Weekend Update – July 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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

Weekend Update – May 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Joy Global

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

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

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

Weekend Update – March 23, 2014

There was a time when the Chairman of the Federal Reserve did not hold press conferences.

In the past that would have been a very good thing, as the last Chairman to not have held press conferences, Alan Greenspan, was cryptic. When he did speak, such as during congressional testimony, he could send markets gyrating to opposite extremes before even having uttered a single verb. 

When Ben Bernanke succeeded him and introduced the concept of a regularly scheduled press conference people were thrilled with the idea that there would be a new era of transparency and an end to the use of words shrouded by their own opacity.

For the most part Ben Bernanke’s press conferences were yawners. Not because of a lack of interesting subject matter, but because the markets rarely reacted to any new insights and inadvertent slips of strategic policy intentions just weren’t going to come from someone who carefully measured every word.

Now it was Janet Yellen’s turn and there had even been talk of her holding such press conferences after each FOMC minutes release and not simply on an alternating monthly basis.

Yellen performed admirably, once you get over the fact that with your eyes closed she sounds like Woody Allen’s sister, never batting an eyelash when one questioner twice referred to the FOMC members as “you guys” and then herself once referred to the cultural phenomenon of “shacking up,” it was what she said or didn’t say or maybe meant or maybe didn’t mean that sent the market abruptly tumbling at 3:04 PM Wednesday afternoon.

What was learned was that in a world of imprecision, especially when discussing time frames, any lapse that leads to a more precise time frame can create reactions from people that claim to loathe uncertainty but are really more afraid of certainty. The very idea that interest rates might begin to rise as soon as 6 months from now as part of a strategic plan by the Federal Reserve was a momentary reason to panic.

But was it really because of what Janet Yellen said or more a case of traders going to a second or even third derivative of the consequences of whatever it is that she may have said or may have meant.

That seems like good enough reason to exercise the emotional part of a coherent investing strategy.

The market’s response this week showed that it is very much on edge and harbors a significant amount of nervousness, but it also shows impressive reparative ability. 

Over the past few weeks it is that reparative ability that has repeatedly been tested and repeatedly met the challenge. 

With continued challenges in mind, this week more of my attention is focused upon positions that may be less susceptible to a breakdown in the event of a market giving into some of the challenges that may await. While in recent weeks I haven’t been adverse to more risky or volatile positions, I once again find myself not being attracted to risk as the market is again near all time highs, despite its seeming resilience and resistance to challenges.

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).

The world of a stock analyst continues to confound me. On the one hand, I saw this week’s decline in shares of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) as an opportunity to consider bringing it back into my portfolio, particularly since I need additional healthcare representation. However, this week came a curious assessment from analysts at The Jeffries Group who raised their price target of shares to $48 and issued a “hold” rating on shares.

Since a $48 price target is about 10% below the Friday’s close, which itself is 8% lower than where shares started the month, it does beg a question or two. 

Rather than asking those questions, I like what appears to be an opportunity, having waited for shares to return to my comfort level. The fact that Bristol Myers will be paying a dividend shortly further encourages me to consider going for the trifecta; an increase in share value, an option premium and the dividend, during what is hoped to be a short period of ownership.

British Petroleum (BP) is another stock that has seen its shares fall about 8% this month. I haven’t owned shares since November 2012, but have been anxious to do so since that time, futilely hoping that it would return to the $43 level at which I had repeatedly traded its shares. Sometimes you may have to give up some hopes and perhaps come to the realization that after its 8% fall that may be the biggest gift that is to come. While its option premium is less rich than I would like the enticement of its dividend makes it one of those companies that I don’t mind owning for more than an occasional short term fling, particularly since it doesn’t appear to be poised to present undue risk, even in a falling market.

While British Petroleum may now seem to have much in the way of added risk, Holly Frontier (HFC) is not exactly be a prototypical stock to consider when looking to avoid risk. It certainly trades with some sudden and rapid moves in both directions and does so on a regular basis. Yet despite that kind of behavior it seems to also be very capable of finding its way back home. Having owned several times in the past few months and having just had shares assigned this past week, I’m interested in restoring them to my portfolio. The single caveat is that it is near the top of the range that I’ve had comfort initiating a position.

