Beware of Earnings Unless You Dare

Although the first week of this most recent earnings season has been less than spectacular, as the financial sector has suffered under a low interest rate environment, I continue to look at the more speculative portion of my portfolio as being available to generate quick income from stocks before or after earnings are announced.

During a week that stocks, interest rates, oil, precious metals and currencies have all gyrated wildly, what’s a little added speculation with earnings?

The process of trading in anticipation or after earnings news is one that seeks to balance risk with reward, accepting a relatively small reward in exchange for taking on a level of risk that appears to be less than the market is expecting.

The basic concepts and considerations in the approach are related to:

  • personal ROI goal;
  • individual temperament for risk, and
  • time and ability to trade in or out of risk in response to events.

The concepts are covered in previous articles, but in summary, the objective is to find a stock that can deliver an acceptable ROI when selling a weekly put option at a strike level that is lower than the bottom of the range defined by the option market’s implied volatility for that stock.

For my tolerances I seek a 1% ROI for a weekly position at a strike price that is outside the boundaries implied by the option market.

While achieving the desired ROI is an objective metric, and should be done within the context of acceptable risk, the decision process to initiate a trade is frequently based upon share behavior.

My preference, when it appears that both the risk and the reward measures are satisfactory, is to sell puts into share weakness in advance of earnings. If that condition isn’t met, I may also consider the sale of puts after earnings if there is significant price weakness after the report.

After Friday’s strong close, which may have come as a surprise to most everyone after a week of declines, many stocks reporting earnings next week may now be coming off of Friday’s advances. Insofar as Friday’s performance may have represented a reflexive bounce higher, I would be initially reluctant to jump into any put sale related trades for concern about an equally reflexive drop lower.

However, a number of the positions covered in this article have already suffered large losses in advance of their earnings report, some perhaps due to altered guidance and many are already well off from their highs, even as the S&P 500 is barely 4% lower after a quick triple bottom.

I tend to be more interested in those stocks that have already fallen than I am in those whose shares are moving higher prior to earnings, as that moves the strike level that I would have to use to achieve my desired 1% ROI for the week higher, and may also shift premium enhancement on the call side of the equation, rather than to the put side, which also contributes to a lower ROI.

While the traditional opinion and belief is that put sellers must be willing to own the shares in which they have sold puts, I often do not want to take ownership unless an ex-dividend date is approaching. While many sell puts in order to gain an entry into share ownership at a lower and more attractive price, I do so generally in order to capture the income stream from the option sales.

For that reason, it is important to have liquidity in the options market in order to be able to concurrently close the position and open a new one for a forward week if assignment is unwanted. Ideally, that would also be done at a lower strike price, however, in an otherwise low volatility environment, as we currently have, despite some recent increase, that is a difficult objective unless there is additional stock specific volatility, as may be seen in the energy sector currently.

Whether able to rollover to a lower strike level or not, the primary goals are to delay or prevent assignment and to collect additional net premiums in an attempt to ultimately see the position expire or be closed.

Among the stocks for consideration this week are many that can be readily recognized for inherent risk, which may also influence price behavior on a regular basis regardless of upcoming earnings or guidance.

This week I’m considering the sale of puts of shares of Cree (NASDAQ:CREE), Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), F5 Networks (NASDAQ:FFIV), General Electric (NYSE:GE), International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) and United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL).

 

 

Generally I don’t spend too much time considering the relative merits of the stocks being considered for earnings related trades, preferring to remain agnostic to those issues and simply following guidelines outlined above.

Looking at this week’s list, there is no shortage of stories in advance to scheduled earnings, such as SanDisk releasing altered guidance or Freeport McMoRan feeling the sudden weight of collapsing copper prices, in addition to its growing exposure to gold and energy prices.

While I don’t use margin to add stock positions, it is often perfectly suited for this kind of trading activity. I generally use these trades in an account hat has margin privileges. While selling cash secured puts decreases the amount of margin that is available to you, it does not draw on margin funds and, therefore, doesn’t incur interest expenses. Those expenses will only be incurred if the shares are assigned to you and are subsequently purchased through the use of the credit extended.

One thing noticed among the positions cited above is that fewer are meeting my criteria and being assigned a “YES” designation. That may reflect an increasing sense of pessimism among option market traders as compared to previous quarterly earnings periods. Normally I would only consider those with a “YES” rating, but may now also consider those that are “MARGINAL.”

If considering the sale of put options, there is always a possibility of early assignment, especially if shares go far below the strike price and when using a weekly contract. If that occurs, the seller of the put contracts should be prepared to either own shares or attempt to rollover the put option to a forward date.

The lower the volatility environment the less benefit there is to the put holder to delay assignment for deep in the money positions. In the event of early assignment the opportunity is then created to begin managing shares and enhancing return through the sale of call options. However, where possible, it may be best to consider pre-emptive action in order to prevent or delay assignment.

Finally, in the current market environment, moves, especially downward, seem to be sudden and magnified. If pursuing any of these earnings related trades it helps to have exit strategies planned in advance and to limit falling prey to surprise, as that may be the one thing that can be counted upon.

Weekend Update – January 11, 2015

Somewhere buried deep in my basement is a 40 year old copy of the medical school textbook “Rapid Interpretation of EKG’s.”

After a recent bout wearing a Holter Monitor that picked up 3000 “premature ventricular contractions” I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in finding and dusting off that copy to refresh my memory, not having had any interest nearly 40 years ago, either.

All I really cared about was what the clinical consequence of those premature depolarizations of the heart’s ventricle meant for me and any dreams I still harbored of climbing Mount Everest.

Somewhere in the abscesses of my mind I actually did recall the circumstances in which they could be significant and also recalled that I never aspired to climb Mount Everest.

But it doesn’t take too much to identify a premature ventricular contraction, even if the closest you ever got to medical school was taking a class on Chaucer in junior college.

Most people can recognize simple patterns and symmetry. Our mind is actually finally attuned to seeing breaks in patterns and assessing even subtle asymmetries, even while we may not be aware. So often when looking askance at something that just seems to be “funny looking,” but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is that bothers you, it turns out to be that lack of symmetry and the lack of something appearing where you expect it to appear.

So it’s probably not too difficult to identify where this (non-life threatening) premature ventricular contraction (PVC) is occurring.

While stock charts don’t necessarily have the same kind of patterns and predictability of an EKG, patterns aren’t that unheard of and there has certainly been a pattern seen over the past two years as so many have waited for the classic 10% correction.

 

What they have instead seen is a kind of periodicity that has brought about a “mini-correction,” on the order of 5%, every two months or so.

The quick 5% decline seen in mid-December was right on schedule after having had the same in mid-October, although the latter one almost reached that 10% level on an intra-day basis.

But earlier this week we experienced something unusual. There seemed to be a Premature Market Contraction (NYSE:PMC), occurring well before the next scheduled mini-correction.

You may have noticed it earlier this week.

The question that may abound, especially following Friday’s return to the sharp market declines seen earlier in the week is just how clinically important those declines, coming so soon and in such magnitude, are in the near term.

In situations that impact upon the heart’s rhythm, there may be any number of management approaches, including medication, implantation of pacemakers and lifestyle changes.

The market’s sudden deviation from its recently normal rhythm may lend itself to similar management alternatives.

With earnings season beginning once again this week it may certainly serve to jump start the market’s continuing climb higher. That may especially be the case if we begin to see some tangible evidence that decreasing energy prices have already begun trickling down into the consumer sector. While better than expected earnings could provide the stimulus to move higher, rosy guidance, also related to a continuing benefit from decreased energy costs could be the real boost looking forward.

Of course, in a nervous market, that kind of good news could also have a paradoxical effect as too much of a good thing may be just the kind of data that the FOMC is looking for before deciding to finally increase interest rates.

By the same token, sometimes it may be a good thing to avoid some other stimulants, such as hyper-caffeinated momentum stocks that may be particularly at risk when the framework supporting them may be suspect.

This week, having seen 5 successive days of triple digit moves, particularly given the context of outsized higher moves tending to occur in bear market environments, and having witnessed two recent “V-Shaped” corrections in close proximity, I’d say that it may be time to re-assess risk exposure and take it easier on your heart.

Or at least on my heart.

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

Dividends may be just the medication that’s needed to help get through a period of uncertainty and the coming week offers many of those opportunities, although even within the week’s upcoming dividend stocks there may be some heightened uncertainty.

Those ex-dividend stocks that I’m considering this week are AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV), Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM).

