Weekend Update – September 4, 2016

These are sensitive times.

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

The FOMC gave investors what they craved.

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

Invest.

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

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

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

Then came the rumors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: PayPal

Double-Dip Dividend: Coach (9/8 $0.34), GameStop (9/7 $0.37), General Motors (9/7 $0.38)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – August 7, 2016

In the 57 years since “The Day the Music Died,” the S&P 500 has risen about 3800%

What’s not to like about that?

Among those perishing in that February plane crash was “The Big Bopper” whose signature hit song “Chantilly Lace” was telling the world what he liked. 

While it may be cute when a child gives you that kind of information, not much good is to come when an adult lets free with those unfiltered thoughts.

It may be even worse when they act upon those thoughts that no one needed to hear in the first place.

The Big Bopper’s album cover makes the words of the song even more creepy, but there must have been strains of that admittedly catchy tune playing as investors were awaiting last Friday’s Employment Situation Report.

Of course, as we all know, there is nothing creepy at all about being in love with money or letting it know what you especially like about it.

It was pretty obvious what investors wanted and liked when the data was released and seemed to put a nail into the shockingly low number of new jobs reported back in June 2016.

I don’t know what the equivalent is to the obligatory “chantilly lace” in the song, but the market definitely decided it was time to put a pretty face on the impending likelihood of an interest rate increase.

At one time reviled and probably misunderstood, now the market appears to understand that in the current economic context, a small rate increase is reflective of the early stages of an economy getting on its feet after many years of listlessness.

With a torrent of confusing data and false starts over the past couple of years and after 2 months of wildly diverging employment numbers, not only was it difficult to predict what the latest release would hold, especially after another disappointing GDP, but it was also difficult to predict or gauge the market’s reaction.

But now we know what the markets like, at least for now.

What they like heading into a week that begins quarterly earnings reports from national retailers is the sense of certainty about that interest rate increase that had been expected to occur on a serial basis during the course of 2016.

In hindsight, as good as low interest rates have been and as much as most everyone on the equity side of the equation has liked low rates, most recognized that something bad was obscured by the allure of that chantilly lace.

Sooner or later it’s time to grow up and move on and maybe Friday’s market response to another solid month of employment data was an embrace of a more mature outlook on things.

We’ll never know if The Big Bopper would have found a more mature approach in the pursuit of life’s happiness, but it’s not too likely that the market will be on an extended pursuit of logic and rational actions, despite Friday’s constructive embrace.

Of course, as we do await next Friday’s Retail Sales Report, it would be nice to get some confirmation by the retailers themselves, especially in regard to the guidance they are going to provide.

It’s one thing to make that creepy call and divulge your likes, but it’s an altogether different thing when the one on the other end of the line provides validation.

But it’s still hard to imagine how the FOMC goes forward if retail is lagging behind and there’s scant evidence of consumer participation, even as employment is growing strongly.

Next week, aside from those retail earnings and retail sales data, is going to be a quiet week on the economic front. In fact, not a single Federal Reserve Governor is scheduled to reveal what they like and we will all be spared of those inner thoughts.

That’s something that we could all like, as those are among the thoughts that should be kept to one’s self or solely in the company of consenting adults, who may still have to be prepared for what the chantilly lace has been hiding.

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

With the exception of considering adding some iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures (VXX), as a purely speculative trade, or even longer term holding, this week is one in which I think some quintessentially American brand names can strike gold without having to risk exposure to Zika or street crime.

Among the names that I might like to buy or add to existing positions are Coach (COH), General Motors (GM) and Starbucks (SBUX).

Coach reports earnings this week, as does its competitor for the hearts of investors, the non-dividend paying Michael Kors (KORS). I recently sold calls on a longstanding lot of Coach shares. While they aren’t underwater, they’re much too close to being so after having been treading water for far too long.  

Following the old axiom of “buy high and sell low,” I bought the existing lot at too high of a price and have held it for more than 2 years. At the time of the purchase, the share price was actually the lowest I had ever paid and so it seemed to be a bargain.

Funny thing about bargains.

The only thing that has made it palatable have been the dividends and the other 19 times I’ve owned shares during a 4 year period.

I often like to sell puts before earnings, as Coach does have a history of large moves, often beyond what the option market had predicted or before earnings.

This time around, though, I’m thinking of adding more shares and selling calls beyond September’s ex-dividend date in anticipation of Coach finally breaking beyond its 2 year highs, as long as the broader market plays along.

Starbucks usually recovers nicely after taking an earnings related hit. It tends to do so when Howard Schultz offers a compelling series of reasons why everyone got things wrong.

This time around, he didn’t need to do that as earnings saw neither a strong move lower or higher. It was only on the following week that some analysts expressed ambivalence over near term prospects and Starbucks shares had about a 5% decline.

I wouldn’t necessarily buy a cup of Starbucks coffee if it was offered at a 5% discount, but having wanted to own shares again following a long hiatus, that 5% may be enough of an enticement.

As with Coach, I’m thinking of using a longer dated expiration date for the sale of calls, although not so long as to encompass the next ex-dividend date.

Also along with Coach, while there are continuing currency considerations, as long as the broader market stays at current levels or higher, there isn’t much reason to expect that Starbucks will do anything less than meet the broader market’s performance.

General Motors hasn’t had a particularly good month and guidance provided by  Ford (F) certainly raises into question that need for the consumer to be in the market for new cars. However, General Motor’s performance has still been admirable, given the headwinds.

To a very large degree, that has been the story of the new General Motors under the leadership of Mary Barra.

There has been so much bad news and yet it has been methodically digested and skillfully managed.

That’s not to say that General Motors shareholders haven’t paid a price, even if only in opportunity costs, but share performance would likely have been far worse in any number of earlier time periods.

As with Coach and Starbucks, my focus is on a longer term option expiration when selling calls. In the General Motors case, there’s an attractive dividend to be factored in before the expiration of the September 2016 contract.

Just as with Coach, that dividend has made the holding of my current lot of shares palatable and may provide some justification for considering a new position as a longer term holding, while trying to accumulate dividends, option premiums and some capital gains on the underlying shares.

Finally, just when I thought volatility couldn’t possibly get any lower, I recalled some similar lines of thought regarding energy prices.

When you’re on the wrong side of the expectation that prices really can’t get any lower you also come to the realization that there really is nothing funny about “bargain prices” that turn out not to be bargains, at all.

One of the things that I like about this product, despite the fact that it is definitely not designed for longer term holding, is that it is very easily traded in the options market and offers many opportunities, even if you’re wrong about its near term direction or magnitude.

At the current level, the premiums for selling covered calls or put options is really enticing and I’m thinking of doing so, but am undecided about thinking about a short term trade or betting that in the longer term there will be some sort of a market correction.

In that case, the sale of a longer term dated, in the money put option, could be a very lucrative trade and serve as some portfolio protection, as well.

The latter has been the predominant way in which I’ve used this product over the past few years, but haven’t exactly shunned the opportunity to generate short term option income, as well.

A number if weeks ago there was a disconnect between the typical relationship between volatility and the S&P 500, in that volatility fell, even as the broader market did, as well.

To many, and in this case, they were correct, that was a harbinger of continued deterioration of the volatility index as  markets would be poised to head higher.

I can’t begin to understand the mechanism, but sometimes pure observation is a great tool if you pull the chantilly lace from in front of your eyes and take a glimpse at the ugliness of the reality straight ahead.

 

Traditional Stocks: General Motors, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks:  iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term ETN

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Coach (8/9 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 – June 5, 2016

While so many people are still confused over the “Transgender Bathroom” issue, the real confusion came from this week’s Employment Situation Report.

With the odds of an interest rate hike by the FOMC’s June meeting seemingly increasing every day, you would really have to believe that the FOMC knew what was going to be in the economic news cards.

The increasing hawkish talk all seemed to be preparing us for a rate hike in just 2 weeks. Judging by the previous week’s market performance you would certainly have been of the belief that traders were finally at personal peace with the certainty of that increase.

The concept of being at personal peace is confusing to some.

I’m personally confused as to how it could have taken so long to see the obvious, unless we’re talking about stocks, interest rates and investor’s reactions.

What I find ironic is that the proposal for all inclusive bathrooms is really age old, at least at the NYSE, when there was a recent time that there was only a need for a single sex bathroom, anyway.

Just like many of us know, what a great degree of certainty, which camp we belong to when nature beckons, the lines seemed to be increasingly drawn with regard to interest rates.

Even as the talk heated up there were still clear interest rate doves, albeit in diminished numbers compared to their hawkish brethren, sistren and “transgendren.”

Now, though, the certainty is muddled.

Since I don’t use public restrooms, I don’t really understand all of the controversy, nor do I understand the angst over a suspected 0.25% interest rate increase.

Nor do I understand why grown and highly educated men, women and others could be so engaged in their spreading their convictions, which even under the close scrutiny of historical hindsight, could never be validated.

With this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report most everyone was taken by surprise. Not only were current job creation numbers lower than expected, but downward revisions to previous months didn’t help to paint an optimistic picture, even as the unemployment rate continued to decline.

So what about that June interest rate hike that had been increasingly suggested by those in a position to decide?

You do have to wonder whether the Federal Reserve members are testing the waters among the investing community and gauging responses.

I hope not.

I don’t think that they really need a triple mandate or need to have their focus sullied. It’s enough that we’ve already seen an FOMC that expresses concern over China and may be further influenced by EU interest rates and even the possibility of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

No doubt that everything going on in the world just adds to the confusion. While the FOMC continually avers that it is “data driven,” perhaps it would be helpful to know what data is under the microscope and how it is weighted.

It might even be instructive to know what the data considered had been when the December 2015 interest rate increase was announced.

Nearly 6 months later it may still be difficult to see what the FOMC had seen based on the existing data and projections.

The market, in its confusion, finished the past week absolutely flat, although it did recover from some significant losses during three of the shortened trading week’s sessions.

That included a recovery following Friday’s early morning confusion. Those recoveries, though, may only lead us to a week or so of perpetuating the confusion as we wonder whether the FOMC has been setting up the market for a summer rate hike or whether the FOMC has just been completely misreading the economy.

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

I didn’t open any new positions last week and there doesn’t really seem to be much indication as to what the coming week holds, so I’m not overly certain about my activity level.

That extends to stocks, too.

But with some of its recent weakness and a healthy dividend, I think that it may end up being a relatively easy decision to add to my General Motors (GM) holdings.

It is now at a price approximately mid-way between recent highs and lows and that is often one of my preferred entry points. I also often prefer an entry point right in advance of an ex-dividend date, so the stars may be aligning for General Motors.

Already owning shares of both General Motors and Ford (F), the current lots that I own aren’t generating any premium income and they are only made tolerable by their premiums.