With the attentions of Nelson Peltz and Carl Icahn, Mondelez (MDLZ) and eBay (EBAY), respectively have seen their initial bursts of share appreciation moderate of late. Until Icahn came onto the scene eBay was one of my very favorite covered call trades as it so reliably traded in a range. His sudden interest and unimaginative plan to spin off the PayPal unit was initially news divulged by eBay upon its earnings announcement and it shifted focus from mediocre performance to activist investing.

Following some fairly nasty exchanges, including a battle of words with Marc Andreessen, who sits on the board of eBay, the share price has started moderating a bit, having gone down approximately 5% from its peak earlier this month. That’s still on the high end of my trading range, but the interest is returning and would be greatly enhanced with any further drop.

Mondelez, on the other hand, has made some peace with its activist and its shares have stagnated ever since. As with eBay and so many other stocks, I like stagnation, especially if punctuated with occasional bursts of activity that keeps traders and especially potion buyers ion their toes. Mondelez goes ex-dividend this week and that has been a good time to consider entering into a new position or adding shares.

A Court of Appeals ruling on Friday regarding debit card swipe fees was greeted by differing levels of enthusiasm for shares of Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) that appeared to adversely impact MasterCard well out of proportion to the favor found in Visa. Despite the acknowledged greater market share that Visa controls in the debit card area, analysts predominantly noted an incremental benefit to MasterCard as well, however its shares fell sharply, placing it back in the attractive price range

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) reports earnings this week. With a new clothing line recently released and with new leadership, as an existing shareholder with much more expensively priced shares, my hope is that they will provide guidance that casts an optimistic light on its future fortunes. No stranger to large earnings related moves there is, however, the possibility that this earnings report could be the kind that a new CEO often uses for advantage by dumping all of the bad news and dead weight so that, by comparison, future earnings reports are glowing and reflect upon the new CEO.

The option market is implying a 10.5% move when earnings are announced. By some of its own historical standards that may be an understatement of what its shares are capable of doing and the direction has been predominantly on the downside. The 1% ROI that may be able to be obtained even with a 14% drop in share price may make that risk worthy for some, especially if you believe, as I do, that this earnings report will be greeted in a positive manner.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) has not had a good month ever since a downgrade to “sell” and disappointing earnings from Dollar General (DG). Now near its yearly lows volatility has returned to its option premiums helping to balance the risk that may be associated with this purchase, despite its historically low beta level. I already own shares and have been fighting back its price drop by attempting to take advantage of that enhanced option premium. While there may be some disagreement about what an improving retail sector means for the lower echelon of retailers, such as Family Dollar Store, I subscribe to the “high tide theory” particularly since economic recovery is leaving many behind and increasingly tethered to the lower echelon of retail.

Other than being named as one of the world’s most ethical companies, there really was no other bad news to have accounted for International Paper (IP) being unable to capitalize on the market’s advance this week. It’s current price places it close to the lower end of its trading range and makes it increasingly appealing to own. With more spin-offs of its assets planned within the next few months in pursuit of a successful strategy that has seen a number of such assets spun off, International Paper has created and optimized value without the need for outside agitation and has been a good candidate for a covered option strategy in the past year.

Finally, GameStop (GME) reports earnings this week. It received a blow to its share price when Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it was encroaching on GameStop’s core business by offering to exchange Wal-Mart shopping credit for used video games. Whether Wal-Mart believes that they have a potentially profitable product line in used video games or simply plan to use customer entry into the stores as a means of enticing them toward other Wal-Mart purchases isn’t clear, but I think that impact on GameStop will be far less than the market has already assigned.

Wal-Mart, priding itself on offering the lowest prices, isn’t likely to offer the highest prices on its game repurchases. Secondly, only the most desperate of families is going to garnish their kid’s video games, which through some tradition have become the property of kids to do with as pleased and then trade them in for a chance for even more Wal-Mart goods. The rightful owners of those games, the kids, are going to need a really compelling reason to go into Wal-Mart.

Adult gamers, on the other hand, may not have enough energy to re-direct their inertia and change their game swapping habits.