AbbVie is one of those stocks that has been in the news more recently than may have been envisioned when it was spun off from its parent, Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

AbbVie has been most notably in the news for having offered an alternative to Gilead’s (NASDAQ:GILD) product for the treatment of Hepatitis C. Regardless of the relative merits of one product over another, the endorsement of AbbVie’s product, due to its lower cost caused some short term consternation among Gilead shareholders.

AbbVie is now trading off from its recent highs, offers attractive option premiums and a nice dividend. That combination, despite its upward trajectory over the past 3 months, makes it worth some consideration, especially if your portfolio is sensitized to the whims of commodities.

Caterpillar is finally moving in the direction that Jim Chanos very publicly pronounced it would, some 18 months ago. There isn’t too much question that its core health is adversely impacted as economic expansion and infrastructure projects slow, as it approaches a 20% decline in the past 2 months.

That decline takes us just a little bit above the level at which I last owned shares and its upcoming dividend this week may provide the impetus to open a position. I suppose that if one’s time frame has no limitation any thesis may find itself playing out, for Chanos‘ sake, but for a short time frame trade the combination of premium and dividend at a price that hasn’t been seen in about a year seems compelling.

It has now been precisely a year since the last time I purchased shares of YUM Brands and it is right where I last left it. Too bad, because one of the hallmarks of an ideal stock for a covered option position is no net movement but still traveling over a wide price range.

YUM Brands fits that to a tee, as it is continually the recipient of investor jitteriness over the slowing Chinese economy and food safety scares that take its stock on some regular roller coaster rides.

I’m often drawn to YUM Brands in advance of its ex-dividend date and this week is no different, It combines a nice premium, competitive dividend and plenty of excitement. While I could sometimes do without the excitement, I think my heart and, certainly the option premiums, thrive on the various inputs that create that excitement, but at the end of the day seem to have no lasting impact.

Whole Foods also goes ex-dividend this week and while its dividend isn’t exactly the kind that’s worthy of being chased, shares seem to be comfortable at the new level reached after the most recent earnings. That level, though, simply represents a level from which shares plummeted after a succession of disappointing earnings that coincided with the height of the company’s national expansion and the polar vortex of 2014.

I think that shares will continue to climb heading back to the level to which they were before dropping to the current level more than a year ago.

For that reason, while I usually like using near the money or in the money weekly options when trying to capture the dividend, I’m considering an out of the money February 2015 monthly option in consideration of Whole Foods’ February 11th earnings announcement date.

I don’t usually follow interest rates or 10 Year Treasury notes very carefully, other than to be aware that concerns about interest rate hikes have occupied many for the entirety of Janet Yellen’s tenure as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

With the 10 Year Treasury now sitting below 2%, that has recently served as a signal for the stock market to begin a climb higher. Beyond that, however, declining interest rates have also taken shares of MetLife (NYSE:MET) temporarily lower, as it can thrive relatively more in an elevated interest rate environment.

When that environment will be upon us is certainly a topic of great discussion, but with continuing jobs growth, as evidenced by this past week’s Employment Situation Report and prospects of increased consumer spending made possible by their energy dividend, I think MetLife stock has a bright future. 

Also faring relatively poorly in a decreasing rate environment has been AIG (NYSE:AIG) and it too, along with MetLife, is poised to move higher along with interest rates.

Once a very frequent holding, I’ve not owned shares since the departure of Robert ben Mosche, whom I believe deserves considerable respect for his role in steering AIG in the years after the financial meltdown.

In the meantime, I look at AIG, in an increasing rate environment as easily being able to surpass its 52 week high and would consider covering only a portion of any holding in an effort to also benefit from share price advances.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) isn’t a very exciting company, but it is one that I really like owning, especially at its current price. Like so many others that I like, it trades in a relatively narrow range but often has paroxysms of movement when earnings are announced, or during the occasional “earnings warnings” announcement.

It announces earnings this week and could easily see some decline, although it does have a habit of warning of such disappointing numbers a few weeks before earnings.

Having only monthly options available, but with this being the final week of the January 2015 option cycle, one could effectively sell a weekly option or sell a weekly put rather than executing a buy/write.

However, with an upcoming dividend early in the February 2015 cycle I would be inclined to consider a purchase of shares and sale of the February calls and then buckle up for the possible ride, which is made easier knowing that Fastenal can supply you with the buckles and any other tools, supplies or gadgets you may need to contribute to national economic growth, as Fastenal is a good reflection on all kinds of construction activity.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) also reports earnings this week and I unexpectedly found myself in ownership of shares last week, being unable to resist the purchase in the face of what seemed to be an unwarranted period of weakness in the financial sector and specifically among large banks.

Just as unexpectedly was the decline it took in Friday’s trading that caused me to rollover shares that i thought had been destined for assignment, as my preference would have been for that assignment and the possibility of selling puts in advance of earnings.

Now, with shares back at the same price that I liked it just last week, its premiums are enhanced this week due to earnings. In this case, if considering adding to the position I would likely do so by selling puts. However, unlike many other situations where I would prefer not to take assignment and would seek to avoid doing so by rolling over the puts, I wouldn’t mind taking assignment and then turning around to sell calls on a long position.

Finally, while it may make some sense to stay away from momentum kind of stocks, Freeport McMoRan, which goes ex-dividend this week may fall into the category of being paradoxically just the thing for what may be ailing a portfolio.

Just as stimulants can sometimes have such paradoxical effects, such as in the management of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a stock that has interests in both besieged metals, such as copper and gold, in addition to energy exploration may be just the thing at a time when weakness in both of those areas has occurred simultaneously and has now become well established.

Freeport McMoRan will actually report earnings the week after next and that will present its own additional risk going forward, but I think that the news will not be quite as bad as many may expect, particularly as there is some good news associated with declining energy prices, as they represent the greatest costs associated with mining efforts.

I’ve suffered through some much more expensive lots of Freeport McMoRan for the past 2 years and have almost always owned shares over the past 10 years, even during that brief period of time in which the dividend was suspended.

As surely as commodity prices are known to be cyclical in nature at some point Freeport will be on the right end of climbs in the price of its underlying resources. If both energy and metals can turn higher as concurrently as they turned lower these shares should perform exceptionally well.

After all, they’ve already shown that they can perform exceptionally poorly and sometimes its just an issue of a simple point of inflection to go from one extreme to the next.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: AbbVie (1/13), Caterpillar (1/15), Freeport McMoRan (1/13), Whole Foods !/14), YUM Brands (1/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Bank of America (1/15 AM), Fastenal (1/15 AM)

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

Weekend Update – December 21, 2014

What a week.

There were enough events to form the basis for a remake of the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

The range of those events this past was stunning.

Oil prices stabilizing, The Colbert Show finalizing; North Korean cyber-attack, Cuban Revolution roll back; Ruble in freefall, speculators facing margin call; FOMC removing “considerable time,” markets having a memorable climb.

Russia didn’t start the fire, but they could have flamed it.

Deep down, maybe not so deep down, there are many who wouldn’t feel too badly if its President, Vladimir Putin, began to start reeling from the precipitous decline in oil prices, as many also believe as does Eddy Elfenbein, of “Crossing Wall Street” who recently tweeted:

The problem is that it can be a precarious balance for the Russian President between the need to support his ego and the need to avoid cutting off one’s own nose while spiting an adversary.

While Putin pointed a finger at “external forces” for causing Russia’s current problems stemming from economic sanctions and plunging energy and commodity prices, thus far, ego is winning out and the initial responses by the Bank of Russia. Additionally, comments from Putin indicate a constructive and rational approach to the serious issues they face having to deal with the economic burdens of their campaigns in Ukraine and Crimea, the ensuing sanctions and the one – two punch of sliding energy and metals prices.

Compare this week’s response to the economic crisis of 1998, as many are attempting to draw parallels. However, in 1998 there was no coherent national strategy and the branches of Russian government were splintered.

No one, at least not yet, is going to defy a decree from Putin as was done with those from Yeltsin nearly a generation ago when he had no influence, much less control over Parliament and unions.

While the initial response by the Bank of Russia, increasing the key lending rate by 65% is a far cry from the strategies employed by our own past Federal Reserve Chairmen and which came to be known as the Greenspan and Bernanke puts, you can’t spell “Putin” without “put” an the “Putin Put” while a far cry from being a deliberate action to sustain our stock markets did just that last week.

Putin offered, what sounded like a sober assessment of the challenges facing Russia and a time frame for the nation to come out from under what will be pronounced recession. Coming after the middle of the night surprise rate hike that saw the Ruble plunge and international markets showing signs of panic, his words had a calming effect that steadied currency and stock markets.