While I expect that each will someday make contributions beyond those dividends, I look at each lot of shares as a standalone entity and see an upcoming lot of General Motors as a vehicle for a premium, a dividend and perhaps some small capital appreciation, as well.

I also own some shares of Macy’s (M) and they were the first retail earnings disappoi8ntment of this recent earnings season. One of my current lots is uncovered and like General Motors, the dividend makes it tolerable, as do previously accumulated option premiums.

Macy’s is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week. I especially like those kind of situations where there may be an unity to purchase shares and then sell in the money calls with an expiration date of the week of the ex-dividend.

In such cases, if the shares are assigned early, they must be called away at the end of the current week. In that case, the call seller effectively receives an enhanced weekly premium. That enhancement, which comes from the time portion of the premium, in essence is like getting a portion of the dividend.

However, in this instance, I may consider an extended weekly option, but perhaps using a near the money strike price, anticipating some continued capital appreciation in shares, as well.

If that capital appreciation materializes before the ex-dividend date, the chance for early assignment may still exist, but the loss of the dividend could easily be offset by the combination of option premium and capital appreciation, along  with the opportunity to take assignment proceeds and put them back to work the very next week.

Finally, sometimes in the midst of confusion, there is opportunity.

I don’t know of anyone who believes that interest rates are going to continue staying where they are and they certainly can’t get much lower.

Of course, that kind of confidence is bound to get slapped down and reminds me of the same belief when it came to the price of oil.

But the reality is that Friday’s Employment Situation Report shock probably won’t last too long insofar as the interest rate sensitive financial sector is concerned. The rates on the 10 Year Treasury have gone up and down in fits and starts and following Friday’s decline is at a fairly well established level of support.

With that in mind, I have a hard time deciding between MetLife (MET) and Morgan Stanley (MS) and may consider both as the week is ready to begin.

While neither should be considered as harboring undue risk, their option premiums are reflective of undue risk.

However, as opposed to stocks that truly do reflect significant risk and are typically best suited for shorter term holding periods, both MetLife and Morgan STanley could easily be held for the longer term and offer attractive dividends, as well, in the event of a longer term holding period.

As I’ve done recently with some energy holdings, which have certainly been volatile, I would embrace the enhanced premium and even consider rolling over positions if they were likely to be assigned, as well.

As long as those premiums are enriched, the lure of holding onto those positions, particularly in light of a real risk that may be less than the perceived risk, is strong.

There isn’t too much confusion about that in my mind.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks:  none

Double-Dip Dividend:   General Motors (6/8 $0.38), Macy’s (6/13 $0.38)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – May 15, 2016

It took every last bit of my courage to jump out of a plane.

That was with a parachute and I only did so after suspending all of the logical and rational thoughts that I possessed.

Sometimes you do very uncharacteristic things when you want to impress someone for some other kind of excitement.

No other level of excitement could ever be high enough to get me to further suspend logic to engage in a free fall, though.

I don’t care how exhilarating it might be, staying alive seems more exhilarating to me.

Some free falls don’t require your consent, though and unless you’ve positioned yourself short in advance of the free fall, it’s definitely not an exhilarating process.

The past week was one in which oil wasn’t the prevailing theme even as it had its own large moves.

Instead, it was the free fall of retail, led by Macy’s (M) and Nordstrom (JWN), arguably among the best of the major national retailers, that characterized the stock market.

Of course, Macy’s and then Nordstrom took most every other retailer down with them and were able to drag along many others.

That kind of free fall, though, leaves open the question of exactly where the floor happens to be. 

On a positive note, hitting the floor after a market free fall is probably a lot better than hitting the floor following a recreational free fall and you do get the chance to play the game a bit longer.

What Macy’s and Nordstrom may be telling us, and what Limited Brands (LB) suggested the prior week, is that the consumer isn’t exactly a willing participant and may instead be a lead weight on the economy.

That lead weight won’t speed up a free fall descent, as we are fortunate to be governed by some inviolate laws of physics, but they sure can make it difficult to climb back up again.

With a disappointing Employment Situation Report and disappointing GDP growth, for those, such as myself, who had hoped that perhaps retail could paint a somewhat different picture of consumer participation, there was no different picture.

It seems that investors are appropriately recognizing the weakness in retail and the weakness in job growth as not being worthy of celebration.

Sometimes bad news really is bad news.

There are many more important retailers reporting this week, but it’s not too likely that there will much in the way of upside surprises, unless expectations for Wal-Mart (WMT) are so low and results buoyed by those who, in the past quarter. stopped shopping at Macy’s.

With last week’s loss, we are about to enter the sixth month of the year with the S&P 500 barely 0.1% higher. 

The first 3 months of 2016 was a story of two equal halves moving in big ways and in opposite directions. The past two months, however, have been a story of vacillation and moving nowhere and leaving few fulfilled.

We may find out exactly where the floor may be as the coming week comes to its end.

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

For the first time in 2016 I have a decent number of options contracts expiring as the monthly cycle comes to its end.

For me, 2016 has been a year of very little trading and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get some assignments and rollovers, as long as that free fall doesn’t continue.

While there are some positions that I wouldn’t mind adding this week, it may be yet another week with very little reason to add any new positions.

Among those that have some interest for me are ex-dividend stocks Mattel (MAT) and Microsoft (MSFT).

I had shares of Mattel assigned at $33 in January 2016, after 15 months of holding.

There was a time when I would have thought that an 18.4 % return, including dividends, for a 15 month period was pretty mediocre.

During that same time period, the S&P 500, without accounting for dividends, was 3.3% higher. 

That’s even more mediocre.

Mediocre may be a good way to describe Mattel, particularly in relationship to Hasbro (HAS), as Mattel just seems to wax and wane along with Barbie. Going on the “Mattel Shop” website doesn’t do too much to make you believe that there is anything exhilarating to be had.

What I do like about Mattel is a chance to buy shares, at a price lower than which I had them assigned away from me and a chance to capture the dividend.

When I last owned Mattel shares it only offered monthly option contracts, but now there are weekly and extended weekly contracts. If buying shares, I would sell the weekly at the money call, but if faced with the need to rollover the position, I would consider a longer term and a higher strike price.

Microsoft has just started to have a little recovery from its sharp earnings related decline. It’s not that often that you can find Microsoft trading at a nearly 10% discount to where it had recently been, but this is one of those opportunities.

It’s not likely held hostage y the price of oil, nor by the fortunes at Macy’s, nor Wal-Mart.

What it has is upside potential following that fall, a nice dividend and an attractive premium.

As it goes ex-dividend, I would likely consider the same strategy, as with Mattel, if faced with the need to rollover the short call option position.

As long as in the technology arena, Cisco (CSCO) reports earnings this week and will be ex-dividend in early July.

Normally, I like to consider the sale of weekly puts on an earnings related trade when it offers a 1% ROI or greater at a strike level that’s outside of the limit defined by the “implied move.”

In Cisco’s case, that’s not the case, as the implied move is 5.6% and the reward that I seek for that risk just isn’t there, at least not for a weekly put sale.

Where I do see some potential for reward is in the belief that Cisco may have already sustained a decline fueled by Microsoft and may have some upside potential in the months following.

For that reason I am considering the purchase of shares and sale of longer term calls prior to earnings being reported. However, if that is more exhilaration than someone is willing to endure, the alternative is to wait until after earnings and then in the event of a decline in price, to consider doing the same, but at a lower strike price.

General Motors (GM) is recovering from its February 2016 lows and doing so through a series of higher lows. I like that pattern and also have an eye on its upcoming ex-dividend date in the early part of June.

With a price increase in mind and that eye toward the dividend, I would consider the purchase of shares and again select a longer term call option sale than I would normally prefer when initiating a new position. In this instance, that would mean a June 2016 or beyond expiration date and select an out of the money strike level.

Finally, if you believe in “death by retail,” there’s always Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF).

These days, no one has great admiration for the company, but you do have to admire the steady climb it made, beginning with earnings in November 2015 and again in February 2016.

Of course, you also have to be in awe of its history of sharp declines, which now includes the past two moths.

Abercrombie and FItch doesn’t report earnings until May 26, 2016 and could easily get dragged down this coming week as other retailers take center stage.

Along with that uncertainty associated both with the sector and with Abercrombie and Fitch itself, the premium for the sale of out of the money puts is fairly attractive.

In the event that shares do take a decline and you are faced with having to take assignment of shares, a decision has to be made as to whether to attempt to rollover those short puts into the week of earnings when the premium will truly be enhanced or to take the assignment.

The key factor may be the, as yet unannounced, ex-dividend date.

Abercrombie and Fitch has an attractive dividend and I am loathe to sell puts in the face of an ex-dividend date.

If the ex-dividend date is n the same week as earnings, I would be more inclined to take assignment of shares and then sell out of the money calls on those newly assigned shares, utilizing a longer term time frame.

If the ex-dividend date is the week following earnings, then I would consider simply rolling over the puts to the week of earnings and then playing it by ear, once again coming to the same decision tree if faced with the option buyer exercising their rights.

These days, dividends and premiums and the chance to serially accumulate them are all the exhilaration that I need or can survive. 

 

Traditional Stocks:  General Motors

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Mattel (5/17 $0.38), Microsoft (5/17 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cisco (5/18 PM)

 

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

 

Weekend Update – April 3, 2016

 I used to love comic books, but I was definitely never in the market for comic books based on great literature, unless a book report was due.

Normally engaged in less high brow reading pursuits, I knew enough to focus on key phrases found in the great works of literature. Those often held the theme and offered insight without having to commit to reading from cover to cover.

Unfortunately, sometimes those phrases from different comic books tended to coalesce and my graded book reports were often characterized by large red question marks.

Lyrics to a song may have no relationship to famous snippets from great works of literature, but this week reminded me of the “Talking Heads” always poignant question that one may find oneself asking:

“Well… How did I get here?”

It was really a week with no real direction, but it was the “Same As It Ever Was” and a perfect ending to the first quarter of 2016, which was truly a tale of two very different markets halves with much ado signifying nothing.

Despite there not being anything really different having occurred from one half of that quarter to the next half your head would have irreparably rolled had you succumbed to the temptation to cut loose, sell and run following the first 6 weeks.

For the Madame DeFarge’s of the world keeping track of some of the decimated hedge funds and their performance, some of their sales in the face of mounting losses in particular positions offered both risk and opportunity to others.

If you stood around on March 31st, as the first quarter of 2016 came to its end and asked the same question as did the Talking Heads, you’d have no answer, unless you drew from upon some of those great literary snippets.

It was truly a tale of two markets with much ado signifying nothing.

With no real catalysts other than the bouncing price of oil, the final week of the quarter got somewhat of a lift from a one time reliable dove who had returned to her roots.