The option market is implying a 5.5% move upon earnings release and GameStop is certainly no stranger to large price swings. However, the sale of a put option at a strike price about 11% below Friday’s closing price can still return a weekly ROI of 1%. That’s the sort of fun that could have me easily glued to the ticker crawl on my stock screen.

 

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, British Petroleum, eBay, Family Dollar Store, Holly Frontier, International Paper, MasterCard

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend:  Mondelez (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/27 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (3/27 AM)

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

Weekend Update – February 23, 2014

When this past week was all said and done, it was hard to discern that anything had actually happened.

Sure, there was an Olympics being staged and fomenting revolution in Ukraine, but it was a week when even the release of FOMC minutes failed to be news. Earnings season was winding down, the weather was in abeyance and the legislative docket was reasonably non-partisan.

I could have spent last week watching the grass grow if it hadn’t been covered in a foot of snow.

In its own way, despite the intermediate and alternating moves approaching triple digits, the past week was a perfect example of reversion to the mean. For those that remember 2011, it was that year in a microcosm.

The coming week promises to be no different, although eight members of the Federal Reserve are scheduled to speak. While they can move markets with intemperate or unfiltered remarks, which may become more meaningful as “hawks” assume more voting positions, most people will likely get their excitement from simply reading the just released 2008 transcripts of the Federal Reserve’s meetings as the crisis was beginning to unfold. While you can learn a lot about people in times of crisis, other than potential entertainment value the transcripts will do nothing to add air to the vacuum of the past week. What they may contain about our new Chairman, Janet Yellen, will only confirm her prescience and humor, and should be a calming influence on investors.

As a covered option investor last week was the way I would always script things if anyone would bother opening the envelope to read what was inside. While I have no complaints about 2012 or 2013, as most everyone loves a rising market, 2011 was an ideal market as the year ended with no change. Plenty of intermediate movement, but in the end, signifying nothing other than the opportunity to seemingly and endlessly milk stocks for their option premiums that were nicely enhanced by volatility.

Although I’ve spent much of the past year expecting, sometimes even waiting at the doorstep for the correction to come, the past few weeks have been potentially dangerous ones as I’ve had optimism and money to spend. That can be a bad combination, but the past 18 months have demonstrated a pattern of failed corrections, at least by the standard definition, and rebounds to new and higher highs.

While there may be nothing to see here, there may be something to see there as the market may again be headed to new neighborhoods.

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). A companion article this week explores some additional earnings related trades.

In a week that Wal-Mart (WMT) again disappointed with its earnings report, once again the market failed to follow its lead. In the past year Wal-Mart has repeatedly disappointed, yet the market has disconnected form its leadership, other than for a brief two hours of panic a few months ago when Wal-Mart announced some increasing inventory levels. That panic quickly resolved once Wal-Mart explained their interpretation of inventory levels.

However, one does have to wonder under what economic circumstances does Wal-Mart not meet expectations? Is the economy thriving and people are moving to other retailers, such as Target (TGT) or even Sears (SHLD) or are they moving to Family Dollar Store (FDO)? WHile it is possible that Wal-Mart may simply be suffering from its own bad economic and internal forecasting, there isn’t much reason to be sanguine about retailing. My money is on Family Dollar.

One source that I use for information lists Family Dollar as going ex-dividend this week, however, I haven’t found that to be corroborated anywhere else and historically the first quarter ex-dividend date is in the second week of March. If shares do go ex-dividend this week I would have significant enthusiasm for adding shares, but even in the absence of that event I’m inclined to make that purchase.

Coming off two successive weeks of garnering more than the usual number of dividends, this week is relatively slim pickings. Weyerhauser (WY) and Molson Coors (TAP) both go ex-dividend this week, but both are near the bottom of my list for new purchases this week.

While I like Molson Coors, at the moment the product holds some more appeal than the stock, which is trading near its yearly high point. However, with earnings now out of the way and Canadians around the world celebrating Olympic victories, what better way to show solidarity than to own shares, even if just for a week? Other than potential technical indicators which may suggest an overbought condition, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that in a flat or higher moving market during the coming week, Molson Coors shares will decline mightily. With shares as the body and a head composed of a nice premium and dividend, it just may be time to indulge.

