Weekend Update – September 4, 2016

These are sensitive times.

For the longest time the FOMC and investors were the closest of allies.

The FOMC gave investors what they craved.

With cheap money increasingly made available investors could do what they want to do the most.

Invest.

In return, if you believe in trickle down economics, the great wealth created by investors would then get re-invested into the economy, helping to fund the creation of jobs, which in turn would fuel increasing demand for consumer products.

That would result in a virtuous cycle that would grow the economy, with the FOMC carefully controlling growth to keep the 40 years’ worth of inflation fears soothed.

Surely that was a win – win scenario, in theory, at least.

Then came the rumors.

Those rumors were started, fueled and spread by the very FOMC that created good times for most everyone that had a discretionary dollar to invest.

The fear that those rumors of an interest rate increase coming soon, perhaps a series of them in 2016, would become reality, periodically sowed selling waves into the blackened hearts of investors.

With even the doves among the FOMC members beginning to utter tones spoken by hawks, investors knew that their glory days were numbered and began expressing some slow acceptance of an interest rate increase.

It’s not as if they really had any choice, although it was also clear that any evidence of consumers slowing down or not living up to their expectations would send the FOMC into a bit of a retreat, which in turn would send investors into a subdued celebratory mode.

What had become clear, however, over the past few months is that the acceptance is begrudging at best, as it is more accepted in theory rather than in reality.

Investors have shown an uneasy acceptance of an interest rate hike, as long as it comes later and not sooner.

That was abundantly clear this past week as the disappointing Employment Situation Report data was initially interpreted by investors as meaning that the probability of an interest rate increase announcement coming at this month’s FOMC meeting was less likely.

Markets moved nicely higher on the notion that there was going to be another few months of cheap money to fuel the party.

But then came word from among the top leaders of the FOMC and Federal Reserve that conditions were still being met for an interest rate increase in September and investors did what they usually do when fear or loathing is part of the equation.

The FOMC and investors simply continued playing the game that they’ve been playing for much of 2016, having established an uneasy truce, while awaiting for the other side to blink.

At some point, this truce will either fall apart or the sides will embrace one another.

For all of their obfuscation and for all of the confusing economic data, there is still little sign that retailers are ready to tell us that stores are crowded and inventories are being depleted.

The FOMC seems to have erred once when raising interest rates almost a year ago. The market’s decline in the period afterward wasn’t with foresight of the lack of economic growth to come.

It was due to disappointment that the party was slowing down.

The subsequent recovery has all come as thoughts of extending the party have taken hold.

Now, though, I think we are ready to move forward, even if taking a short term step backward upon the reality of another interest rate increase, in anticipation of the FOMC not making the same mistake twice.

But, I wouldn’t mind waiting until December. It might not be a bad idea for the FOMC to be behind the curve this time, to allow the current uneasy truce to give way to renewed investor confidence based upon an expanding economy and a return to investing based upon fundamental factors.

Nothing spells peace better than two independent and healthy entities going about their own businesses side by side.

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

Volatility is painfully low and there are only 4 trading days in the current week, so weekly option premiums are going to be even less appealing.

On top of that, with earnings season essentially having come to its end, all that remains is an FOMC watch and then the reaction to its action or inaction.

For me, that just leaves more uncertainty, but without the reward.

Because of that, my predominant focus is on securing more dividends, if possible.

For the week, that leaves me in consideration of adding shares of Coach (COH), General Motors (GM) and the recently added GameStop (GME).

I currently own all three of those and see opportunity in all three, not just for the upcoming dividends, but also for their option premiums and some chance for capital appreciation, as well.

Generally, when I do consider positions going ex-dividend, I try to exploit any possibility of a pricing inefficiency that would have some of the decrease in the share price coming as a result of the dividend, being borne by the option buyer.

As a result, I usually try to sell in the money call options generally being happy with either early assignment or receiving the dividend.

This week, however, I’m more inclined to consider the sale of slightly out of the money calls or may consider longer term expirations.

I purchased GameStop following its fairly muted decline, by its historical standards, following recent earnings, specifically with the dividend in mind.

Shares have been trading fairly well on the heels of its bad news and have shown some stability. While GameStop has had “another shoe to drop” in the past, I think that the near term opportunity is to exploit both its price decline and generous dividend.

There’s no question that its business model has challenges, but those challenges have been constant and evolving over the years, while GameStop has adapted, evolved and persisted.

I don’t look at GameStop as a long term holding, but it is a stock that may also be amenable to serial rollover, which has been my primary activity in 2016, as my overall trading activity has taken a dive even from 2015, which itself was a low trading volume year.

Coach and General Motors appeal to me at the moment for different reasons.

I like Coach following having given back some recent gains, which returns it to a support level that appears to have some holding ability. With few people now questioning its long term strategy or ability to compete, Coach continues to build its base and make itself more accessible to more consumers.

Unlike GameStop, I would consider any new positions in Coach as a potential longer term holding and would also consider it a serial rollover vehicle that also happens to have an appealing dividend.

I like General Motors at the moment, not because of its recent price decline, but rather for its recent price stability.

It doesn’t have the same kind of price supports that Coach has, however, it too, may be considered as a longer term holding with a very attractive dividend and option premiums, as long as the share price remains in its current neighborhood.

With volatility continuing so low and the longer term trend continuing higher, it’s difficult to buck the trend, so a longer term perspective with positions such as Coach and General Motors may be appropriate under current market conditions.

Finally, with so many now believing that the financial sector may finally awaken as interest rate increases seem likely, I think that I may finally be ready to secure my first position in PayPal (PYPL).

There is no dividend, but what really appeals to me since its spin off from eBay (EBAY) is the well defined trading range and liquidity of its options.

The availability of extended weekly options makes it also a candidate for serial rollovers as it continues to offer an attractive premium, despite having traded in a fairly narrow range.

Ultimately, the ideal application of a covered option strategy, in my opinion, is when that combination of price stability and attractive option premium exists alongside liquidity.

If that kind of co-existence is possible, surely investors and the FOMC can figure out a way to move forward as 2017 approaches.

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: PayPal

Double-Dip Dividend: Coach (9/8 $0.34), GameStop (9/7 $0.37), General Motors (9/7 $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 – 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 – June 19, 2016

About 25 years ago a character debuted on Saturday Night Live and the recurring joke was to try and guess the character’s gender.

The sketches typically had  red herrings and lots of mis-direction and the question of Pat’s gender was never answered.

Never a terribly popular character, someone had the fiscally irresponsible idea of making a feature film and Pat was never heard from again.

The guessing stopped.

Fast forward to 2016 and think of Pat as an FOMC member.

Over the past 2 months or so there has probably been lots of mis-direction coming from Federal Reserve Governors, perhaps as they floated trial balloons to see how interest rate action or inaction would be received by the stock market.

The health of the stock market is not really part of their mandate, but since so much of the nation’s wealth is very closely aligned with those markets, it may only be logical that the FOMC should at least have some passing interest in its health.

Who would have guessed 6 months ago when the first interest rate hike occurred that we would be at a point where that has thus far been the only one?

Who would have thought that in the transpiring 6 months nothing would have validated the December 2015 interest rate increase and that nothing but conflicting economic data would be forthcoming?

Who would have thought that the most voluble interest rate hawk among the voting members of the FOMC would this week downplay the possibility of recurring interest rate increases in what time remains in 2016?

Who would have thought that Janet Yellen would alternate between her dovish and hawkish sides and come to a point of simultaneously taking both sides?

That’s hardly the sort of thing that inspires confidence in markets.

This past week was one that if you had tried to guess what was to come next or what was to influence markets, you would have been very disappointed with your abilities.

It was a week with increasing focus on the upcoming vote by British citizens as to whether remain in the European Union. It was a week of some large moves in European stock markets and lots of disagreement not only regarding the vote’s outcome, but whether either of those outcomes would mean.

England’s bookmakers seem to have an opinion at variance with polls, but it’s anyone’s guess what the outcome will be and what the reaction will be.

It was also a week of alternating moves in our own markets as traders just grasped for direction and meaning.

On our own shores there was focus, although far less following the truly disappointing Employment Situation Report of a few weeks ago, on the FOMC Statement release and Chairman Yellen’s subsequent press conference.

With the expectation that there would be no change in interest rates, it looked as if stocks were going to re-establish its ties to oil and for one day, at least it closely followed oil’s intra-day moves higher and lower.

But that relationship clearly disappeared in the latter half of the week as some very big moves in oil’s price saw nothing in kind in stocks and sometimes saw the glimpses of rationale behavior as oil and stocks moved in opposite directions.

Then, if you would have guessed that Janet Yellen would move markets in either direction in a big way, as she has usually been able to accomplish during her press conferences, you would have been well off the mark.

(click to enlarge)

While her obfuscation found some favor the previous week, this time around no one knew what to make of trying to have it both ways.

