard to erase 2016’s losses, was at the bottom of the heap this past week.

While it still has a big unresolved issue ahead of it with regard to its strategy to escape significant US tax liability by merging with Ireland based Allergan (AGN), it has long ceded the premium that investors had given it when the news of the proposal first broke.

While there is no assurance that Pfizer and Allergan will receive regulatory approval, while the proposal itself is in limbo, there continues to be opportunity to utilize Pfizer as a vehicle to generate option premiums.

With its healthy dividend, a long sojourn in limbo could be propitious for option writers, particularly if there is little downside risk associated with the merger being blocked.

 
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Motors (3/9 $0.38)

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 – February 7, 2016

If the recently deceased Harlem Globetrotters’ great player, Meadowlark Lemon had been alive today and helping the equally great band, The Byrds, re-write their classic song, it would likely get a new title.

The title would perfectly describe what this past week was a all about.

“Spin, Spin, Spin.”

Whether it was post-Iowa Caucus result speeches by the candidates or President Obama’s comments in the aftermath of Friday’s disappointing Employment Situation Report and downward revision to the previous month, it’s easy to see the spin going around and around.

No wonder the stock market is getting dizzy and dizzier, despite its heights getting lower and lower.

With confusion coming from Iowa regarding the definition of “winning” from both sides of the aisle you could easily be excused for shaking your head as the week started.

Then, when a picture of decreasing employment numbers alongside increasing jobless claims numbers was painted as reflecting an increasingly robust economy you could have been further excused for shaking your head into the week’s end.

Politicians who want an opportunity to create a legacy, as well as lame duck politicians who want to cement a legacy are very adept at spin and the ability to portray everything in terms of black and white.

The other side is always wrong and the facts are as portrayed and not as fact.

For stock investors life was much easier when only having to deal with the paradoxical association between oil and stocks.

You simply awoke in the morning and saw where West Texas Intermediate was trading and knew that the stock market would go in the same direction.

Now they’re back into having to decide whether news they hear is good or bad and whether to react appropriately to that news or paradoxically.

Of course, that would be easier if news was really presented on a factual basis and not so quickly subjected to overwhelmingly sanctimonious spin.

With the notion that evidence of a slow down in the economy would make the likelihood of further Federal Reserve rate hikes less, bad news was once again being taken as good news. The predominance of oil, however, as a factor in the market’s direction may have been obscuring some of that newly rediscovered fractured thought process.

With the market having spent the week going back and forth with numerous large intra-day moves and some large daily moves, it all came down to Friday’s trading to determine the fate of the DJIA for the week, as it had only been 34 points lower heading into the final day of trading. That week included one day with a loss of 290 points and the following day with a gain of 193 points.

If you were among those for whom confidence could have been inspired by those kind of movements, then any kind of upcoming spin could have led you in any direction.

Of course, the direction also depended on whether you are now of the increasing frame of mind that good news is bad news.

While we awaited Friday morning’s Employment Situation Report release and the DJIA had been down only 0.2%, the broader indexes weren’t faring quite as well.

The S&P 500 had already been 1.3% lower on the week and the NASDAQ 100 was down 2.6%.

With Friday morning’s release, the data, while disappointing was likely not weak enough to give cause for much celebration for those looking for good reason to dismiss the possibility of future interest rate hikes in 2016.

What may have cast a pall on the market was the Presidential spin that focused on the 4.9% jobless rate and wage growth.

If you were among those interpreting bad news as being good, you had to interpret that kind of spin as being good news.

And that can only be bad as the FOMC had certainly not closed the door on further interest rate increases in its recent statement.

While the DJIA lost an additional 1.3% to end the week, the NASDAQ 100 tacked on an additional 3.4% to its already sizable loss for the week, while the S&P 500 lost an additional 1.9%.

Good luck trying to spin that as we begin to prepare for the coming week.

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

Having suffered the direct blow from decrease oil prices and the indirect blow from what those decreasing prices have wrought upon the market, it’s not easy to consider adding another energy position.

Who can begin to count the number of times over the past 15 months that it didn’t look as if we had hit a once in a generation kind of rock bottom bargain price for a barrel of oil?

With ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) having just slashed its dividend, you do have to wonder whether British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) could be next.

WHile its dividend this week is presumably safe, it’s harder to make that case for the remainder of 2016 if rude prices continue to test lows. In its defense, British Petroleum is better diversified than ConocoPhillips is after having spun off its refining assets a few years ago, but the risk of insufficient cash flow is still there.

What is also there is a very nice option premium in reflection of further risk.

Looking at the option premiums, I am inclined to look at more than a weekly option contract, as is normally my approach for positions going ex-dividend during the week.

The exaggerated volatility of the past 2 weeks is really enhancing the premium and the dividend is extraordinary, while likely having more safety than the option market may be surmising.

Also ex-dividend this week are DuPont (NYSE:DD) and International Paper (NYSE:IP).

While DuPont has gone considerably higher in the past two weeks, I believe that in the absence of general market weakness it can recapture much of what had been lost following the announcement of a complex deal with Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW).

With some strength also seen in Dow Chemical recently, I took the opportunity to sell calls on uncovered shares and is a portion of the strategic theme for this week, I used an out of the money strike price and a longer term time frame than I would normally consider in an effort to lock in some higher volatility driven option premiums and to regain lost share value.

The same approach holds for if considering a purchase of International Paper.

While it’s recent earnings report exceeded expectations and met whisper numbers, its stock price trend for the past year has been decidedly lower and lower, even in the absence of structural or operating issues.

While its payout ratio is getting uncomfortably high, the generous premium should continue to be safe and I might consider locking in the premium for a longer term, perhaps to even encompass an additional ex-dividend date in May 2016, although upcoming earnings would also have to be considered if doing so.

For that reason, I might even consider going out to a July 2016 expiration in the anticipation that some of that lost luster in its price will be regained by then,

Although not ex-dividend this week, EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) is among some of those fallen angels in the technology sector and which are beginning to celebrate their newly found volatility with some enhanced option premiums.

Somehow lost in the story with EMC is that there is a buyout offer that appears to be on track for completion and at a price that is substantially higher than Friday’s closing price.

I’m not one to play in the same arena with those expert in the science and art of arbitrage, but this one seems to offer some opportunity, even as the deal isn’t expected to close until the end of the year.

While there may still be regulatory hurdles head, EMC appears to be a willing partner and while awaiting a decision, there are still some dividends to be had.

For that reason, I might consider buying shares and selling a longer term and significantly out of the money option contract. Since I also already have existing shares at $30, I might consider combining lots and selling calls at a strike below the cost of the original lot, not counting accumulated premiums and dividends.

Finally, I just don’t think that I can any longer resist buying shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) at this level.

eBay was one of my more frequent holdings until the announcement of its definitive plan to spin off its profitable PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) unit.

What could be more appropriate when talking about the week’s spin than to look at a post-spin eBay?

For years I loved holding eBay as it made little net movement, even as it had occasional spikes and plunges usually earnings related. All that meant was that it had an attractive option premium, with relatively little risk associated with it, as long as you didn’t mind those occasional plunges that were inevitably reversed.

WIth no real challenge ahead of it other than market risk in general, eBay is now at its post spin-off low and is offering a great option premium for what I perceive to be low risk.

WIth those premiums so attractive, but mindful that there may be near term market risk, I would probably think in terms of selling longer term and out of the money call contracts on any shares that I purchased.

While the market could continue to be further dragged down by declining oil prices and while games are still being played with what economic data really means and how it should be interpreted, you do have to wonder how any of that impacts eBay.

I know that I do.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, EMC Corporation

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (2/10 $0.59), DuPont (2/10 $0.38), International Paper (2/11 $0.38)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:

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 27, 2015

Mathematicians have always been fascinated by the special properties of the number “zero.”

It’s not really certain how long the concept of zero has been around or who may have been responsible for introducing the concept, but from my perspective all of the fascination is much ado about nothing.

If the alternative is going to be something bad, I suppose that nothing is good, but it isn’t always that way.

Not all nothings are created equally.

Ancient mathematicians were themselves fascinating people whose minds were so expansive during an age when physicality was more important than cogitation.

I can only imagine what a royal court or patron would have thought after having supported those activities of a deep thinking mathematician, only to ask “Well, what have you done for the past year? What do you have to show for your efforts and my patronage?”

“I have discovered Nothing,” wasn’t likely to be well accepted without some significant opportunity for explanation. Fast talking would have to replace slow and methodical thinking if the gallows were to be avoided.

That’s especially true if the other mathematician your patron had been thinking of taking into the royal court went on to discover the magic of compound interest for the sovereign next door.

If you’re a hedge fund manager that example has some modern day application. Although we don’t generally send people to the gallows anymore for poor performance, it has been another rough year for hedge funds who are certain to realize that the very idea of “making love out of nothing at all” won’t apply to their investors.

In general, as someone who sells covered options, I like the idea of no net change, as long as there are some spasms of activity to keep people on their toes and guessing about what’s next.

Those spasms of activity create the uncertainty that is also referred to as “volatility,” and that volatility drives option premiums.

Most option buyers are looking to ride the wave of that spasm and trying to predict its onset.

In what was thought to be an oddity, 2011 ended the year with virtually no change in the S&P 500.

2011 was a great year for a covered option strategy as volatility remained high in the latter half of the year and the premiums were so engorged, it even made sense to rollover positions that were going to get called away or to sell deep in the money options.

2015? Not so much.

With now just a week remaining in 2015, that historical oddity may repeat itself as the S&P 500 is 0.1% higher, but for those who revel in volatility, 2015 was far different from 2011.

In both cases the market’s deterioration began in August and in both cases volatility spiked, but in 2015 volatility is likely to end the year lower than where it had started the year.

Beyond that, however, the nature of the “no change” seen in the S&P 500 was far different between 2011 and 2015.

The lack of change in 2011 was fairly well distributed among a broad swath of stocks. Very few stocks thrived and very few stocks plunged. The vast majority of the S&P 500 component stocks just muddled their way through the year.

In 2015, though, a fairly small handful of stocks really, really thrived and many, many stocks, really, really plunged. The skew in the fortunes of stocks was as pronounced as I can recall, with far more vastly under-performing the averages.

The net result in both 2011 and 2015 was nothing, unless you used your personal bottom line as a metric.

It bears repeating: Not all nothings are created equally.

For those who look at these sort of things, the general belief is that the year following a year of no change in the markets tends to be a good year. That was the case in 2012. Not a great year, but a good year by most measures.

If you liked 2012 and you wouldn’t mind a repeat of 2014 and aren’t necessarily holding out for another repeat of 2013, the hope has to be that this year of nothing leads to a year of some redemption, as is a befitting wish during this holiday season of redemption.

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

I’ve opened fewer new positions in the past 3 weeks than I have in at least 5 years. Looking back at records, I was more actively trading the day after a heart attack, using the electrical outlet for a heart monitor in a London hospital to get the more important connections needed, than in December 2015.

Hopefully January 2016 will be different, but in another holiday shortened trading week, there’s very little reason to have any confidence of what the last week of 2015 has in store.

Looking back at the previous 51 weeks, there wasn’t much reason to believe that there was a rational basis to much of anything that ended up occurring.

This week, looking at the potential trades outlined, it’s fairly clear that I didn’t make it very far down the alphabetical list of stocks that I follow.

Cisco (CSCO), Coach (COH), Comcast (CMCSA), Cypress Semiconductor (CY), Deere (DE) and Dow Chemical (DOW) don’t represent a very broad view of what’s available, but it’s broad enough for me this week.

With the exception of Coach, all of the remainder are ex-dividend next week or on the first Monday of 2016 and with uncertainty still in the air, the idea of dividends holds more and more appeal for me.

Dow Chemical and Coach were both assigned away from me last week, although I still hold shares of each and wouldn’t mind adding to those.

With next week likely to be one that has some news of holiday sales, the predominant theme that we’re likely to hear as how the unusually warm weather across much of the country has depressed sales. We’ll probably also hear a lot about the continuing growth of on-line sales, although the inability of online retailers to get Christmas packages to homes in time will also garner attention.

While traditional retailers may suffer from the warm weather, I don’t think that Coach will be in quite the same predicament. 

Having just captured its dividend and with earnings coming up in a month, I would consider adding shares if it either stays flat to open the week or gives back a bit more of what it did to end the previous week. I’d like to consider a re-purchase of those assigned shares somewhere below $32.50, but I do see some upside potential heading into earnings and perhaps beyond.

Dow Chemical is ex-dividend this week and for the time being it may be dominated by news regarding its complex merger with DuPont (DD), whose complexity is likely designed to placate regulators. The proposed plan involves a certain amount of trust, in that a post-merger break up, a year or so down the line, is part of strategy and we all know how things may be subject to change.

Regulators may know that, too.

The nice thing about considering a position in Dow Chemical, however, is that it doesn’t appear as if there’s very much premium in the share price, reflecting the merger, any longer. Following a brief spike when the news leaked, the share price has returned to pre-leak levels.

Unlike most “Double Dip Dividend” trades where I typically prefer to sell in the money call options, in this case I may want to sell an out of the money option in anticipation of  continued price strength.