The market’s reaction to the suggestion that the US economy and the world’s economies may not be growing as strongly as anticipated by those having projected a series of interest rate increases in 2016, was clearly an embrace.

The shifting reaction to Friday’s Employment Situation Report was more one of confusion, that even had cable television’s talking heads wondering the same as the viewers.

“Well…. how did I get here?”

Of course, it would also help to know, as the second quarter of 2016 got its start, just where we’re headed next as earnings season begins in just 2 weeks.

If it will truly be same as it ever was, earnings won’t be much of a catalyst as it’s unlikely that the kind of confidence exhibited by Jamie Dimon was widespread in the last quarter.

If it was same as it ever was it would be unlikely to see companies, acting as the stewards of shareholder’s interests, actually doubling down on their buybacks at bargain share prices and doing the only thing that has reliably worked to increase earnings per share.

When you can’t grow earnings, just shrink the number of shares.

And to  really make it same as it ever was, make certain to do that as shares are reaching their highs.

For the rest of us just watching, it may just be that out generation’s great  piece of literature may turn out to be “The Walking Dead.”

I don’t yet know whether there are any great or memorable literary phrases to be found among those pages, such as “It was the best of times, it was the zombiest of times,” but the title is too dangerously close to the reality of 2016.

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

One place where there has not been a tale of two halves has been in the financial sector.

To some degree that’s curious, because many ascribe the turnaround that began on February 11th to the announcement that JP Morgan’s (JPM) Jamie Dimon could no longer resist the bargain price that the shares of his own company represented.

Yet the financial sector has under-performed the S&P 500 both in the first half of the first quarter of 2016 and in its second half, as well.

That’s not to say that the performance of the financial sector in the final 6 weeks of the first quarter was bad, it’s just that Jamie Dimon may have been better served by placing his confidence in a zombie index.

Among those badly battered during the first quarter of 2016, and in fact, in a bear correction, has been Morgan Stanley (MS).

I currently own shares, having also bought shares and surrendered them to assignment on 4 previous occasions in a 1 month period, at the end of 2015.

Contrast that to the lot purchased on January 4, 2016 and you can really see a tale of two stories.

Looking at a 10 Year Treasury Note rate of 1.8%, I don’t think that many talking heads would have predicted that to be the case at the end of the first quarter, except perhaps as an April Fool’s joke.

Unless you believe that interest rates will keep setting one foot deeper and deeper into the grave, there may still be more of a recovery in store for financial sector stocks as the second quarter awaits. 

Seagate Technology (STX) is among a handful of stocks whose obituary has been written over and over again. Not because it is a poorly run company, but because for years the prevailing wisdom has been that storage was no different from a commodity, with every ear of corn being indistinguishable from the next.

As an end user, that may be very true. I don’t particularly care what’s inside the box nor what kind of technology it encompasses, but someone must still care and it can’t all be related to price.

Performance and features must still be part of the equation.

For investors, Seagate Technology may not represent a truly great “investment” any longer, but for traders it has long been a repository of opportunity and excitement.

I generally like to consider Seagate Technolgy in terms of a sale of put options and I especially like its current price. That’s especially the case since its very recent performance a 9% decline in the past 10 days.

Selling puts in the face of such losses usually entails a heightened option premium which offers greater downside protection.

In the past I have enjoyed rolling over those put positions as Seagate Technology often makes large and unexpected moves in either direction. Rolling over allows continuing premiums to accumulate while awaiting price recovery and expiration of the short put position.

The caveat is that Seagate Technology will report earnings in just 3 weeks. In the event that a short position is still open or in jeopardy of being assigned, I would consider rolling the position over to something other than the next weekly expiration date, in order to buy some additional time in the event of an unfavorable price movement.

The heightened premium that comes along with earnings risk may allow that rollover to be accomplished at a lower strike price, as well, offering a bit more of a cushion.

Of course, the other caveat is that a few weeks after earnings, Seagate is expected to be ex-dividend and that dividend is very rich.

It appears to still be marginally sustainable, but with an ex-dividend date coming up, I would rather be in a  position to own shares, get the dividend and have a call option buyer subsidize some of the share price dividend related reduction. That’s certainly preferable to being a put seller and subsidizing a reduced premium in the face of a known drop in share price.

One dividend that isn’t very rich is the one that Whole Foods (WFM) is offering this coming week.

I have not had good success with Whole Foods share ownership over the years, especially if I include the missed opportunities in its early years.

In addition to two uncovered lots that I currently own, previously owned lots have mostly all required more maintenance than they may have been worth, even if having out-performed the S&P 500 during the various holding periods.

Sometimes, that’s not enough.

At the moment, what Whole Foods has going for it is that it is approaching a point at which it has found support. While approaching that point and trading at a long standing mid-point of its price range, shares are offering a respectable option premium while also being ex-dividend this week.

I like that combination, despite not having liked my past experiences.

In the season of redemption, this may be the one that I like the most for the week.

Finally every week brings a reminder of just how imperfect of a science investing in stocks can be.

To some degree a portion of that imperfection has to come from those who are paid to be analytical and quantitative in the pretense that there actually is some sort of science behind what makes stock prices move.

General Motors (GM) announced monthly sales and despite having been higher, they didn’t meet expectations.

That reminded me of something Jamie Dimon said more than a year ago at Davos, when he so cynically and appropriately said that maybe the analysts were wrong in the expectations and that JP Morgan was right on its targets.

Even in science there are expectations of imperfections in theory that result in a need for tolerances. In stock investing when those expectations are realized there isn’t much in the way of tolerance.

However, rather than giving up on the theory behind the science, everyone keeps returning, only to so often be caught in the very same current.

At this price and following this disappointment, I simply like shares of General Motors. Having just lost shares to assignment at a bit more than $1 above Friday’s close, that is the kind of opportunity that a serial buy and write kind of trader longs for even if it represents nothing novel nor exciting.

 

Traditional Stocks: General Motors, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: Whole Foods (4/6 $0.13)

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.

Weekend Update – March 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why they’re called the same thing confuses me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

Weekend Update – February 21, 2016

 If you can remember as far back at the 1970s and even the early part of the 1980s, it still has to be hard to understand how we could possibly live in a world where we would want to see inflation.

It’s hard to think that what we thought was bad could actually sometimes be good medicine.

But when you start thinking about the “lost decades” in Japan, it becomes clear that there may be a downside to a very prolonged period of low interest rates.

Sometimes you just have to swallow a bitter pill.

And then, of course, we’re all trying to wrap our minds around the concept of negative interest rates. What a great deal when bank depositors not only get to fund bank profits by providing the capital that can be loaned out at a higher rate of interest than is being received on those deposits, but then also get to pay banks for allowing them to lend out their money.

For savers, that could mean even more bad medicine in order to make the economy more healthy, by theoretically creating more incentive for banks to increase their lending activity.

From a saver’s perspective one dose of bad medicine could have you faced with negative interest rates in the hope that it spurs the kind of economic growth that will lead to inflation, which always outpaces the interest rates received on savings.

That is one big bitter pill.

While the Federal Reserve has had a goal of raising interest rates to what would still be a very reasonable level, given historical standards, the stock market hasn’t been entirely receptive to that notion. The belief that ultra-low interest rates have helped to spur stock investing, particularly as an alternative to fixed income securities makes it hard to accept that higher interest rates might be good for the economy, especially if your personal economy is entirely wrapped up in the health of your stocks.

In reality, it’s a good economy that typically dictates a rise in interest rates and not the other way around.

That may be what has led to some consternation as the recent increase in interest rates hasn’t appeared to actually be tied to overt economic growth, despite the repeated claims that the FOMC’s decisions would be data driven.

Oil continued to play an important role in stock prices last week and was a good example of how actions can sometimes precede rational thought, as oil prices surged on the news of an OPEC agreement to reduce production. The fact that neither Iran nor Venezuela agreed to that reduction should have been a red flag arguing against the price increase, but eventually rational thought caught up with thought free reflexes.

While oil continued to play an important role in stock prices, there may have been more to account for the recovery that has now seen February almost completely wipe out it’s  2016 DJIA loss of  5.6%.

What may have also helped is the belief, some of which came from the FOMC minutes, that the strategy that many thought would call for small, but regular interest rate increases through 2016 may have become less likely.

The stock market looked at any reason for an increase in interest rates as being bad medicine. So it may not have been too surprising that the 795 point three day rise in the DJIA came to an abrupt stop with Fridays release of the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) which may provide the FOMC with the data to justify another interest rate increase.

Bad medicine, for sure to stock investors.

But the news contained within the CPI may be an extra dose of bad medicine, as the increase in the CPI came predominantly from increases in rents and healthcare costs.

How exactly do either of those reflect an economy chugging forward?

That may be on the mind of markets as the coming week awaits, but it may be the kind of second thought that can get the market back on track to continue moving higher, similar to the second thoughts that restored some rational action in oil markets last week.

You might believe that a rational FOMC wouldn’t increase interest rates based upon rents and healthcare costs if there is scant other data suggesting a heating up of the economy, particularly the consumer driven portion of the economy.

While rents may have some consumer driven portion, it’s hard to say the same about healthcare costs.

Ultimately, the rational thing to do is to take your medicine, but only if you’re sick and it’s the right medicine.

If the economy is sick, the right medicine doesn’t seem to be an increase in interest rates. But if the economy isn’t sick, maybe we just need to start thinking of increasing interest rates as the vitamins necessary to help our system operate more optimally.

Hold your nose or follow the song’s suggestion and take a spoonful of sugar, but sooner or later that medicine has to be taken and swallowed.

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

It’s not so easy to understand why General Motors (GM) is languishing so much these days.

As bad as the S&P 500 has been over the past 3 months, General Motors has been in bear territory, despite continuing good sales news.

What has been especially impressive about General Motors over the past few years is how under its new leadership its hasn’t succumbed or caved in as legal issues and potentially very damaging safety related stories were coming in a steady stream.

I already own some shares of General Motors, but as its ex-dividend date is approaching in the next few weeks, I’m considering adding shares, but rather than selling weekly options, would be more inclined to sell the monthly March 2016 option in an effort to pocket a more substantial premium, the generous dividend and perhaps some capital gains in those shares.

I wrote about Best Buy (BBY) last week and a potential strategy to employ as both earnings and its ex-dividend date were upcoming.

This week is the earnings event, but the ex-dividend date has yet to be announced.

The strategy, however, remains the same and still appears to have an opportunity to be employed.

With an implied move of 8% next week, there may be an opportunity to achieve a weekly 1% ROI by selling put options at a strike 10% below Friday’s closing price.

The risk is that Best Buy has had earnings related moves in the past that have surprised the seers in the options market. However, if faced with assignment, with one eye fixed on any upcoming announcement of its ex-dividend date, one can either seek to rollover those puts or take ownership of shares in order to secure its dividend and subsequently some call options, as well.