Somehow, the urge to create chaos as part of a transfer of pain has been resisted, perhaps in the spirit of the holiday season. Who would have guessed that the plate of blinis and vodka left out overnight by the dumbwaiter would have been put to good use and may yet help to rescue this December and deliver a Santa Clause Rally, yet?

No wonder Putin has been named “Russia’s Man of the Year” for the 15th consecutive year by the Interfax news agency. It’s hard to believe that some wanted to credit Janet Yellen for this week’s rally, just for doing her part to create her own named put by apparently delaying the interest rate hikes we’ve come to expect and dread.

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

I know that if anyone chose to designate me as being “systemically important,” I would feel honored, but after that glow had worn off I would start wondering what the added burden of that honor was going to be.

That’s what MetLife (NYSE:MET) is facing as it has 30 days to respond to its designation as being a systemically important financial institution, which carries with it significantly increased regulatory oversight.

I can see why they might want to resist the designation, especially when it knows that better and more profitable days are ahead, as interest rates rises are actually going to be more likely as employment and GDP continue to increase, buoyed by low energy prices. Most would agree that with increased regulation comes decreased profit.

MetLife, like most every other stock had inexplicably been taken lower as the energy sector held the stock market hostage. Also, like most other stocks, it had a substantial recovery this week to end the week a little higher than I would like to consider entering into a position. However, on any further drop back toward $52.50 it appears to again be a good candidate for a covered call strategy.

It’s only appropriate that during the holiday season thoughts turn to food. Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN) and Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) may stand in sharp contrast to Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM), but they may all have a place in a portfolio, but for different reasons.

Dunking Brands just reported earnings and shares plunged toward its 52 week lows. In doing so it reminded me of the plight of Whole Foods earlier in the year.

While a horrible winter was part of Whole Foods’ successive disappointing quarterly earnings reports, so too was their national expansion effort. That effort began to deliver some rewards after the most recent earnings report, but in the interim there were many questioning whether Whole Foods was being marginalized by growing competition.

Instead, after its most recent earnings report shares gapped up higher to the point at which they had gapped down earlier in the year, as shares now appear to be solidifying at a new higher baseline.

I don’t ordinarily think about a longer term position when adding shares, but if adding to my existing Whole Foods position, I may consider selling February 2015 call options that would encompass both the upcoming earnings report and a dividend, while also seeking some modest capital gains from the underlying shares.

Where Dunkin Donuts reminds me of Whole Foods is in its national expansion efforts and in also having now returned successive disappointing earnings while investing for the future. Just as I believe that will be a strategy with long term benefits for Whole Foods, I think Dunkin Brands will also turn their earnings story around as the expansion efforts near their conclusion.

Coca Cola represents an entirely different story as the clock is ticking away on its hope to withstand activist efforts. Those efforts appear as if they will have an initial primary focus on a CEO change.

While it may not be appropriate to group Coca Cola with Dunkin Brands and Whole Foods, certainly not on the basis of nutritional value, that actually highlights part of its problem. Like Russia, so tied to energy and mining, Coca Cola is tied to beverages and has little to no diversification in its portfolio. At the moment a large part of its product portfolio is out of favor, as evidenced by my wife, who when shopping for Thanksgiving guests said “we don’t need soda. No one drinks soda, anymore.”

That may be an exaggeration and while the long term may not be as bright for Coca Cola as some of its better diversified rivals, in the short term there is opportunity as pressure for change will mount. In the interim there will always be the option premiums and the dividends to fall back upon.

I had shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) assigned this past week and that left me without any shares for the coming week. That’s an uncommon position for me to be in, as eBay has been a favorite stock for years as it has traded in a fairly well defined range.

That range was disrupted, in a good way, by the entrance of Carl Icahn and then by the announcement of its plans to spin off its profitable PayPal unit, while it still has value.

My most recent lot assigned was the highest priced lot that I had ever owned and was also held for a significantly longer time period than others. Ordinarily I like to learn from my mistakes and wouldn’t consider buying shares again at this level, but I think that eBay will continue moving higher, hopefully slowly, until it is ready to spin off its PayPal division.

The more slowly it moves, occasionally punctuated by price drops or spikes, the better it serves as part of a covered options strategy and in that regard it has been exemplary.

While eBay doesn’t offer a dividend, and has had very little share appreciation, it has been a very reliable stock for use in a covered option strategy and should continuing being so, until the point of the spin-off.

If last week demonstrated anything, it was that the market is now able to decouple itself from oil prices, whereas in previous weeks almost all sectors were held hostage to energy. This week, by the middle of the week the market didn’t turn around and follow oil lower, as futures prices started dropping. By the same token when oil moved nicely higher to close the week, the market essentially yawned.

Energy sector stocks were a different story and as is frequently the case their recovery preceded the recovery in crude prices. Despite some nice gains last week there may be room for some more. Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) is well off from its highs, with that decline preceding the plunge felt within the sector. While its proposed buyout of Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) helped send it 10% higher that surge was short lived, as its descent started with details of the penalty Halliburton would pay if the deal was not completed.

While there has to be some regulatory concern the challenge of low prices and decreased drilling and exploration probably reinforces for Halliburton the wisdom of combining with Baker Hughes.

During its period of energy price uncertainty, coupled with the uncertainty of the buy out, Halliburton is offering some very enticing option premiums, both as part of a covered call trade or the sale of puts.

In addition to some stability in energy prices, there’s probably no greater gift that Putin himself could receive than higher prices for gold and copper. Just as Russia has been hit by the double hardship of reliance on energy and metals it has become clear that there isn’t too much of an economy as we may know it, but rather an energy and mining business that simply subsidizes everything else.

Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) can probably empathize with Russia’s predicament, as the purchase of Plains Exploration and Production was intended to protect it from the cycles endured by copper and gold.

Funny how that worked out, unless you are a current shareholder and have been waiting for the acquisition strategy to bear some fruit.

While it hasn’t done that, gold may be approaching a bottom and with it some of Freeport’s troubles may get diminished. At its current level and the lure of a continuing dividend and option premiums it is getting to look appealing, although it still carries the risks of a world not valuing or needing its products for some time to come.

However, when the perceived value returns and the demand returns, the results can be explosive for Freeport’s shares to the upside, just as it has dragged it much lower in a shirt period of time.

Finally, I’ll never be accused of leading a lifestyle that would lend itself to documentation through the use of a GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) product, but its prospects do have my heart racing more than usual this week.

I generally stay away from IPO stocks for at least 6 months, so as to get an idea of how it may trade, especially when earnings are part of the equation. Pragmatically, another issue is the potential impact of lock-up expiration dates, as well.

GoPro, in its short history as a publicly traded company has already had a storied life, including its key underwriter allowing some shares that were transferred into a charitable trust to be disposed of prior to the lock-up expiration date. Additionally, a secondary offering has already occurred at a price well above this past week’s closing price and also represented a fairly large sale by insiders.

Will the products and the lifestyle brand that GoPro would like to develop may be exciting, so far its management of insider shares hasn’t been the kind that inspires confidence, as shares are now about 42% below their high and 25% below their secondary issue pricing.

What could be worse?

Perhaps this week’s lock-up expiration on December 23, 2014.

The option market is treating the upcoming lock-up expiration as if it was an earnings event and there is a nearly 9% implied move for the week in anticipation. For those accustomed to thrill seeking there’s still no harm in using a safety harness and you can decide what strike puts on the sale of puts provides the best combination of excitement and safety.

I tend to prefer a strike price outside of the range identified by the option market that can offer at least a 1% ROI. That could mean accepting up to a 12.8% decline in price in return for the lessened thrill, but that’s thrill enough for me for one week.

Happy Holidays.

 

Traditional Stocks: Coca Cola, Dunkin Brand Group, eBay, MetLife, Whole Foods

Momentum: Freeport McMoRan, GoPro, Halliburton

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 – August 17, 2014

It’s hard to know whether the caption seen with this screen capture this past Friday morning was just an unfortunate mistake or an overly infatuated producer trying to send a not so subtle message to an on air personality who may not be that exciting when the teleprompter isn’t present.

There’s also the possibility that it was simply a reflection of the reality for the week. Coming to the mid-point of August and people every where grasping for the last bits of summer, it was an extraordinarily slow week for scheduled economic news and a slow week for trading. The most prevalent stories for the week were regarding the death of a beloved comic genius and that of a national figures and unknowns injecting a little icy cold fun into supporting research into the mysteries of a horrible disease.