Among the potential dividend related trades are Comcast and Cisco, both of which are ex-dividend on the Monday of the following week.

In such cases, I like to look for an opportunity to consider selling an in the money extended weekly option in the hopes of seeing early assignment by the option holder in their attempt to secure the dividend.

That kind of strategy is better when volatility is higher, but can still effectively offer the option seller a portion of the dividend or in essence an enhancement to the option premium that would have been obtained if having sold a weekly option.

For example, based on the week’s closing prices, purchasing Comcast shares at $57.30 and selling a January 8, 2016 $57 option would provide a $1.04 premium.

If those shares were assigned early in a bid to grab the $0.25 dividend, the ROI for the single week of holding would be 1.3%.

If however, the shares were not assigned early, but were rather assigned the following week, the ROI would be 1.7%, so there is some justification for wanting an early assignment, particularly if you believe you can then recycle the money received back upon assignment into something else that can have a weekly ROI in excess of the additional 0.4% that could have been achieved if not assigned early.

Of course, there also has to be an underlying reason to believe that the shares are an appropriate holding in your portfolio.

Following some weakness, I think this is a good time to consider Comcast shares, as I don’t see any near term threat, although the longer term for all traditional media outlets and content providers is murky.

Cisco, on the other hand, has been successfully bouncing off from its support level at about $1 below the week’s closing price. The ROI numbers aren’t quite as compelling as for Comcast if considering selling an in the money option. However, in this case, I would consider selling an extended weekly out of the money option, again, not despairing if the shares are assigned early in an attempt by the contract holder to secure the dividend.

Deere is also ex-dividend this week and its chart from August onward, reminds me of Cisco’s chart from the end of October and I would also consider the use of an out of the money option. However, as the Deere ex-dividend date is on Tuesday, you can still consider selling a weekly in the money option if looking for a potentially quick “take the money and run” opportunity.

Since Deere’s dividend of $0.60 is larger than the strike level gradations of $0.50 and with volatility low, using a weekly  in the money option isn’t likely to result in early assignment unless shares are more than $0.60 in the money at Monday’s close.

Using a slightly more in the money option, such as the December 31, 2015 $78 option, based on last week’s closing price of $78.79 is more likely to result in an early assignment, but with only a net $0.37 to show for the effort.

Still, for a single day of holding, that’s not too bad.

On the other hand, using a January 8, 2016 $78 option could yield a net premium of $0.73 if shares are assigned early, or a total return of $1.33 if assigned at the intended expiration.

Finally, Cypress Semiconductor is also ex-dividend this week. 

It has fallen a long way ever since its strategic buyout of rival Integrated Silicon Solution was blocked by a successful rival bid.

One thing that I wouldn’t do is to discount the ability of its founder and CEO to use his own expansive mind to position Cypress Semiconductor better in a very competitive environment.

T.J. Rodgers has certainly been a visionary and strategic master. While I do currently own two lots of Cypress Semiconductor, I wouldn’t rule out adding another lot in order to secure the dividend and some share gains before the January 15, 2016 contract expiration.

However, if those contracts aren’t likely to get assigned, I would probably consider rolling over to the March 2016 contract, as earnings are reported on January 21, 2016 and shares can be volatile upon earnings news and some additional time for recovery could be appreciated while still having been able to add some premium income into the position’s net return.



Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double-Dip Dividend: Cisco (1/4/16 $0.21), Comcast (1/4/16 $0.25), Cypress Semiconductor (12/29/15 $0.11), Deere (12/29/15 $0.60), Dow Chemical (12/29/15 $0.46)

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 – December 13, 2015

Sometimes if you take a step back and look at the big picture it’s much easer to see what’s going on as you distance yourself from the source.

No one, for example, falls off a cliff while watching the evening news from the safety of their media room, although being in the last car of a train doesn’t necessarily protect you when the lead car is getting ready to take a dive.

I’m not certain that anyone, whether knee deep in stocks or just casually looking at things from a dispassionate distance could have foreseen the events of the past week.

For starters, there really were no events to foresee. Certainly none to account for the nearly 4% decline in the S&P 500, with about half of that loss coming on the final trading day of the week.

What appears to have happened is that last week’s strong Employment Situation Report was the sharp bend in the track that obscured what was awaiting.

Why the rest of the track beyond that bend disappeared is anyone’s guess, as is the distance to the ground below.

With Friday’s collapse that added on to the losses earlier in the week, the market is now about 6% below its August highs and 2.3% lower on the year, with barely 3 weeks left in 2015.

Not too long ago we saw that the market was again capable of sustaining a loss of greater than 10%, although it had been a long time since we had last seen that occur. The recovery from those depths was fairly quick, also hastened by an Employment Situation report, just 2 months ago.

I don’t generally have very good prescience, but I did have a feeling of unease all week, as this was only about the 6th time in the past 5 years that I didn’t open any new positions on the week. All previous such weeks have also occurred in 2015.

The past week had little to be pleased about. Although there was a single day of gains, even those were whittled away, as all of the earlier attempts during the week to pare losses withered on the vine.

Most every sell-off this year, particularly coming at the very beginning of the week has seemed to be a good point to wade in, in pursuit of some bargains. Somehow, however, I never got that feeling last week, although I did briefly believe that the brakes were put on just in time before the tracks ran out up ahead early during Thursday’s trading.

For that brief time I thought that I had missed the opportunity to add some bargains, but instead used the strength to roll over positions a day earlier than I more normally would consider doing.

That turned out to be good luck, as there again was really no reason to expect that the brakes would give out, although that nice rally on Thursday did become less impressive as the day wore on.

Maybe that should have been the sign, but when you’re moving at high speed and have momentum behind you, it’s not easy to stop, much less know that there’s a reason to stop.

Now, as a new and potentially big week is upon us with the FOMC Statement release and Janet Yellen’s press conference to follow, the real challenge may be in knowing when to get going again.

I plan on being circumspect, but wouldn’t mind some further declines to start the coming week. At some point, you can hand over the edge and realize that firm footing isn’t that far below. Getting just a little bit closer to the ground makes the prospect of taking the leap so much easier.

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

It’s not entirely accurate to say that there were no events during the past week.

There was one big, really big event that hit early in the week and was confirmed a few days later.

That was the merger of DJIA component DuPont (DD) and its market capitalization equivalent and kissing cousin, Dow Chemical (DOW).

After both surged on the initial rumor, they gave back a substantial portion of those gains just two days later.

I currently own shares of Dow Chemical and stand to lose it to assignment at $52.50 next week, although it does go ex-dividend right before the end of the year and that may give some incentive to roll the position over to either delay assignment or to squeeze out some additional premium.

While it would be understandable to think that such a proposed merger would warrant regulatory scrutiny, the announced plans to break up the proposed newly merged company into 3 components may ease the way for the merger.

A with the earlier mega-merger between Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN) for some more questionable reasons related to tax liability, even if higher scrutiny is warranted, it’s hard to imagine action taken so quickly as to suppress share price. Because of that unlikely situation, the large premium available for selling Dow Chemical calls makes the buy/write seem especially inviting, particularly as the dividend is factored into the equation.

General Motors (GM) is ex-dividend this coming week and like many others, the quick spike in volatility has made its option premiums more and more appealing, even during a week that it is ex-dividend.

I almost always buy General Motors in advance of its dividend and as I look back over the experience wonder why I hadn’t done so more often. 

Its current price is below the mean price for the previous 6 holdings over the past 18 months and so this seems to be a good time to add shares to the ones that I already own.

The company has been incredibly resilient during that time, given some of its legal battles. That resilience has been both in share price and car sales and am improving economy should only help in both regards.

After a month of rolling over Seagate Technology (STX) short puts, they finally expired this past Friday. The underlying shares didn’t succumb to quite the same selling pressure as did the rest of the market.

As with Dow Chemical, I did give some thought to keeping the position alive even as I want to add to my cash position and the expiration of a short put contract would certainly help in that regard.

With the Seagate Technolgy cash back in hand after the expiration of those puts, I would like to do it over again, especially if Seagate shows any weakness to start the week. 

Those shares are still along way away from recovering the large loss from just 2 months ago, but they have traded well at the $34.50 range.

By my definition that means a stock that has periodic spasms of movement in both directions, but returns to some kind of a trading range in between. Unfortunately, sometimes those spasms can be larger than expected and can take longer than expected to recover.

As long as the put market has some liquidity and the options are too deeply in the money, rolling over the short puts to keep assignment at bay is a possibility and the option premiums can be very rewarding

Finally, it was a rough week for most all stocks, but the financials were hit especially hard as the interest rate on a 10 Year Treasury Note fell 6%.

That hard hit included Morgan Stanley (MS), which fell 9% on the week and MetLife (MET), which fared better, dropping by only 8%.

The decline on the former brought it back down to the lows it experienced after its most recent earnings report. At those levels I bought and was subsequently assigned out of shares on 4 occasions during a 5 week period.

In my world that’s considered to be as close to heaven as you can hope to get.

With the large moves seen in Morgan Stanley over the past 2 months it has been offering increasingly attractive option premiums and can reasonably be expected to begin to show some strength as an interest rate increase becomes reality.

MetLife, following the precipitous decline of this past week is now within easy striking distance of its 52 week low. However, shares do appear to have some reasonably good price support just $1 below Friday’s close and as with Morgan Stanley, the option premiums are indicating increased uncertainty that’s been created because of the recent strong moves lower.

In a raising rate environment those premiums can offset any near term bumpiness in the anticipated path higher, as these financial sector stocks tend to follow interest rates quite closely.

The only lesson to be learned is that sometimes it pays to not follow too closely if there’s a cliff awaiting you both.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Motors (12/16 $0.36)

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 – October 18, 2015

You have to be impressed with the way the market has rallied back from the morning of the most recent Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks earlier.

At the low point of that morning when the market seemed appropriately disappointed by the very disappointing numbers and the lowered revisions the S&P 500 had sunk to a point more than 11% below its recent high.

At its peak point of return since that low the S&P 500 was only 4.9% below its summer time high.

The difficulty in sustaining a large move in a short period of time is no different from the limitations we see in ourselves after expending a burst of energy and even those who are finally tuned to deliver high levels of performance.

When you think about a sprinter who’s asked to run a longer distance or bringing in a baseball relief pitcher who’s considered to be a “closer” with more than an inning to go, you see how difficult it can be to reach deep down when there’s nothing left to reach for.

Sometimes you feel as if there’s no choice and hope for the best.

You also can see just how long the recovery period can be after you’ve been asked to deliver more than you’ve been capable of delivering in the past. It seems that reaching deep down to do your best borrows heavily from the future.

While humans can often take a break and recharge a little markets are now world wide, inter-connected and plugged into a 24/7 news cycle.

While it may be boring when the market takes a rest by simply not moving anywhere, it can actually expend a lot of energy if it moves nowhere, but does so by virtue of large movements in off-setting directions.

We need a market that can now take a real rest and give up some of the histrionics, even though I like the volatility that it creates so that I can get larger premiums for the sale of options.

The seminal Jackson Browne song puts a different spin on the concept of “running on empty,” but the stock market doesn’t have the problems of a soulless wanderer, even though, as much as it’s subject to anthropomorphism, it has no soul of its own.

Nor does it have a body, but both body and soul can get tired. This market is just tired and sometimes there’s no real rest for the weary.

After having moved up so much in such a short period of time, it’s only natural to wonder just what’s left.

The market may have been digging deep down but its fuel cells were beginning to hit the empty mark.

This week was one that was very hard to read, as the financial sector began delivering its earnings and the best news that could come from those reports was that significantly decreased legal costs resulted in improved earnings, while core business activities were less than robust.

If that’s going to be the basis for an ongoing strategy, that’s not a very good strategy. Somehow, though, the market consistently reversed early disappointment and drove those financials reporting lackluster top and bottom lines higher and higher.

You can’t help but wonder what’s left to give.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) may be on very different ends of the scale, but they’ve both known some very bad days this year.

For American Express it came with the news that it was no longer going to be accepted as the sole credit card at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores around the nation. While that was bad enough, the really bad news came with the realization of just how many American Express card holders were actually holders of the Costco co-branded card.

There was a great Bloomberg article this week on some of the back story behind the American Express and Costco relationship and looks at their respective cultures and the article does raise questions about American Express’ ability to continue commanding a premium transaction payment from retailers, as well as continuing to keep their current Costco cardholders without the lure of Costco.

What American Express has been of late is a steady performer and the expectation should be that the impact of its loss of business in 2016 has already been discounted.

American Express reports earnings this week, but it’s option premiums aren’t really significantly enhanced by uncertainty.

Normally, I look to the sale of puts to potentially take advantage of earnings, but with American Express I might also consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of calls and then strapping on for what could be a bumpy ride.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand only recently starting accepting American Express cards and that relationship was seen as a cheapening of the elite American Express brand, but we can all agree that money is money and that may trump everything else.

Apparently, however, investors didn’t seem to realize that Wal-Mart’s well known plan to increase employee salaries was actually going to cost money and they were really taken by surprise this week when they learned just how much.

What’s really shocking is that some very simple math could have spelled it out with some very reasonable accuracy since the number of workers eligible to receive the raise and the size of the raise have been known for months.