Alternatively, if a little risk adverse, one can also consider the sale of puts after earnings, in the event that shares slide.

Also mentioned last week and seemingly still an opportunity is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). It, too, announces earnings this week and has yet to announce its upcoming ex-dividend date.

Its share price was buoyed last week as the broader market went higher, but then finished the week up only slightly for the week.

Since the company only has monthly option contracts available, I would look at any share purchase in terms of a longer term approach, in the event that shares do go lower after earnings are announced.

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent history is that of its shares not staying lower for very long, so the use of a longer term contract at a strike envisioning some capital appreciation of shares could give a very satisfactory return, with relatively little angst. As a reminder, Sinclair Broadcasting isn’t terribly sensitive to oil prices or currency fluctuations and can only benefit from a continued low interest rate environment.

It’s hard now to keep track of just how long the Herbalife (HLF) saga has been going on. My last lot of shares was assigned 6 months ago at $58 and I felt relieved to have gotten out of the position, thinking that some legal or regulatory decision was bound to be coming shortly.

And now here we are and the story continues, except that you don’t hear or read quite as much about it these days. Even the most prolific of Herbalife-centric writers on Seeking Alpha have withdrawn, particularly those who have long held long belief in the demise of the company.

For those having paid attention, rumors of the demise of the company had been greatly exaggerated over the past few years.

While that demise, or at least crippling blow to its business model may still yet come to be a reality, Herbalife reports earnings this week and I am once again considering the sale of put options.

With an implied move of 14.3%, based upon Friday’s closing the price, the options market believes that the lower floor on the stock’s price will be about $41.75.

A 1.4% ROI on the sale of a weekly option may possibly be obtained at a strike price that is 20.4% below Friday’s close.

For me, that seems to be a pretty fair risk – reward proposition, but the risk can’t be ignored.

Since Herbalife no longer offers a dividend, if faced with the possibility of share ownership, I would try to rollover the puts as long as possible to avoid taking possession of shares.

While doing so, I would both hold my breath and cross my fingers.

Finally, as far as stocks go, Corning (GLW) has had a good year, at least in relative terms. It’s actually about 1.5% higher, which leaves both the DJIA and S&P 500 behind in the dust.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and I’m reminded that I haven’t owned those shares in more than 5 years, even as it used to be one of my favorites.

With its recently reported earnings exceeding expectations and with the company reportedly on track with its strategic vision, despite declining LCD glass prices, it is offering an attractive enough premium to even gladly accept early assignment in a call buyer’s attempt to capture the dividend.

With the ex-dividend date on Tuesday, an early assignment would mean that the entire premium would reflect only a single day of share ownership and the opportunity to deploy the ensuing funds from the assignment into another position.

However, even if not assigned early, the premiums for the weekly options may make this a good position to consider rolling over on a serial basis if that opportunity presents itself.

Those kind of recurring income streams can offset a lot of bitterness.

Traditional Stocks:  General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend:   Corning (2/23 $0.135)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:   BBY (2/25 AM), Herbalife (2/26 PM, Sinclair Broadcasting (2/24 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 17, 2016


The world is awash in oil and we all know what that means.

From Texas to the Dakotas and to the North Sea and everything in-between, there is oil coming out of every pore of the ground and in ways and places we never would have imagined.

Every school aged kid knows the most basic law of economics. The more they want something that isn’t so easy to get the more they’re willing to do to get it.

It works in the other direction, too.

The more you want to get rid of something the less choosy you are in what it takes to satisfy your need.

So everyone innately understands the relationship between supply and demand. They also understand that rational people do rational things in response to the supply and demand conditions they face.

Not surprisingly, commodities live and die by the precepts of supply and demand. We all know that bumper crops of corn bring lower prices, especially as there’s only so much extra corn people are willing to eat as a result of its supply driven decrease in price.

Rational farmers don’t plant more corn in response to bumper crops and rational consumers don’t buy less when supply drives prices lower.

Stocks also live by the same precepts, except that most of the time the supply of any particular stock is fixed and it’s the demand that varies. However, we’ve all seen the frenzy around an IPO when insatiable demand in the face of limited supply makes people crazy and we’ve all seen what happens when new supply of shares, such as in a secondary offering is released.

Of course, much of what gains we’ve seen in the markets over the past few years have come as a result of manipulating supply and artificially inflating the traditional earnings per share metric.

When a deep Florida freeze hits the orange crop in Florida, no one spends too much time deeply delving into the meaning of the situation. The price for oranges will simply go higher as the demand stays reasonably the same, to a point. 

If, however, people’s tastes change and there is suddenly an imbalance between the supply and demand for orange juice, reasonable suppliers do the logical thing. They try to recognize whether the imbalance is due to too much supply or too little demand and seek to adjust supply.

Whatever steps they may take, the world’s economies aren’t too heavily invested in the world of oranges, no matter how important it may be to those Florida growers.

Suddenly, oil is different, even as it has long been a commodity whose supply has been manipulated more readily and for more varied reasons. than a farmer simply switching from corn to soybeans.

The price of oil still lives by supply and demand, but now thrown into the equation are very potent external and internal political considerations.

Saudi Arabia has to bribe its citizens into not overthrowing the monarchy while wanting to also inflict financial harm on anyone bringing new sources of supply into the marketplace. They don’t want to cede marketshare to its enemies across the gulf nor its allies across the ocean.

With those overhangs, sometimes irrational behavior is the result in the pursuit of what are considered to be rational objectives.

Oil is also different because the cause for the imbalance says a lot about the world. Why is there too much supply? Is it because of an economic slowdown and decreased demand or is it because of too much supply?

Stock markets, which are supposed to discount and reflect the future have usually been fairly rational when having a longer term vision, but that’s becoming a more rare phenomenon.

The very clear movement of stock markets in tandem with oil prices up or down has been consistent with a belief that the balance between supply and demand has been driven by demand.

Larry Fink, who most agree is a pretty smart guy, as the Chairman and CEO of Blackrock (BLK) was pretty clear the other day and has been consistent in the belief that the low price of oil was supply, and not demand driven. He has equally been long of the belief that lower oil prices were good for the world.

In any other time, supply driven low prices would have represented a breakdown in OPEC’s ability to hold the world’s economies hostage and would have been the catalyst for stock market celebrations.

Welcome to 2016, same as 2015.

But world markets continue to ignore that view and Fink may be coming to the realization that his voice of reason is drowned out by fear and irrational actions that only have a near term vision. That may explain why he now believes that there could be an additional 10% downside for US markets over the next 6 months, including the prospects of job layoffs.

That’s probably not something that the FOMC had high on its list of possible 2016 scenarios.

Ask John McCain how an increasing unemployment rate heading into a close election worked out for him, so you can imagine the distress that may be felt as 7 years of moderate growth may come to an end at just the wrong time for some with great political aspirations.

The only ones to be blamed if Fink’s fears are correct are those more readily associated with the existing power structure.

Just as falling stock prices in the face of supply driven falling oil prices seems unthinkable, “President Trump” doesn’t have a dulcet tone to my ears. More plausible, in the event of the unthinkable is that it probably wouldn’t take too much time for his now famous “The Apprentice” tag line to morph into “You’re impeached.”

So there’s always that as a distraction from a basic breakdown in what we knew to be an inviolate law of economics.

With 2016 already down 8% and sending us into our second correction in just 5 months so many stocks look so inviting, but until there’s some evidence that the demand to meet the preponderance of selling exists, to bite at those inviting places may be even more irrational than it would have been just a week earlier.

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

One stock that actually does look like a bargain to me reports earnings this week. Verizon (VZ) is the only stock in this week’s list that isn’t in or near bear correction territory in the past 2 months.

Even those few names that performed well in 2015 and helped to obscure the weakness in the broader market are suffering in the early stages of 2015.

Not so for Verizon, even though the shares have fallen nearly 5% from its near term resistance level on December 29, 2015, the S&P 500 fell almost 9% in that time.

While there is always added risk with earnings being reported, Verizon and some of its competitors stand to benefit from their own strategic shifts to stop subsidizing what it is that people crave. That may not be reflected in the upcoming earnings report, but if buying Verizon shares I may consider looking beyond the weekly options that I tend to favor in periods of low volatility. Although I usually am more likely to sell puts when earnings are in the equation, I’m more likely to go the buy/write route for this position.

The one advantage of the kind of market action that we’ve had recently is the increase in volatility that it brings.

When that occurs, I start looking more and more at longer term options. The volatility increase typically means higher premiums and that extends into the forward weeks. Longer term contracts during periods of higher volatility allow you to lock in higher premiums and give time for some share price recovery, as well.

Since Verizon also has a generous dividend, but won’t be ex-dividend for another 3 months, I might consider an April 2016 or later expiration date.

One of the companies that is getting a second look this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM), which is also ex-dividend this week and only offers monthly options.

Shares are nearly 45% lower since the August 2015 correction and have not really had any perceptible attempt at recovering from those losses.

What it does offer, however. is a nice option premium, that even if shares declined by approximately 1% for the month could still deliver a 3.8% ROI in addition to the quarterly 0.7% dividend.

Literally and figuratively firing on all cylinders is General Motors (GM), but it is also figuratively being thrown out with the bath water as it has plunged alongside the S&P 500.

With earnings being reported in early February and with shares probably being ex-dividend in the final week of the March 2016 option cycle, there may be some reason to consider using a longer term option contract, perhaps even spanning 2 earnings releases and 2 ex-dividend dates, again in an attempt to take advantage of the higher volatility, by locking in on longer term contracts.

Netflix (NFLX) reports earnings this week and the one thing that’s certain is that Netflix is a highly volatile stock when reporting earnings, regardless of what the tone happens to be in the general market.

With the market so edgy at the moment, this would probably not be a good time for any company to disappoint investors.

The option market definitely demonstrates some of the uncertainty that’s associated with this coming week’s earnings, as you can get a 1% ROI even if shares drop by 22%.

As it is, shares are down nearly 20% since early December 2015, but there seem to be numerous levels of support heading toward the $81 level.

If shares do take a plunge, there would likely be a continued increase in volatility which could make it lucrative to continue rolling over puts, even if not faced with impending assignment.

Of some interest is that while call and put volumes for the upcoming weekly options were fairly closely matched, the skew was toward a significant decline in shares next week, as a large position was established at a weekly strike level $34 below Friday’s close.

Finally, last week wasn’t a very good week for the technology sector, as Intel (INTC) got things off on a sour note, which is never a good thing to do in an already battered market.

Seagate Technology (STX) wasn’t spared any pain last week, either, as it has long fallen into the same kind of commodity mindset as corn, orange juice and even oil back in the days when things made sense.

Somehow, despite having been written off as nothing more than a commodity, it has seen some good times in the past few years. That is, if you exclude 2015, as it has now fallen more than 50% since that time, but with nearly 35% of that decline having occurred in just the past 3 months.