In that vacuum the stock market was on its way to having its best week in nearly two months.

In that context, there was no doubt that boring was indeed, sexy.

For me, not so much. Boring was more like a full length burlap sack that was far too tight around the neck. Just a few short weeks ago after a deluge of market moving news I found myself wishing for quietude, only to learn that you do have to be careful what you wish for.

As a covered option trader I much prefer weeks that the market is struggling or flat. Even mild to moderate declines are better than strong moves forward, if my covered positions cause me to be left behind. I can usually do without those “best weeks ever” kind of hyperbole.

Luckily, lately Fridays have had a way of shaking things up a little bit, particularly when it comes to reversing course.

Although its probably a coincidence but seemingly market moving news from Russia seems to prefer Fridays, something noted a few months ago and not having slowed down too much.

That was certainly the case to end out the week where I was getting left behind. News, however, of a possible military action cast a pall on the markets and quickly reversed a decent gain earlier in the day.

In the perverse world of hedging your bets, sometimes those surprises are the antidote to getting left behind, so what is likely bad news for many may be more happily received by others. In some cases it’s really that bad news that’s sexy.

By the same token I wasn’t overly pleased when the market regained much of what it had lost. For me, in addition to renewing the gap between personal performance and the market, it also pointed to a market unclear as to its direction.

Even though it’s volatility that drives the premiums that can make the sale of options enticing, I really like clarity. After Friday’s events there was no clarity, other than the validation of the belief that the market is clearly on edge. At best, the market demonstrated ambivalence and that is far from being sexy.

What may be sexy is a recognition of the market’s unwillingness to give into the jitteriness and its continuing to pursue a climb higher. But then again, that wouldn’t be the first time something stupid was done in pursuit of something alluring.

I wouldn’t mind it being on the edge or deigning to walk on the wild side. That’s understandable, maybe even sexy. What is much less understandable is how forgiving the market has been, especially as it entered yet another weekend of uncertainty, yet pulled back from its retreat in a show of confidence.

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

When the market first caught word of the possible military action in Ukraine the response was fairly swift and saw nearly a 200 point market reversal.

While that move may reflect investor jitteriness and a disdain for the uncertainty that may be in store, the broad brush was fairly indiscriminate and not only took stocks with significant international exposure lower, but also took those relatively immune for a ride, even if they were already well off of their previous highs.

While I understand why MasterCard (MA) and its shareholders may have particular angst about events in Russia, I’m not certain that the same should have extended to those with interests in Best Buy (BBY) or Fastenal (FAST).

They all fell sharply and didn’t share in the subsequent recovery later in the day.

I already own Best Buy and anticipated it being assigned this past week, only to have to roll the option contracts over. While it does report earnings next week and is frequently a candidate for large moves, I think that at its Ukraine depressed price there is some spring back to supplement the always healthy option premium.

Fastenal is a very unsexy kind of stock and it does seem quite boring. I suppose that for some people its stores and catalogue of thousands of handy items may actually be very exciting. It is, however, a very exciting stock if you learn to look beyond the superficial. As a buy and hold position it has had a few instances of opportune buying over the past year. However, as a vehicle for a covered option strategy it has had many of those opportunities and I regret not having taken more advantage.

During a trading period of 14 months, while the S&P 500 has gone 18% higher, while Fastenal had gone nearly 14% lower. Not exactly the kind of stock you would find very appealing, even in very low light and deprived of oxygen. However, being opportunistic and using a covered option strategy it has delivered a 43% ROI in that period.

While Best Buy and Fastenal may have been innocent victims of Friday’s decline, MasterCard has been battling with Russian related problems for the past few months, as there had been some suggestion that the Russian banking system would create its own network of credit cards. That notion has since been dismissed, but there may be little emanating from Russia at the moment that could be taken at face value.

MasterCard shares are still a little higher than I find attractive, but it’s always in the eye of the beholder. Ever since its stock split it has traded in a nicely defined range and has moved back and forth with regularity within that range. If you like covered options, that is a really sexy characteristic.

I also understand why MetLife (MET) fell precipitously on Friday. Already owning shares and having expected its assignment, I rolled it over prematurely as it started to quickly lose altitude as the 10 year Treasury rate started plummeting. The thesis with MetLife, that has been consistently borne out is that it prospers with a rising rate environment.

Shares did recover by the close of the session and despite it being near the top of the range that I would consider a share purchase, I may be ready to add to my existing position.

I also understand why Starbucks (SBUX) may be at risk with any escalation of events in Europe. It is also a potential victim to an Italian recession and declining German GDP. However, despite those potential concerns, it actually withstood the torrents of Friday’s trading and I think is poised to trade near its current levels, which s ideal for use in a covered option trade.

I have been sitting on shares of both Freeport McMoRan (FCX) and Mosaic (MOS) for quite a while. Although the former shares are in profit they are still greatly lagging the S&P 500 for the same period. The latter is still at a loss, not having recovered from the dissolution of the potash cartel, but I’ve traded numerous intermediate positions, as is frequently done to support a paper loss.

Both, however, I believe are ready to move higher and at the very least offer appealing dividends if forced to wait. That has been a saving grace for my existing shares and could easily be so with future shares, that also provide attractive premiums. If finding entry at just the right price that combination can truly be sexy.

I’m not really certain why GameStop (GME) is still in business, but that’s been the conventional wisdom for years. The last time I was involved in shares was through the sale of puts after a plunge when Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it would intrude of GameStop’s business and offer Wal-Mart store credits for used games. Based upon their own earnings report last week, looks like that strategy didn’t move the needle very much, however.

Still, GameStop keeps on going. It reports earnings this coming week and it was 5% lower in Friday’s trading. If considering the sale of puts before earnings, I especially find those kinds of plunges before earnings to be very sexy. With an implied move of about 7.8%, a 1% ROI may be able to be achieved by selling a put contract at a strike level 9.2% below Friday’s closing price.

In the event of an impending assignment, however, I would look for any opportunity to roll over the put contracts, but would also be mindful of an upcoming dividend payment sometime in September, which could be a good reason to take possession of shares if unable to get extricated from the short put position.

Finally, after a week of retailers reporting their sales and earnings figures, it’s not really clear whether the increased employment numbers are creating a return to discretionary spending. It’s equally not clear that Sears Holdings (SHLD), which reports earnings this week is really a retailer, but it reports earnings this week, as well. 

For years, and possibly still so, it has been extolled for its real estate strategies as it spins off or plans to spin off the only portions of its retail operations that seem to work.

However, in the world of trading for option income none of that really matters, although it may be an entertaining side bar. 

The option market is currently assigning an implied price move of approximately 9.4%, while a 1% ROI for the week may potentially be made by selling a put contract 11.8% below Friday’s closing price.

As I knew deep down in high school, even losers can be sexy in the right light. Sears Holdings could be one of those losers you can learn to love.

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: Best Buy, Freeport McMoRan, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/21 PM), Sears Holdings (8/21 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.

Taking a Gamble with Earnings

The coming week stands to be a busy one as about 150 of the S&P 500 stocks will be reporting their quarterly earnings.

While earnings had gotten off to a good start last week with a strong showing from those in the financial sector, the market’s initial optimism was tempered a bit during the first day Janet Yellen’s Humphrey-Hawkins testimony and was sent into a pall with news of the tragic downing of a Malaysian civilian plan over the disputed Ukraine – Russian border area.

Regardless of the direction a stock’s price takes upon the earnings parade that also includes forward guidance there is often opportunity to profit from either the expected or unexpected news that’s delivered.

Whenever I ponder whether an earnings related trade is worth consideration I let the option market’s measure of the “implied price move” serve to determine whether there is a satisfactory risk-reward proposition. That calculation provides a price range in which projected price movements are thought to be likely.

If selling options, whether as part of a covered call strategy or through the sale of puts, there may be opportunity to achieve an acceptable premium even though if it represents a share price outside of the bounds set by the option market. Of course, that does depend to some degree on your own definition of “acceptable” and what you believe to be the appropriate level of risk to accompany that reward.

This coming week there appears to be a number of stocks that may warrant some attention as the reward may be well suited to the risk for some, as premiums tend to be heightened before known events, such as earnings.

A unifying theme for stocks that satisfy my criteria of offering a 1% or greater premium for a weekly option at a strike price outside of the boundary defined by the implied move calculation is underlying volatility. While already heightened due to impending earnings release and the uncertainty that accompanies the event, stocks that typically satisfy the criteria I’ve selected are already quite volatile.