It reminds me of the shock expressed by Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca” as he says “I’m shocked to find gambling is going on in here,” as he swoops up his winnings.

Following the decline and with a month still to go until earnings are reported, this new bit of uncertainty has enhanced the option premiums and a reasonable premium can possibly be found even when also trying to secure some capital gains from shares by using an out of the money strike price.

The Wal-Mart news hit retail hard, although to be fair, Target’s (NYSE:TGT) decline started as a plunge the prior day, when it fell 5% in the aftermath of an unusually large purchase of short term put options.

While I would look at Target as a short term trade, selling a weekly call option on shares, in the hope that there would be some recovery in the coming week, there may also be some longer term opportunities. That’s because Target goes ex-dividend and then reports earnings 2 days later during the final week of the November 2015 option cycle.

DuPont (NYSE:DD), Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) don’t have very much in common, other than some really large share plunges lately, something they all share with American Express and Wal-Mart.

But that’s exactly the kind of market it has been. There have been lots of large plunges and very slow recoveries. It’s often been very difficult to reconcile an overall market that was hitting all time highs at the same time that so many stocks were in correction mode.

DuPont’s plunge came after defeating an activist in pursuit of Board seats, but the announcement of the upcoming resignation of its embattled CEO has put some life back into shares, even as they face the continuing marketplace challenges.

Dupont will report earnings the following week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the November 2015 option cycle.

While normally considering entering a new position with a short term option sale, I may consider the use of a monthly option in this case in an effort to get a premium reflecting its increased volatility and possibly also capturing its dividend, while hoping for some share appreciation, as well.

Seagate Technology is simply a mess at a time that hardware companies shouldn’t be and it may become attractive to others as its price plunges.

Storage, memory and chips have been an active neighborhood, but Seagate’s recent performance shows you the risks involved when you think that a stock has become value priced.

I thought that any number of times about Seagate Technology over the course of the past 6 months, but clearly what goes low, can go much lower.

Seagate reports earnings on October 30th, so my initial approach would likely be to consider the sale of weekly, out of the money puts and hope for the best. If in jeopardy of being assigned due to a price decline, I would consider rolling the contract over. The choice of time frame for that possible rollover will depend upon Seagate’s announcement of their next ex-dividend date, which should be sometime in early November 2015.

With that dividend in mind, a very generous one and seemingly safe, thoughts could turn to taking assignment of shares and then selling calls in an effort to keep the dividend.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn’t really taken the same kind of single day plunge of some of those other companies, but its slow decline is finally making Jim Chanos’ much publicized 2 year short position seem to be genius.

It’s share price connection to Chinese economic activity continues and lately that hasn’t been a good thing. Caterpillar is both ex-dividend this week and reports earnings. That’s generally not a condition that I like to consider, although there are a number of companies that do the same and when they are also attractively priced it may warrant some more attention.

In this case, Caterpillar is ex-dividend on October 22nd and reports earnings that same morning. That means that if someone were to attempt to exercise their option early in order to capture the dividend, they mist do so by October 21st.

Individual stocks have been brutalized for much of 2015 and they’ve been slow in recovering.

Among the more staid selections for consideration this week are Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) and Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

I’ve always liked Fastenal and have always considered it a company that quietly reflects United States economic activity, both commercial and personal. At a time when so much attention has been focused on currency exchange and weakness in China, you would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that it was a perfect time to pick up or add shares of a company that is essentially immune to both, perhaps benefiting from a strong US Dollar.

Well, if you weren’t wrong, I have been and am already sitting on an expensive lot of uncovered shares.

With only monthly option contracts and earnings already having been reported, I would select a slightly out of the money option strike or when the December 2015 contracts are released possibly consider the slightly longer term and at a higher strike price, in the belief that Fastenal has been resting long enough at its current level and is ready for another run.

Colgate-Palmolive is a company that I very infrequently own, but always consider doing so when its ex-dividend date looms.

I should probably own it on a regular basis just to show solidarity with its oral health care products, but that’s never crossed my mind.

Not too surprisingly, given its business and sector, even from peak to trough, Colgate-Palmolive has fared far better than many and will likely continue to do so in the event of market weakness. While it may not keep up with an advancing market, that’s something that I long ago reconciled myself to, when deciding to pursue a covered option strategy.

As a result of it being perceived as having less uncertainty it’s combined option premium and dividend, if captured, isn’t as exciting as for some others, but there’s also a certain personal premium to be paid for the lack of excitement.

The excitement may creep back in the following week as Colgate reports earnings and in the event that a weekly contract has to be rolled over I would considered rolling over to a date that would allow some time for price recovery in the event of an adverse price move.

Reporting earnings this week are Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Other than the controversy surrounding its high technology swim suits at the last summer Olympics, Under Armour hasn’t faced much in the way of bad news. Even then, it proved to have skin every bit as repellent as its swim suits.

The news of the resignation of its COO, who also happened to serve as CFO, sent shares lower ahead of earnings.

The departure of such an important person is always consequential, although perhaps somewhat less so when the founder and CEO is still an active and positive influence in the company, as is most definitely the case with under Armour.

However, the cynic sees the timing of such a departure before earnings are released, as foretelling something awry.

The option market is implying a price move of about 7.5%, while a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained through the sale of puts 9% below Friday’s closing price.

For me, the cynic wins out, however. Under Armour then becomes another situation that I would consider the sale of puts contracts after earnings if shares drop strongly after the report, or possible before earnings if there is a sharp decline in its advance.

I’m of the belief that Google’s new corporate name, “Alphabet” will be no different from so many other projects in beta that were quietly or not so quietly dropped.

There was a time that I very actively traded Google and sold calls on the positions.

That seems like an eternity ago, as Google has settled into a fairly stodgy kind of stock for much of the past few years. Even its reaction to earnings reports have become relatively muted, whereas they once were things to behold.

That is if you ignore its most recent earnings report which resulted in the largest market capitalization gain in a single day in the history of the world.

Now, Alphabet is sitting near its all time highs and has become a target in a way that it hasn’t faced before. While it has repeatedly faced down challenges to its supremacy in the world of search, the new challenge that it is facing comes from Cupertino and other places, as ad blockers may begin to show some impact on Alphabet’s bread and butter product, Google.

Here too, the reward offered for the risk of selling puts isn’t very great, as the option market is implying a 6% move. That $40 move in either direction could bring shares down to the $620 level, at which a barely acceptable 1% ROI for a weekly put sale may be achieved.

With no cushion between what the market is implying and where a 1% ROI can be had, I would continue to consider the sale of puts if a large decline precedes the report or occurs after the report, but I don’t think that I would otherwise proactively trade prior to earnings.

Finally, VMWare (NYSE:VMW) also reports earnings this week.

If you’re looking for another stock that has plunged in the past week or so, you don’t have to go much further than VMWare, unless your definition requires a drop of more than 15%.

While it has always been a volatile name, VMWare is now at the center of the disputed valuation of the proposed buyout of EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC), which itself has continued to be the major owner of VMWare.

I generally like stocks about to report earnings when they have already suffered a large loss and this one seems right.

The option market is implying about a 5.2% move next week, yet there’s no real enhancement of the put premium, in that a 1% ROI could be obtained, but only at the lower border of the implied move.

The structure of the current buyout proposal may be a factor in limiting the price move that option buyers and sellers are expecting and may be responsible for the anticipated sedate response to any news.

While that may be the case, I think that the downside may be under-stated, as has been the case for many stocks over the past few months, so the return is not enough to get me to take the risk. But, as also has been the case for the past few months, it may be worthy considering to pile on if VMWare disappoints further and shares continue their drop after earnings are released.

That should plump up the put premium as there might be concern regarding the buyout offer on the table, which is already suspect.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, DuPont, Target, Wal-Mart

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, YUM Brands

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (10/22 $0.71), Colgate-Palmolive (10/21 $0.38), Fastenal (10/23 $0.28),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alphabet (10/22 PM), Under Armour (10/22 AM), VMWare (10/20 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 16, 2015

Most everyone understands the meaning of “a bull in a China shop.”

Even I, who always had problems with idiomatic expressions, could understand that the combination of bull and china wasn’t very good. You simply did not want a bull any where near fragile china, especially if it was precariously placed so that everyone could enjoy its sight.

At the very least you had to keep a close eye on the bull in an effort to avoid or minimize damage. Even better would be to keep it on a tight leash.

Now, it’s China that you have to keep an eye upon lest your bull gets damaged as China continues to tighten its leashes.

Lately China has become a threat to the bull that everyone’s been enjoying. The bull market itself has already been precariously positioned for a while and its tentativeness has been accentuated by some of the recent unpredicted and unpredictable actions by the Chinese government and the Peoples Bank of China (“PBOC”), which are essentially the same thing.

Just to confuse things a bit, in the midst of a series of 3 moves to devalue the Chinese Yuan, came an interruption by the PBOC in the currency markets to support the currency.

That sort of thing, trying to fight the tide of the currency market doesn’t typically work out as planned, but you can’t blame the PBOC for trying, given how the government’s actions in the stock markets have seemed to stop the hemorrhaging these past few weeks.

The theory at play may be that the tighter the leash the easier it is to control things when oxygen is no longer fueling natural existence.

While many suspect that China is looking to jump start its economy with a 10% currency devaluation, that is being denied, at least in terms of the size of the devaluation. What isn’t being denied is that the Chinese economy isn’t growing by the same leaps and bounds as it had been, if those leaps and bounds were real in the first place.

It should come as no surprise that China is using bully measures to try and bring things under control, because while they may be new at this game we call “capitalism,” the rulers understand the consequences of failure.

In the United States and Europe, we’re accustomed to cycles and the kinds of depths to which we get taken while awaiting the inevitable upward return.

Plus, we can “vote the bums out.”

In China, where personal and societal freedom has been traded for growing prosperity, what does the population have left if the prosperity disappears?

They can’t necessarily exercise their constitutional right to change their government representatives every two, four or 6 years as is often the cry after currency devaluation is felt by citizens as a their standard of living is reduced.

Of course the rulers remember the lesson of popular dissent and how their forefathers came to be in power, so this may be a government especially willing to pull out the stops, including a currency war.

While currency wars aren’t terribly common, when the bull is cornered it typically lashes out.

That’s usually not good for the bull, but now I’m left confused as to which side of the metaphor I’m working.

That may sum up where the new week is set to begin.

With markets successfully steering clear of violating support levels and having done so in a dramatic way mid-week and actually managing to not fritter away the effort, you would believe that there is reason for optimism.

However, despite revisions to previous month’s government Retail Sales Reports, the actual earnings reports coming from national retailers isn’t necessarily painting a picture of a spending consumer. That’s even as the JOLTS report indicates increasing job turnover, presumably leading to higher wages for more workers and more job openings for incoming workforce members.

The coming week has more retail sales reports and hopefully will give the market a fundamental reason to begin a test of resistance levels, while we await the next stutter step from China.

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

With all of the concern about what happens next in China, it seems odd to begin the week thinking about adding another position in Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS).

I have 2 much more expensively priced share lots and have been awaiting an opportunity to add another. With all of the bad news focusing around gaming prospects in Macau, one of only two special administrative areas within China, Las Vegas Sands has seen its share price plummet and then go into regular paroxysms of pronounced movements higher and lower, as the news runs sweet and sour.

However, its current price now represents the downward paroxysm that has taken shares below the mid-point of a reasonably stable price channel over the past 8 months. That seems like a reasonable entry point.

While the trading range has been fairly well defined, which would seem to limit uncertainty, the option premium seems to respect the continuing uncertainty of doing business in Macau, during a period of time that market volatility is otherwise so low. Whereas uncertainty has been very much under-estimated for many stocks, especially as they were in the throes of earnings releases, Las Vegas Sands seems to be getting its fair due in terms of option pricing.

While i still own those more expensive shares and while the dividend has made it minimally more palatable, my hope for a new position, if added, would be to have it assigned before its next ex-dividend date at the end of the September option cycle.

On a positive note, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) may not have the same worries about China as do some other companies. I suppose that having so much of your intellectual property getting pirated within China makes you a little more resistant to the effects of currency devaluation.

So there’s always that.

Microsoft hopefully has some other good things going for it, as reviews for its new operating system, Windows 10, have been generally favorable. However, one has to remember that we often tend to be less picky about things when they’re free.

Microsoft is ex-dividend this week and one thing that isn’t free is a dividend. You know that when you look at your stock’s share price on its ex-dividend date. Although studies show long term out-performance by stocks offering dividends, that’s not very different from saying people who run marathons live longer.

Both may be true, but the underlying reason a company can afford to pay a dividend or the underlying reason that someone can run a marathon may be related to pre-existing financial health or physical health, respectively.

However, when the option premium tends to subsidize some of that decline in a stock’s share price, part of that dividend really may be free, thanks to the buyer of the option premium.

In this case, Microsoft is offering a relatively large option premium for a weekly at the money option helping to offset some of the obligatory price decline as shares go ex-dividend.

Also going ex-dividend this week are Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) and Dunkin Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN). While watching television and eating donuts may not be the formula necessary to be able to run those marathons, there’s more to life than just good health.