Weyerhauser is a perfectly boring stock. Often, i mean that in a positive sense, but in this case I’m not so certain. I’ve owned shares since May 2013 and would be happy to see them assigned. Despite Weyerhauser offering a dividend this week, my interests are more aligned with re-establishing a position in International Paper (IP). In addition to offering a weekly option, which Weyerhauser does not, its options liquidity and pricing is superior. While it is trading near its yearly high, it has repeatedly met resistance at that level. As a result, while eager to once again own shares, I would be much more willing to do so even with just a slight drop in price.

While offering only a monthly option is a detriment as far as Weyerhauser is concerned, it may be a selling point as far as Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes. I like to consider adding shares when it is near a strike price as it was after Friday’s close. Shares can be volatile, but it tends to find its way back, especially when home is $10. WHile earnings aren’t due until April 17, 2014, that is just one day before the end of the monthly cycle. Therefore, if purchasing shares of Cypress at this time, I would be prepared to set up for ownership through the May 2014 cycle in the event that shares aren’t assigned when the March cycle comes to an end, in order to avoid being caught in a vortex if a disappointment is at hand. The dividend and the premiums will provide some solace, however.

Although I had shares of Fastenal (FAST) assigned this past week and still own some more expensive shares, this company, which I believe is a proxy for economic activity, has been a spectacular covered call trade and has lent itself to serial ownership as it has reliably traded in a defined range. It doesn’t report earnings until April 10, 2014, but it does have a habit of announcing altered guidance a few weeks earlier. That can be annoying if it comes at the end of an option cycle and potentially removes the chance of assignment or even anticipated rollover, but it’s an annoyance I can live with. After two successive quarters of reduced guidance my expectation is for an improved outlook.

I haven’t owned shares of Deere (DE) for a few months as it had gone on a ride higher, just as Caterpillar (CAT), another frequent holding, is now doing. Deere is now trading at the upper range of where I typically am interested in establishing a position, but after a 7% decline, it may be time to add shares once again. It consistently offers an option premium that has appeal and in the event of longer than anticipated ownership its dividend eases the wait for assignment.

While I would certainly be more interested in Starbucks (SBUX) if its shares were trading at a lower level, sometimes you have to accept what may be a new normal. I had nearly a year elapse before coming to that realization and missed many opportunities in that time with these shares. It does, however, appear that the unbridled move higher has come to an end and perhaps shares are now more likely to be range bound. As with the market in general it’s that range that others may view as mediocrity of performance that instead may be alternatively viewed as the basis for creating an annuity through the collection of option premiums and dividends.

I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense, so it’s unlikely that I would ever own any Deckers (DECK) products at the right time. One minute they sell cool stuff, the next minute they don’t and then back again. Just like the story of most stocks themselves.

What is clear is that they have become cool retailers again and impressively, shares have recovered from a recent large decline. With earnings due to be announced this week the option market is implying a 12.3% potential movement in shares. In the meantime, if you can set your sights on a lowly 1% ROI for the week’s worth of risk a 16.3% drop can still leave you without the obligation to purchase the shares if having sold puts.

Less exciting, at least in terms of implied moves, is T-Mobile (TMUS). It also reports earnings this week and there has to be some thought to what price T-Mobile is paying and will be paying for its very aggressive competitive stance. While its CEO John Legere, may be a hero to some for taking on the competition, that may very quickly fade with some disappointing earnings and cautionary guidance. the option market is pricing a relatively small move of 8.7%, while current option pricing can return a 1% ROI on a strike level 9.5% lower than Friday’s close. Although that’s not much of a margin of difference, I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts if shares drop substantively on Monday in advance of Tuesday morning’s announcement. Alternatively, if not selling puts in advance of earnings and shares do significantly fall following earnings, there may be potential to do the put sale at that time.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) reports earnings this week. It is one of the most frustrating and exhilirating of stocks and I currently own two lots. My personal rule is to never own more than three, so I still have some room to add shares, or more likely sell puts in advance of its earnings. Abercrombie and FItch is a nice example of how dysfunction and lowered expectations can create a stock that is so perfectly suited for a covered option strategy. Its constant gyrations create enhanced option premiums that are also significantly impacted by its history of very large earnings related price changes.