While the implied volatilities may sometimes appear to be high, they are often consistent with past history and such moves are certainly within the realm of probability. That knowledge should serve as a warning that the unthinkable can, and does, happen.

While individuals can set their own risk-reward parameters, I’m very satisfied with a weekly 1% ROI.  The other part of the equation, the risk, is less quantitative. It is merely a question of whether the necessary strike level to achieve the reward is above or below the lower boundary defined by the stock’s implied move. 

I prefer to be below that lower boundary.

Among the companies that I am considering this coming week are Apple (AAPL), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), Comcast (CMCSA), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), Facebook (FB), Freeport McMoRan (FCX), Intuitive Surgical (ISRG), Microsoft (MSFT), Pandora (P) and VMWare (VMW).

The basis for making any of these trades is entirely predicated upon what may be an inefficiency between the option premiums and the implied price movement. I give no consideration to fundamental nor technical issues and would prefer not to be in a position to take ownership of shares in the event of an adverse price move.

My preference when selling put contracts is to do so when shares have already been falling in price in advance of earnings. Given the flourish with which this past week ended that is a bit more difficult, as a number of the shares listed had sizable gains in the session, recovering from the previous day’s drops.

While I would prefer not to take ownership of shares, the investor must be prepared to do so or to attempt to manage the options contract, such as rolling it forward, if assignment appears inevitable.

During periods of low volatility it may sometimes be difficult to do so and achieve a meaningful additional premium without going out further in time than you may have envisioned, however.

The table above may be used as a guide for determining which of these selected companies meets risk-reward parameters. Re-assessments need to be made as prices and, therefore, strike prices and their premiums may change. Additionally, the target ROI may warrant being changed as time erodes. For example, if the trade is executed with only 4 days of time remaining on the contract the 1% ROI may find its equivalent in a 0.8% return.

While the list can be used prospectively there may also be occasion to consider put sales following earnings in those cases where shares have reacted in an extremely negative fashion to earnings or to guidance. If you believe the response was an over-reaction to the news there may then be opportunity to sell put options to take advantage of the negative sentiment that may be reflected in option premiums.

In such a case the sale of a put is a bullish sentiment and there may be opportunity to make that expression a profitable one as the over-reaction faces its own correction. My recent observation, however, is that it seems to be taking longer and longer to see some stocks mount meaningful recoveries after earnings disappointments, which I interpret as a bearish indicator for the market as a whole, as risk aversion is a priority.

Recently, I’ve spent some considerable time in managing some positions that had greater than anticipated price moves, including taking assignment and then managing the  position through the sale of call options.

Ultimately, regardless of the timing of an earnings related trade there is always opportunity when large price movements are anticipated, especially if those worst and best case scenarios aren’t realized.

Best of all, if the extreme scenarios are realized a nimble trader may have opportunity to create even more opportunities and allow the position to accumulate returns while doing so.

 

Weekend Update – March 16, 2014

Most of us have, at one time or another believed that we were carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. The reality will always be that unless we are the President of the United States with a decision to be made regarding pressing that red button, those feelings are somewhat exaggerated and unlikely to be borne out in fact.

It’s probably not an exaggeration, however, to suggest that in the past week the burden of the world weighed down heavily on the U.S. stock markets.

Slowing growth and questionable economic statistics from China and an unfolding crisis in Crimea were the culprits identified this week that sapped the momentum out of our markets. The complete list of “reasons” for last week’s performance was compiled by Josh Brown, but ultimately it all came down to our shoulders. Perhaps like a regressive tax the individual investor may feel an exaggerated impact as well when the market behaves badly and may also take longer to recover from the heavy load of losses.

In addition to the global issues then there were also issues of regulation, seeing the SEC and FTC weigh in on Herbalife (HLF), dueling words of umbrage from billionaires over eBay (EBAY) and litigation from the New York State Attorney General’s Office over General Motor’s (GM) role in potentially avoidable vehicular deaths.

What there wasn’t was anything positive or optimistic to be said during the week, other than sooner or later Spring will arrive. For the first time since the last real attempt at a correction nearly two years ago the market closed lower in each trading session of the past week.

While the weekend may change my opinion, as additional news may be forthcoming as Russian war games on Ukraine’s borders play themselves out and a Crimean referendum is held, I find myself optimistic for the coming week.

I usually try to find ten potential trades for each coming week. Last week I struggled to find just nine. This week my preliminary list was nearly twenty and I had a difficult time narrowing down to ten stocks.

That hasn’t happened in a while.

Certainly, as has been discussed in previous weeks following a downward moving market, the challenge is discerning between value and value traps. In that regard this past week is no different, but for inspiration, I look to the option seller’s best friend.

That would be volatility. It creates the kind of premiums that can make me salivate and it is the lack of volatility that makes me wonder whether anyone really cares anymore about the need for stock markets to react appropriately to fundamental factors, as opposed to simply moving higher under all circumstances.  

Since late 2011 we’ve been used to seeing historically low levels of volatility with occasional spikes representing market downturns. For those following along you know that there haven’t been many of those downturns in the past 20 months, although we did just recently quickly recover from an equally quick 7% loss. Those downturns saw spikes in volatility.

Suddenly there has been a lot of discussion about increasing volatility and for those that get excited about technical analysis, much is made of the significance of Volatility Index breaking above the 200 Day Moving Average.

What you don’t hear, however, are the video playbacks of all of the times the Volatility Index has surpassed that 200 Day Moving Average and it did not lead to a market breakdown, as suggested by many.

Instead, a quick look at the past year seems to indicate an alternating current of spikes in volatility between larger spikes and smaller ones. Simply put, I think we’re experiencing a regularly scheduled smaller spike in volatility.

I could be wrong, but that’s what hedging is all about.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend and Momentum categories, with no “PEE” selections this week (see details).

As with last week, despite the uncertainty that may usher in the coming week I see some possibilities even with some higher beta positions, on a selective basis.

While I’ve been trying to emphasize dividend paying positions for the past three months, the only potential such trades that had any appeal for me this week fell into the higher beta category.

While Best Buy (BBY) is probably immune to any direct impact from an overseas crisis, it has had no difficulty in creating its own and has certainly created a crisis of faith before regaining some respectability under new leadership. But for those that have held shares that all seems so long ago after some disappointing earnings reports. Hit especially hard this most recent earnings season, Best Buy has two months left to acquit itself and another two weeks to have their cash registers ring loudly to offset any weather related disappointments. In the meantime shares do go ex-dividend this week and have been trading in a narrow range of late. In the absence of any news it may be expected to keep doing so long enough to capture a dividend and perhaps a premium or two.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) also goes ex-dividend this week and is also a higher beta stock. While I have traded this stock with some frequency, it’s been a while since doing so as it resists going much lower. While it is at a relative low to its recent high after a 7% decline, it has still had a fairly uninterrupted trajectory. Like Best Buy, there’s not too much reason to suspect that events in Crimea will serve as a direct contagion, the higher beta may be its own heavy weight in the event of a market decline, but like cockroaches, gambling will survive even nuclear holocaust, as may Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman. It may also survive some weakness in China, as there’s no better place to bury your misery than in their Maxao casinos.

It’s usually a fallacy in the making when you use logic to convince yourself of the rationale to buy a stock. That includes the belief that if you liked a stock at one price it must certainly be even more likeable at a lower price. Yet that’s where I find myself with General Electric (GE), whose shares were just assigned from me a week ago and now find themselves priced below that earlier strike price. However, in the case of General Electric, unless there are some horrific surprises around the corner or a complete market meltdown, it’s hard to imagine that it could be classified as being a value trap at this new lower price. Down 4% in the past week and 10% YTD, if the market is heading lower, GE will have been ahead of the curve. While it’s option premium doesn’t reflect much in the way of volatility it does represent a reasonable means to surpass the performance of a flat market.

While retail has been a place that money has gone to die of late, you get a feeling that things may be reversing, at least in the minds of analysts when even Coach (COH), a literal punching leather bag for all, receives an upgrade. While my shares of Coach were assigned this week, as were my shares of Kohls (KSS), I’m ready to repurchase both in their current range, as the long fall down deserves at least a short climb higher.

Coach has shown itself to be able to faithfully defend the $46 level despite so many assaults over the past two years. That ability to consistently bounce back has made it a great covered option position, whether through outright purchase or the sale of puts.