A broad selection of television offerings, fast internet speed, hot coffee and a jelly donut can be its own kind of health.

You have to enjoy yourself, as well, and a combination of price appreciation, a satisfactory dividend and an option premium can create an enjoyable atmosphere.

Both companies offer only monthly option contracts, but this being the final week of the August 2015 cycle, there is a potential opportunity for them to effectively offer a weekly option during their ex-dividend week.

Cablevision is a company firmly in the grip of a single family and one that is perennially rumored to be for sale. Back in May, the last time I owned shares, not coincidentally just prior to its ex-dividend date, shares surged upon news of a foreign buyer for a privately owned cable company. That rumor took Cablevision along for a ride as well, especially since Cablevision indicated that it was now willing to sell itself.

While recent activity in the sector is focused on the changing landscape for product distribution and introducing the phrase “skinny bundle” into common parlance, Cablevision has fared better than the rest during recent sector weakness. In fact, after years of lagging behind, it has finally been an out-performer, at least as long as rumors and deep pockets or willing lenders are available.

When thinking about stocks that should have relatively little to be concerned about when China is considered, Dunkin Donuts comes to mind, but perhaps not for long. Earlier this year it announced plans for a major expansion in China, but it will hopefully shelve any thoughts of emulating its New England model.

I still am amazed after years of living and working in and around Boston how so many locations could exist so close to one another.

I don’t know whether it was Dunkin Donuts or its more upscale competitor that discovered that cannibalization doesn’t seem to extend to coffee purveyors, but there is still plenty of room around the rest of the nation for more and more of their outlets and maybe reason to slow down some overseas expansion.

While I would prefer a single week’s holding in order to capture the dividend, I would also consider the use of a longer term call option sale to try for capital appreciation of shares while other companies may have significant currency exchange concerns.

On that same day that it was revealed that activist Nelson Peltz took a large position in a food services company, DuPont (NYSE:DD) received an analyst upgrade and shares did something that they haven’t really done ever since Peltz was rebuffed when seeking a seat on the Board.

DuPont isn’t alone in seeming to be bargain priced, but it has actually accounted for 17% of the DJIA decline since coming off of its highs in the aftermath of Peltz being sent packing. So it has had more than its fair share of angst of late.

The option market doesn’t appear to expect any continued unduly large moves in share price and this is also a position that I would consider purchasing and using a longer term option in order to capitalize on share gains and a competitive dividend.

Finally salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) reports earnings this week. Its share price has been the beneficiary of two successively well received earnings reports and rumors about a buyout from Microsoft.

In the nearly 4 months that have passed since those rumors the stock has given up very little of what was gained when the speculation began.

The option market is predicting up to 9.2% price movement, but as has been the case on a number of occasions this earnings season, the option market has been under-estimating some of the risk associated with earnings, particularly when they are disappointing.

While selling puts prior to earnings can be rewarding when shares either move higher or fall less than the implied move, I generally like to consider doing so when the stock is already showing some weakness heading into earnings.

salesforce.com hasn’t been doing that, although it is about 3% below its closing high for the year. What makes a put sale tempting is that a 1% ROI for the week may be obtained even if the shares fall 11%.

However, considering just how often the option market has missed the risk associated with earnings this quarter, salesforce.com is another in a series of earnings related put sales that I would only seriously consider after earnings and in the event of a precipitous fall in the market’s response.

While salesforce.com may have the expertise to know how to most efficiently utilize a herd of bulls to exact the greatest amount of damage its own recent rise carries significant risk in this market if there is the slightest disappointment in its earnings report and guidance. If that report does disappoint, there may still be reward to be found in selling put contracts as sellers pile on to depress the price, while helping to maintain a relatively high option premium even after the carnage.

Traditional Stocks: DuPont

Momentum Stocks: Las Vegas Sands

Double-Dip Dividend: Microsoft (8/18 $0.31), Cablevision (8/19 $0.15), DNKN (8/20 $0.26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: salesforce.com (8/20 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 19, 2015

There’s a lot of confusion over who was responsible for the idea that time is merely an illusion and that it is “nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once.”

The first part of the idea is certainly thought provoking and is beyond my ability to understand. The second part may be some attempt at a higher plane of humor in an attempt to explain the significance of what is beyond the capability of most people.

In essence, if you thought that the time frame described during the first seven days of creation was compressed, some physicists would suggest that it all actually happened all at once and if you had the appropriate vehicle traveling at sufficient speed you would know that first hand.

The humorous quip has been attributed to Albert Einstein, Woody Allen and others. It has also been attributed to theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who was one of Einstein’s last collaborators, which itself indicates a relative time in Einstein’s career, so it may be unlikely that Wheeler would have described himself in those terms, if he was a real believer.

You might believe that Wheeler’s single degree of separation from Einstein would suggest hat perhaps the true source of the concept would then be Einstein himself. However, Wheeler maintained that he actually saw it scrawled on a men’s room wall in an Austin, Texas cafe, that in theory would have occurred at the same time that Einstein saw the famous Theory of Relativity equation scrawled on the men’s room wall of a Dusseldorf beer garden.

The idea, though, flows from Einstein’s earlier works on time, space and travel and may have been an inspiration to some well read patron while making room for the next idea inducing purchase of a large quantity of beer, wine or spirits.

This past week may have been an example of time forgetting its role, as we saw an avalanche of important news and events that came upon us in quick succession to begin the week. The news of an apparent agreement to the resolution of the Greek debt crisis and the announcement of a deal on Iran’s march toward developing a nuclear weapon came in tandem with the non-event of a melt down of the Chinese stock market.

The majority of the 2.4% weekly gain seen in the S&P 500 was over by the time we could blink, as the rest of the week offered little of anything, but saw a continuing successful test of support in the S&P 500, nearly 5% lower, as it moved to be in a position to now test resistance.

With the near simultaneous occurrence of those important events, the real question may be whether or not they themselves are illusory or at least short-lived.

Time may be the key to tell whether the events of this week were justifiable in creating a market embrace of a rosy future.

We’ve lived through past Greek debt crises before, so there is probably little reason to suspect that this will be the last of them for Greece or even the last we’ll see in the Eurozone. When and where the next flash point occurs is anyone’s guess, but German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s comments regarding Greece’s place in the EU continues to leave some uncertainty over the sanctity of that union and their currency.

With an Iranian deal now comes the effort to block it, which itself has a 60 day time limit for Congressional opponents to do their best to defeat the proposal and then overcome a Presidential veto. While it’s not too likely that the latter will become reality, there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine the agreement that probably contributed to continuing weakness in the energy sector in fears that Iranian oil would begin flooding markets sooner than is plausible.

The Chinese attempts at manipulating their stock markets have actually worked far longer than I would have predicted. Here too, time is in play, as there is a 6 month moratorium on the sale of some stocks and by some key individuals. That’s a long time to try and hold off real market dynamics and those forces could very well yet undermine the Chinese government’s “patriotic fight” to save its stock market.

The role that those three may have played in moving the market higher last week may now become potential liabilities until they have stood the test of time.

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

The coming week is very short on scheduled economic news, but will be a very busy one as we focus on fundamentals and earnings.

While there are lots of earnings reports coming this week the incredibly low volatility, after flirting with higher levels just 2 weeks ago, has resulted in few opportunities to try and exploit those earnings reports.

As again approaching all time highs and being very reluctant to chase new positions, I would normally focus on relatively safe choices, perhaps offering a dividend to accompany a premium from having sold call options.

This week, the only new position that may fulfill those requirements is Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) which offers only monthly options and reported earnings last week.

It has been mired in a narrow price range since its January 2015 earnings report and is currently trading at the low end of that range. Having just reported earnings in line with estimates is actually quite an achievement when considering that Fastenal has been on a hiring spree in 2015 and has significantly added costs, while revenues have held steady, being only minimally impacted by currency exchange rates.

Their business is a very good reflector of the state of the economy and encompasses both professional construction and weekend warrior customers. They clearly believe that their fortunes are poised to follow an upswing in economic activity and have prepared for its arrival in a tangible way.

At the current price, I think this may be a good time to add shares, capture a dividend and an option premium. I may even consider going out a bit further in time, perhaps to the November 2014 option that will take in the next earnings report and an additional dividend payment, while seeking to use a strike price that might also provide some capital gains on shares, such as the $45 strike.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) isn’t offering a dividend this week, although it will do so later in the August 2015 option cycle. However, before getting to that point, earnings are scheduled to be announced on July 28th.

Following what many shareholders may derisively refer to as the “successful” effort to defeat Nelson Peltz’s bid for a board seat, shares have plummeted. The lesson is that sometimes victories can be pyrrhic in nature.

Since that shareholder vote, which was quite close by most proxy fight standards, shares have fallen about 15%, after correcting for a spin-off, as compared to a virtually unchanged S&P 500.

However, if not a shareholder at the time, the current price may just be too great to pass up, particularly as Peltz has recently indicated that he has no intention of selling his position. While DuPont does offer weekly and expanded weekly option contracts, I may consider the sale of the August monthly contract in an attempt to capture the dividend and perhaps some capital gains on the shares, in addition to the premium that will be a little enhanced by the risk associated with earnings.

The remainder of this week’s limited selection is a bit more speculative and hopefully offers quick opportunities to capitalize by seeing assignment of weekly call options or expiration of weekly puts sold and the ability to recycle that cash into new positions for the following week.

eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), of course, will be in everyone’s sights as it begins trading without PayPal (Pending:PYPL) as an integral part. Much has been made of the fact that the market capitalization of the now independent PayPal will be greater than that of eBay and that the former is where the growth potential will exist.

The argument of following growth in the event of a spin-off is the commonly made one, but isn’t necessarily one that is ordained to be the correct path.

I’ve been looking forward to owning shares of eBay, as it was a very regular holding when it was an absolutely mediocre performer that happened to offer very good option premiums while it tended to trade in a narrow and predictable range.

What I won’t do is to rush in and purchase shares in the newly trimmed down company as there may be some selling pressure from those who added shares just to get the PayPal spin-off. For them, Monday and Tuesday may be the time to extricate themselves from eBay, the parent, as they either embrace PayPal the one time child, if they haven’t already sold their “when issued” shares.

However, on any weakness, I would be happy to see the prospects of an eBay again trading as a mediocre performer if it can continue to have an attractive premium. Historically, that premium had been attractive even long before murmurings or demands for a PayPal spin-off became part of the daily discussion.

Following a downgrade of Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), which is no stranger to falling in and out of favor with analysts, the opportunity looks timely to consider either the sale of slightly in the money puts or the purchase of shares and sale of slightly out of the money calls.

The $2 decline on Friday allowed Best Buy shares to test a support level and is now trading near a 9 month low. With earnings still a month away, shares offer reasonable premiums for the interim risk and sufficient liquidity of options if rollovers may be required, particularly in the event of put sales.

The arguments for and against Best Buy’s business model have waxed and waned over the past 2 years and will likely continue for a while longer. As it does so, it offers attractive premiums as the 2 sides of the argument take turns in being correct.

Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) will report earnings on July 31st. In the meantime, that gives some opportunity to consider the sale of out of the money puts.

While I generally prefer not to be in a position to take assignment in the event of an adverse price reaction and would attempt to rollover the puts, in this case with an upcoming ex-dividend date likely to be the week after earnings are released, I might consider taking the assignment if faced with that possibility and then subsequently selling calls, perhaps for the week after the ex-dividend date in an effort to capture that dividend and also attempt to wait out any price recovery.

Like Best Buy, Seagate Technology has been in and out of favor as its legitimacy as a continuing viable company is periodically questioned. Analysts pretend to understand where technology and consumer preferences are headed, but as is the case with most who are in the “futurist” business, hindsight often offers a very punishing report card.

Finally, GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) reports earnings this week. During its brief time as a publicly traded company it has seen plenty of ups and downs and some controversy regarding its lock-up provisions for insiders.

It is also a company whose main product may be peaking in sales and it has long made a case for seeking to re-invent itself as a media company, in an effort to diversify itself from dependence on consumer cycles or from its product going the commodity route.

The option market is implying a 9.9% movement in shares next week as earnings are reported. However, a 1% ROI may possibly be achieved if selling a weekly put at a strike that is 13.3% below this past Friday’s closing price.

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

Traditional Stocks: DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: Fastenal (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GoPro (7/21 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 5, 2015

I used to work with someone who used the expression “It’s as clear as mud,” for just about every occasion, even the ones that had obvious causes, answers or paths forward.

Initially, most of us thought that was just some kind of an attempt at humor until eventually coming to the realization that the person truly understood nothing.

Right now, I feel like that person, although the fact that it took a group of relatively smart people quite a while to realize that person had no clue, may be more of a problem.

It should have been obvious. That’s why we were getting the big bucks, but the very possibility that someone who was expected to be capable, was in reality not capable, wasn’t even remotely considered, until it, too, became painfully obvious.

I see parallels in many of life’s events and the behavior of stock markets. As an individual investor the “clear as mud” character of the market seems apparent to me, but it’s not clear that the same level of diminished clarity is permeating the thought processes of those who are much smarter than me and responsible for directing the use of much more money than I could ever dream.

What often brings clarity is a storm that washes away the clouds and that perfect storm may now be brewing.