I usually like entering a Seagate Technology position through the sale of puts, as its premium always reflects a volatile holding.

For example the sale of a weekly put at a strike price 3% below Friday’s closing price could provide a 1.9% ROI. When considering that next week is a holiday shortened week, that’s a particularly high return.

Seagate Technology is no stranger to wild intra-weekly swings. If selling puts, I prefer to try and delay assignment of shares if they fall below the strike level. Since the company reports earnings the following week, I would likely try to roll over to the week after earnings, but if then again faced with assignment, would be inclined to accept it, as shares are expected to be ex-dividend the following week.

The caveat is that those shares may be ex-dividend earlier, in which case there would be a need to keep a close eye out for the announcement in order to stand in line for the 8% dividend.

For now, Seagate does look as if it still has the ability to sustain that dividend which was increased only last quarter.

 

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technolgy

Double-Dip Dividend: Williams-Sonoma (1/22 $0.35)

Premiums Enhanced by EarningsNetflix (1/19 PM), Verizon (1/21 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.

Weekend Update – December 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – October 25, 2015

There’s an old traditional Irish song “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye,” that has had various interpretations over the years.

The same title was used for a book about President John F. Kennedy, but in that case, it was fairly clear that the title was referring to the short time in which we had a chance to get to know the 35th President of the United States, whose life was cut down in its prime.

But in either case, both song and book are generally a combination of sadness over hopes dashed, although the song somehow finds a way to reflect the expression of some positive human traits even in the face of betrayal and tragedy.

While hardly on the same level as the tragedies expressed by song and written word, I hold a certain sadness for the short lived period of volatility that was taken from us far too soon.

The pain is far greater when realizing just how long volatility had been away and just how short a chance some of us had to rejoice in its return.

Even though rising volatility usually means a falling market and increasing uncertainty over future market prospects, it drives option premiums higher.

I live on option premiums and don’t spend very much time focusing on day to day price movements of underlying shares, even while fully cognizant of them.

When those premiums go higher I’m a happy person, just as someone might be when receiving an unexpected bonus, like finding a $20 bill in the pockets of an old pair of pants.

Falling prices leads to volatility which then tends to bring out risk takers and usually brings out all sorts of hedging strategies. In classic supply and demand mode those buyers are met by sellers who are more than happy to feed into the uncertainty and speculative leanings of those looking to leverage their money.

Good times.

But when those premiums dry up, it’s like so many things in life and you realize that you didn’t fully appreciate the gift offered while it was there right in front of you.

I miss volatility already and it was taken away from us so insidiously beginning on that Friday morning when the bad news contained in the most recent Employment Situation Report was suddenly re-interpreted as being good news.

The final two days of the past week, however, have sealed volatility’s fate as a combination of bad economic news around the world and some surprising good earnings had the market interpreting bad news as good news and good news as good news, in a perfect example of having both your cake and the ability to eat that cake.

With volatility already weakened from a very impressive rebound that began on that fateful Friday morning, there then came a quick 1-2-3 punch to completely bring an end to volatility’s short, yet productive reign.

The first death blow came on Thursday when the ECB’s Mario Draghi suggested that European Quantitative easing had more time to run. While that should actually pose some competitive threat to US markets, our reaction to that kind of European news has always been a big embrace and it was no different this time around.

Then came the second punch striking a hard blow to volatility. It was the unexpectedly strong earnings from some highly significant companies that represent a wide swath of economic activity in the United States.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) painted a healthy picture of spending in the technology sector. After all, what prolonged market rally these days can there be without a strong and vibrant technology sector leading the way, especially when its a resurgent “old tech” that’s doing the heavy lifting?

In addition, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) painted a healthy picture among advertisers, whose budgets very much reflect their business and perceived prospects for future business. Finally, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) reflected that key ingredient in economic growth. That is the role of the consumer and those numbers were far better than expected.

As if that wasn’t enough, the real death blow came from the People’s Bank of China as it announced an interest rate cut in an effort to jump start an economy that was growing at only 7%.

Only 7%.

Undoubtedly, the FOMC, which meets next week is watching, but I don’t expect that watching will lead to any direct action.

Earlier this past week my expectation had been that the market would exhibit some exhilaration in the days leading up to the FOMC Statement release in the anticipation that rates would continue unchanged.

That expectation is a little tempered now following the strong 2 day run which saw a 2.8% rise in the S&P 500 and which now has that index just 2.9% below its all time high.

While I don’t expect the same unbridled enthusiasm next week, what may greet traders is a change in wording in the FOMC Statement that may have taken note of some of the optimism contained in the combined earnings experience of Microsoft, Alphabet and Amazon as they added about $80 billion in market capitalization on Friday.

If traders stay true to form, that kind of recognition of an economy that may be in the early stages of heating up may herald the kind of fear and loathing of rising interest rates that has irrationally sent markets lower.

In that case, hello volatility, my old friend.

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

As is typically the case when the market closes on some real strength for the week, it’s hard to want to part with cash on Monday when bargains may have disappeared.

Like volatility, those bargains are only appreciated when they’re gone. Even though you may have a strong sense that they’ll be back, the waiting is just so difficult sometimes and it’s so easy to go against your better judgment.

Although the market has gone higher in each of the past 4 weeks, the predominant character of those weeks had been weakness early on and strength to close the week. That’s made a nice environment for adding new positions on some relative weakness and having a better chance of seeing those positions get assigned or have their option contracts rolled and assigned in a subsequent week.

Any weakness to begin the coming week will be a signal to part with some of that cash, but I do expect to be a little tighter fisted than I have in the past month.

If you hold shares in EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC), as I do, you have to wonder what’s going on, as a buyout offer from privately held Dell is far higher than EMC’s current price.

The drag seems to be coming from VMWare (NYSE:VMW), which still has EMC as its majority owner. The confusion had been related to the implied value of VMWare, with regard to its contribution to the package offered by Dell.

Many believed that the value of VMWare was being over-stated. Of course, that belief was even further solidified when VMWare reported earnings that stunned the options market by plunging to depths for which there were no weekly strikes. That’s what happens when Microsoft and Amazon, both with growing cloud based web storage services, start offering meaningful competition.

With VMWare’s decline, EMC shares followed.

EMC isn’t an inherently volatile stock, however, the recent spike higher upon news of a Dell offer and the sharp drop lower on VMWare’s woes have created an option premium that’s more attractive than usual. With EMC now back down to about $26, much of the Dell induced stock price premium has now evaporated, but the story may be far from over.

Ford Motors (NYSE:F) reports earnings on Tuesday morning and is ex-dividend the following day.

Those situations when earnings and dividends are in the same week can be difficult to assess, but despite Ford’s rapid ascent in the past month, I believe that it will continue to follow the same trajectory has General Motors (NYSE:GM).

There are a number of different approaches to this trade.

For those not interested in the risk associated with earnings, waiting until after earnings can still give an opportunity to capture the dividend. Of course, that trade would probably make more sense if Ford shares either decline or remain relatively flat after earnings. If so, the consideration can be given to seeking an in the money strike price as would ordinarily be done in an attempt to optimize premium while still trying to capture the dividend.

For those willing to take the earnings risk, rather than selling an in the money option in advance of the ex-dividend date, I would sell an out of the money option in hopes of capturing capital gains, the option premium and the dividend.

I sold Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) puts last week and true to its nature, even when the sector isn’t in play, it tends to move up and down in quantum like bounces. However, with its competition on the prowl for acquisitions, Seagate Technolgy may have been a little more volatile than normal in an already volatile neighborhood.

I would again be interested in selling puts this week, but only if shares show any kind of weakness, following Friday’s strong move higher. If doing so and the faced with possible assignment, I would likely accept assignment, rather than rolling over the put option, in order to be in a position to collect the following week’s dividend.

I had waited a long time to again establish a Seagate Technology position and as long as it can stay in the $38-$42 range, I would like to continue looking for opportunities to either buy shares and sell calls or to sell put contracts once the ex-dividend date has passed.

So with the company reporting earnings at the end of this week and then going ex-dividend in the following week, I would like to capitalize on the position in each of those two weeks.

Following its strong rise on Friday, I would sell calls on any sign of weakness prior to earnings. With an implied price move of 6.6% there is not that much of a cushion of looking for a weekly 1% ROI, in that the strike price required for that return is only 7.4% below Friday’s closing price.

However, in the event of opening weakness that cushion is likely to increase. If selling puts and then being faced with assignment at the end of the week, I would accept that assignment and look for any opportunity to sell call contracts the following week and also collect the very generous dividend.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) reports earnings this week and health care and pharmaceuticals are coming off of a bad week after having had a reasonably good year, up until 2 months ago.

AbbVie, though, had its own unique issues this year and for such a young company, having only been spun off 3 years, it has had more than its share of news related to its products, product pricing and corporate tax strategy.

This week, though, came news calling into question the safety of AbbVie’s Hepatitis C drug, after an FDA warning that highlighted an increased incidence of liver failure in those patients that already had very advanced liver disease before initiating therapy.

I had some shares of AbbVie assigned the previous week and was happy to have had that be the case, as I would have preferred not being around for earnings, which are to be released this week.

As it turns out, serendipity can be helpful, as no investor would have expected the FDA news nor its timing. However, with that news now digested and the knee jerk reaction now also digested, comes the realization that it was the very sickest people, those in advanced stages of cirrhosis were the ones most likely to require a transplant or succumbed to either their disease or its treatment.

With the large decline prior to earnings I’m again interested in the stock. Unlike most recent earnings related trades where I’ve wanted to wait until after earnings to decide whether to sell puts or not, this may be a situation in which it makes some sense to be more proactive, even with some price rebound having occurred to close the week.

The option market is implying only a 5.1% price move next week. Although a 1% ROI may be able to be obtained at a strike level just outside the bounds defined by the option market, I would be more inclined to purchase shares in advance of earnings and sell calls, perhaps using an extended option expiration date, taking advantage of some of its recent volatility and possibly using a higher strike price.

Ali Baba (NYSE:BABA) also reports earnings this week and like much of what is reported from China, Ali Baba may be as much of a mystery as anything else.

The initial excitement over its IPO has long been gone and its founder, Jack Ma, isn’t seen or heard quite as much as when its shares were trading at a significant premium to its IPO price.

Having just climbed 32% in the past month I’d be reluctant to establish any kind of position prior to the release of earnings, especially following a 6.6% climb to close out this week.

Even if a sharp decline occurs in the day prior to earnings, I would still not sell put options prior to the report, as the option market is currently implying only an 8.5% move at a time when it has been increasingly under-estimating the size of some earnings related price moves.

However, in the event of a significant price decline after earnings some consideration can be given to selling puts at that time.