In fact the market was virtually unchanged during the period of the press conference, including the time taken to offer the prepared statement.

As with Pat, even if you were mildly intrigued, it may have taken a lot more than that to make some kind of a meaningful commitment or to take any kind of risk.

What the market did know was that the minute that press conference was done, it was time to sell stocks.

From another brief moment of rational thought, as good as low interest rates may be, there has to be the realization that such rates reflect mediocrity and a moribund economy. Certainly no one wants the US economy to emulate that of Japan and news that German interest rates dipped into negative territory may have sent a message that the same could then happen anywhere.

Who would have guessed?

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

For the most part, despite the uncertainty surrounding the market again this week, I’m more willing to accept risk than has been the case for much of the past year.

To a large degree that’s related to the additional increment of premium being seen in some positions as volatility has been rising.

Even if  broader market volatility is going to be short lived, some individual sectors and individual positions have a likelihood of continuing to offer higher premiums due to their baseline volatility and anything additional that may come from market uncertainty.

I am considering more positions this week than I have for much of 2016 and most of those are being considered through the sale of put options, rather than outright buy/write transactions.

With the exception of Dow Chemical (DOW), which has an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I’m considering the sale of puts for eBay (EBAY), PayPal (PYPL), Seagate Technology (STX), Under Armour (UA) and United Continental (UAL).

WIth the exception of Seagate Technology, the others in that put sales group do not offer a dividend, so the sale of puts doesn’t have to take into consideration that possibility of subsidizing someone else for the collection of that dividend.

The list this week is fairly varied, other than for the historical connection between eBay and PayPal.

I haven’t owned eBay since it spun off its PayPal growth engine, but it has been trading precisely the way it did when PayPal was still part of its holdings. That is, it traded in a fairly narrow and predictable range, while occasionally being punctuated with price spikes at earnings. Those spikes created a decent option premium for a stock that over the longer term of the past 4 or 5 years prior to the spin off basically traded sideways.

What is interesting about eBay this week is that there is some speculation than in the event of a withdrawal from the European Union by Great Britain, it is among those stocks that stands to lose in the process.

That process, however, is being treated as if it is going to be an instantaneous one, rather than one being drawn out over years.

If I could hold onto eBay shares and serially sell calls or able to serially roll over puts, I’d be more than happy to watch that process play out over several years.

That is if it ever even gets to that.

I’ve never owned PayPal, but it is now well past that 12 months since its offering, that is usually the amount of time that I wait before considering a position.

It too has been recently trading in a range and in the longer term has been doing so ever since the initial euphoria wore off.

I think that a near term position in PayPal does carry greater risks than with eBay, as the next support level below $36 is almost 10% lower. However, the premiums available for the sale of options can mitigate some of that risk, even as financial instruments as a whole are under pressure.

I expect that pressure to be abating fairly soon as we become less convinced of a rise in interest rates and instead end up wondering who would have guessed that they would have begun an insidious climb over the summer.

I do own and suffer with that ownership, shares of United Continental. It’s certainly a bad idea to base an investment on the proposal that shares couldn’t possibly go any lower.

The size of the recent moves lately in those shares have my interest more than the recent sustained decline which came as it looked as if those shares might reclaim their 1 year high level.

Up until the latter half of April, United Continental and oil prices were very closely and directly aligned in 2016, despite the fact that the greatest increase in the price of oil came during the period before April.

Who would have guessed that increasing oil prices would be associated with increased share prices of United Continental? That relationship, though has reverted to its more normal pattern and I believe that despite the traditional summer time impact on energy prices, increasing supply will be of benefit to United Continental.

With the Brazil Olympics being one of one controversy after another, there’s probably not too much doubt that the companies that have lots at stake during the Olympics games are easily identifiable.

I still marvel at the resiliency of Under Armour when questions were raised as to whether its swimsuit design may have cost American swimmers their expected medals. They handled the situation perfectly and the world and investors quickly moved on.

Of course, one challenge may not have to wait until Brazilian festivities begin and may instead occur before trading begins on Monday.

On Monday morning we will all know whether the Under Armour wearing Stephen Curry or the Nike (NKE) wearing LeBron James will be celebrating.

In the event of a Cleveland victory in the basketball championship finals, if Under Armour takes a drop in share price, I would be very interested in selling puts into the weakness and as with eBay or PayPal, that is a position that I wouldn’t necessarily mind keeping open if it is amenable to serial rollover.

I’ve also been suffering with shares of Seagate Technology, but as far as I know it doesn’t have too much riding on a basketball game’s outcome.

What I do like about it now is that it seems to have developed some support at its current price level and that put premium is very attractive, even as that dividend yield is very frightening.

Seagate Technology and others in the storage and memory business have been written off before as being nothing more than commodities and at some point that may become an accurate description of the business, as well as prospects for growth.

Unless Elon Musk comes up with a way to carry physical hard drives up to the cloud in one of his SpaceX vehicles, the future may not shine too brightly for physical storage. But from my actuary’s perspective, a few weeks of ownership may not be overly risky, relative to the reward.

Finally, Dow Chemical is ex-dividend next week and if participating with it next week, my preference would be to buy shares and sell calls.

I already have 2 lots of shares and have been happily collecting the dividend and rolling over call options, while watching the premiums accumulate, even as shares go nowhere.

At some point, the convoluted deal with DuPont (DD) will become reality or it will be killed off by regulators.

As with Pfizer (PFE) several months earlier, I think the current price has already given back any premium that the market placed on the proposed transaction. For that reason, I think that there is little downside to adding shares of Dow Chemical at this time.

The option premium doesn’t reflect too much volatility, but the return for the sale of an at the money option is at levels that I used to see during periods of greater market volatility.

I look at that as a bonus, when considering the times we are in and the limited company specific downside potential as the summer unfolds and we await decisions.

 

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay

Momentum Stocks: PayPal, Seagate Technology, Under Armour, United Continental

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – March 20, 2016

Best laid plans often have a way of working out other than expected.

On slow days I make it a point to go and sit in anyone’s waiting room, even without an appointment, just to read stale issues of business and news magazines.

Eventually I get up and leave and feel better about my track record.

Doing that tends to reinforce the belief that the “experts” called upon to predict what awaits in the future are invariably wrong, even as self tying sneakers depicted in “Back to the Future” may now become somewhat of a reality.

Sometimes it’s the timing that’s all wrong and sometimes it’s the concept.

Unless you put much stock in a prediction, such as converting all of your assets to gold in anticipation of yet another Doomsday, they tend to be forgotten unless a dusty magazine is picked up.

The plan to be awash in the one true and universal currency might have seemed like a good idea until coming to the realization that it’s hard to spread on a slice of bread, even if you actually had a slice of bread.

While you can’t be very certain about the accuracy of a “futurists” predictions, you can be very certain that no self-respecting expert on the future keeps a complete scorecard and most would probably be advocates of having physician’s offices regularly rotate their stock of reading materials.

When the FOMC does finally decide to raise interest rates again most will likely have forgotten their earlier prediction of the need for a series of rate hikes. 

Not too long ago the FOMC was predicting a more robust economy for 2016 than has been the case and this past week the members saw things somewhat differently.

To its credit, the FOMC and Chairman Yellen didn’t disown the past, which sometimes, due to revisionism can be just as difficult to discern as the future.

For what seems like the longest time, I have seen a future that has traders finally coming to the belief that a growing economy was good news and the need to continue cheap money policy was bad news.

Conceptually that has to make sense, so I’ll blame poor timing on the poor progress toward changing sentiment.

I’ve also been waiting for the longest time to see lower oil prices prod a consumer based economy toward growth and taking corporate revenues and profits to higher levels.

And I keep waiting for stock prices and oil prices to disassociate from one another during a period that oil prices are more influenced by oversupply and not reduced demand.

The track record on those is pretty abysmal, although for some very brief periods over the past few weeks it looked as if that disassociation might finally be coming.

If your memory can go back far enough, you may remember that as 2015 was coming to its end many were predicting that 2016 would follow the pattern seen in the year following a flat year in markets.

It didn’t take very long for that prediction to itself fall flat.

But what no one would have predicted was that as bad as the first 6 weeks of the year had been, the subsequent 5 weeks would erase the losses and perhaps even serve to rehabilitate the earlier prediction. 

There is little economic news next week other than release of the GDP, which has reflected less impressive than predicted growth of late.

I can confidently predict that it will have no impact on Friday’s stock market close, but I’m not willing to venture as far into the future as the following Monday.

At least I’m capable of learning from my mistakes and am equally confident in predicting that will not always be the case.
 

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

One thing that I would not have predicted was just how shortly following the market’s embrace of the Dow Chemical (DOW) and DuPont (DD) merger deal the price premium would be lost.

With shares trading just above their pre-merger disclosure and having had gone below that level in the early part of 2016, I’ve believed that there was relatively little merger related risk associated with those shares.