Whatever the outcome of the Greek referendum and whatever interpretation of the referendum question is used, the integrity of the EU is threatened if contagion is a by-product of the vote and any subsequent steps to resolve their debt crisis.

Most everyone agrees that the Greek economy and the size of the debt is small potatoes compared to what other dominoes in the EU may threaten to topple, or extract concessions on their debt.

Unless the stock market has been expressing fear of that contagion, accounting for some of the past week’s losses, there should be some real cause for concern. If those market declines were only focused on Greece and not any more forward looking than that, an already tentative market has no reason to do anything other than express its uncertainty, especially as critical support levels are approached.

Moving somewhat to the right on the world map, or the left, depending on how much you’re willing to travel, there is news that The People’s Republic of China is establishing a market-stabilization fund aimed at fighting off the biggest stock selloff in years and fears that it could spread to other parts of the economy. Despite the investment of $120 billion Yuan (about $19.3 billion USD) by 21 of the largest Chinese brokerages, the lesson of history is that attempts to manipulate markets tends not to work very well for more than a day or so.

That lesson seems to rarely be learned, as market forces can be tamed about as well as can forces of nature.

The speculative fervor in China and the health of its stock markets can create another kind of contagion that may begin with US Treasury Notes. Whether that means an increased escape to their safety or cashing in massive holdings is anyone’s guess. Understanding that is far beyond my ken, but somehow I don’t think that those much smarter than me have any clue, either.

Back on our own shores, this week is the start of another earnings season, although that season never really seems to end.

While I’ve been of the belief that this upcoming series of reports will benefit from a better than expected currency exchange situation, as previous forward guidance had been factoring in USD/Euro parity, the issue at hand may be the next round of forward guidance, as the Euro may be coming under renewed pressure.

Disappointing earnings at a time that the market is only 3% below its all time highs together with international pressures seems to paint a clear picture for me, but what do I know, as you can’t escape the fact that the market is only 3% below those highs.

The upcoming week may be another in a succession of recent weeks that I’ve had a difficult time finding a compelling reason to part with any money, even if that was merely a recycling of money from assigned positions.

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

Much of my interests this week are driven purely by performance relative to the S&P 500 over the previous 5 trading days and the belief that the extent of those price moves were largely unwarranted given the storm factors.

One exception, in that it marginally out-performed the S&P 500 last week, is International Paper (NYSE:IP). However, that hasn’t been the case over the past month, as the shares have badly trailed the market, possibly because its tender offer to retire high interest notes wasn’t as widely accepted as analysts had expected and interest payment savings won’t be realized to the anticipated degree.

Subsequently, shares have traded at the low end of a recent price cut target range. As it’s done so, it has finally returned to a price that I last owned shares, nearly a year ago and this appears to be an opportune time to consider a new position.

With that possibility, however, comes an awareness that earnings will be reported at the end of the month, as analysts have reduced their paper sales and expectations and profit margins have been squeezed as demand has fallen and input costs have risen.

DuPont’s (NYSE:DD) share decline wasn’t as large as it seemed as hitting a new 52 week low. That decline was exaggerated by about $3.20 after the completion of their spin-off of Chemours (NYSE:CC).

As shares have declined following the defeat of Nelson Peltz’s move to gain a seat on the Board of Directors, the option premium has remained unusually high, reflecting continued perception of volatility ahead. At a time when revenues are expected to grow in 2016 and shares may find some solace is better than expected currency exchange rates.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) has been on my wish list for the past few weeks and continues to be a possible addition during a week that I’m not expecting to be overly active in adding new positions.

What caused Cypress Semiconductor shares to soar is also what was the likely culprit in its decline. That was the proposed purchase of Integrated Silicon Solution (NASDAQ:ISSI) that subsequently accepted a bid from a consortium of private Chinese investors.

What especially caught my attention this past week was an unusually large option transaction at the $12 strike and September 18, 2015 expiration. That expiration comes a couple of days before the next anticipated ex-dividend date, so I might consider going all the way out to the December 18, 2015 expiration, to have a chance at the dividend and also to put some distance between the expiration and earnings announcements in July and October.

Potash (NYSE:POT) is ex-dividend this week and was put back on my radar by a reader who commented on a recent article about the company. While I generally lie to trade Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), the reader’s comments made me take another look after almost 3 years since the last time I owned shares.

The real difference, for me at least, between the 2 companies was the size of the dividend. While Potash has a dividend yield that is about twice the size of that of Mosaic, it’s payout ratio is about 2.7 times the rate of that of Mosaic.

While that may be of concern over the longer term, it’s not ever-present on my mind for a shorter term trade. When I last traded Potash it only offered monthly options. Now it has weekly and expanded weekly offerings, which could give opportunity to manage the position aiming for an assignment prior to its earnings report on July 30th.

During a week that caution should prevail, there are a couple of “Momentum” stocks that I would consider for purchase, also purely on their recent price activity.

It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). However, if you do sell call options, the fact that it has been trading at a reasonably well defined range of late while offering an attractive dividend, may be the best nice thing that can be said about the stock.

I recently had shares assigned and still sit with a much more expensive lot of shares that are uncovered. I’ve had 2 new lots opened in 2015 and subsequently assigned, both at prices higher than the closing price for the past week. There’s little reason to expect any real catalyst to move shares much higher, at least until earnings at the end of next month. However, perhaps more importantly, there’s little reason to expect shares to be disproportionately influenced by Greek or Chinese woes.

Trading in a narrow range and having a nice premium makes Abercrombie and Fitch a continuing attractive position, that can either be done as a covered call or through the sale of puts.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is another whose shares were recently assigned and has given back some of its recent price gains while banks have been moving back and forth along with interest rates.

With the uncertainty of those interest rate movements over the next week and with earnings scheduled to be released the following week, I would consider a covered call trade that utilizes the monthly July 17, 2015 option, or even considering the August 21, 2015 expiration, to get the gift of time.

Finally, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) reports earnings this week after having sustained a 21.5% fall in shares in the past 2 months. That’s still not quite as bad as the 31% one month tumble it took 5 years ago, but shares have now fallen 36% in the past 7 months.

The option market is implying a 5% price movement next week, which on the downside would bring shares to an 18 month low.

Normally, I look for the opportunity to sell a put option in advance of earnings if I can get a 1% ROI for a weekly contract at a strike price that’s below the lower level determined by the option market’s implied movement. I usually would prefer not to take possession of shares and would attempt to delay any assignment by rolling over the short put position in an effort to wait out the price decline.

In this case the ROI is a little bit less than 1% if the price moves less than 6%, however, at this level, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares, especially if Alcoa is going to move back to a prolonged period of share price stagnation as during 2012 and 2013.

That was an excellent time to be selling covered calls on the shares as premiums were elevated as so many were expecting price recovery and were willing to bet on it through options.

You can’t really go back in time, but sometimes history does repeat itself.

At least that much is clear.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 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 – May 31, 2015

The one thing that’s been pretty clear as this earnings season is winding down is that the market hasn’t been very tolerant unless the bad news was somehow wrapped in a currency exchange story.

It was an earnings season that saw essentially free passes given early on to those reporting decreased top line revenue and providing dour guidance, as long as the bad news was related to a strong US Dollar.

As earnings season progressed, however, it became clear that some companies that could have asked for that free pass were somehow much better able to tolerate the conditions that investors were willing to forgive. That had to raise questions in some minds as to whether there was a little too much leniency as the market’s P/E ratio was beginning to get a little bit ahead of where it historically may have been considered fully priced. Not punishing share price when earnings may warrant doing so can lead to those higher P/E ratios that so often seem to have had a hard time sustaining themselves at such heights.

On the other hand, plunges of 20% or more weren’t uncommon when the disappointment and the pessimistic future outlook couldn’t be easily rationalized away. Sometimes the punishment seemed to be trying to make up for some of those earlier leniences, although if that’s the case, it’s not a very fair resolution.

In other words, this earnings season has been one where bad news was good news, as long as there was a good reason for the bad news. If there was no good reason for the bad news, then the bad news was extra bad news.

This past Friday’s GDP report was bad news. It was the kind of news that would make it difficult to justify increasing interest rates anytime very soon. That. of course, would make it good news.

The market, though, interpreted that as bad news as the week came to its close, while the same news a month ago would have been likely greeted as good news.

Same news, but take your pick on its interpretation.

This past week was one that i couldn’t decide how to interpret anything that was unfolding. Listless pre-open futures trading during the week sometimes failed to portend what was awaiting and so eager to reverse course, at the sound of the opening bell. While I tend to trade less on holiday shortened weeks usually due to lower option premiums, this past week offered me nothing to feel positive about and more than a few reasons to continue to want to wish that i had more in my cash reserve pile.

As the new week is getting ready to start, it’s another with fairly little to excite. Like this past week, perhaps the biggest news will come on the final trading day, as the Employment Situation Report is released.

Another strong showing may only serve to confuse the picture being painted by GDP data, which is now suggesting increased shrinking of our economy.

A weak employment report might corroborate GDP data, but at this point it’s hard to say what the market reaction might be. Whether that would be perceived as good news or bad news is a matter of guesswork.

If the news, however, is really good, then it’s really anyone’s guess as to what would happen, as a decreasing GDP wouldn’t seem to be a logical consequence of strongly expanding employment.

While the FOMC says that it will be data driven and has worked to remove any reference to a relative timeframe, ultimately it’s not about the data, but rather how they chose to interpret it, especially if logic seems to be failing to tie the disparate pieces together.

While markets may change how they interpret the data from day to day, hopefully the FOMC will be a bit more consistent and methodical than the paper fortune teller process markets have been subjected to of late.

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

Kohls (NYSE:KSS) is one of those companies that didn’t have a currency exchange excuse that could be used at earnings time and its shares took a nearly 15% plunge. Best of all, if not having owned shares, in the subsequent 2 weeks its share price has barely moved. That lack of movement can either represent an opportunity that hasn’t disappeared or could be the building of a new support level and invitation to take advantage of that opportunity.

With an upcoming ex-dividend date on Monday of next week, any decision to exercise an option to grab the dividend would have to be made by the close of trading this week. With only monthly options being sold, that could be an attractive outcome if purchasing shares and selling in the money June 2015 calls.

The potential downside is that the dramatic drop in Kohls’ share price still hasn’t returned it to where it launched much higher a few months ago and where the next level of technical support may be. For that reason, while hoping for a quick early assignment and the opportunity to then redeploy the cash, there is also the specter of a longer term holding in the event that shares start migrating lower to its most recent support level.

Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) is ex-dividend this week and represents a company that had a similar plunge nearly 2 years ago, but still has shown no signs of recovery. In its case the price plunge wasn’t related to poor sales or reduced expectations, but rather to the collapse of artificial price supports as the potash cartel was beginning to fall apart.

Mosaic, however, has traded in a fairly narrow range since then and has been an opportune short term purchase when at or below the mid-point of that range.

Those shares are now at that mid-point and the dividend is an additional invitation to entry for me. With its ex-dividend day being Tuesday, it may also be an example of seeking early assignment by selling an in the money weekly call in the hopes of attaining a small, but very quick gain and then redeploying cash into a new position.

I recently had shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) assigned and tried to repurchase them last week in order to capture the dividend, but just couldn’t get the trade executed. However, even with the dividend now out of the picture, I am interested in adding the shares once again.

While so much attention has recently focused on cable and content providers, Sinclair Broadcasting is simply the largest television station operator in the United States. The tightly controlled family operation shows that there is still a future in doing nothing more than transmitting signals the old fashioned way.

While I usually prefer to start new positions with an eye toward a weekly option or during the final week of a monthly option, Sinclair Broadcasting is one of those companies that I don’t mind owning for a longer period of time and don’t get overly concerned if its shares test support levels. I would have preferred to have entered the position last week, but at $30/share I still see some opportunity, but would not chase this if it moved higher as the week begins.

With old tech no longer moribund, people are no longer embarrassed to admit that they own shares of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Instead, so many seem to have re-discovered Microsoft before the rest of the world and no longer joke about or disparage its products or strategies. They simply forgot to tell the rest of the world that they were going to be so prescient, but fortunately, it’s never to late to do so.

Microsoft continues to have what has made it a great covered call trade for many years. It still offers an attractive premium and it offers dividend growth. Of course the risk is now greater as shares have appreciated so much over those years. But along with that risk comes an offset that may offer some support. In the belief that passivity or poorly conceived or integrated strategies are no longer the norm it is far easier to invest in shares with confidence, even as the 52 week high is within reach.

While new share heights provide risk there is also the feeling that Microsoft will be in a better position to proactively head into the future and react to marketplace challenges. Even the brief speculation about a buyout of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) helped to reinforce the notion that Microsoft may once again be “cool” and have its eyes on a logical strategy to evolve the company.

For the moment it seems as if some of the activist and boardroom drama at DuPont (NYSE:DD) may have subsided, although it’s not too likely that it has ended.

The near term question is whether activists give up their attempts at enhancing value and exit their positions with respectable profits or double down, perhaps with new strategic recommendations.