Kohls represents exactly what I like in my stocks. That is a non-descript existence and just happily going along its way without making too much fuss, other than an occasional earnings related outburst. Dependable is far more important than being flashy and as a stock and as a company, Kohls hugs that middle lane reliably, but still provides a competitive premium thanks to those occasional outbursts.

If the thesis that retail is ready for a comeback has more of a basis than just as reflected in share price, but also reflects pent up spending from a harsh winter, MasterCard (MA) is a prime beneficiary. While already somewhat protected from the ravages of weather by virtue of being able to spend your money with just a simple mouse click, there are just some things that need to be done in the real world. Trading well below its pre-split price until recently I had not owned shares in years. Now more readily purchased in scale, I look forward to the opportunity to purchase and re-purchase these shares with some degree of regularity, WHile its dividend is paltry, there is certainly room for growth to rise to the levels of Visa (V) and Discover Financial Services (DFS). However, notwithstanding any potential bump in share price along with a dividend hike, the option premiums can make the wait worthwhile.

In a week of no industry specific news, following a flurry of changes in industry dynamics initiated by T-Mobile (TMUS), Verizon (VZ) fell 3% bringing it down to a level from which it has found significant strength. While General Electric may face some potential liability with events in Crimea or a deteriorating economy in China, I don’t see quite the same liability for Verizon. Instead, whatever burdens it has to carry will come from an increasingly competitive landscape as it and AT&T (T) are continually pushed by T-Mobile and perhaps Sprint (S). In the meantime, while trading in a range and finding support at $46, there’s always the additional lure of a 4.5% dividend.

While Verizon isn’t terribly exciting it meets its match in Intel (INTC). However, the excitement that comes from growth isn’t absolutely necessary to generate predictable profits. Intel is especially well suited when it’s share price is very close to a strike level. If volatility continues to rise the opportunity to purchase Intel expands as the price range at which it may be purchased increases, while still offering an attractive option premium which can be further enhanced by an attractive dividend.

While it was only a matter of time until retail would begin to dig its way out from under the piles of snow, no sector has brutalized me more this past year than the one that requires digging. Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is among that group that hasn’t been terribly kind to me, despite my belief that it would be the “stock of the year” for 2013.

With copper itself being brutalized this past week, despite gold’s relative strength, Freeport McMoRan has itself had the weight of the market’s response to the less than robust Chinese economy to shoulder. But the one thing that you can always count on is that data from China can easily correct reality and that explains the seemingly recurrent see-saw ride that we have been on in those sectors that are tied to their data. The true plunge in copper prices, if sustained, will not be good news for Freeport McMoRan, whose generous dividend payout could conceivably be jeopardized.

On the other hand, shares are now at a level that has repeatedly created substantial returns for those willing to test the waters.

Finally, not many companies, especially those with a newly appointed CEO had as bad a week as General Motors. You might think that having paid its first dividend in years this past Friday there would be reasons to rejoice, but finding yourself at the top of the headlines related to customer deaths isn’t an enviable place, nor one conducive to a thriving share price. When the Attorney General of any state piles on that doesn’t help.

However, with a chorus of those clamoring for General Motors to re-test the $30 level purely on a technical basis there may be reason enough to believe that won’t be the case. Having timed a purchase of shares as inopportunely as possible, I’d like nothing more than to see that position restored to some respect.

As with the recent news that the FTC will be investigating allegations that Herbalife was engaged in a Ponzi scheme, the bad news for General Motors, while coming as an acute event, will take a long while to play out, regardless of the merits of the cases or the human tragedies caught up in what is now a story of fines, punishment andperhaps even acquittal.

Traditional Stocks: Coach, General Electric, General Motors, Intel, Kohls, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Best Buy (ex-div 3/18), Las Vegas Sands (ex-div 3/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – December 1, 2013

We may be on the verge of the Eve of Inflection.

Thanksgiving is that time of year when many sit back and think about all of their bounty and good fortune in the past year.

Sometimes the processes of reflection and introspection bring about inflection. Sometimes reviewing where you’ve been and where you appear to be heading are sufficient causes to consider a change in path or direction.

Nowhere is that more true than among many hedge fund managers now faced with the end of the year in sight and a stock market that has been out-performing their own trading and expertise. Many have already made the decision to increase risk taking behavior and eschew hedging in a last ditch effort to catch up to the averages and to secure their bonuses or save their jobs.

That may be more an example of desperation rather than introspection, but that kind of behavior may also herald an inflection point, not only in personal behavior but also in the very nature of the markets, especially if you take a contrarian view. When others change their behavior and begin to chase it may be time to take cover.

Sometimes that change in path is neither wanted nor welcome, but perhaps unavoidable. With the market hitting new highs on a nearly daily basis, what hasn’t escaped notice is that the rate of increase is itself decreasing. Most will tell you that in the case of a momentum stock a sign that its heady days are about to become a memory is when the rate of growth begins decreasing. In this case, it seems that it is the market as a whole whose rate of increase has recently been on the decline.

Depending on your perspective, if you are eternally bullish that decline is just a chance to digest some gains and prepare for the next leg higher. For the bears that slowing is the approach to the point of inflection.

Every roller coaster has them. Every stock market has them. On roller coasters, even when your eyes are closed you know when a change in slope direction is about to occur. It’s not quite as intuitive or simple in the stock market because human nature often believes that simple laws governing events can be suspended. No one thinks in a cautionary manner when the prevailing spirit is “laissez les bon temps rouler.”

While the overall market would likely find that a point of inflection would take it lower, there may be opportunity in stocks whose points of inflection may have been reached and are now bound to go higher or are already on their way.

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

Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) reported its earnings early in the most recent earnings season. It was the first to blame the government shutdown on its poorer than anticipated results and shares plummeted about 15%. Having recovered nearly half of that loss, with about another 6 weeks to go until the next earnings report, shares go ex-dividend this week. It has been a bit more than a year since the last time I owned shares, then too purchased in part because of its upcoming dividend. I think Stanley Black and Decker still has some room to move higher relative to the overall market and now offers good opportunity in advance of its next report.

To a degree Stanley Black and Decker and Fastenal (FAST) are related and dependent upon residential and commercial growth. This past week’s durable goods orders report didn’t necessarily send news of a robust economy, but Fastenal has been trading in a range of late which is always a reason to consider as part of a covered option strategy. I already own two lots of Fastenal, but continue to like it at its current price in anticipation that it will remain near that price.

The Gap (GPS) is one of those clothing retailers that still insists on releasing monthly comparison statistics. The past two monthly reports have sent shares moving in opposite directions as the report itself is the source of exceptionally high option premiums. With conflicting interpretations in two successive monthly reports there is little reason to believe that any volatility surrounding the monthly reports are indicative of systemic or irreparable issues at the retailer. Even with the prospect of another negative report this coming week, I don’t believe that the market will react as rashly as had occurred in October and from which point shares have now fully recovered.

While both AIG (AIG) and Halliburton (HAL) do go ex-dividend this week, their dividends alone aren’t appealing enough to focus attention on their purchase. Both, however, are sufficiently off from their recent high levels to warrant consideration. Both also represent stocks that appear to have set new baseline price levels as they have been slowly and methodically moved higher until very recently. Those are opportunities that get enhanced by the prospects of an inflection and their option premiums complemented by the possibility of also capturing dividends, albeit modest ones.

Dow Chemical (DOW) may also appear to be in the category of having fallen some from its recent high point and perhaps ready for a turnaround, with its current levels serving as that point of inflection taking the stock to a modestly higher level. While it may also be subject to some of the larger macro-economic issues such as those faced by Stanley Black and Decker and Fastenal, Dow Chemical’s dividend offers some protection during a market decline and its option premiums help to provide a cushion during either bigger picture declines or stock specific missteps.

While the previously mentioned positions are all fairly sedate choices that may be expected to do better if there is an inflection in the market, there may also be room for consideration of some more volatile additions to the portfolio, particularly as part of short term trading strategies.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) has reversed course from its nearly 15% climb in October, simply an example of successive points of inflection in a short period of time. I think that the selling is now overdone, not only in Freeport McMoRan, but in the metals complex and that shares of Freeport are once again getting ready for another period of inflection. While I have held some positions in Freeport McMoRan much longer than my typical holding, its dividend has made the holding period more tolerable. That dividend appears to be secure, even while there is some talk of gold miners being at risk of cutting dividends if ore prices continue to decline.

For the ones really enjoying roller coaster rides, Walter Energy (WLT) may be just the thing. Its recent drop for its near term high seems to be developing a new price floor that can serve as the point of inflection taking the price higher, although I would expect that based on its recent behavior such a move might be short lived. However, that rapid alternation in direction has made Walter Energy a very good recent covered call trade, although for some the sale of puts may be a more appropriate manner to take advantage of the share’s volatility.