I had bought shares twice after the merger announcement and am ready to do so again, particularly as shares have had a somewhat irrational pattern of following the price of oil and now that trend is higher.

With its option premium still reasonably attractive as there is still a perception of either oil or merger related risk, I also have my eyes on its ex-dividend date, which is at the end of the month.

For that reason I would probably look at selling an extended weekly option and if faced with a possible early assignment, I would consider further rolling the option over, if only to get some additional premium to offset the loss of the dividend to the option buyer.

Among the things that many predicted, including myself, was that financial sector stocks would perform nicely as the path for interest rates after the FOMC’s decision at the end of 2015 was going to be higher.

In anticipation that would be the case, I had purchased shares of Morgan Stanley (MS) on 4 occasions in the 2 months leading up to that eventual decision.

That seemed like an easy thing to predict. It was a fifth purchase, that came a few weeks after the announcement that went counter to what seemed predictable.

Instead of interest rates continuing to move higher as any sane seer would have predicted, they went lower and lower, as did most financial sector stocks.

So here we are again with the feeling that now rates can only go higher, but without much confidence in when they will start to happen.

It may be the uncertainty of the latter that makes considering opening a position to be a more predictably rational thing to do.

Last week Williams Companies seemed like a good idea, particularly as there may have been some inefficiencies in its pricing and a divergence between the arbitrage and options communities regarding the prospects of its planned merger.

This week, Marathon Oil (MRO) doesn’t have the same kind of drama figuring into the equation, but along with a battered sector, it may have been price compressed more than most and with the prospects of a larger spring back.

However, even price stability in oil could create an attractive environment for accumulating very generous option premiums.

While those option premiums are attractive, I would probably sacrifice some of the assured premium by selling out of the money strikes in an effort to also capture some capital gains on shares.

As is often the case during periods of high market volatility or individual stock volatility, there may also be advantage in rolling over calls even if faced with assignment as the forward week premiums may be continuing to reflect greater uncertainty.

That was a nice formula in 2008, 2009 and the latter half of 2011 and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of those opportunities appear.

Finally, having purchased eBay (EBAY) a few weeks ago was like re-discovering an old, old friend.

I hadn’t owned shares since the confirmation that eBay was going to spin off the driver of its growth, PayPal (PYPL).  There was probably some luck with having made that first purchase in over a year on the day before the market decided to end the craziness of the first 6 weeks of 2016.

With volatility at its peak for 2016 that was a good time to consider buying just about anything, if only you could have predicted what was in store in the subsequent 5 weeks.

I couldn’t, but at the same time I couldn’t resist the lure of eBay shares. Despite having climbed 5% since then, that performance pales in comparison to the S&P 500 which was nearly 10% higher during that time span.

What eBay is continuing to offer, even as volatility has started returning to the levels it had languished for up until the past 6 months, is an attractive option premium.

The reason I had found myself having purchased shares of eBay on 25 occasions during a 4 year period, despite not having owned any shares for more than a year of that time span, is that it tended to trade in a tight range, but due to occasional surges or plunges, offered a very attractive premium.

They say that you can’t go back home, but predictably you do and sometimes it works out.

Traditional Stocks:  Dow Chemical, eBay, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks:  Marathon Oil

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: None

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

 

Weekend Update – 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 – September 27, 2015

Subscribers to Option to Profit received preliminary notification of this week’s stock selections on Friday, September 25th, 8:00 AM EDT and updated at 10:20 AM. The full article was distributed on Saturday, at 11:25 AM)

I doubt that Johnny Cash was thinking about that thin line that distinguishes a market in correction from one that is not.

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For him, walking the line” was probably a reference to maintaining the correct behavior so that he could ensure holding onto something of great personal value.

Sometimes that line is as clear as the difference between black and white and other times the difference can be fairly arbitrary.

Lately our markets have been walking a line, not necessarily borne out of a clear distinction between right and wrong, but rather dancing around the definition of exactly what constitutes a market correction, going in and out without much regard.

The back and forth dance has, to some degree, been in response to mixed messages coming from the FOMC that have left the impression of a divergence between words and actions.

Regardless, what is at stake can hold some real tangible value, despite a stock portfolio not being known for its ability to keep you warm at night. Indirectly, however, the more healthy that portfolio the less you have to think about cranking up the thermostat on those cold and lonely nights.

It had been a long, long time since being challenged by that arbitrary 10% definition, but ever since having crossed that line a month ago there’s been lots of indecision about which direction we were heading.

This week was another good example of that, just as the final day of the week was its own good example of the back and forth that has characterized markets.

Depending on your perspective our recent indecision about which side of the line we want to be on is either creating support for a launching pad higher or future resistance to that move higher.

When you think about the quote attributed to Jim Rogers, “I have never met a rich technician,” you can understand, regardless of how ludicrous that may be, just how true it may also be.

While flipping a coin may have predictable odds in the long term, another saying has some real merit when considering the difficulty in trying to interpret charts and chart patterns,

That is “the market can stay irrational far longer than you can stay liquid.” Just a few wrong bets in succession on the direction can have devastating effects.

The single positive from the past 10 days of trading, however, is that the market has started behaving in a rational manner. It finally demonstrated that it understood the true meaning of a potential interest rate hike and then it reacted as a sane person might when their rational expectation was dashed.

Part of the indecision that we’ve been displaying has to be related to what has seemed as a lot of muddled messages coming from the FOMC and from Federal Reserve Governors. One minute there are hawkish sentiments being expressed, yet it’s the doves that seem to be still holding court, leading onlookers to wonder whether the FOMC is capable of making the decision that many believe is increasingly overdue.

In a week where there was little economic news we were all focused on personalities, instead and still stewing over the previous week’s unexpected turn of events.

It was a week when Pope Francis took center stage, then Chinese President Xi trying to cozy up to American business leaders before his less welcoming White House meeting, and then there was finally John Boehner.

The news of John Boehner’s early departure may be the most significant of all news for the week as it probably reduces the chance of another government shutdown and associated headaches for all.

It also marked something rare in Washington politics; a promise kept.

That promise of strict term limits was included in the “Contract with America” and John Boehner was a member of that incoming freshman Congressional Class of 1995 running on that platform, who has now indicated that he will be keeping that promise after only 11 terms in office.

None of that mattered for markets, but what did matter was Janet Yellen’s comments after Thursday’s market close when she said that a rate hike was likely this year and that overseas events were not likely to influence US policy.

That was something that had a semblance of a definitive nature to it and was to the market’s liking, particularly as the coming week may supply new economic information to justify the interest rate hawks gaining control.

Friday’s revised GDP data indicating a 3.9% growth rate for the year is a start, as the coming week also bring Jobless Claims, the Employment Situation Report and lots of Federal Reserve officials making speeches, including more from Janet Yellen, who had been reclusive for a while prior to the September meeting and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.

As a prelude to the next earnings season that begins in just 2 weeks, the stage could be set for an FOMC affirmation that the economy is growing sufficiently to begin thinking about inflation for the first time in a long time.

After being on the other side of the inflation line for a long time and seeing a lost generation in Japan, it will feel good to cross over even as old codgers still dread the notion.

Both sides of the line can be the right side, but not at the same time. Now is the time to get on the right side and let rising interest rates reflect a market poised to move higher, just as low interest rates subsidized the market for the past 6 years. However, as someone who likes to sell options and take advantage of this increased volatility, I welcome continued trading in large bursts of movement up and down, as long as that line is adhered to.

Since the mean can always be re-calculated based on where you want to start your observations, this reversion to the new mean, that just happens to be 10% below the peaks of the summer, can be a great neighborhood to dance around.

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

Last week I was a little busier than has been the usual case of late with regard to opening new positions. Following the sharp sell offs to end the previous week I had a reasonably good feeling about the upcoming week, but now feel fortunate to have emerged without any damage.

I don’t feel the same level of optimism as the new week is set to begin, but there really is no reason to have much conviction one way or another, although there appears to be a more hawkish tone in the air as Janet Yellen is attempting to give the impression that actions will be aligned with words.

With the good fortune of getting some assignments as the week came to its close and having some cash in hand, I would like to build on those cash reserves but still find lots of temptations that seek to separate me from the cash.

The temptations aren’t just the greatly diminished prices, but also the enhanced premiums that accompany the uncertainty that’s characterizing the market.

That uncertainty is still low by most standards other than for the past couple of years, but taking individual stocks that are either hovering around correction or even bear market declines and adding relatively high premiums, especially if a dividend is also involved, is a difficult combination to walk away from.

The stocks going ex-dividend in the upcoming week that may warrant some attention are EMC Corporation (EMC) and Cisco (CSCO).

I own shares of both and both have recently been disappointing, Cisco, after its most recent earnings report looked as if it was surely going to be assigned away from me, but as so many others got caught up in the sudden downdraft and has fallen 14% since earnings, without any particularly bad news. EMC for its part has dropped nearly 13% in that same time period.