Finally, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) was my most frequent trade of 2014 and very happily so.

2015, however, has been a very different situation. I currently have a single lot of puts at a far higher price that I’ve rolled over to January 2016 in an attempt to avoid assignment of shares and to wait out any potential stock recovery.

That wait has been far longer than I had expected and January 2016 is even further off into the future than I ever would have envisioned.

With the announcement that Jack Dorsey was becoming the CEO, there’s been no shortage of activity that is seeking to give the appearance of some kind of coherent strategy to give investors some reason to be optimistic about what comes next.

What may come next is something out of so many new CEO playbooks. That is to dump all of the bad news into the first full quarter’s earnings report during their tenure and create the optics that enables them to look better by comparison at some future date.

With Twitter having had a long history of founders and insiders pointing fingers at one another, it would seem a natural for the upcoming earnings report to have a very negative tone. The difference, however, is that Dorsey may be creating some good will that may limit any downside ahead in the very near term.

The option market is implying a move of 12.1%. However, a 1% ROI could be potentially delivered through the sale of put contracts at a strike price that’s nearly 16% below Friday’s close.

That kind of cushion is one that is generally seen during periods of high volatility or with individual stocks that are extremely volatile.

For now, though, I think that Twitter’s volatility will be on hiatus for a while.

While I think that there may be bad news contained in the upcoming earnings release, I also believe that Jack Dorsey will have learned significantly from the most recent earnings experience when share price spiked only to plunge as management put forward horrible guidance.

I don’t expect the same kind of thoughtless presentation this time around and expect investor reception that will reflect newly rediscovered confidence in the team that is being put together and its strategic initiatives.

Ultimately, you can’t have volatility if the movement is always in one direction.

Traditional Stocks: EMC Corp

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Ford (10/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: AbbVie (10/30 AM), Ali Baba (10/27 AM), Ford (10/27 AM), Seagate Technology (10/30 AM), Twitter (10/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – September 27, 2015

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

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

jhgty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum Stocks: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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

Weekend Update – April 26, 2015

 

The question of how much longer this market rally can keep going is the same question that’s been asked ever since the last time the market had a 10% loss.

Actually even that time, way back in April 2102, it wasn’t quite a 10% loss. For that, you would have to go back to 2011.

But that’s splitting hairs.

I wish I would have known Michael Batnick, also know as “The Irrelevant Investor” on Twitter, back in those days.

He had the answer to that burning question that is every bit as applicable today as it was every time the market hit a new high over the past few years.

With each of those highs and the gap between corrections growing and growing, it reminded me of the fallacy of believing that after 8 straight spins of the roulette wheel falling on “red” the next spin just had to yield “black.”

The belief that “this time it’s going to be different” is frequently held by those who don’t get shamed even after having been already fooled twice.

Had I known Michael Batnick in 2011, 2012, 2013 or even 2014, he would have told me that it’s hard to make a bear case on the basis of the duration of any move, because the duration is never knowable.

Since I was one of those certain that the ninth spin would just have to fall on black, I’ve also been one of those waiting for a correction since having recovered from the one in 2012. Not only waiting, but convinced that with each and every week we were a week closer to that inevitable decline.

At least that logic wasn’t totally flawed, as we did get a week closer to everything. But mostly, what we’ve gotten closer to has been the next rally higher.

What do you say about a week that ends with the S&P 500 being 1.7% higher and closing at a new all time high, while at the same time the NASDAQ 100 closes at a 15 year high? Granted those S&P 500 highs have come fairly often and fairly regularly, so they don’t really mean very much, but for those that thought that the NASDAQ could never see 5000 again, a good case can be made for never giving up hope.

That’s why I never give up hope that there’s a correction coming.

NASDAQ has given me the strength.

This past week was one almost totally devoid of economic news. Instead, it was one fully dominated by earnings, as it was the first of the two most busy weeks of earnings reports every quarter.

The earnings pattern that has become clear is that revenues are down, but profits are up, especially if you focus on the “earnings per share” part of the report. The lesson to that may be that if you can’t grow your revenues simply find a strategy to shrink your share numbers.

Hashtag “buybacks.”

As long as revenues are lower as a result of the currency exchange issues that everyone has been expecting, the market has been kind. Surprisingly, however, the market has also been kind when companies have taken their guidance lower.

Next week, while still highly focused on earnings, two events within hours of one another may disrupt or enhance the party currently under way and take some attention away from earnings.

Just a few hours before an FOMC Statement release will be a GDP Report. Expectations are that the GDP report will be disappointing, particularly in light of earlier expectations for a consumer led surge in GDP. While disappointing GDP growth could quiet fears of an interest rate increase among those that are still hung up on that eventuality, it could also give FOMC doves another month to hold court.

Is that good news or bad news?

The longer the FOMC doves continue to influence monetary policy the more doubt there can be regarding the strength of economic recovery.

That can’t be good news.

Since it seems as if even bad news has been taken as good news for such a long time, it would seem natural to believe that sooner or later we would be due for some bad news to be finally taken as bad news.

You would think that sooner or later I would learn.

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

Among those not faring well this earnings season was General Motors (NYSE:GM), predominantly on disappointing foreign news that went beyond currency exchange. Following a boost in share price following some quick activist intervention it has returned to a level that makes it more enticing to re-enter into a position.

Having spent only $400 million on its promised $5 billion in share buybacks through the first quarter, as part of its activist appeasement, there is at least something to keep share price artificially inflated as it also artificially inflates earnings per share.

What General Motors has offered amidst all of the uncertainty and bad news over the past year has been an attractive option premium and a good dividend that, thanks to the same activist, is now even better.

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) reports earnings this week and also goes ex-dividend.

I’m not terribly interested in taking earnings risk with Ford, but those earnings are reported the morning of the day before it goes ex-dividend. In the event of a downward move after earnings are released, I would be interested in buying shares if the move down strongly after earnings.

The options market is implying a move of only 3.5%. If it approaches or exceeds that to the downside, I might take that as an indication to buy shares, although I might consider using an extended weekly option, perhaps expiring May 8, 2015, rather than the weekly option that I would ordinarily use.

Also going ex-dividend this week and also having had a difficult time following its earnings release this week is Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN).

In a market that suddenly seems to like “old tech,” what’s older than Texas Instruments? I can still remember buying the most rudimentary of calculators for about $150 more than 40 years ago and thinking that we had now seen everything.

What I didn’t think I would see was a nearly 8% decline on earnings last week. That leaves it still well above its yearly high, but may represent a good re-starting point, particularly as the dividend is at hand, as well. While semi-conductors may have had a hard go of things lately, if looking for a global correction in order to get a better entry point, you may be better served by settling for a more focused correction.

While I don’t like buying shares when they are near their yearly highs, Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) may be an exception, particularly as it is ex-dividend this week.

In the world of energy related companies that have been under significant stress, Kinder Morgan has ironically been a breath of fresh air as it stores and transports combustible fuels for a nation that gets even more energy hungry as prices are dropping.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) is a company that I always like owning. Mostly it has been due to the admiration that I have for its CEO, TJ Rodgers, as long as he sticks to his CEO and incubator patron roles.

Occasionally he veers into other areas and then I have to remind myself that what I really admire is the ability to make money by investing in Cypress Semiconductor and that’s far more important than admiration or personal politics.

With its acquisition of Spansion being hailed by investors shares surged to a point that was well outside my comfort zone, but following a 20% decline in the past month, it is now at the upper level of that zone.

Cypress Semiconductor is often very volatile at earnings and this time will likely be no different. While I usually want to consider the sale of puts prior to earnings, in this case I would probably consider the purchase of shares, especially if they continue to move downward in the early part of the week and then consider a sale of June 2015 option contracts, rather than the May 2015 variety, thereby providing additional time for shares to recover if shares drop drastically.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for a chance to enter into a Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) position one way or another. In 2014 I had positions on 10 different occasionsand spent most of that time trying to avoid being assigned shares after having sold put contracts.

In hindsight, I don’t mind the very high maintenance that those positions required, however, the perception of Twitter has changed, as it seems to actually have a plan to monetize itself. More importantly it has the means and the people to execute on their strategies that continue to evolve.

Following a period of withering criticism of its leadership, the unequivocal show of support for its CEO, Dick Costolo by the Board as well as some Twitter founders, seemed to stem the tide of calls for his resignation.

That and earnings.

Following a large move higher after its last earnings report and then slowly migrating higher over the subsequent 3 months, the options market is implying an 11% move next week.

However, a 1% ROI may be possible if selling a weekly put contract even if shares fall by as much as 13.6%. If selling puts and faced with an adverse move beyond the range implied by the options market, my past experience with Twitter has shown that the options market is liquid enough to have a good chance of being able to roll over those puts if trying to avoid assignment and wait out the price cycle until it starts to show signs of recovery.

Alternatively, it has also offered a chance to assume ownership of shares and then generate income by selling calls, that always have premiums reflecting the underlying risk and volatility of the shares.

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Ford Motor (4/29), Kinder Morgan (4/28), Texas Instruments (4/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cypress Semiconductor (4/30 AM), Twitter (4/28 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 26, 2015

 

The question of how much longer this market rally can keep going is the same question that’s been asked ever since the last time the market had a 10% loss.

Actually even that time, way back in April 2102, it wasn’t quite a 10% loss. For that, you would have to go back to 2011.

But that’s splitting hairs.

I wish I would have known Michael Batnick, also know as “The Irrelevant Investor” on Twitter, back in those days.

He had the answer to that burning question that is every bit as applicable today as it was every time the market hit a new high over the past few years.

With each of those highs and the gap between corrections growing and growing, it reminded me of the fallacy of believing that after 8 straight spins of the roulette wheel falling on “red” the next spin just had to yield “black.”

The belief that “this time it’s going to be different” is frequently held by those who don’t get shamed even after having been already fooled twice.

Had I known Michael Batnick in 2011, 2012, 2013 or even 2014, he would have told me that it’s hard to make a bear case on the basis of the duration of any move, because the duration is never knowable.

Since I was one of those certain that the ninth spin would just have to fall on black, I’ve also been one of those waiting for a correction since having recovered from the one in 2012. Not only waiting, but convinced that with each and every week we were a week closer to that inevitable decline.

At least that logic wasn’t totally flawed, as we did get a week closer to everything. But mostly, what we’ve gotten closer to has been the next rally higher.

What do you say about a week that ends with the S&P 500 being 1.7% higher and closing at a new all time high, while at the same time the NASDAQ 100 closes at a 15 year high? Granted those S&P 500 highs have come fairly often and fairly regularly, so they don’t really mean very much, but for those that thought that the NASDAQ could never see 5000 again, a good case can be made for never giving up hope.

That’s why I never give up hope that there’s a correction coming.

NASDAQ has given me the strength.