Finally, it’s yet another week to consider eBay (EBAY). Despite a 2.5% gain on Friday, eBay is simply proving the analysts correct, in that it continues to be a moribund stock trading in a tight range. It was decried just two weeks ago for being unable to escape from that range while the rest of the market seemed to be thriving. In the meantime, those practicing a covered call strategy and owning shares of eBay, over and over again, have fared well. Responding to the analyst’s cry, eBay did test that lower range and has now bounced back nicely to the point that it is once again in the middle of that range. That’s an ideal position to consider opening a new position or adding to an existing position.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, Fastenal, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AIG (ex-div 12/3 ), Halliburton (ex-div 12/4), Stanley Black and Decker (ex-div 12/4)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – November 10, 2013

Is there life after momentum slows?

There was no shortage of stocks taking large price hits last week, as earnings season had already begun its slowdown phase. However, for some of the better known momentum stocks the slightest mis-steps were all the reason necessary to flee with profits.

For those who live long enough, it should never come as a surprise that some things are just destined to slow down.

Momentum fits into that category, although based on the past week it’s more of a question of falling down than slowing down for some.

After the fact, no one seemed to be surprised.

In a week that saw a decrease in the ECB’s main lending rate that was widely described as being a “surprise'” later in the day came reports that most economists expected the cut. The market clearly didn’t, however, as the economists may have neglected to pass on their views.

And then there was a surprisingly large increase in non-farm payroll jobs. Somehow everyone was taken off guard and the market responded by interpreting good news as good news and finished the week with a flourish.

What surprised me, however, was that there was such a disconnect between the anticipated numbers and the actual report, which covered the period of the government shutdown. The disconnect had to do with methodology, as forecasts didn’t take into account that government statistics considered furloughed employees to be employed, since they were to receive back, through legislative action.

Oops.

In effect, Friday’s rally was based on a misunderstanding of methodology. It will also certainly be interesting to see what impact Ben Bernanke’s statement after the market’s close may have on Monday’s trading.

I think the unemployment rate probably understates the degree of slack in the labor market. I think the employment-population ratio overstates it somewhat, because there are important downward trends in participation

Unfortunately, Friday’s gains complicate the goal of finding bargain priced stocks in the coming week, but with a little water having been thrown on the fire there may be opportunity yet.

Everyone, including me, likes to look for clues and cues that have predictive value. Parallels are drawn at every opportunity to what we know from the past in the expectation that it can foretell the future.

For some the sudden increase in IPOs coming to market and the sudden fall of many momentum stocks heralds a market top. In hindsight, if it does occur, it will be regarded as “no surprise.” If it doesn’t occur within the attention span of most paying attention it will simply be conveniently ignored.

For others the reversal of fortune may represent values and not value traps.

But no matter what the case there is life after momentum slows. It’s just a question of accommodation to new circumstances.

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

eBay (EBAY) like so many stocks that I consider tends to trade in a range. While eBay is often criticized for being “range bound” there is some comfort in knowing that it is less likely to offer an unwanted surprise than many other stocks. My shares were assigned this past week and are now trading at the upper range of where I may normally initiate a position. However, having owned shares on ten separate occasions this year I would be anxious to do so again on the slightest of pullbacks.

Although hardly a momentum stock, Mondelez (MDLZ) had some earnings woes this past week, although it did recover a bit, perhaps simply being carried along by a rallying market. Shares are still a little higher than I would like for an entry point, but I expect that as a short term selection it will match market performance, while in a market turn-down it will exceed performance.

Fastenal (FAST) is another fairly sedate company, yet its stock often has some large moves. I see Fastenal as a leading indicator of economic activity, but also very sensitive to the economy. I think its most recent price weakness will be reversed as the impact of a resolution of the government’s shutdown trickles down to the economy. I currently own shares with a contract set to expire this week, but at this price am considering doubling down on what in essence can be a weekly option contract during the final week of the November 2013 cycle.

Deere (DE) is another range bound stock, that in hindsight I should have bought on numerous occasions over the past few months. Good option premiums, a good dividend and not facing some of the same external pressures as another favorite, Caterpillar (CAT), makes Deere a perennially good selection within its sector.

I currently own shares of both Eli Lilly (LLY) and International Paper (IP), both of which go ex-dividend this week. Unlike many other stocks that I discuss, I have not owned either on multiple occasions this year and my current shares are now below their cost. Both emerged unscathed after recent earnings reports, although both are down considerably from their recent highs and both have considerably under-performed the S&P 500 from the time for its first in a series of market highs on May 21, 2013. That latter criterion is one that I have been using with some regularity as the market has continued to reach new highs in an effort to identify potential late comers to the party.

Which finally brings me to the momentum stocks that have my attention this week, some of which may be best approached through the sale of put options and may be best avoided in a weakening market.

Much has been said of the “ATM effect” on Facebook (FB), as speculation that investors were selling Facebook shares to raise money to buy Twitter (TWTR) shares. Following an abrupt reversal during its conference call when there was a suggestion that adolescents were reducing their Facebook use shares have just not regained their traction. Sometimes it’s just profit taking and not driven by the allure of a newer stock in town. But assuming that the “ATM effect” has some validity and with a large gap between the Twitter IPO price and its 7% lower price on its first full day of trading, I can’t imagine now taking the opportunity to sell Facebook in order to purchase Twitter shares. On its own merits Facebook may be a momentum stock that has a cushion of protection until its next earnings report, unless an errant comment gets in the way, again.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) is much higher than the level at which I last owned shares at $21. Waiting for a return has been fruitless and as a result, rather than having owned shares on 15 occasions, as in 2012, thus far, I’ve only had five bouts of ownership. With the melodrama surrounding its founder and ex-CEO in its past, Chesapeake may begin trading a bit more on fundamentals rather than hopes for a return to its glory days. at such, its price action may be less unidirectional than it has been over the past four months. After last week’s earnings report related drop, while still higher than I would like, I think there may be reason to consider a new entry, perhaps through the sale of put options.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is a stock that has been testing my patience through the year. More precisely, however, I’ve had no real issue with Freeport McMoRan’s leadership, in fact, given metal prices, it has done quite well. What I don’t understand is how it has been taking so long for markets to appreciate its strategic initiatives and long term strategies. For much of the year my shares have been non-performing, other than for dividend payments, but with a recent run higher some are generating option premium income streams. Despite the run higher, I am considering adding more shares as the entire metals complex has been showing strength and some stability, as well.

Finally, while I’ve said before that I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, a recent experience with Tesla (TSLA) was perhaps a good reason to at least acknowledge that charts can allow you to look at the past.

While it’s probably always a good week to be Elon Musk, relatively speaking last week wasn’t so good, as both Tesla and Solar City (SCTY) were treated harshly after earnings were released. The spin put around another reported car fire that its resultant heat could be garnered to power several mud huts didn’t give shares much of a boost, perhaps because that might have cannibalized SolarCity sales, with the two companies likely having much overlap in ownership.

Tesla reported earnings last week and took a drubbing through successive days.

A reader of last week’s article asked:

“George, what are your thoughts on a sale of Puts on TSLA which reports Tuesday?”

My response was:

“TSLA isn’t one that I follow, other than watching in awe.

But purely on a glance at this week’s option pricing the implied volatility is about 12% and you can get a 1% ROI on a strike that’s about 17% lower, currently $135

It looks as if it may have price support in the $134-$139 range, but it’s hard to know, because its ascent has been so steep that there may not be much of a real resting point.

In a very speculative portion of my portfolio I might be able to find some money to justify that trade.”

As it turned out Tesla closed the week at $137.95 and now has my attention. You do have to give some credit to its chart on that one. WIth disappointment over its sales, supply chain issues and reports of car fires and even Elan Musk suggesting that “Tesla’s stock price is more than we have any right to deserve,” it has fallen by nearly 21% from the time of that comment, barely 2 weeks prior to earnings. Although to be entirely fair shares did fully recover from a 7.5% decline in the aftermath of the statement in advance of earnings.

While still not knowing where the next resting point may be in the $119-$122 range, representing as much as another 13% price drop. With earnings out of the way to enhance option premiums the risk-reward proposition isn’t as skewed toward reward. However, for those looking to recapture of bit of their own momentum, despite the realization that the end may be near, a put sale can return an ROI of approximately 1.4% at a strike price nearly 6% below Friday’s close is not breached.