As is also so frequently the case as option premiums are rising, those going ex-dividend may become even more attractive as an increasing portion of the share’s price drop due to the dividend gets subsidized by the option premium.

That is the case for both Cisco and EMC. In the case of EMC, when the ex-dividend is early in the week you could even be excused for writing an in the money call with the hope that the newly purchased shares get assigned, as you could still potentially derive a 1% ROI on such a trade, yet for only a single day of holding.

Cisco, which goes ex-dividend later in the week may be a situation where it is warranted to sell an expanded weekly option for the following week that is also in the money by greater than the amount of the dividend, again in an effort to prompt an early assignment.

Doing so trades off the dividend for additional premium and fewer days of holding so that the cash may potentially be recycled into other income generating positions.

On such position is Comcast (CMCSA) which is ex-dividend the following Monday and if assigned early would have to be done so at the conclusion of this week.

While the entire media landscape in undergoing rapid change and while Comcast has positioned itself as best as it can to withstand the quantum changes, a trade this week is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the shares for the income that it may be able to produce and isn’t a vote of confidence in its strategic initiatives and certainly not of its services.

The intention with Comcast is considering the sale of an in the money October 9 or October 16, 2015 call and as with Cisco or EMC, consider forgoing the dividend.

However, for any of those three dividend related trades, I believe that their prices alone are attractive enough and their option premiums enhanced enough, that even if not assigned early, they are in good position to be candidates for serial sale of call options or even repurchases, if assigned.

As long as considering a Comcast purchase, one of my favorites in the sector is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). I currently own shares and most often consider initiating a new position as an ex-dividend date is approaching.

That won’t be for a while, however, the second criteria that I look at is where its price is relative to its historical trading range and it is currently below the average of my seven previous purchases in the past 16 months.

While little known, it is a major player in the ancient area of terrestrial television broadcasting and has significant family ownership. While owners of Cablevision (CVC) can argue the merits or liabilities of a closely held public company, the only real risk is that of a proposal to take the company private as a result of shares having sunk to ridiculously low levels.

I don’t see that on the horizon, although the old set of rabbit ears may be to blame for any fuzzy forecasting. Instead of relying on high technology and still being available the old fashioned way for free viewing, Sinclair Broadcasting has simply been amassing outlets all over the county and making money the old fashioned way.

As I had done with my current lot of shares, I sold some slightly longer term call options, as Sinclair offers only the monthly variety. Since it reports earnings very early in November and will likely go ex-dividend late that month, I would consider selling out of the money calls, perhaps using the December 2015 options in an effort to capture the dividend, the option premium and some capital gains on shares.

While religious and political luminaries were getting most of the attention this past week, it’s hard to overlook what has unfolded before our eyes at Volkswagen (VLKAY). Regulatory agencies and the courts may be of the belief that you can’t spell “Fahrvergnügen,” Volkswagen’s onetime advertising slogan buzzword, without “Revenge.” Unfortunately, for those owning shares in the major auto manufacturer’s, such as General Motors (GM), last week’s news painted with a very broad brush.

General Motors hasn’t been immune to its own bad news and you do have to wonder if society places greater onus and personal responsibility on the slow deaths that may be promoted by Volkswagen’s falsified diesel emissions testing than by the instantaneous deaths caused by faulty lock mechanisms.

For its part, General Motors appears to really be bargain priced and will likely escape the continued plastering by that broad brush. With an exceptional option premium this week, plumped up by the release of some sales data and a global conference call, GM’s biggest worry after having resolved some significant legal issues will continue to be currency exchange and potential weakness in the Chinese market.

With earnings due to be reported on October 21st, if considering a purchase of General Motors shares, I would think about a weekly or expanded weekly option sale, or simply bypassing the events and going straight to December, in an effort to also collect the generous dividend and possibly some capital gains while having some additional time to recover from any bad news at earnings.

MetLife (MET) is a stock that is beautifully reflective of its dependency on interest rates. As rates were moving higher and the crowd believed that would go even higher, MetLife followed suit.

Of course, the same happened when those interest rate expectations weren’t met.

Now, however, it appears that those rates will be getting a boost sooner, rather than later, as the FOMC seems to be publicly acknowledging its interests in a broad range of matters, including global events and perhaps even stock market events.

With a recently announced share buyback, those shares are now very attractively priced, even after Friday’s nearly 2% gain.

With earnings expected at the end of the month, I would consider the purchase of shares coupled with the sale of some out of the money calls, hoping to capitalize on both capital gains and bigger than usual option premiums. In the event that shares aren’t assigned prior to earnings, I would consider then selling a November 20 call in an effort to bypass earnings risk and perhaps also capture the next dividend.

Finally, I’ve been anxious to once again own eBay (EBAY) and have waited patiently for its price to decline to a more appealing level. While most acknowledge that eBay gave away its growth prospects when it completed the PayPal (PYPL) spin-off, it has actually out-performed the latter since that spin-off, despite being down  nearly 12%.

While eBay isn’t expected to be a very exciting stock performer, it hadn’t been one for years, yet was still a very attractive covered option trading vehicle, as it’s share price was punctuated by large moves, usually earnings related. Those moves gave option buyers a reason to demand and a reason for sellers to acquiesce.

That hasn’t changed and the volatility induced premiums are as healthy as they have been in years. As that volatility rises in the stock and in the overall market, there’s more and more benefit to be gained from selling in the money options both for enhanced premium and for downside protection.

It would be good to welcome eBay back into my portfolio. Even if it won’t keep me warm, I could likely buy someone else’s flea bitten blanket at a great price, using its wonderful services.

 

Traditional Stocks:  eBay, General Motors, MetLife, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (10/5 $0.25), Cisco (10/1 $0.21), EMC Corp (9/29 $0.12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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

Weekend Update – September 13, 2015

For those of a certain age, you may or may not recall that Marvin Gaye’s popular song “What’s Going On?” was fairly controversial and raised many questions about the behavior of American society both inside and outside of our borders during a time that great upheaval was underway.

The Groucho Marx character Rufus T. Firefly said “Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. Run out and find me a four-year-old child, I can’t make head or tail of it.”

While I could never answer that seminal question seeking an explanation for everything going on, I do know that the more outlandish Groucho’s film name, the funnier the film. However, that kind of knowledge has proven itself to be of little meaningful value, despite its incredibly high predictive value.

That may be the same situation when considering the market’s performance following the initiation of interest rate hikes. Despite knowing that the market eventually responds to that in a very positive manner by moving higher, traders haven’t been rushing to position themselves to take advantage of what’s widely expected to be an upcoming interest rate increase.

In hindsight it may be easy to understand some of the confusion experienced 40 years ago as the feeling that we were moving away from some of our ideals and fundamental guiding principles was becoming increasingly pervasive.

I don’t think Groucho’s pretense of understanding would have fooled anyone equally befuddled in that era and no 4 year old child, devoid of bias or subjectivity, could have really understood the nature of the societal transformation that was at hand.

Following the past week’s stealth rally it’s certainly no more clear as to what’s going on and while many are eager to explain what is going on, even a 4 year old knows that it’s best to not even make the attempt, lest you look, sound or read like a babbling idiot.

It’s becoming difficult to recall what our investing ideals and fundamentals used to be. Other than “buy low and sell high,” it’s not clear what we believe in anymore, nor who or what is really in charge of market momentum.

Just as Marvin Gaye’s song recognized change inside and outside of our borders, our own markets have increasingly been influenced by what’s going on outside of those borders.

If you have any idea of what is really going on outside of our borders, especially in China, you may be that 4 year old child that can explain it all to the rest of us.

The shock of the decline in Shanghai has certainly had an influence on us, but once the FOMC finally raises rates, which may come early as this week, we may all come to a very important realization.

That realization may be that what’s really going on is that the United States economy is the best in the world in relative terms and is continuing to improve in absolute terms.

That will be something to sing about.

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

With relatively little interest in wanting to dip too deeply into cash reserves, which themselves are stretched thinner than I would like, I’m more inclined to give some consideration to positions going ex-dividend in the very near future.

Recent past weeks have provided lots of those opportunities, but for me, this week isn’t as welcoming.

The two that have my attention, General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) couldn’t be more different, other than perhaps in the length of tenure of their Chairmen/CEOs.

I currently own shares in both companies and had shares of General Electric assigned this past week.

While most of the week’s attention directed toward General Electric is related to the European Union’s approval of its bid to buy Alstom SA (EPA:ALO), General Electric has rekindled my interest in its shares solely because of its decline along with the rest of the market.

While it has mirrored the performance of the S&P 500 since its high point in July, I would be happy to see it do nothing more than to continue to mirror that performance, as the combination of its dividend and recently volatility enhanced option premium makes it a better than usual candidate for reward relative to risk.

While I also don’t particularly like to repurchase recently assigned shares at a higher price, that most recent purchase may very well have been at an unrealistically low price relative to the potential to accumulate dividends, premiums and still see capital appreciation of shares.

Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, is caught in all of the uncertainty surrounding China and the ability of Chinese citizens to part with their dwindling discretionary cash. With highly significant exposure to Macau, Las Vegas Sands has seen its share price bounce fairly violently over the past few months and has certainly reflected the fact that we have no real clue as to what’s going on in China.

As expected, along with that risk, especially in a market with its own increasing uncertainty is an attractive option premium. Since Las Vegas Sands ex-dividend date is on a Friday and it does offer expanded weekly options, there are a number of potential buy/write combinations that can seek to take advantage of the option premium, with or without also capturing the dividend.

The least risk adverse investor might consider the sale of a deep in the money weekly call option with the objective of simply generating an option premium in exchange for 4 days of stock ownership. At Friday’s closing prices that would have been buying shares at $46.88 and selling a weekly $45.50 call option for $1.82. With a $0.65 dividend, shares would very likely be assigned early if Thursday’s closing price was higher than $46.15.

If assigned early, that 4 day venture would yield a return of 0.9%.

However, if shares are not assigned early, the return is 2.3%, if shares are assigned at closing.

Alternatively, a $45.50 September 25, 2015 contract could be sold with the hope that shares are assigned early. In that case the return would be 1.3% for the 4 days of risk.

In keeping with Las Vegas Sand’s main product line, it’s a gamble, no matter which path you may elect to take, but even a 4 year old child knows that some risks are better than others.

Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) was ex-dividend this past week and it’s not sold in Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), which is expected to go ex-dividend at the end of the month.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about an investment in Coca Cola, but if looking for some relative safety during a period of market turmoil, Coca Cola has been just that, paralleling the behavior of General Electric since that market top.

As also with General Electric, its dividend yield is more than 50% higher than for the S&P 500 and its option premium is also reflecting greater market volatility.

Following an 8% decline I would consider looking at longer term options to try and lock in the greater premium, as well as having an opportunity to wait out some chance for a price rebound.

Whole Foods, on the other hand, has just been an unmitigated disaster. As bad as the S&P 500 has performed in the past 2 months, you can triple that loss if looking to describe Whole Foods’ plight.

What makes their performance even more disappointing is that after two years of blaming winter weather and assuming the costs of significant national expansion, it had looked as if Whole Foods had turned the corner and was about to reap the benefits of that expansion.

What wasn’t anticipated was that it would have to start sharing the market that it created and having to sacrifice its rich margins in an industry characterized by razor thin margins.

However, I think that Whole Foods will now be in for another extended period of seeing its share price going nowhere fast. While that might be a reason to avoid the shares for most, that can be just the ideal situation for accumulating income as option premiums very often reflect the volatility that such companies show upon earnings, rather than the treading water they do in the interim.

That was precisely the kind of share price character describing eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) for years. Even when stuck in a trading range the premiums still reflected its proclivity to surprise investors a few times each year. Unless purchasing shares at a near term top, adding them anywhere near or below the mid-point of the trading range was a very good way to enhance reward while minimizing risk specific to that stock.

While 2015 hasn’t been very kind to Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), compared to so many others since mid-July, it has been a veritable super-star, having gained 3%, including its dividend.

Over the past week, however, Seagate lagged the market during a week when the performance of the technology sector was mixed.

Seagate is a stock that I like to consider for its ability to generate option related income through the sale of puts as it approaches a support level. Having just recovered from testing the $46.50 level, I would consider the sale of puts and would try to roll those over and over if necessary, until that point that shares are ready to go ex-dividend.

That won’t be for another 2 months, so in the event of an adverse price move there should be sufficient time for some chance of recovery and the ability to close out the position.

In the event that it does become necessary to keep rolling over the put premiums heading into earnings, I would select an expiration a week before the ex-dividend date, taking advantage of either an increased premium that will be available due to earnings or trading down to a lower strike price.

Then, if necessary, assignment can be taken before the ex-dividend date and consideration given to selling calls on the new long position.

Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) reports earnings this week and while it offers only monthly option contracts, with earnings coming during the final week of that monthly contract, there is a chance to consider the sale of put options that are effectively the equivalent of a weekly.

Adobe option contracts don’t offer the wide range of strike levels as do many other stocks, so there are some limitations if considering an earnings related trade. The option market is implying a move of approximately 6.7%.

However, a nearly 1% ROI may be achieved if shares fall less than 8.4% next week. Having just fallen that amount in the past 3 weeks I often like that kind of prelude to the sale of puts. More weakness in advance of earnings would be even better.

Finally, good times caught up with LuLuLemon Athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) as it reported earnings. Having gone virtually unchallenged in its price ascent that began near the end of 2014, it took a really large step in returning to those price levels.

While its earnings were in line with expectations, its guidance stretched those expectations for coming quarters thin. If LuLuLemon has learned anything over the past two years is that no one likes things to be stretched too thin.

The last time such a thing happened it took a long time for shares to recover and there was lots of internal turmoil, as well. While its founder is no longer there to discourage investors, the lack of near term growth may be an apt replacement for his poorly chosen words, thoughts and opinions.

However, one thing that LuLuLemon has been good for in the past, when faced with a quantum leap sharply declining stock price is serving as an income production vehicle through the sale of puts options.

I think that opportunity has returned as shares do tend to go through a period of some relative stability after such sharp declines. During those periods, however, the option premiums, befitting the decline and continued uncertainty remain fairly high.

Even though earnings are now behind LuLuLemon, the option market is still implying a price move of % next week. At the same time, the sale of a weekly put option % below Friday’s closing price could still yield a % ROI and offer opportunity to roll over the position in the event that assignment may become likely.

Traditional Stock: Coca Cola, Whole Foods

Momentum Stock: LuLuLemon Athletica, Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Electric (9/17 $0.23), Las Vegas Sands (9/18 $0.65)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Adobe (9/17 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 30, 2015

Good luck to you if you have staked very much on being able to prove that you can make sense of what we’ve been seeing in the US stock market.

While it’s always impossible to predict what the coming week will bring, an even more meaningful tip of the hat would go to anyone that has a reasonable explanation of what awaits in the coming week, especially since past weeks haven’t necessarily been simple to understand, even in hindsight.

Sure, you can say that it’s all about the confusion over in China and the series of actions taken to try and control the natural laws of physics that describe the behavior of bubbles. You can simply say that confusion and lack of clear policy in the world’s second largest economy has spilled over to our shores at a time when there is little compelling reason for our own markets to make any kind of meaningful move.

That appears to be a reasonable explanation, in a case of the tail wagging the dog, but the correlation over the past week is imperfect and not much better over the past 2 weeks when some real gyrations began occurring in China.

The recovery last week was very impressive both in the US and in China, but in the span of less than 2 months, ever since China began restrictions on stock trading activity, we can point to three separate impressive recoveries in Shanghai. During that time the correlation between distant markets gets even weaker.

Good luck, then, guessing what comes next and whether the tail will still keep wagging the dog, now that the dog realizes that a better than expected GDP may be finally evidencing the long expected energy dividend to help boost consumer participation in economic growth.

Sure, anyone can say that a 10% correction has been long overdue and leave it at that, and be able to hold their head up high in any argument now that we’ve been there and done that.

There has definitely not been a shortage of people coming out of the woodwork claiming to have gone to high cash positions before this recent correction. If they did, that’s really admirable, but it’s hard to find many trumpeting that fact before the correction hit.

What would have given those willing to disengage from the market and go to cash following unsuccessful attempts to break below support levels a signal to do so? Those lower highs and higher lows over the past month may have been the indication, but even those who wholeheartedly believe in technical formations will tell you that acting on the basis of that particular phenomenon has a 50-50 chance of landing you on the right side.

And why did it finally happen now?

The time has been ripe for about 3 years. I’ve been continually wrong in that regard for that long and I certainly can’t hold my head up very high, even if I had gotten it right this time.

Which I didn’t. But being right once doesn’t necessarily atone for all of the previous wrong calls.

No sooner had the chorus of voices come together to say that the character and depth of the decline seen were increasingly arguing against a V-shaped recovery that the market now seems to be attempting that V-shaped recovery.

What tends to make the most sense is simply considering taking a point of view that’s in distinct contrast to what people clamoring for attention attempt to build their reputations upon and are equally prepared to disavow or conveniently forget.

Of course, if you want to add to the confusion, consider how even credible individuals see things very differently when also utilizing a different viewing angle of events.

Tom Lee, former chief US equity strategist for JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and founder of Fundstrat Global, who is generally considered bullish, notes that history shows that the vast majority of 10% declines do not become bear markets.

Michael Batnick, who is the director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, looked at things not from the perspective of the declines, but rather from the perspective of the advances seen.

His observation is that the vast majority of those declines generally occurred in “not the healthiest markets.”