While the concern about Trian exiting its position may have been responsible for the steep price decline after the shareholder vote last month, it’s not entirely clear that the Trian stake was in any meaningful way responsible for DuPon’t share performance, as they like to credit themselves.

It’s apparently all a matter of interpretation.

In fact, from the time the Trian stake was first disclosed nearly 2 years ago, DuPont has only marginally out-performed the S&P 500. However, from the beginning of the market recovery in March 2009 up until the points that Trian’s stake was disclosed, DuPont’s share performance was more than 50% better than that of the S&P 500.

So while the market has clearly shown that they perceive Peltz’s position and strategy to be an important support for DuPont’s share price and they may have already discounted his exit, CEO Kullman’s strategic path may have easier going without activist distractions

Finally, following the release of some clinical trial results of its drug Opdivo in the treatment of lung cancer, shares of Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) fell nearly 7% on Friday. Those shares are still well above the level where they peaked following an earnings related move in October 2014, so there is still some concern that the decline last week may have more to go.

However, the results of those clinical trials actually had quite a few very positive bits of news, including significantly increased survival rates in a sizeable sub-population of patients and markedly lower side effects. On Friday, the market interpreted the results as being very disappointing, but after a few days that interpretation can end up becoming markedly different.

As we all know too well.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb , DuPont, Microsoft, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Kohls (6/8), Mosaic (6/2)

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 – May 10, 2015

Many years ago people were fascinated by the movie “The Three Faces of Eve.”

It was the story of a woman afflicted with what was known at the time as “Multiple Personality Disorder,” although many incorrectly believed that the story was one characteristic of an individual with schizophrenia.

For her performance of all 3 characters, none of whom was aware of any of the others, Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for “Best Actress.” Yet 30 years later, in a sign of an unjust society, neither Eddie Murphy nor Arsenio Hall received any notice whatsoever from The Academy for each portraying 4 distinct characters.

While there’s still hope that such acting genius may someday be rewarded, there’s very little hope of being able to understand just what face the market will be showing from day to day.

Doug Kass, a well known hedge fund manager is fond of Tweeting that the market has no memory from day to day and that observation, while not seeming to be offering a diagnosis, has it well characterized.

Lack of memory for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness is one of the cardinal signs of Dissociative Identity Disorder and this market, however one wishes to characterize it, may have the same affliction as was suffered by Eve. But as long as it keeps reaching new record highs, it too will keep winning awards for its performance.

While some may say that the market is “acting schizophrenic,” they neither know the distinction between that malady and Dissociative Identity Disorder, nor understand the use of adverbs. While volatility may also be a hallmark of the disorder the rapid alternations between market plunges and surges are doing nothing to enhance volatility. In fact, for all of the uncertainty, volatility remains within easy striking distance of its 52 week low and was virtually unchanged last week.

In a week with very little economic news scheduled until this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report and with most key companies having already reported earnings, there was little reason to expect many large moves. However, as has been the case in recent weeks, there hasn’t always been the requirement of an identifiable reason for the market making a large move. What has also been the case is that so often the very next day brought about a reversal of fortune or mis-fortune of the previous day and another subsequent Doug Kass Tweet.

Those Kass market memory Tweets are fairly common and I do believe that he recalls having sent them on many previous occasions. While I offer him no diagnosis based on those Tweets, they do perfectly sum up the market that we’ve come to know.

The problem is that which just don’t know which market will be showing up from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour.

I wonder if Eve had that same problem?

Compounding the inherent uncertainty occurs when an otherwise dependable and reliable source seems to turn on you.

Mid-week we got to see a Janet Yellen face that we had only seen once previously. It was the face that unlike its more commonly visible counter-part, wasn’t the one that sought directly or indirectly to calm and prop up stock markets.

During her tenure, especially during her post-FOMC Statement release press conferences, most of us have come to appreciate the boost of confidence Janet Yellen has supplied markets, as well as having an appreciation for the manner in which she balances pragmatic and social concerns with monetary policy.

But this week instead it was that Yellen character that questions stock market value, almost in the same way as a predecessor pointed a finger at “frothy exuberance.”

While not quite as bad as the racy and wild side of Eve that tried to murder her child, the value questioning side of Janet Yellen sent markets for a tumble. But just as after her 2014 comments about “substantially stretched” valuation metrics in bio-technology companies, the impact may be short lived, as it was this week.

Perhaps some thanks for that should go to the auspiciously timed release of the Employment Situation Report that avoided creating either a “bad news is good news” or “good news is bad news” by delivering numbers that were right in line with expectations.

Of course, when considering how much contra-distinction there has been in recent monthly Employment Situation Reports one might be excused for believing that they too suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder and it may be injurious to one’s portfolio health to base too many actions on any given month’s data.

This coming week is another very slow one for economic news. While earnings season is now winding down the catalyst or the retardant for the market to get to the next new set of highs may be the slew of national retailers reporting earnings this week.

Some 6 months ago those retailers were among those optimistically talking about how they would benefit from increased consumer spending as a result of lower energy prices.

About that….

Those same retailers may be putting on a different face when reporting this week if those gains haven’t materialized, as there are no indications that the GDP has grown as expected.

To the contrary, actually.

Only one of the major retailers will report before this Wednesday’s Retail Sales Report, but it was the CEO of that company, Terry Lundgren, who was initially among the most optimistic regarding the prospects for Macys (NYSE:M) and who months later made the very astute observation that the energy savings experienced by consumers hadn’t accumulated sufficiently to create the feeling of actually having more discretionary cash to spend.

Sooner or later the projections for significant growth in GDP will have to be written off as just the rants of economists who had surrendered their better judgment to their racy and wild alternate egos and who can’t be blamed for their actions.

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

After the last two weeks, I think, that even after a previous lifetime of toiling away for a paycheck and not really appreciating its significance, I finally understand the meaning of “TGIF.”

The strong recoveries seen in each of the past two Fridays helped to rescue some weeks that were turning out to be fairly dour.

The downside, however, is that when the coming week is about to begin, so many of the stocks that you had been eying for a purchase were up sharply to end the previous week.

There are probably worse problems to have in life, so I won’t dwell too long on that one, but that is where this past Friday’s 267 point gain in the DJIA has us beginning the new week.

Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) has quietly become the largest television station operators in the United States. While seemingly the only topics discussed these days are about streaming signals, satellites and cable there’s still life left in terrestrial television. The family controlled company certainly believes in the future of traditional television broadcasting as over the past several years the company has actively amassed new stations around the country.

Following an initial move higher after it reporting earnings shares gave up some ground and are now about 9% below its recent high from last month, at which time I had my previous shares assigned.

I purchased shares on 5 occasions in 2014 and have been waiting for a chance to do so in 2015. With its recent decline and with this being the final week of a monthly option cycle, I would consider once again adding shares in the hopes of a quick assignment. However, if not assigned, shares are then ex-dividend May 28th and I would consider selling either June or the July 2015 options on those shares.

Mattel (NASDAQ:MAT) has suffered of late.

It literally started 2015 off by being named one of the worst run companies of 2014 on New Years Day. Its shares continued to stumble even after its CEO unexpectedly resigned a few weeks later as the lure of its Barbie was waning in a world of electronic toys more welcomingly embraced by some of its competitors.

More recently some of the negativity that characterized 2015 had abated as the market actually embraced the smaller than expected loss at the most recent earnings report. While some of the gains have been since digested, Mattel may have now seen what the near term bottom looks like.

With earnings now out of the way for a short while and an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I am considering adding shares, but bypassing the week remaining on the monthly May 2015 contract and going directly to the June contract and banking on some share gains and not just option premiums and dividends for the effort.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) is one of those stocks that I always like to own, as it is an assuming kind of company that tends to reflect what is going on in the economy and is relatively immune from currency exchange issues.

Most recently, after having positively reacted to earnings it failed to climb back toward where it had been at the time of its January earnings report. However, it does appear as if it is building a base to make that assault. As with Sinclair Broadcasting and Mattel, Fastenal only offers monthly options, so any potential purchase this week paired with an option sale could look at the May 15, 2015 contracts, effectively making it a weekly contract, or go directly to the June 2015 expirations, especially if believing that there is some capital appreciation in store for shares.

DuPont (NYSE:DD) and Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE:TEVA) have both spent a lot of time in the news lately and both are ex-dividend this week.

DuPont is one stock that came to mind when bemoaning the strong gains seen this past Friday, as it was definitely a beneficiary of broad market strength. It continues to be embroiled in a fight with activists which may have profound ramifications with how investors look at and value a company’s intellectual and research pursuits.

The question of how valuable research activities are to a company if they are part of a separate company is one that pits short term and long term outlooks against one another. Although I tend to trade for the short term, and while I believe that Nelson Peltz is generally a positive influence on the companies in which he has taken a significant financial stake, I disagree with the idea of splitting off assets that are at the core of developing intellectual property.

However, as long as the fighting continues, there is opportunity to see shares climb even higher. It is precisely because of the uncertainty that comes along with the ongoing conflict that DuPont is offering an exceptionally high option premium, particularly in a week that it is ex-dividend.

The world of pharmaceutical companies was once so staid. Every self respecting portfolio was required to own shares in a high dividend paying blue chip pharmaceutical company, many of whom have been swallowed up over the years in the process of creating even larger and less responsive behemoths.

From nothingness, generic drug companies and bio-pharmaceutical companies are becoming their own behemoths and are recently at center stage with seemingly daily merger and acquisition activity.

Teva has joined the crowd seeking to grow through acquisition and may be willing to fight for the opportunity to grow. Of course, its target may have some other ideas, including possibly seeking to purchase Teva itself.

Like DuPont, the uncertainty in the air has it offering a very appealing option premium even in a week that shares are ex-dividend. With shares having recently declined by about 10% in the past month, it’s possible that some of the downside risk that may be associated with a fight or a failed conquest attempt has already been discounted.

Zillow (NASDAQ:Z) reports earnings this week having declined about 25% since its last earnings report. Its CEO, a darling of cable business news blamed the prolonged regulatory process encountered during its proposed purchase of its competitor Trulia, for leaving the company “trending a couple quarters behind where we’d like to be.”

But that comment was from last month, so the expectation would be that the market is prepared for whatever may come their way as earnings are reported this week.

That kind of logic is fine until faced with counter-examples, such as SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) which despite warning upon warning, still managed to surprise everyone. Of course, the same could be said for early 2014 when markets seemed to be surprised by how bad weather impacted earnings after having heard nothing but how weather was effecting sales for months.

In this case the option market is implying an 8.1% move for Zillow after earnings are reported. That’s fairly mild after the past 2 weeks of having seen declines on the order of 25% coming from companies that couldn’t place many excuses for its performance at the feet of currency exchange woes.

Finally, it takes a lot for me to consider a new stock and to think about putting it into portfolio rotation. It’s even more difficult to do that with a company that has less than 6 months of public trading behind it.

I recently found my second ever blog article, one from 8 years ago, which was about peer lending re-posted on an aggregator site. At the time, I looked at peer lending as a potential means of diversifying one’s portfolio, especially with the aim of generating income streams.

While the early leader of the concept is still around, it was LendingClub (NYSE:LC) that finally brought it to the equity markets.

Its earnings last week, despite being slightly better than the consensus, did nothing to stem the downward price spiral since the IPO. The stock’s close tracking of the 10 Year Treasury Note broke down in March, but I believe that with the stock approaching its IPO price that concordance with interest rates will soon be re-established.

If that proves to be the case and there is a suggestion that the bond market may now be on the right path in predicting the inevitable rise in rates, the LendingClub and its shares are likely to prosper.

Like an unusual number of stocks presented this week, LendingClub also offers only monthly options. However, without a dividend to consider, I would look at any potential purchase of shares as a short term trade and would sell the May 2015 options, which are offering a very attractive premium as the possibility of further share price declines are being factored in by the options market.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Mattel, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: LendingClub

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (5/13), Teva Pharmaceuticals (5/15)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (5/12 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 – March 22, 2015

The past week has to be one to make most people pause and try to understand the basis for what we just experienced.

In a week otherwise devoid of any meaningful news there was a singular event in the middle of the week and then a little bit of follow-up to help clarify that event.

That event was the release of this month’s FOMC Statement and the subsequent clarifying event was the press conference held by its Chair, Janet Yellen.

In its aftermath, I am more confused than ever.

Not so much about where interest rates are headed, nor when, but more about the thought processes that propel markets when expectations are so clearly defined and what our continuing expectations should be.

Most everyone who follows markets knows that the great debate of late has not been whether the FOMC was going to begin the process of raising interest rates, but when they were going to begin that process. Somehow, we believed that the answer to that question was going to come when we learned whether the word “patience” would continue to characterize the FOMC’s timetable with regard to its effort to “normalize the stance of monetary policy.”

Most had taken positions that the first rate increase would come either as early as this June or perhaps as late as September. The continuing use of the word “patience” was perceived as a sign that interest rate increases wouldn’t occur until sometime after June 2015.

So you have to excuse some confusion when the market reversed course by more than 300 points as it learned that the word “patience” was eliminated, but also received news that the FOMC didn’t foresee an interest rate increase before their next meeting in April 2015.

April?

That could mean that an increase by the May meeting was still on the table and the last time I looked, May came before June, especially if you believe a more hawkish approach is warranted.