The nice thing about momentum slowing is that if you fall the floor isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, eBay, Fastenal, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan, Tesla

Double Dip Dividend: Eli Lilly (ex-div 11/13), International Paper (ex-div 11/13)

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.

Disclosure: I am long CAT, CHK, DE, FAST, FCX, IP, LLY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Weekend Update – October 20, 2013

With the S&P 500 having reached an all time high this past week you could certainly draw the conclusion that a government shutdown is a good thing and flirting with default is a constructive strategy. At a reported cost of only $24 Billion associated with closure and nothing more than a symbolic “Fitch slap” credit watch issued, perhaps we should look forward to the next potential round in just a few months.

For me, this past week marked the slowest week of opening new positions that I can recall since the 2009 market bottom. Although history suggests that the eleventh hour is a charm, the zeal of some more newly elected officials was reminiscent of a theological premise that believes in order to save it you must first destroy the world. That kind of uncertainty is the kind in which you get your affairs in order rather than embarking on lots of new and exciting initiatives.

With manufactured uncertainty temporarily removed the market can focus on earnings and other things that most of us believe are somewhat important.

One thing that will be certain is that wherever possible the next earnings season will attempt to lay some blame for any disappointments upon the government shutdown. This past week it certainly didn’t take Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) and eBay (EBAY) very long to already take advantage of that excuse. Who knew that government purchasing agents were unable to use eBay for Blackhawk helicopter replacement parts during their unexpected furlough?

As with the previous earnings season the financial sector started off the reports in a promising way, although early in the season the results are mixed, with some significant surges and plunges. What is clear is that investors are paying particular attention to guidance.

One earnings report that caught my attention was from Pet Smart (PETM). My father always believed that no matter what the economic environment, people would always find the wherewithal to spend on the pets and their kids. Pet Smart’s disappointing earnings focused on a “challenged consumer” and lower customer traffic. That can’t be a good sign. If pets are going wanting what does that portend for the rest of us?

Yet, on the other hand, Align Technology (ALGN) discussed last week, was a different story. Certainly representing discretionary spending and not benefiting from any provisions in the Affordable Care Act, their orthodontic appliances see no barriers from the economy ahead, as they reported great earnings and guidance.

Also clouding the picture, perhaps both literally and figuratively, is the positive guidance provided by Peabody Energy (BTU). For a nation that has been said to “move on coal,” that has to be a signal of something positive going forward.

This week, with lots of cash from assignments of October 2013 option contracts, I’m anxious to get back to business as usual, but still have a bit of wariness. However, despite the appearances of a reluctant consumer, I’m encouraged by recent activity in the speculative portion of my portfoli0, enough so to consider adding to those positions, even at market highs.

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

The news from Peabody Energy in addition to some recent price stabilization in Walter Energy (WLT), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) have me in a hopeful mood after long having suffered with positions in all three.

A year ago at this time I believed that Freeport McMoRan would be among the best performers in 2013, but subsequent to that it has only recently started on its recovery from the price plunge it sustained when announcing plans to acquire Plains Exploration and Production, as it planned to expand its asset base to include oil and natural gas. While the long term vision may be someday vindicated, 2013 has not been a stellar year. But, like some others this week, there has been a steady strengthening in its price, despite significantly lower gold, oil and copper prices, year to date. While its dividend has made holding shares marginally tolerable through the year, I think it is now ready to start a sustained climb and it offers appealing call premiums to create income or provide downside protection. Earnings are reported this week, but the option market is not expecting a very large move.

Another company slowly climbing higher, but still with a great distance to travel is Walter Energy . In addition to suffering through a proxy fight this year and significant challenges to management, declining coal prices and a slashed dividend, I believe that it is also poised to continue climb higher. I recently tested the waters and added shares along with selling in the money calls. Those were just assigned, but I think that I’m ready to dip deeper.

Sticking to the same theme, Cliffs Natural Resources goes hand in hand with Walter Energy, at least in its price behavior and disappointments. It too has slashed its dividend and its CEO has retired. Like Walter Energy, I recently started adding shares and had them assigned this week. Cliffs reports earnings this week and unlike Freeport McMoRan, the option market is expecting a larger price move.

While I rarely do more than glance at charts, in the case of Cliffs Natural Resources the 5 Year price chart may suggest a long term pattern that has shares at the beginning of a sustained climb higher.

As with many positions that are preparing to report earnings, I typically consider potential entry through the sale of put options.

Also reporting earnings this week is Cree (CREE). Thanks to legislation its LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous in home improvement stores and homes. It has the features of companies that make potentially alluring earnings trades. In this case, this always volatile moving company can sustain up to a 14% price decline and still return a 1% ROI for the week. The only real consideration is that it is capable of making that decline a reality, so if selling puts you do have to be prepared to take ownership.

While already having reported earnings and falling into the “disappointing” category, Fastenal (FAST), which I look at as being an economic barometer kind of company has already started regaining its price decline. It will be ex-dividend this week offering an additional reason to consider its purchase, even though I already own lower priced shares and rarely buy additional lots at higher prices. However, with W.W. Grainger (GWW) recently reporting positive earnings I’m encouraged that Fastenal will follow, but in the meantime the dividend and option premium make it easier to wait.

Also going ex-dividend this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM). I considered its purchase last week, but it fell victim to a week of my inaction. While perhaps at risk to suffer from decreased spending at some higher end stores it has already fallen about 11% from its recent high point. However, since it reports earnings just prior to the expiration of the November 2013 option cycle, I might consider utilizing a December 2013 covered call sale.

The Gap (GPS) isn’t at risk of losing too many high end customers, it has just been losing customers, at least on the basis of its most recent monthly report. It is one of those retailers that still reports monthly comparison figures. That’s just one more bullet that needs to be dodged in addition to potential surprises during earnings season. Shares went precipitously lower with its most recent retail report and caught me along with it. It is near a price support level and represents an opportunity to either purchase additional shares to attempt to offset paper losses of an earlier lot or to establish an initial covered position.

While eBay may not sell used Blackhawk helicopter parts it somehow found a way to link its coming fortunes to the government shutdown. Suffering a significant price drop following earnings and guidance shares were once again in a channel of great familiarity. Having traded reliably in the $50-$52.50 range the sight of it falling was well received. However, late in the trading session on Friday someone else must have seen the same appeal as shares suddenly jumped $1.65 in about 20 minutes. That takes away some of the appeal. What takes away more of the appeal was the explanation by CEO Donahoe that spurred the surge, when he explained that he and his CFO did not mean to sound so dour about holiday prospects, it’s just that they both had colds.

On the other hand UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is a company that may be able to justifiably point its finger at the Federal government when it reports earnings again in January 2014. Already suffering a nearly 10% drop in the past week related to 2014 guidance, UnitedHealth is a major player in the options available on the Affordable Health Care Act exchanges. While perhaps not being able to blame the shutdown for any revenue related woes, disappointing enrollment statistics may be in the making. The additional price drop on Friday, following the large drop on Thursday may be related to enrollment challenges rather than projections of lower Medicare funding in the coming year. However, nearing a price support and following such a large price drop provides a combination that makes ownership appealing. Perhaps eBay employees should consider signing up en masse in the event they are all prone to colds that effect their ability to perform. In enough numbers that may be helpful to UnitedHealth Group’s 2014 revenues.

Of course, while the market seemed to rejoice at what could only be construed as the return to health of the eBay executives, Groupon (GRPN) is another example of a stock whose price has returned to more lofty levels following surgical removal of its CEO. It is one of a handful of stocks that I sold last year taking a capital loss and swore that I would never buy again. Now down about 15% from its recent high, which itself was up approximately 500% from its not too distant low, Groupon is a different company in leadership, product and prospects. While still a risky position

Finally, a name that everyone seems to disparage these days is Coach (COH). While there is certainly sufficient reason to believe that retailers, even the higher end retailers are being challenged, Coach is beginning to be perceived as taking a back seat to retailer Michael Kors (KORS). SHares have certainly been volatile, especially at earnings and Coach reports earnings this week. Having owned shares a number of times in the past year, my preference is to sell puts in advance of earnings in anticipation of a large drop. Currently, the option market is implying nearly a 9% move. A 1% ROI for the week can be obtained through such a sale if the price drop is less than 12%.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, The Gap, United Health Group

Momentum Stocks: Groupon, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 10/23), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 10/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/22 AM), Freeport McMoRan (10/22), Cree (10/22 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (10/24 PM)

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