Not that such data has application to events being seen in China, but it may be worthwhile to make note of the fact that the tremendous upside moves having recently been seen in China have occurred in the context of that market still having dropped 20%.

Perhaps not having quite the same validity as laws of physics, it may make some sense to be wary of the kind of moves higher that bring big smiles to many. If China’s stock market can still wag the United States, even with less than perfect correlation, there’s reason to be circumspect not only of their continued attempts to defy natural market forces, but also of that market’s behavior.

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

While I’m among those happy to have seen the market put 2 consecutive impressive gains together, particularly after the failed attempt to bounce back from a 600+ point loss to begin the week, I don’t think that I’ll be less cautious heading into this week.

I did open 2 new positions last week near the market lows, and despite their performance am still ambivalent about those purchase decisions. For each, I sold longer term contracts than would be my typical choice, in an attempt to lock in some volatility induced premiums and to have sufficient time for price recovery in the event of a short term downturn.

With an unusually large number of personal holdings that are ex-dividend this week, I may be willing to forgo some of the reluctance to commit additional capital in an effort to capture more dividend, especially as option premiums are being enhanced by volatility.

Both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) are ex-dividend this week.

For me, both also represent long suffering existing positions that I’ve traded many times over the years, and have been accustomed to their proclivity toward sharp moves higher and lower.

However, what used to be relatively short time frames for those declines have been anything but that for some existing lots, even as having traded other lots at lower prices.

Since their previous ex-dividend dates both have under-performed the S&P 500, although the gap has narrowed in the past month, even as both are within reach of their yearly lows.

On a relative basis I believe that both will out-perform the S&P 500 in the event of the latter’s weakness, but may not be able to keep pace if the market continues to head higher. However, for these trades and unlike having used longer term contracts with trades last week, my eyes would be focused on a weekly option and would even be pleased if shares were assigned early in an effort to capture the dividend.

That’s one of the advantages of having higher volatility. Even early assignment can be as or more profitable than in a low volatility environment and being able to capture both the premium and dividend, when the days of the position being open are considered.

Despite having spent some quality time with Meg Whitman’s husband a few months ago, I had the good sense not to ask him anything a few days before Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) was scheduled to report earnings.

That would have been wrong and no one with an Ivy League legacy, that I’ve ever heard about, has ever crossed that line between right and wrong.

While most everyone is now focusing on the upcoming split of Hewlett Packard, my focus is dividend centric. As with Coach and Mosaic, the option premium is reflecting greater volatility and is made increasingly attractive, even during an ex-divided event.

However, since Hewlett Packard’s ex-dividend date is on Friday, there is less advantage in the event of an early assignment. That, though, points out another advantage of a higher volatility environment.

That advantage is that it is often better to rollover in the money positions, with or without a dividend in mind, than it is to accept assignment and to seek a new investment opportunity.

In this case, if faced with likely early assignment, I would probably consider rolling over to the next week and at least if still assigned early, then would be able to pocket that additional week’s option premium, which could become the equivalent of having received the dividend.

For those who are exceptionally daring, Joy Global (NYSE:JOY) is also ex-dividend this week and it is another of my long suffering positions.

These days, anything stocks associated with China have additional risk. For years Joy Global was one of a very small number of stocks that I considered owning that had large exposure to the Chinese economy. I gave considerably more credibility to Joy Global’s forecasting of its business in China than to official government reports of economic growth.

The daring part of a position in Joy Global has more to do with just having significant interests in China, but also because it reports earnings the day after going ex-dividend. I generally do stay away from those situations and much prefer to have earnings be release first and then have the stock go ex-dividend the following day.

In this case, one can consider the purchase of shares and the sale of a deep in the money weekly call option in the hopes that someone might consider trying to capture the dividend and then perhaps selling their shares before exposure to earnings risk.

In such an event, the potential ROI can be 1.1% if selling a weekly $22 call option, based upon Friday’s $24.01 close.

However, if not assigned early, the ROI becomes 1.8% and allows for an 8% price cushion in the event of the share’s decline, which is in line with the option market’s expectations.

For those willing to cede the dividend, there is also the possibility of considering a put sale in advance of earnings.

The option market is implying only an 8.1% move next week. However, it may be possible to achieve a 1% return for the sale of a weekly put that is at a strike price 12.5% below Friday’s closing price.

Going from daring to less so, I purchased shares of $24.06 shares General Electric (NYSE:GE) last week and sold longer dated $25 calls in an effort to combine premium, capital gains on shares and an upcoming ex-dividend date.

Despite the shares having climbed during the course of the week and now beyond that strike level, I may be considering adding even more shares, again trying to take advantage of that combination, especially the higher than usual option premium that’s available.

General Electric hasn’t yet announced that ex-dividend date, but it’s reasonable to expect it sometime near September 18th. While my current short call position is for October 2, 2015, for this additional proposed lot, I may consider the sale of a September 18 slightly out of the money option contracts.

In the event that once the ex-dividend date is announced and those shares are in jeopardy of being assigned early, I might consider rolling over the position if volatility allows that to be a logical alternative to assignment.

Finally, as long as Meg Whitman is on my mind, I’m not certain how much longer I can go without owning shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). While it has traded in a very consistent range and very much paralleling the performance of the S&P 500 over the past month, it is offering an extremely attractive option premium in addition to some opportunity for capital gains on shares.

The real test, of course, begins as it releases its next earnings report which will no longer include PayPal’s (NASDAQ:PYPL) contributions to its bottom line. That is still 6 weeks away and I would consider the purchase of shares and the sale of intermediate term option contracts in order to take advantage of that higher market volatility induced premium.

At least that much makes sense to me.

Traditional Stock: eBay, General Electric

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Coach (9/3 $0.34), Hewlett Packard (9/4 $0.18), Joy Global (9/2 $0.20), Mosaic (9/1 $0.28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (9/3 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 – August 9, 2015

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

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

Or now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean besides the paper fortune teller?

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

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

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

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

“Beat on earnings, missed on revenues.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: none

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

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

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

Weekend Update – 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 – April 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invest in yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Bed Bath and Beyond

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate (4/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (4/22 PM), Microsoft (4/23 PM)

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

Weekend Update – 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 – February 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Yahoo

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

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

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

Weekend Update – January 18, 2015

This was really a wild week and somehow, with all of the negative movement, and despite futures that were again down triple digits in the previous evening’s futures trading, the stock market somehow managed to move to higher ground to bring a tumultuous week to its end.

Actually, the reason it did so is probably no mystery as the market seems to have re-coupled with oil prices, for good or for bad.

Still it was a week when stocks, interest rates, precious and non-precious metals, oil and currencies were all bouncing around wildly, as thus far, is befitting for 2015.

The tonic, one would have thought could have come from the initiation of another earnings season, traditionally led by the major banks. However “the big boys” suffered on top and bottom lines, citing disappointing results in fixed income and currency trading, as well as simply being held hostage by a low interest rate environment for their more mundane activities, like pumping money into the economy through loans.

Even worse, the unofficial spokesperson for the interest of those “too big to fail,” Jamie Dimon, seemed passively resigned to the reality that the Federal government was in charge and could do with systemically important institutions whatever it deemed appropriate, such as breaking them up.

The first sign of troubles came weeks ago as trader bonus cuts were announced. While declines in trader revenue were expected, the bonus cuts suggested that the declines were steeper than expected, particularly when the bonus cuts were greater than had only recently been announced.

Of course, that leads to the question: “If a banker can’t make money, then who can?”

That’s a reasonable question and has some basis in earnings seasons past and may provide some insight into the future.

For those who follow such things, the past few years have seen a large number of such earnings seasons start off with good news from the financial sector, only to have lackluster or disappointing results from the rest of the S&P 500, propped up by rampant buybacks.

What is rare, however, is to have the financials disappoint , yet then seeing the remainder of the market report good or better than expected earnings, particularly as the rate of increase of buybacks may be decreasing.

That is now where we stand with the second week of earnings season ready to begin when the market re-opens on Tuesday.

While there was already some clue that the major money center banks were not doing as well as perhaps expected, as bonuses were cut for many, the expectation has been that the broader economy, especially that reflecting consumer spending, would do well in an environment created by sharply falling energy prices.

Among gyrations this week were interest rates which only went lower on the week, much to the chagrin of those whose fortunes are tied to the certainty of higher rates and in face of expectations for increases, given growing employment, wage growth and the anticipated increase in consumer demand.

Funny thing about those expectations, though, as we got off to a bad start on the surprising news that retail sales for December 2014 didn’t seem to reflect any increased consumer spending, as most of us had expected, as the first dividend to come from falling energy prices.

While faith in the integrity and well being of our banking system is a cardinal tenet of our economy, it is just another representation of the certainty that investors need. That certainty was missing all of this past week as events, such as the action by the Swiss National Bank were unexpected, oil prices bounced by large leaps and falls without obvious provocation, copper prices plunged and gold seemed to be heating up.