This past week was one almost totally devoid of economic news. Instead, it was one fully dominated by earnings, as it was the first of the two most busy weeks of earnings reports every quarter.

The earnings pattern that has become clear is that revenues are down, but profits are up, especially if you focus on the “earnings per share” part of the report. The lesson to that may be that if you can’t grow your revenues simply find a strategy to shrink your share numbers.

Hashtag “buybacks.”

As long as revenues are lower as a result of the currency exchange issues that everyone has been expecting, the market has been kind. Surprisingly, however, the market has also been kind when companies have taken their guidance lower.

Next week, while still highly focused on earnings, two events within hours of one another may disrupt or enhance the party currently under way and take some attention away from earnings.

Just a few hours before an FOMC Statement release will be a GDP Report. Expectations are that the GDP report will be disappointing, particularly in light of earlier expectations for a consumer led surge in GDP. While disappointing GDP growth could quiet fears of an interest rate increase among those that are still hung up on that eventuality, it could also give FOMC doves another month to hold court.

Is that good news or bad news?

The longer the FOMC doves continue to influence monetary policy the more doubt there can be regarding the strength of economic recovery.

That can’t be good news.

Since it seems as if even bad news has been taken as good news for such a long time, it would seem natural to believe that sooner or later we would be due for some bad news to be finally taken as bad news.

You would think that sooner or later I would learn.

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

Among those not faring well this earnings season was General Motors (NYSE:GM), predominantly on disappointing foreign news that went beyond currency exchange. Following a boost in share price following some quick activist intervention it has returned to a level that makes it more enticing to re-enter into a position.

Having spent only $400 million on its promised $5 billion in share buybacks through the first quarter, as part of its activist appeasement, there is at least something to keep share price artificially inflated as it also artificially inflates earnings per share.

What General Motors has offered amidst all of the uncertainty and bad news over the past year has been an attractive option premium and a good dividend that, thanks to the same activist, is now even better.

Ford Motor (NYSE:F) reports earnings this week and also goes ex-dividend.

I’m not terribly interested in taking earnings risk with Ford, but those earnings are reported the morning of the day before it goes ex-dividend. In the event of a downward move after earnings are released, I would be interested in buying shares if the move down strongly after earnings.

The options market is implying a move of only 3.5%. If it approaches or exceeds that to the downside, I might take that as an indication to buy shares, although I might consider using an extended weekly option, perhaps expiring May 8, 2015, rather than the weekly option that I would ordinarily use.

Also going ex-dividend this week and also having had a difficult time following its earnings release this week is Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN).

In a market that suddenly seems to like “old tech,” what’s older than Texas Instruments? I can still remember buying the most rudimentary of calculators for about $150 more than 40 years ago and thinking that we had now seen everything.

What I didn’t think I would see was a nearly 8% decline on earnings last week. That leaves it still well above its yearly high, but may represent a good re-starting point, particularly as the dividend is at hand, as well. While semi-conductors may have had a hard go of things lately, if looking for a global correction in order to get a better entry point, you may be better served by settling for a more focused correction.

While I don’t like buying shares when they are near their yearly highs, Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) may be an exception, particularly as it is ex-dividend this week.

In the world of energy related companies that have been under significant stress, Kinder Morgan has ironically been a breath of fresh air as it stores and transports combustible fuels for a nation that gets even more energy hungry as prices are dropping.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) is a company that I always like owning. Mostly it has been due to the admiration that I have for its CEO, TJ Rodgers, as long as he sticks to his CEO and incubator patron roles.

Occasionally he veers into other areas and then I have to remind myself that what I really admire is the ability to make money by investing in Cypress Semiconductor and that’s far more important than admiration or personal politics.

With its acquisition of Spansion being hailed by investors shares surged to a point that was well outside my comfort zone, but following a 20% decline in the past month, it is now at the upper level of that zone.

Cypress Semiconductor is often very volatile at earnings and this time will likely be no different. While I usually want to consider the sale of puts prior to earnings, in this case I would probably consider the purchase of shares, especially if they continue to move downward in the early part of the week and then consider a sale of June 2015 option contracts, rather than the May 2015 variety, thereby providing additional time for shares to recover if shares drop drastically.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for a chance to enter into a Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) position one way or another. In 2014 I had positions on 10 different occasionsand spent most of that time trying to avoid being assigned shares after having sold put contracts.

In hindsight, I don’t mind the very high maintenance that those positions required, however, the perception of Twitter has changed, as it seems to actually have a plan to monetize itself. More importantly it has the means and the people to execute on their strategies that continue to evolve.

Following a period of withering criticism of its leadership, the unequivocal show of support for its CEO, Dick Costolo by the Board as well as some Twitter founders, seemed to stem the tide of calls for his resignation.

That and earnings.

Following a large move higher after its last earnings report and then slowly migrating higher over the subsequent 3 months, the options market is implying an 11% move next week.

However, a 1% ROI may be possible if selling a weekly put contract even if shares fall by as much as 13.6%. If selling puts and faced with an adverse move beyond the range implied by the options market, my past experience with Twitter has shown that the options market is liquid enough to have a good chance of being able to roll over those puts if trying to avoid assignment and wait out the price cycle until it starts to show signs of recovery.

Alternatively, it has also offered a chance to assume ownership of shares and then generate income by selling calls, that always have premiums reflecting the underlying risk and volatility of the shares.

Traditional Stocks: General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Ford Motor (4/29), Kinder Morgan (4/28), Texas Instruments (4/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cypress Semiconductor (4/30 AM), Twitter (4/28 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 5, 2015

It was a little odd having the Employment Situation Report released on a day that stock markets were closed yet bond markets and equity futures were trading on an abbreviated schedule.

It reminds me of the frustrations that I sometimes experience when being unable to react to news that moves a stock’s price after the market has closed on the Friday of option expiration. The option holder has the advantage of being able to exercise or not until nearly 90 minutes after the market has closed while as the seller of an option I can do nothing to respond to the news.

In trading circles that is something referred to as “a case of the blue calls.”

Not that I would know, but I would imagine that’s something like being in the old Times Square, before Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up and chased all of the adult entertainment away. Those glass walls between the patrons pumping quarters into the booth and the paid entertainment must have been frustrating for those watching events unfold but being incapable of taking appropriate action. That’s especially the case if knowing that a more genteel, moneyed and privileged clientele was in the back room and had less restricted access.

Or so I’ve heard. I believe that there was an expression describing that situation, as well.

While analysts are going to be spending time trying to find something good to say about the data released, the number of new jobs created was the smallest in more than a year and included downward revisions of the past 2 months. In fact, the 126,000 new jobs created in March was about half of what the consensus had been expecting. The 69,000 jobs downward revisions makes you wonder whether the decidedly negative reaction to what was perceived as a heating up jobs market previously was warranted.

The smaller than expected job creation number caused an immediate and large decline in interest rates and a meaningful decline in stock futures, although on very light volume.

Still, there was a net increase in jobs, and there is no specter of unmanageable and unruly lines queuing up as in scenes from 75 years ago. Yet we will begin trading on Monday on the far end of a 3 day vacuum having been unable to respond to the immediate reactions to Friday morning’s news.

After a few days to mull it over we may learn whether the disappointing employment news is ultimately interpreted as being good or bad for the stock market and more specifically for the likelihood of interest rates being increased sooner rather than later.

After all, lately that seems to be all that markets have cared about and the speculation has gone back and forth as the data has done the same.

As far as the Treasury market is concerned their bet is on lower interest rates after the Employment Situation Report was released and they’re said to be smarter than the average investor.

When rates go back up just as quickly, as they have volleyed back and forth over the past few weeks, we can remind ourselves that the back and forth of rates simply reflects how smart those bond traders really are.

One might think that any further decline in rates would be good for stocks particularly as an alternative to bonds, unless it is interpreted as being bad news that the tepid economic expansion was actually beginning a deceleration phase.

Couple that thought with the worry that the upcoming earnings season is going to highlight currency woes more than costs savings from lower energy and you do have the makings of continued uncertainty about where the next catalyst to move stocks higher will be coming from.

Normally, I like uncertainty, but unfortunately, the uncertainty that we’ve seen over the past few weeks as markets have regularly alternated between triple digit gains and losses hasn’t really moved volatility as much as it would seem to have been logical. That’s because most days have actually traded with great certainty, showing little variance from where the day’s trading started and then giving way to an all new kind of certainty the very next day.

We’ll see how that certainty shows itself on Monday.

It’s anyone’s guess.

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

Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) is one of many stocks that I currently own that are not earning their keep because they’re too far below their purchase price to warrant writing calls and generating premium income. While shares do go ex-dividend this week, the dividend is too small to justify chasing or to make a trade simply in the hopes of capturing that dividend.

However, I’ve been happy to see some of the share gains seen after earnings in February get digested, notwithstanding this past Thursday’ strong gain. The slow and methodical retracement of those gains is providing an opportunity to add shares of Whole Foods again with the goal of using new shares to help offset some of the losses on the non-performing lot, as was done 5 times in 2014.

However, following the previous share increase after earnings those shares just seemed too expensive to use as an offset to paper losses. However, now they appear to be more reasonably priced and ready to stabilize at that lower level.

Having add my General Motors (NYSE:GM) shares assigned last month I’ve wanted to repurchase shares since then. At the time the entry of an activist into the picture was unexpected and poor timing for me, but I’m glad to see shares come down from that activist induced high.

Through several bouts of share ownership during the Mary Barra era I’ve continued to be amazed at how well share price has persevered against a barrage of bad news. The toll on share price has generally been small and short lived, while being able to roll over option contracts helped to increase yield while awaiting assignment.

Shares offer attractive premiums, an increasingly attractive dividend and the watchful eyes of activists. That can be a good combination particularly since earnings are still a month away, giving some opportunity to collect those premiums before contending with the challenge of currency.

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) reports earnings this week and used to be one of those traditionally being among the last of S&P 500 members to report earnings. Now it’s either still among the last or possibly among the first, as earnings seasons now just tend to flow one into the next.

While Bed bath and Beyond isn’t likely to suffer much due to the strengthening dollar, in fact it may benefit from increased buying power, it may report some detriment from the west coast port disruptions.

Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to large moves when announcing its earnings, but this time the options market is implying a move of 6.5%. A 1% ROI may be possible by selling put options as much as 7.1% below the week’s closing price. That’s not as large of a cushion as I would prefer seeing, but if selling puts and faced with the possibility of assignment, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares rather than attempting to roll the put options over.

Being booted from the DJIA isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as being added isn’t always a good thing as far as stock prices go.

Few have done as well as Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which despite a nearly 50% decline since reaching it’s peak post-DJIA share price is still about 65% higher and has well out-performed the S&P 500 and the DJIA.

Alcoa, which reports earnings this week, and while perhaps no longer considered to be the kick-off to a new earnings season still remains the first to get much attention.