Presumably, it was the fear of interest rate increases coming as early as June that was a source for recent market weakness.

As I parsed the words I couldn’t understand the way in which the news was initially embraced. While I expected that regardless of the wording outcome the market would find reason to move forward, I certainly didn’t expect the reaction that ensued, especially since the signal was so mixed and really offered nothing to get excited about, nor to fear.

No rate increase likely in April? That’s the best the FOMC could do?

But in a world where even the slightest of interest rate increases is feared, despite the past evidence suggesting that it should be embraced, the very thought of an increase possibly coming before June should have sent buyers heading for the exits.

Yet it was more than good enough, at least for a couple of hours, and actually represented the first in 7 trading sessions where the market reversed course intra-day, having had triple digit moves in opposite directions each and every one of those days.

Now clearly that has to inspire confidence for whatever is to come next.

It’s a good thing that I don’t believe very much in chart analysis, because it would otherwise be very tempting to notice that the previous 7 trading sessions shows a clear pattern of lower highs and higher lows when looking at the net change and an even more compelling series of higher highs and higher lows when looking at the DJIA closing levels.

Yet, at the same time, it has been nearly 4 weeks ever since the DJIA has been able to string together as little as 2 consecutive days of gains.

Perhaps not to coincidentally the last time the market was able to do that was on the occasion of Janet Yellen’s two day mandated congressional testimony during which time she re-iterated a dovish position regarding the initiation of interest rate increases. But barely 2 days later suspicion of her intentions set in as the Vice-Chairman of the FOMC, Stanley Fischer struck a more hawkish tone that just a week later seemed to be validated by the Employment Situation Report.

Despite the fact that there has been no other corroborating evidence to drive the data that the FOMC insists that it values, the market lost its forward momentum from February until Janet Yellen once again took center stage.

Why people just didn’t believe her all along is a mystery, just as it is a mystery that they again chose to believe her.

How long will the trust in her comforting words last this time?

Perhaps Friday’s GDP release, coming on the same day as a scheduled speech by Stanley Fischer will give us some idea of the staying power of the dove when faced with a circling hawk.

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

It was neither a good week to be DuPont (NYSE:DD) nor eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) as both received analyst downgrades and saw their shares fall significantly when compared to the S&P 500 over the previous 7 sessions.

DuPont’s downgrade came amid worries of problems in its agricultural and chemical segments, along with concerns about the kind of currency headwinds that we’re likely to be hearing much more about in the coming weeks as the next earnings season gets ready to begin.

While those are all important issues, certainly important enough to see DuPont’s shares fall nearly 9% relative to the S&P 500 in the past week, there was lots of activist related news that may be setting the stage for a more contentious kind of fight than Nelson Peltz usually gets himself into. However, it is that activist position that the analyst recognized as a risk to his overall negative outlook as Peltz took to the media last week to be both more accommodating in his requests to DuPont, but also to voice his frustrations.

In the meantime the recent drop in share price is similar to other such drops seen in the past year that have been at levels representing higher lows and that have set the stage for climbs to higher highs.

While Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) may be suffering from some of the same issues as DuPont and has the added liability of oil interests in Kuwait, it is at least seemingly at peace with its own activist investors, or at the very least the relations are not overtly adverse at the moment.

Dow Chemical has been very much tied to energy prices these past few months even as its CEO Andrew Liveris has clearly stated that on a net basis the decrease in energy prices is beneficial to Dow Chemical, as it pays more for energy input than it depends on revenue from energy outputs.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and are attractively priced, although as long as energy is under pressure and as long as Liveris’ contention goes ignored, the shares will be under pressure. I currently own shares and Dow Chemical was for a long time a staple in my portfolio, both as a long term holding and as a frequent trading vehicle. At the current price I think a new position could be used as either a longer term holding or a serial trade.

eBay has been absent from my portfolio for a couple of months as I’ve grown too uneasy with it flirting near the $60 level to consider re-purchasing shares. Even the $57.50 level puts me at unease, but a recent downgrade calling into question the value of its PayPal unit in light of increasing competition, most recently from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was welcome and did bring shares closer to the upper level at which I had some comfort.

Shares recovered nicely from the initial reaction to the downgrade, but still trailed the S&P 500 by 5% over the past 7 trading sessions.

In the past I have very much liked owning eBay when it was mired in a tight range, yet still delivered appealing option premiums due to the occasional earnings related surprises. The story changed once activism entered the picture and shares started moving beyond the 2 year price range in the belief that PayPal had great value beyond what was already reflected in eBay’s price.

With each passing day, however, the luster of PayPal may be diminishing, even as it still remains an extremely valuable brand and service.

As it sits at the upper end of where I would consider taking a position, I would be very interested in either adding shares and selling calls or selling puts on any further drop in price. If selling puts this is one position that I wouldn’t mind taking assignment on in the event of an adverse price move, but would still look at the possibility of simply rolling over those puts to forward weeks.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is increasingly becoming an interesting company. While it certainly has some challenges as it’s chief revenue generating drug goes off patent next year, it has certainly been actively pursuing other lucrative areas, including management of Hepatitis C and cancer therapy, with its planned purchase of Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ:PCYC).

While shares have recovered somewhat from its recent low following an analyst downgrade, they are still nearly 8% lower YTD, but the company is certainly not standing still. In addition to upside potential, the shares offer attractive option premiums and an upcoming dividend that’s well ahead of that offered by its one time parent.

I’m not much of a video gamer even though I can get easily get sucked in by useless activities of a repetitive nature. My guess is that a combination of lack of skill, lack of attention span and allegiance to pinball have kept me indifferent to much of the last 25 years of home entertainment.

This week, however, GameStop (NYSE:GME) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI) have my attention.

I was actually happy to see my shares of GameStop get assigned this past week ahead of earnings this week. The timing was good as its generous dividend was captured without having to think about the risk of its upcoming earnings.

GameStop is a company that many have written off for years, pointing toward its paleolithic business model, the challenges of brick and mortar as well as streaming competition and the always large short interest looming over shares.

But somehow it continues to confound everyone.

With shares about 10% higher in March the option market is implying a price move of 7.8% upon earnings release. Meanwhile a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained even if shares fall almost 10% following the news. As with eBay, GameStop is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning if puts were at risk of being assigned. However, I’d be much more willing to sell puts if there was some price weakness heading into earnings. Otherwise, I would wait until after earnings and again consider the sale of puts in the event of a large price drop.

The last time I purchased Activision was after its own large price drop following earnings this past February when the company announced record earnings but provided weak forward guidance.

Shares, however, recovered quickly as Activision announced a large share buyback and increased dividend. Since then the shares have been trading in a fairly tight range and they are ex-dividend this week.

That dividend, however, is an annual one and on that basis is paltry. However, if shares end up being a short term holding the dividend yield can be very attractive, especially taken together with the option premiums available when selling calls.

Finally, LuLuLemon (NASDAQ:LULU) reports earnings this week and appears to be back in favor with shoppers as the company appears to be sufficiently distanced from its founder. Time may have been the best of all remedies to their particular problem as shares have shown great recovery.

The option market is implying an earnings related move of 8% and a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained when selling puts at a strike level 10.1% below Friday’s closing price. In the past, LuLuLemon has had some very significant earnings moves, with 15-20% moves not being out of the norm.

However, unlike a number of other stocks mentioned this week, LuLuLemon had nicely out-performed the S&P 500 over the past 7 trading sessions. For that reason I would be inclined to wait until after earnings are released and would consider either a sale of puts or a buy/write in the event of a large price drop.

Traditional Stocks: AbbVie, DuPont, eBay

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Activision (3/26), Dow Chemical (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/26 PM), LuLuLemon (3/26 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 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – August 10, 2014

Back in 2007 there was a sign that most mere mortals failed to recognize or understand as they stood in the path of peril.

A messenger delivered such a sign some seven years earlier, as well, and did so again last month.

The messenger was old, perhaps as old as the universe itself and his words and actions did foretell of the dangers that awaited, yet they were not appreciated as such, not even by the messenger, who may also have served as the executioner.

The proposed acquisitions of Chris-Craft and Dow Jones, in 2000 and 2007, respectively, were among the signs of market tops preceding terrible plunges that each saw the sacrifice of a generation of investors, some of whom are still said to be hiding as they await some sign of safety to begin investing once again.

The re-appearance of the messenger should give them some pause before considering a return to the action.

However, in a strange kind of way the “all safe” sign may have been delivered this week, as Rupert Murdoch, whose timing with his large previous acquisitions has been exquisite in its accuracy for coinciding with market tops has now sent a counter sign.

Barely a month ago, for those believing in the power of Murdoch, it was ominous that he would have proposed a buy out of Time Warner (TWX), but this week that offer was revoked, perhaps offering a respite to investors fearing another plunge from what may be destined to be a market top.

While many are speculating as to the reason for Murdoch’s change of heart, could it be that he has come to the realization that his offering price was just too high and that history, which has a habit of repeating itself, was poised to do so again?

Probably not, as once you get the taste, it’s all about the hunt and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Murdoch either regroups, as the world appreciates that Time Warner’s share value is far less without Murdoch’s pursuit or as he seeks a new target.

As far as the revocation of the offer being a counter sign, this past week didn’t seem to receive it as such, as market weakness from last week continued amidst a barrage of international events.

But Murdoch wasn’t alone this week in perhaps having some remorse. Sprint (S), which never really made an overt bid for T-Mobile (TMUS), did however, overtly withdraw itself from that fray, just as T-Mobile was thumbing its nose at the French telecommunications company, Illiad’s (ILD) bid.

Walgreen (WAG) may have had a double dose of remorse this week as it announced that it would buy the remainder of a British drug store chain but would not be considering doing a tax inversion. They may have first regretted the speculation that they would be doing so as they undoubtedly received considerable political pressure to not move its headquarters. Seeing its shares plunge on that news may have been additional cause for remorse.

While Murdoch may have significant personal wealth tied to the fortunes of his company and may have a very vested interest in those shares prospering, that may not always be the case, as for some, it may be very easy to spend “other people’s money” in pursuit of the target and be immune to feelings of remorse.

But it’s a different story when it’s your own money in question. “Investor’s Remorse” can have applicability in both the micro and macro sense. We have all made a stock purchase that we’ve come to regret. However, in the larger sense, the remorse that may have been felt in 2000 and 2007 as Murdoch flexed his muscles was related to the agony of having remained fully invested in the belief that the market could only go higher.

When we see the potential signs of an apocalypse, such as increasing buyout offers and increasing numbers of initial public offerings while the market is hitting new highs, one has to wonder whether remorse will be the inevitable outcome. An Italian recession and the German stock exchange in correction may add to concerns.

Philosophically, my preference has long been to miss an upward climb to some degree by virtue of not being fully invested, rather than to be fully engaged during a market decline.

A drop of 10% seems like a lot, but it will seem even more when you realize that you must gain 11% just to once again reach your baseline. Having been that route I believe it’s much easier to drop 10% than it is to gain 11%. Just ask anyone who now own stocks that may have suddenly found themselves officially in “correction territory.”

As I get older I have less and less time and less appetite for remorse. I would assume that Rupert Murdoch feels the same, but he may also have a sense of immunity coupled with the secret for immortality, neither of which I enjoy.

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

This week’s selections include a number of recent targets and perhaps sources of remorse that may now find themselves better suited for those spending their own money, rather than that of other people.

Time Warner shareholders have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past three weeks as they saw a plunge on the same order as an initial surge in that time span. They may be experiencing some remorse for their leadership not being willing to consider Murdoch’s overture. The revocation of the offer, beautifully timed to dampen the good news of Time Warner’s earnings perhaps helped to limit any upside gains from earnings and adding to the feeling that Murdoch was the key to attaining “fair value,” even if that fair value may now no longer represent a premium to the initial bid.

However, with shares now back to their pre-offer level, which admittedly was at the then high for the year, the option premiums are quite high, reflecting the potential for more action. The challenge is knowing in which direction.

In the case of T-Mobile, it was a whirlwind week seeing an offer from abroad which wasn’t taken very seriously by anyone and then seeing the presumptive acquirer drop out of the game.

It’s hard to say who if anyone would have had any remorse, certainly not its out front CEO, John Legere, but no doubt shareholders experienced some, as shares plummeted in the belief that suitors were dropping like flies.

While Legere talks a boisterous game and did all he could to close the door to any future with Sprint, the reality is that T-Mobile needs both spectrum and cash and Legere needs a “sugar daddy” and one with lots of patience and tolerance.

For anyone willing to get in bed with T-Mobile, the good news is that they can have John Legere. The bad news is that they get John Legere.

But for a short term trade, suddenly T-Mobile is in correction territory and as long as there may still be prospects of capital appreciation, the option premiums are very enticing.

Walgreen shares fell nearly 15% on news that it wasn’t going to do a tax inversion, which seems far more than appropriate, as shares had their major ascent about 6 months ago long before most had ever heard of tax inversion.

I’ve been waiting for a while for Walgreen shares to return to the $60 level and the current reason hardly seems like one that would keep shares trading at that low level. Some recovery over the past two days doesn’t dampen the attraction to its shares.