How many of those did anyone expect to all be happening in a single week? Yet, on Friday, in a reversal of the futures, markets surged adding yet another of those large gains that are typically seen in bearish cycles.

Still, the coming week has its possible antidotes to what has been ailing us all through 2015. There are more earnings reports, including some more from the oil services sector, which could put some pessimism to rest with anything resembling better than expected news, such as was offered by Schlumberger (SLB) this past Friday, which also included a very unexpected dividend increase.

Also, this may finally be the week that Mario Draghi belatedly brings the European Central Bank into the previous decade and begins a much anticipated version of “quantitative easing.”

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. Additional earnings related trades may be seen in an accompanying article.

Among those big boys with disappointing stories to tell was JP Morgan Chase (JPM). In a very uncharacteristic manner, CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon didn’t exude optimism and confidence, instead seemingly accepting whatever fate would be assigned by regulators. Of course, some of that resignation comes in the face of likely new assaults on Dodd-Frank, which could only be expected to benefit Dimon and others.

Whether banks and large financial institutions are under assault or not may be subject to debate, but the assault on JP Morgan’s share price is not, as it has fallen about 11% over the past two weeks, despite a nice gain on Friday.

While still above its 52 week low, unless interest rates continue their surprising descent and go lower than 1.8% for a while, this appears to be a long sought after entry point for shares. The volatility in the financial sector is so high that even with an upcoming 4 day trading week the option premium is very rich, reflecting the continuing uncertainty.

More importantly, may be the distinction that Dimon made between good and bad volatility, with JP Morgan having been subject to the bad kind of late.

The bad kind is when you have sustained moves higher or lower and the good kind is when you see a back and forth, often with little net change. The latter is a trader’s dream and it are the traders that make it rain at JP Morgan and others. That good kind of volatility is also what option writers hope will be coming their way.

So far, 2015 is sending a signal that it may be time to take the umbrellas out of storage.

MetLife (MET), with its 30 day period to challenge its designation as a “systemically important” financial institution, decided to make that challenge. As interest rates went even lower this week, momentarily breaching the 1.8% level, MetLife’s shares continued its decline.

If Dimon is correct in his resignation that nothing can really be done when regulators want to express their whims, then we should have already factored that certainty into MetLife’s share price. It too, like JP Morgan, had a nice advance on Friday, but is still about 11% lower in the past 2 weeks and has an upcoming dividend to consider, in addition to earnings a week afterward.

Intel (INTC), a stellar performer in 2014, joined the financials in reporting disappointing earnings this past week. While it did get swept along with just about everything else higher in the final hour of trading, it had already begun its share recovery after hitting its day’s low in the first 30 minutes of trading.

After 2 very well received earnings reports the past quarters, it may have been too much to expect a third successive upside surprise. However, the giant that slid into somnolence as the world was changing around it has clearly reawakened and could make a very good covered option trade once again if it repeatedly faces upside resistance at $37.50.

I’m not quite certain how to characterize The Gap (GPS). I don’t know whether it’s fashionable, just offers value or is a default shopping location for families.

What I do know is that among my frequent holdings it has a longer average holding period than most others, despite having the availability of weekly options. That’s because it consistently jumps up and down in price, partially due to its habit of still reporting same store sales each month and partially for reasons that escape my ability to grasp.

Yet, it still trades in a fairly narrow range and for that reason it is a stock that I always like to consider on a decline. Because of its same store sales reports it offers an enhanced option premium on a monthly basis in addition to its otherwise average premium returns, but it also has an acceptable dividend for your troubles of holding it for any extended period of time.

As a Pediatric Dentist, you would think that I would own Colgate-Palmolive (CL) on a regular basis. However, I tend to put option premium above any sense of professional obligation. In that regard, during a sustained period of low volatility, Colgate-Palmolive hasn’t been a very appealing alternative investment. However, with volatility creeping higher, and with shares going ex-dividend this week, the premium is getting my attention.

Together with its recent 6% price decline and its relative immunity from oil prices, the time may have arrived to align professional and premium interests. However, if shares go unassigned, consideration has to be given to selecting an option expiration for a rollover trade that offers some protection in the event of an adverse price move after earnings, which are scheduled for the following week.

Among those reporting earnings this week are Cree (CREE), eBay (EBAY) and SanDisk (SNDK).

Cree is an example of a company that regularly has an explosive move at earnings and may present some opportunity if considering the sale of puts before, or even after earnings, in the event of a large decline.

I have experience with both in the past year and the process, as well as the result can be taxing. My most recent exploit having sold puts after a large decline and eventually closing that position at a loss, and both the process and the result were less than enjoyable.

That’s not something that I’d like to do again, but seeing the ubiquity of its products and the successive earnings disappointments in the past year, I’m encouraged by the fact that Cree hasn’t altered its guidance, as it has in the past in advance of earnings.

I generally prefer selling puts into a price decline, however Cree advanced by nearly 4% on Friday and reports earnings following Tuesday’s close. In the event of a meaningful decline in price before that announcement I would consider the sale of puts. The option market believes that there can be a move of 10.1% upon earnings release, however a 1% ROI can potentially be achieved even when selling a put contract at a strike that is 14.2% below Friday’s close.

Alternatively, in the event of a large drop after earnings, consideration can be given toward selling calls in the aftermath, although if past history is a guide, when it comes to Cree, what has plunged can plunge further.

SanDisk recently altered its guidance and saw its share price plunge nearly 20%. For some reason, so often after such profit warnings are provided before earnings, the market still seems surprised after earnings are released and send shares even lower.

While I’m interested in establishing a position in SanDisk, I’m not likely to do so before earnings are announced, as the option market is implying a price move of 7% and in order to achieve a 1% ROI the strike level required is only 7.5% below Friday’s closing price. That offers inadequate cushion between risk and reward. Because I expect a further decline, I would want a greater cushion, so would prefer to wait until earnings are released.

While Cree and SanDisk are volatile and, perhaps speculative, eBay is a very different breed. However, it is still prone to decisive moves at earnings and it has recently diffused disappointing earnings reports with announcements, such as the existence of an Icahn position or comments regarding a PayPal spin-off.

As opposed to most put sale, where I usually have no interest in taking ownership of shares, eBay is one that, if I sell puts and see an adverse move, would consider taking assignments, as it has been a very reliable covered call stock for the past few years, as its shares have traded in a very narrow range.

Despite a gain on Friday that trailed the market’s advance, it is about 6% below where I last had shares assigned and would be interested in initiating another new position before it becomes a less interesting and less predictable company upon its planned PayPal spin-off.

I tend to like Best Buy (BBY) when it is down or has had a large decline in shares. It has done so on a regular basis since January 2014 and did so again this past week, almost a year to the day of its nearly 33% drop.

This time it was a pin being forced into the bubble that its shares had recently been experiencing as the reality behind its sales figures indicated that margins weren’t really in the equation. Undertaking a “sales without profits” strategy like its brickless and mortarless counterpart isn’t a formula for long term success unless you have very, very deep pockets or a surprisingly disarming and infectious laugh, such as Jeff Bezos possesses.

While possibly selling all of those GoPro (GPRO) devices and other items over the holidays at little to no profit may not have been in Best Buy’s best interests, it may have helped others, for at least as long as that strategy can be maintained.

However, Best Buy has repeatedly been an acceptable buy after gaps down in its share price, although consideration can also be given to the sale of put contracts, as its price is still a bit higher than I would like to see for a re-entry.

Finally, there are probably a large number of reasons to dislike GoPro. For me, it may begin with the fact that I’m neither young, photogenic nor athletic. For others it may have to do with secondary offerings or the bent rules around its lock-up expiration. Certainly there will be those that aren’t happy about a 50% drop from its high just 3 months ago, which includes the 31% decline occurring in the days after the lock-up expiration.

While it has been on a downtrend after the most recent lock-up expiration, despite having traded higher in the days before and immediately afterward, the impetus for this week’s large decline appears to be the filing of a number of patents by Apple (AAPL) which many have construed as potentially offering competition to GoPro in the hardware space, all while GoPro is already seeking to re-invent itself or at least shift from a hardware company to a media company.

I don’t know too much about Apple and I know even less about GoPro, but Apple’s long history has shown that it doesn’t necessarily pounce into markets where there already seems to be a product that is being well received by consumers.

It prefers to pick on the weak and defenseless, albeit the ones with good ideas.

Apple has done incredibly well for itself in recognizing new technologies that might be in much greater demand if the existing products didn’t suffer from horrid design and engineering. Having a fractured manufacturer base with no predominant player has also been an open invitation to Apple to meld its design and marketing prowess and capture markets.