For those that have long invested in shares the prospect of a sharp decline upon earnings can’t come as a surprise. However, with a 10.7% implied price move this coming week, one can still achieve a 1% ROI if shares fall less than 15.3%, based on Friday’s closing price.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Family Dollar Store, Fastenal, International Paper, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

Double Dip Dividend: Molson Coors (ex-div 2/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/26 AM), Deckers (2/27 PM), T-Mobile (2/25 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 – January 5, 2014

There’s a lot to be said in support of those who practice a strategy of surrounding themselves with those that suffer by comparison of whatever attribute is under consideration.

Most of us intuitively know what needs to be done if we want to make ourselves or our actions look good when under scrutiny.

The mutual fund industry had done it for years. It’s all about what you compare yourself to, although looking good raises expectations for even more of the same and most of us also know how that often works out.

As observers it’s only natural that we make our assessments on the basis of comparison to whatever standard is available. Among our many human foibles is that we often tend to be superficial and are just as likely to forego deeper analyses when faced with pleasing circumstances. We also want to go with the perceived winners in the belief that they will always be winners. Certainly the investing experience doesn’t bear out that strategy. Yesterday’s winner isn’t necessarily tomorrow’s champion.

Fresh on the heels of a 31% gain in the S&P 500, 2014 is going to have a difficult time in comparison. While maybe hoping that 2015 is going to be an abysmal year in the meantime 2014 has to contend with the obvious stress of the obligatory comparisons.

For the individual investor 2013 has ended with so many stocks at or near their highs that it’s actually very difficult to find that lesser entity for comparison purposes. Everything just looks so good that nothing really looks good, especially going forward, which is the only direction that counts. Looking at chart after chart brings up strikingly similar patterns with very little able to stand out on the basis of its own beauty. Comparing onesupermodelto the next is likely to be an empty exercise for many reasons, but ultimately it becomes clear that there are no distinguishing factors to make anyone stand out.

Without comparisons our own minds get numb. We need differences to appreciate the reality of any situation. When so many stock charts begin to look so similar it becomes difficult to discern where to start when looking for new positions.

While another human tendency is the desire to go with winners this time of the year introduces a traditional concept that looks in the opposite direction for its rewards. This is the time of the year when theDogs of the Dow Theorygets so much attention. In a year that so many stocks are higher the comparison to those that have truly underperformed is really heightened.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum andPEEcategories this week (see details). With earnings season beginning once again this week attention must also be diverted into the consideration of those reports when adding new positions and when selecting the time frame for hedging options. For that reason I’m looking increasingly at option time frames that offer some buffer in time between expiration dates and earnings dates, perhaps making greater use of expanded options and forward month expirations, as well.

This week’s potential selections varied widely in performance compared to the S&P 500 during 2013. While noDogs of the Dowcandidates are offered, some were dogs in their own right regardless of what they were being compared to at the time. But as always, since I like to hedge my bets and play on both sides of prevailing sentiment, there may be room for both outperformers and underperformers as 2014 gets underway.

While General Electric’s (GE) 33.5% gain for 2013 was laudable it essentially mirrored the S&P 500 for the year. An analyst downgrade on Friday had virtually no impact, although shares did fall nearly 2% the previous day to start the New Year. Increasingly shedding its dependence on financial divisions that helped to bring it to $6 just 5 years ago, GE may now be wondering if this wouldn’t be a good time to emphasize that division, as interest rates are beginning to rise. But even a stagnant GE in 2014 when considered in the context of its dividend and option premiums offers a good place to invest if the aim is to outperform the S&P 500.