Shares have been in a considerable decline for the past 2 months after having recovered from most of the decline that preceded the market’s decline in early December 2014. The subsequent recovery in share price at that time was in lock step with the S&P 500 from mid-December to mid-January when earnings intervened.

Unlike most earnings related trades that I consider, for this one I’m not looking at the sale of puts, but rather a buy/write and am further considering the use of a slightly out of the money option, rather than an in the money strike price, in the belief that there’s reason to suspect both on a technical basis and a fundamental basis that there is room to move higher.

While it’s too soon to tell how its continuing performance will be, AT&T (NYSE:T) has joined Alcoa as an ex-member of the DJIA. During the two week period of its exile, shares have out-performed the S&P 500, just as its replacement has trailed.

While 2 weeks doesn’t make for a trend, as AT&T shares are ex-dividend this week, I think there may be enough past history with other ex-members in the immediate period of their expulsion to create a tiny additional increment of confidence. WHile that confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to believing that shares will move higher in the very near term, it does make me feel better about the prospects of it continuing to out-perform the broader market.

With it’s very generous dividend the option premium isn’t very large, but at the very least will offset some of the decline in price that will occur as the dividend is taken into account. With much of the competitive hoopla and pressure now in the past and with less of a concern about currency fluctuations, this may be a good time to consider a position as shares may be a bit more immune to some of the pressures that may face many other multi-national companies as earnings are soon to be released.

Finally, being added to the DJIA isn’t necessarily a golden ticket, either, as some more recently added members may attest.

In exchange for AT&T’s departure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was added and has since trailed the narrow index as excitement mounts over the prospects for its latest product entry.

I’m not as excited about that as I am about the prospects of Apple announcing a dividend increase most likely concurrent with its next earnings release in 3 weeks. Between now and then I think there are going to be many opportunities for Tim Cook and others to increasingly whip up excitement and demand for a product that has a fairly low bar being set.

In the meantime Apple continues to offer an attractive option premium and can easily be considered as either a buy/write or put sale, as there is considerable liquidity on either side of the options aisle.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, General Motors

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (4/8), Whole Foods (4/8 $0.13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (4/8 PM), Bed Bath and Beyond (4/8 PM)

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

Weekend Update – November 30, 2014

An incredibly quiet and uneventful week, cut short by the Thanksgiving Day holiday, saw the calm interrupted as a group of oil ministers from around the world came to an agreement.

They agreed that couldn’t agree, mostly because one couldn’t trust the other to partner in concerted actions what would turn out to be in everyone’s best interests.

If you’ve played the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game you know that you can’t always trust a colleague to do the right thing or to even do the logical thing. The essence of the game is that your outcome is determined not only by your choice, but also by the choice of someone else who may or may not think rationally or who may or may not believe that you think rationally.

The real challenge is figuring out what to do yourself knowing that your fate may be, to some degree, controlled by an irrational partner, a dishonest one or one who simply doesn’t understand the concept of risk – reward. That and the fact that they may actually enjoy stabbing you in the back, even if it means they pay a price, too.

Given the disparate considerations among the member OPEC nations looking out for their national interests, in addition to the growing influence of non-OPEC nations, the only reasonable course of action was to reduce oil production. But no single nation was willing to trust that the other nations would have done the right thing to maintain oil prices at higher levels, while still obeying basic laws of supply and demand, so the resulting action was no action. The stabbing in the back was probably in the minds of some member nations, as well.

If the stock market was somehow the partner in a separate room being forced to make a buying or selling decision based on what it thought the OPEC members would do, a reasonable stock market would have expected a reduction in supply by OPEC members in support of oil prices. After all, reasonable people don’t stab others in the back.

That decision would have resulted in either buying, or at least holding energy shares in advance of the meeting and then being faced with the reality that those OPEC members, hidden away, whose interests may not have been aligned with those of investors, made a decision that made no economic sense, other than perhaps to pressure higher cost producers.

And so came the punishment the following day, as waves of selling hit at the opening of trading. Not quite a capitulation, despite the large falls, because panic was really absent and there was no crescendo-like progression, but still, the selling was intense as many headed for the exits.

While fleeing, the question of whether this decision or lack of decision marked the death of the OPEC cartel, meaning that oil would start trading more on those basic laws and not being manipulated by nations always seeking the highest reward.

The more religious and national tensions existing between member nations and the more influence of non-member nations the less likely the cartel can act as a cartel.

The poor UAE oil minister at a press conference complained that it wasn’t fair for OPEC to be blamed for low oil prices, forgetting that once you form a cartel the concept of fairness is already taken off of the table, as for more than 40 years the cartel has unfairly squeezed the world for every penny it could get.

With the belief that the death of OPEC may be at hand comes the logical, but mistaken belief that the ensuing low oil prices would be a boon for the stock market. That supposition isn’t necessarily backed up by reality, although logic would take your mind in that direction.

As it happens, rising oil prices, especially when due to demand outstripping supply makes for a good stock market, as it reflects accelerating economic growth. Falling oil prices, if due to decreased demand is certainly not a sign of future economic activity. However, we are now in some uncharted territory, as falling prices are due to supply that is greater than demand and without indication that those falling prices are going to result in a near term virtuous cycle that would send markets higher.

What we do know is that creates its own virtuous cycle as consumers will be left with more money to spend and federal and state governments will see gas taxes revenues increase as people drive more and pay less.

The dilemma now facing investors is whether there are better choices than energy stocks at the moment, despite what seems to be irrationally low pricing. The problem is that those irrational people in the other room are still in control of the destinies of others and may only begin to respond in a rational manner after having experienced maximum pain.

As much as I am tempted to add even more energy stocks, despite already suffering from a disproportionately high position, the lesson is clear.

When in doubt, don’t trust the next guy to do the right thing.

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

When Blackstone (NYSE:BX) went public a number of years ago, just prior to the financial meltdown, imagine yourself being held an a room and being given the option of investing your money in the market, without knowing whether the privately held company would decide to IPO. On the surface that might have sounded like a great idea, as the market was heading higher and higher. But the quandary was that you were being asked to make your decision without knowing that Blackstone was perhaps preparing an exit strategy for a perceived market top and was looking to cash out, rather than re-invest for growth.

Had you known that the money being raised in the IPO was going toward buying out one of the founders rather than being plowed back into the company your decision might have been different. Or had you known that the IPO was an attempt to escape the risks of a precariously priced market you may have reacted differently.

So here we are in 2014 and Blackstone, which is the business of buying struggling or undervalued businesses, nurturing them and then re-selling them, often through public markets, is again selling assets.

Are they doing so because they perceive a market peak and are securing profits or are they preparing to re-invest the assets for further growth? The dilemma faced is across the entire market and not just Blackstone, which in the short term may be a beneficiary of its actions trying to balance risk and reward by reducing its own risk.

The question of rational behavior may be raised when looking at the share price response to Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) on Friday. In a classic case of counting chickens before they were hatched I was expecting my shares to be assigned on Friday.

While I usually wait until Thursday or Friday to try to make rollovers, this past shortened week I actually made a number of rollovers on Tuesday, which were serendipitous, not having expected Friday’s weakness. The rollover trade that didn’t get made was for Dow Chemcal, which seemed so likely to be assigned and would have offered very little reward for the rollover.

Who knew that it would be caught up in the energy sell-off, well out of proportion to its risk in the sector, predominantly related to its Kuwaiti business alliances? The question of whether that irrational behavior will continue to punish Dow Chemical shares is at hand, but this drop just seems like a very good opportunity to add shares, both as part of corporate buybacks as well as for a personal portfolio. With my shares now not having been assigned, trading opportunities look beyond the one week horizon with an eye on holding onto shares in order to capture the dividend in late December.

The one person that I probably wouldn’t want to be in the room next to me when I was being asked to make a decision and having to rely on his mutual cooperation, would be John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS). He hasn’t given too much indication that he would be reluctant to throw anyone under the bus.

However, with some of the fuss about a potential buyout now on hiatus and perhaps the disappointment of no action in that regard now also on hiatus, shares may be settling back to its more sedate trading range.

That would be fine for me, still holding a single share lot and having owned shares on 5 occasions in the past year. Its option volume trading is unusually thin at times, however, and with larger bid – ask spreads than I would normally like to see. At its current price and now having withstood the pressures of its very aggressive pricing campaigns for about a year, I’m less concerned about a very bad earnings release and see upside potential as it has battled back from lower levels.

EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC) may also have had some of the takeover excitement die down, particularly as its most likely purchaser has announced its own plans to split itself into two new companies. Yet it has been able to continue trading at its upper range for the year.

EMC isn’t a terribly exciting company, but it has enough movement from buyout speculation, earnings and speculation over the future of its large VMWare (NYSE:VMW) holding to support an attractive option premium, in addition to an acceptable dividend.

I currently own shares of both Coach (NYSE:COH) and Mosaic (NYSE:MOS). They both are ex-dividend this coming week. Beyond that they also have in common the fact that I’ve been buying shares and selling calls on them for years, but most recently they have been mired at a very low price level and have been having difficulty breaking resistance at $38 and $51, respectively.

While they have been having difficulty breaking through those resistance levels they have also been finding strength at the $35 and $45 levels, respectively. Narrowing the range between support and resistance begins to make them increasingly attractive for a covered option trade, especially with the dividend at hand.

I’ve been sitting on some shares of General Motors (NYSE:GM) for a while and they are currently uncovered. I don’t particularly like adding shares after a nice rise higher, as General Motors had on Friday, but at its current price I think that it is well positioned to get back to the $35 level and while making that journey, perhaps buoyed by lower fuel prices, there is a nice dividend next week and some decent option premiums, as well. What is absolutely fascinating about the recent General Motors saga is that it has been hit with an ongoing deluge of bad news, day in and day out, yet somehow has been able to retain a reasonably respectable stock price.

Finally, it’s another week to give some thought to Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). That incredibly dysfunctional company that has made a habit of large price moves up and down as it tries to break away from the consumer irrelevancy that many have assigned it.

Abercrombie and Fitch recently gave some earnings warnings in anticipation of this week’s release and shares tumbled at that time. If you’ve been keeping a score card, lately the majority of those companies offering warnings or revising guidance downward, have continued to suffer once the earnings are actually released.

The options market is anticipating a 9.1% price move this week in response to earnings. However, it would still take an 11.8% decline to trigger assignment at a strike level that would offer a 1% ROI for the week of holding angst.

That kind of cushion between the implied move and the 1% ROI strike gives me reason to consider the risk of selling puts and crossing my fingers that some surprise, such as the departure of its always embattled CEO is announced, as a means of softening any further earnings disappointments.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Dow Chemical, EMC Corp, General Motors

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Coach (12/3), Mosaic (12/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (12/3 AM)

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