Whatever GoPro may suffer from, I don’t think that anyone has accused the GoPro product line of either of those shortcomings. so this most recent and pronounced decline may be unwarranted. However, GoPro does report earnings in the following week, so I would consider the potential risk associated with a position unlikely to be assigned this week. For that reason I would consider either the purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or the sale of deep out of the money puts, utilizing a weekly contract and keeping fingers crossed and strapping on for the action ahead.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, GoPro

Double Dip Dividend: Colgate-Palmolive (1/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (1/20 PM), eBay (1/21 PM), SanDisk (1/21 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 – January 4, 2015

If you follow the various winning themes for the past year, any past year for that matter, the one thing that seems fairly consistent is that the following year is often less than kind to the notion that good things can just keep happening unchanged.

Often the crowd has a way of ruining good things, whether it’s a pristine and previously unknown hidden corner of a national park or an obscure trend or pattern in markets.

Back in the days when people used to invest in mutual funds the sum total of many people’s “research” was to pick up a copy of Money Magazine and see which was the top performing fund or sector for the year and shift money to that fund for the following year.

That rarely worked out well.

You don’t have to think too far back to remember such things as “The January Effect” or “Dogs of the Dow.” The more they were written about and discussed, and the more widely they were embraced, the less effective they were.

The “Santa Claus Rally” wasn’t very different, at least this year, even as the final day of that period for a brief while looked as if it might end with an upward flourish, but that too disappointed.

Remember “Sell in May and then go away”?

Like most things, the more you anticipate joining in on all of the fun that others have been having, the more likely you’re going to be disappointed.

The latest patterns getting attention are the “years ending in 5” and “Presidential election cycles in years ending in 5.” They may have some history to back up the observations, but seemingly overlooked is the close association between those two events, that are not entirely independent of one another.

Since 2015 happens to be both a year ending in “5” and the year preceding a presidential election, it is clear that the only direction can be higher. What that leaves is the debate over how to get to the promised land. That, of course, is the issue of the merits of active versus passive management of stock portfolios.

For purposes of clarity, the only “merit” that really matters is performance.

Those who have used a simple passive strategy over the past two years, perhaps as simple as being entirely invested in the SPDR S&P 500 Trust (NYSEARCA:SPY) to the exclusion of everything else, would have been hoisted on the shoulders of the crowd while hedge fund managers would have been trampled underneath.

The past two years haven’t been especially kind to hedge fund managers, but they have been trampled for very different reasons in that time.

In 2013 who but a super-human kind of investor could have kept up with the S&P 500 while also trying to decrease risk? It’s not terribly easy to match a 30% gain. Hedging has its costs and if markets go only higher those costs simply eat into profits.

In 2014, though, it was a different issue, as the only people who really prospered, in what was still a good year, were those who didn’t try to outsmart markets, as it was almost impossible to even begin classifying the market in 2014. The continual sector rotation either required lots of luck to be continually on the right side of trades or lots of real skill and talent.

Luck runs out. Skill and talents have greater staying power and there’s a reason that only a handful of money managers are well known and regarded for more than a year at a time.

What is fascinating about the market is that even as it ended the year with a very respectable gain those who tried to finesse the market by actively trading don’t have the same kind of elation about its performance.

Just ask them.

So the question is whether the simplicity of a passive strategy is going to again be superior to an active strategy in 2015

As an active trader I’d like to think that passivity will be passé as the new year begins. Of course, you do have to wonder how that arbitrary divide that begins after New Years can actually create an environment with a different character, but somehow that arbitrary divide creates a situation where very few years are like the year preceding it.

I have reason to believe that I have neither skill nor luck, so can only count on the observation that a good thing becomes less of a good thing with time.

Popularity is superficial, while history runs deep.

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

I also like to think that I’ve never really had an original thought.

This week’s potential stock selections to begin 2015 may be an excellent example of the lack of originality, as all of the names are either recent selections, purchases or assigned positions. Add to that their general lack of exciting qualities and you have a really impotent one – two punch to start the year.

With earnings season set to begin the week after this coming week there’s plenty of time for excitement. However, with the upcoming week featuring an FOMC Statement release and the Employment Situation Report, there’s already enough excitement in the upcoming week to want to add to it.

The scheduled events of this week also offer more than enough opportunity to add to this past week’s broad weakness, particularly if the FOMC emphasizes strong GDP data or there is unusually large employment growth, either of which could signal interest rate increases ahead.

In that kind of environment, even if widely expected, the immediate reaction would likely be a shock to the system and I would prefer my exposure to be offset by the security of size and quality. Characteristics that coincidentally may be found in components of the S&P 500, so favored by passivists.

Among those are three members of the DJIA.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) are among this week’s list.

Intel is a little bit of an anomaly to be included in the list, as it was the best performing of the DJIA stocks in 2014 and might, therefore, be reasonably expected to lag in 2015. However, I think that those who would have been prone to pile into the stock because of its performance in the past year would have already done so, as its most recent performance has trailed the S&P 500.

What appeals to me about Intel’s shares for a very short term trade is that the crowd turned very suddenly on them on Friday, giving up nearly all of an almost 3% gain earlier in the trading session. With that arbitrary divide creating its own unique trading dynamics, Intel may not receive quite the same attention as General Electric and Verizon, as those may garner notice because they are among those “dogs” that still have faithful adherents.

But beyond that, Intel still has a fundamentally positive story behind its climb in 2014 and may again be well aligned with the fortunes of a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), as it continues on its return to relevance. For a short term trade in advance of its upcoming earnings report on January 15, 2015, I wouldn’t mind it trading listlessly in return for the option premium.

General Electric is simply at a price point that I find attractive, having recently had shares assigned. It certainly hasn’t been a very attractive stock over the years for much of anything other than a covered option strategy, but it has been well suited for that, as long as it can continue to trade in a relatively narrow range.

Verizon will be ex-dividend this week and is down nearly 9% from its high in November. Bruised a little due to increasing competition among mobile providers and sustaining the expenses of subsidizing the iPhone, it will report earnings in less than 3 weeks and I might want to either be out of any position prior to then, or if not, use an extended weekly option if having to rollover a position to acquire some additional premium in protection, in the event of an adverse response to earnings.

Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) has had its fortunes most recently closely aligned to the energy sector. WHile owning a more expensive lot, I’ve traded other lots as shares have fallen in an effort to generate quick returns from option premiums and share appreciation.

As those shares again approach $45.50 I would like to do so again, but recognizing that oil is at a precarious level, as it gets closer to the $50 level, which if breached, could pull Dow Chemical even lower.

That increased volatility due to the uncertainty in the energy sector has made the option premiums much more appealing. However, even with that challenge, Dow Chemical has the advantage of a highly competent and long serving CEO who is increasingly responsive to the marketplace as he has activists breathing down his neck.

The Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) story isn’t one of being held hostage by an energy cartel and falling prices, as is the case with Dow Chemical, but rather it fell prey to the collapse of the much less well known potash cartel.

Hopefully, the time frame will be far shorter for Dow Chemical than it has been for Mosaic, as I’ve been sitting on some much more expensive shares for quite a while. In the interim, however, Mosaic has offered many opportunities for entering into new positions in the hopes of quick assignment and capturing option premiums, dividends and some occasional capital gains on shares.

While its next dividend is till some months away, it is now quickly again in the price range at which I like to consider adding shares again, although it could still go even lower. However, as long as it does continue trading in this relatively narrow range, it is capable of generating serial option premiums and even if its performance may seem mediocre on a yearly basis, its ROI can be very attractive.

I don’t get terribly excited about food stocks, but when looking for some relative calm, both Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) and Kelloggs (NYSE:K) may offer some respite from any tumult that may confront the market next week.

Both were recently assigned and at these levels I wouldn’t mind owning them again. In the case of Campbell Soup, that means the opportunity to capture its dividend and not be concerned about its next earnings until the March 2015 option cycle.

Kellogg is a stock that I would consider buying more often, however, the decision is related to how closely its price is to one of the strike levels on its monthly options.

Unlike Campbell Soup which has strikes at $1 intervals and many weekly options have $0.50 intervals, Kellogg options utilize $2.50 intervals, which can make the premiums relatively unattractive if the share price is at a distance from the strike at the time of the proposed sale of option contracts.

Finally, my plan to add shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) a couple of weeks agowent unrequited. The fact that its shares are now 2% lower doesn’t necessarily make me salivate over the prospects about adding shares now, as the past two weeks could have represented lost opportunities to generate option premiums and in a position to do so again in the coming week, as shares seem to be settling in at this higher level.

The coming year may be a fascinating one for eBay as the speculation grows about the planned spin off of PayPal, which may never make it to an IPO as it may be coveted by another company.

Of course, who might benefit from that detour is also open to question as eBay itself may be in the crosshairs of an acquiring behemoth.

For now, I still like owning eBay shares and usually selling near or in the money calls, but I would increasingly consider setting aside a portion of those shares for the kind of capital gains that so many have moaned about not having seen over the years as slings and arrows have consistently been thrown in eBay’s direction.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, General Electric, Intel, Kellogg, Mosaic

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Campbell Soup (1/8), Verizon (1/7)

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.