Barclays (BCS) is one of those in the financial sector that had greatly lagged the S&P 500 in 2013. With significant international exposure it shouldn’t be too surprising that it might better reflect the lesser fortunes experienced by the European markets, among others. I already own shares and will consider adding more as it appears that there will be a move higher which I expect will be confirmed by improved earnings when reported during the February 2014 option cycle, which may also see a dividend payment.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) has long been a favorite stock upon which to sell covered calls or enter ownership through the sale of puts. It outperformed the S&P 500 by nearly the amount that Barclays underperformed for the year, but after some recent weakness that reduced shares by 7% its chart has started looking less like the crowd. While certainly not in thelosercategory it’s potential looks better to me than those that haven’t taken the time for the share price to take a breather of late.

As long as in comparison mode, last January Family Dollar Store (FDO) dropped 12% upon earnings release, which followed a 9% drop the previous month. The option market isn’t expecting a repeat of that performance, perhaps because shares are already down 11% since its September high. Instead a 5.9% implied move is priced into option contracts. The sale of out of the money puts at a strike price at the lower end of the implied move could return 0.9% for the effort. That is just below my typical threshold for making such a trade, but if looking for a relativedog,” this may be the one ready for a rebound.

Joy Global (JOY) is one of those stocks that recently broke out of its reliable trading range. Once that happens I lose interest in reacquiring shares, having already owned it on eight occasions in 2013. What I don’t lose is interest in seeing shares return to that range. Following an earnings related share fall the price rebounded beyond where it started is descent. However, a recent downgrade has started nudging shares back toward the upper edge of the range that has proved to be a good entry point. While no one really has any good idea of what awaits the Chinese economy and by extension, Joy Global’s fortunes, it has proven to be a resilient stock and offers an option premium to go along with its frequent alternations in price direction.

It has been a long time since I had own any communications stocks until a recent TMobile holding. While both Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T)were core holdings during the recovery stages in 2009, I haven’t found them very appealing for much of the recovery. However, both do go exdividend this week and the cellphone services sector is certainly livening up a bit. But beyond that, for the first time in a long time there were glimpses of these shares offering meaningful option premiums during their exdividend week that seemed to warrant their consideration once again. In fact, I didn’t wait until Monday and purchased shares of Verizon after weakness on Friday and may elect to accompany those shares with its rival’s shares, as well.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) was a selection just a few weeks ago but went unrequited as news broke regarding activist investor coercion regarding potential spinoff plans for its low growth Red Lobster chain. Shares go exdividend this week and earnings pressure is still two months away. Although a $55 strike would require challenging its 52 week high, this is a potential trade that I would consider using a forward month contract, such as the February 2014, in anticipation of some increasing pressure from the investment community and activists intent on reengineering.

Finally, a study in comparative contrasts are Walter Energy (WLT) and Icahn Enterprises (IEP). While Icahn Enterprises was nearly 145% higher for the year Walter Energy dropped nearly 54%.

While Carl Icahn may get more done on the basis of brute force investing and schoolyard tactics, Walter Energy now relies on the power of redemption and grace, and maybe just a little on business cycles.

A quick look at the comparative charts shows what a difference time can make, as Walter Energy greatly outperformed Icahn Enterprises prior to this year and how Icahn Enterprises had been simply a market performer until the past year.

Interestingly in the past month Walter Energy has risen about 15% while Icahn Enterprises has fallen a similar amount.

IEP Chart

This past year no one has received more attention for his investing and activism than Carl Icahn. This week yet another company Hertz (HTZ) acknowledged that it was in the Icahn crosshairs, as it adopted a poison pill provision to keep him at bay. Icahn Enterprises, a tangled web of holding companies and investment activities shows little sign of slowing down as long as the market remains healthy. With the ability to raise stock prices with a simple Tweet, Carl Icahn may be more in control of his destiny than the market was intended to allow.

With a healthy dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle and an attractive option premium, Icahn Enterprises may be a good choice for someone with a little daring to spare, as the ascent has been steep.

Walter Energy, on the other hand, has been slowly working its way higher, although still having a long way to go to erase its past year’s loss. While there is certainly no guarantee that last year’s loser will be this year’s darling, Walter Energy certainly is the former. It has, however, for the daring, offered excellent option premiums even for deep in the money options, that do mitigate some of the risk inherent in ownership of shares.

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Icahn Enterprises, Joy Global, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (exdiv 1/8), Darden (exdiv 1/8), Verizon (exdiv 1/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Store

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.