Target (TGT) certainly should have experienced some remorse over the manner in which its data security practices were managed. In Target’s case, they put an additional price tag on that remorse that reversed the recent climb in shares, but was just really part of the obligatory dumping of all bad news into a single quarter to honor the ascension of a new CEO.

I’ve owned Target shares for a while waiting for it to recover from its security breach related price drop. Uncharacteristically, I haven’t added to my holdings as I usually do when prices drop because I haven’t had the level of confidence that I usually want before doing so. Now, however, I’m ready to take that plunge and don’t believe that there will be reason for further personal remorse. WIth an upcoming dividend, I don’t mind waiting for it to share in an anticipated pick up in the retail sector.

I’ve certainly had remorse over my ownership of shares in Whole Foods (WFM). While its co-CEOs are certainly visionaries, they have been facing increasing competition, are engaged in an aggressive national expansion and have one CEO that tends to make inopportune comments reflecting personal beliefs that frequently impact the stock price.

To his credit John Mackey has expressed some regrets over his choice of words in the past, but recently there has been little to inspire confidence. A recent, albeit small, price climb was attributed to a rumor of an activist position. While I have no idea of whether there’s any validity to that, Whole Foods does represent the kind of asset that may be appealing to an activist, in that it has a well regarded product, significantly depressed share price and leadership that may have lost touch with what is really important.

Mondelez (MDLZ) may or may not have any reason to feel remorse over adding activist investor Nelson Peltz onto its Board of Directors and to his decision to stop seeking a merger deal with Pepsi (PEP). Investors, however, may have some remorse as shares suddenly find themselves in correction over the past month.

That price drop brings Mondelez shares back into consideration for rotation into my portfolio, especially if looking for classically “defensive” positions in advance of an anticipated market decline. With an almost competitive dividend, a decent option premium and the possibility of some price bounce back the shares look attractive once again.

DuPont (DD) and Eli Lilly (LLY) are both ex-dividend this week and there’s rarely reason to feel remorse when a dividend can make you feel so much better, especially when well in excess of the average for S&P 500 stocks. Lilly’s recent fall in the past two weeks and DuPont’s two month’s decline offer some incentive to consider adding shares at this time and adding option premiums to the income mix while waiting for the market to return to an upward bias.

Cree (CREE) reports earnings this week and is always an exciting ride for a lucky or unlucky investor. It is a stock that either creates glee or remorse.

My most recent lot of shares came from eventually taking assignment of shares following the sale of puts after the previous earnings report, thinking that they couldn’t possibly go down any further in a significant manner. I don’t have any remorse, as I’ve been able to generate option premium revenue on having rolled the puts over and then having sold calls subsequent to assignment. I may, however, have some remorse after this coming week’s earnings.

The option market is once again looking for a significant earnings related move next week. For the trader willing to risk remorse a 1% weekly ROI may be achieved at a strike level 12% below the current price. For those less tolerant of risk, if shares do drop significantly after earnings, some consideration can be given to selling out of the money puts and being prepared to manage the position, as may become necessary.

Finally, how can you talk about remorse and not mention Halliburton (HAL)? From drilling disasters to adventures in Iraq Halliburton really hasn’t needed to be remorseful, because somehow it always found a way to prosper and move beyond the “disaster du jour.”

In hindsight, it seems so perfectly appropriate that for a period in time its CEO was future Vice President Dick Cheney, who didn’t even express any remorse for having shot a good friend in the face.

That’s the kind of leadership that we need in a company being considered for its worthiness of our personal assets, because we are capable of remorse and are pained by the prospects of engaging in it.

With some recent price weakness, as being experienced in the energy sector, now appears to be a good time to take advantage of Halliburton’s price retreat and save the remorse for others.

Traditional Stocks: Halliburton, Mondelez, Target, Time Warner, Walgreen, Whole Foods

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (8/13), Eli Lilly (8/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (8/12 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 6, 2014

You never really know what kind of surprises the market will bring on any given day. I’ve long given up trying to use rational thought processes to try and divine what is going to happen on any given day. It’s far too humbling of an experience to continually make such attempts.

Uncertainty may be compounded a little when we all know that low trading volume has a way of exaggerating things. With an extra long holiday coming up and many traders likely to be heading up to the Hamptons to really begin the summer, a three and half day trading week wasn’t the sort of thing that was going to generate lots of trading frenzy, although it could easily create lots of excitement and moves.

So when two big events occur in such a short time span, both of which seem to inspire optimism, as long as you’re not a bond holder, you can guess a plausible outcome. That’s especially so because lately the market hasn’t been in a "good/bad news is bad/good news" kind of mentality

In what was described as "the most significant speech yet in her still young Federal Reserve Chairmanship," Yellen re-affirmed he commitment to keep interest rates at low levels even in the face of bubbles. She made it clear that in her opinion higher interest rates was not the answer to dealing with financial excesses.

If you happen to be someone who invests in stocks, rather than bonds, could you be given any better gift, other than perhaps the same gift that Yellen gave just two weeks earlier during her post – FOMC press conference?

That gift didn’t have too much staying power and it’s unclear whether a few days off in celebration of Independence Day will makes us forget the most recent gift, but it’s good to have important friends who are either directly or indirectly looking out for your financial well-being.

When seeking to try and understand why stocks continue to perform so well, one concept that is repeatedly mentioned is that it is simply the best of alternatives at the moment. If you believe that to be the case, you certainly believe it even more after this week, especially when realizing that interest rates are likely to remain low even in the face of inflationary pressures.

Borrowing from an alternate investment class credo, it seems clear that the strategy should be simply stated as "Stocks, stocks, stocks."

As if there were any doubts about that belief, the following day came the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report and it lived up to and exceeded expectations.

So it appears that despite a significant revision of GDP indicating a horrible slowdown in the first quarter, the nation’s employers just keep hiring and the unemployment rate is now down to its lowest point since September 2008, which wasn’t a very good time if you were an equity investor.

While the "U-6 Unemployment Rate," which is sometimes referred to as the "real unemployment rate" is almost double that of the more commonly reported U-3, no one seems to care about that version of reality. As in "Animal House," when you’re on a roll you go with it.

More people working should translate into more discretionary spending, more tax revenues and less government spending on social and entitlement programs. That all sounds great for stocks unless you buy into the notion that such events were long ago discounted by a forward looking market.

However, normally that sort of economic growth and heat should start the process of worrying  about a rising interest rate environment, but that seems to be off the table for the near future.

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

Of course, with the market propelling itself beyond the 17000 level for the first time and closing the week on strength, what now seems like an age old problem just keeps persisting. That is, where do you find stock bargains?

I’m afraid the answer is that "you don’t," other than perhaps in hindsight.

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

Among my many faults are that I tend to be optimistic.

I don’t say that as many job applicants do in trying to turn the question about their greatest weakness into a strength in an effort to blow smoke in their prospective employer’s face.

That optimism, however, is more of a long term trait, as I’m always pessimistic in the short term. That seems consistent with someone who sells calls, especially of the short term variety. However, part of the problem is that my optimism often means that I purchase stocks too early on the heels of either bad news or performance in the belief that resurrection is at hand.

Most recently Coach (COH) has been a great example of that inappropriate optimism. Having owned shares 20 times in less than two years those purchases have frequently been made following earnings related disappointments and up until the most recent such disappointment, I haven’t found myself displaying a similar emotion. I’ve usually been pretty happy about the decision to enter into positions, although, in hindsight they were frequently initiated too early and I could have avoided some gastric erosion.

However, this time has been different in that even after an initially large price drop, the kind that in the past would have rebounded, shares just kept going lower. But also different is that the bad news didn’t end with earnings this time around.

As with another recent recommendation, Whole Foods (WFM), I believe that meaningful support has been displayed and now begins the time to start whittling down the paper losses through the addition of shares  or opening a new position. Despite what will certainly be years of ongoing competition with Michael Kors (KORS) and others in vying for the customer loyalty, Coach has dumped lots of bad news into a single quarter and is poised to begin its rebound along with a recovering retail sector.

While not  in retail, Mosaic (MOS) is another company that I’ve spent a year trying to whittle down the paper losses following dissolution of the potash cartel that no one ever knew had existed. In that time nine additional rounds of ownership have wiped out the losses, so now it’s time to  make some money. 

Shares have had some difficulty at the $50 level and recently have again fallen below. As with Coach, dividends and option premiums make it easier to exercise some patience, but they also can make it a compelling reason to initiate or add to positions. If adding at this level I would be very happy to see shares continue to trade in its narrow range and wouldn’t mind the opportunity to continually rollover option contracts as has been the case in the past, helping to erase large paper losses.

Also similar to Coach, in that I believe that all of the bad news and investor disbelief has been exhausted, is Darden Restaurants (DRI). There’s probably not much need to re-hash some of the dysfunction and what appears to be pure self-interest on the part of its CEO that has helped to keep its assets undervalued. However, at its current level I believe that there is room for share appreciation and a good time to start a position is often in advance of its ex-dividend date and nearly 5% dividend. 

While Darden’s payout ratio is well above the average for S&P 500 stocks, there isn’t much concern about its ability to maintain the payouts. With only monthly options available and a reporting earnings late in the upcoming season, I would consider the use of August 2014 options, rather than the more near term monthly cycle.

Also only offering monthly options, Transocean (RIG) has been slowly building off of its recent lows, but is having difficulty breaking through the $45 level. With recent pressure on refiners as a result of a Department of Commerce decision regarding exports there may be reason to believe that there would be additional incentive to bring supply to market for export. While clearly a long term process there may be advantage to being an early believer. Transocean, which I have now owned 14 times in two years also offers a very generous dividend.

As long as in the process of tabulating the number of individual rounds of ownership, Dow Chemical (DOW) comes to mind, with 18 such positions over the past two years. The most recent was added just a few weeks ago in order to capture its dividend, but shares then went down in sympathy with DuPont (DD) as it delivered some unexpectedly bad news regarding its seed sales. Showing some recovery to close the week, Dow Chemical is an example of a stock that simply needs to have  are-set of expectations in terms of what may represent a fair price. Sometimes waiting for shares to return to your notions of fairness may be an exercise in futility. While still high in my estimation based on past experience, I continue to look at shares as a relatively safe way to generate option income, dividends and share profits.

Microsoft (MSFT) is another obvious example of one of the many stocks that are at or near their highs. In that kind of universe you either have to adjust your baselines or look for those least susceptible to systemic failure. That is, of course, in the assumption that you have to be an active participant in the first place.

Since I believe that some portion of the portfolio always has to be actively participating, it’s clear that the baseline has to be raised. Currently woefully under-invested in technology, Microsoft appears to at least have relative immunity to the kind of systemic failure that should never be fully dismissed. It too offers that nice combination of option premiums and dividend to offset any potential short term disappointment.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) reports earnings this week and must be getting tired of always being referred to as the weakest of the dollar stores. It may also already be tired of being in the cross hairs of Carl Icahn, but investors likely have no complaint regarding the immediate and substantial boost in share price when Icahn announced his stake in the company.

Shares saw some weakness as the previous week the potential buyout suitor, Dollar General (DG), considered to be the best in the class, saw its CEO announce his impending 2015 retirement. That was immediately interpreted as a delay in any buyout, at the very least and shares of both companies tumbled. While that presented an opportunity to purchase Dollar General, Family Dollar Stores are still a bit off of their Icahn induced highs of just a few weeks ago and is now facing earnings this coming week.

The option market is implying a relatively small 4.4% price move and it doesn’t quite fulfill my objective of tring to identify a position offering a weekly 1% return for a strike level outside of the implied price range. In this case, however, I would be more inclined to consider a sale of puts after earnings if the response to the report drives shares down sharply. While that may lead to susceptibility of repeating the recent experience with Coach, Carl Icahn, like Janet Yellen is a good friend to have on your side.

Finally, among the topics of the past week were the question of corporate responsibility as it comes to divulging news of the changing health status of key individuals. With the news that Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase (JPM), had been diagnosed with curable throat cancer, the question was rekindled. Fortunately, however, Dimon spared us any supposition regarding the cause of his cancer, perhaps having learned from Michael Douglas that we may not want to know such details.

While hoping for a swift and full recovery many recall when Apple (AAPL) shares briefly plunged when news of Steve Jobs’ illness was finally made public in 2009 and he took a leave of absence, opening the door for Tim Cook’s second seat at the helm of the company.

JP Morgan’s shares went down sharply on the report of Dimon’s health news on a day that the financials did quite well. To his and JP Morgan’s credit, the news, which I believe should be divulged if substantive, should not have further impact unless it changes due to some unfortunate deterioration in Dimon’s health or unexpected change of leadership.

In advance of earnings in two weeks I think at its current price JP Morgan shares are reasonably priced and in a continuing low interest rate environment and with increased regulatory safeguards should be much more protected form its own self than in past years. WHether as a short term or longer term position, I think its shares should be considered as a cornerstone of portfolios, although I wish that I had owned it more often than I have, despite 18 ventures in the past two years.

Hopefully, with Jamie Dimon continuing at the helm and in good health there will be many more opportunities to do so and revel in the process with Janet Yellen providing all the party favors we’ll need.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Transocean

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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.