Weekend Update – October 23, 2016

This past week was the first full week of earnings for this most recent earnings season and you could be excused for wondering just how to interpret the data coming in.

The financial sector had fared well, but if you were looking for a pattern of revenue and earnings beats, or even looking for a shared sense of optimism going forward from a more diverse group of companies, you’ve been disappointed to date.

For the most part, this past week was one of mixed messages and the market really rewarded the messages that it wanted to hear and really punished when the messages didn’t hit the right notes.

With so much attention being placed on the expectation that the FOMC would have sufficient data to warrant an interest rate increase in December, you might have thought that companies would start painting a slightly more optimistic image of what awaited their businesses, perhaps based upon a building trend from the past quarter.

That optimistic guidance has yet to prevail even as some have been reporting better than expected revenues.

But no one should be surprised with the mixed messages that the market hasn’t been able to interpret and then use as a foothold to move in a sustained direction.

The mixed messages coming from those reporting just follows the wonderful example of streaming mixed messages that have been coming at us all year long from members of the Federal Reserve.

Unfortunately, good earnings and guidance from the financial sector aren’t sufficient to serve as the tide to carry others, even as they may be necessary for a broad wave of market expansion. Also unfortunate is the fact that the good fortunes, or at least the perceived good news from the likes of Netflix (NFLX) and UnitedHealth Group (UNH) aren’t the sort of things that lead and move the economy and the stock market.

That used to be what International Business Machines (IBM) did, but no more.

The messages, thus far, from the all important technology sector, have reflected the mixed messages of the past week. For the past 30 years the health of the technology sector has been critical to overall market health, but this week the picture is muddled, even as Microsoft (MSFT) hit an all time high.

While it’s easy to dismiss the individual investor class as lacking the insight and sophistication to understand the environment, the professionals in the options market certainly got things wrong this week as their expectations for the range of price movements from those reporting earnings very often grossly underestimated those ranges.

Let’s face it.

If the investing professionals really knew what they were doing or really understood market dynamics, there would be very few large price swings.

Other than a tsunami or some other natural disaster, what surprises should there really be to so drastically alter the prospects or fortunes for any S&P 500 company?

Of course, the investing professionals, who through their acumen set stock prices often predicate their expectations on the work of those other professionals. You know, the ones who come up with earnings estimates based upon their profound understanding of the companies that they so closely follow.

The coming week has lots more earnings to come and ends the week with a GDP report, as we get closer and closer to a December FOMC meeting.

If earnings do not start to buoy the market, especially as retailers get their turn in a couple of weeks, I’m concerned that the FOMC’s seeming insistence on getting one rate increase in by year’s end, could cause a strong sell-off, especially if positive guidance is being suppressed out of self interest.

What the market needs and has always needed is clarity and not mixed messages. Corporate leaders could also play their part by dropping a strategy of under-promising if they know their business trend to be in the right direction.

We could all benefit from a moratorium on mixed messages.

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

I’m not certain that I would categorize any of the recent messages coming from Wells Fargo (WFC) as being “mixed.”

Disingenuous? Perhaps.

Totally clueless as to how they would be received? Absolutely.

But given the recent events, the fall from grace hasn’t been that horrific and there may be some stability settling in, although there could be one of those unseen tsunamis ahead that even the professionals might be excused for not predicting.

The option premiums isn’t expecting much continued volatility and although that market has under-estimated some earnings volatility, it is generally fairly good.

With an upcoming dividend during the November 2016 option cycle, I think that the financial sector tide is also there to help float Wells Fargo as it seeks to right its own ship in a public fashion.

The more clear those public messages and actions will be, the better served will shareholders be and I think this is a good opportunity to capitalize on the combination of the dividend and option premium.

One message that became clear again is that content is back in vogue.

Just take a look at how Comcast (CMCSA) has performed ever since it announced that it was going to purchase the remainder of NBC-Universal from General Electric (GE).

click to enlarge)

While Comcast may not be entirely comparable to AT&T (T), it may be useful to include the latter in the chart as well, after news came of a potential takeover of content king, TIme Warner (TWX).

The initial reaction to the news sent AT&T shares down 3%.

After that price decline, I think that the only company specific price decline that may await, is if the deal, assuming that it is progressing toward completion, falls apart.

That’s because by then it will be pretty clear that the combination is a good one and unlike the disaster that was the case with the AOL combination, the corporate cultures are not entirely dissimilar.

I want to go for this ride and may very well consider longer term dated options in an effort to also capitalize on the prospect of recapturing that 3% decline.

With Saturday afternoon’s report that a deal is ready to be announced over the weekend, I would be very interested in jumping on the opportunity if AT&T opens lower to begin the week.

Finally, we all know the old saying about a broken clock. I don’t think that there’s anything similar for a broken record, but after having some Marathon Oil (MRO) puts expire last week, recommending it again is definitely becoming a broken record.

For me, that means 10 positions in the past 7 months and an eagerness to add another position in the coming week.

As often may be the case when using a covered option strategy that prefers a short term holding period, there isn’t necessarily anything about the company itself that supports or serves as a contraindication to an investment.

It’s all about the predictability of its price swings and the reward associated with the volatility.

Every now and then a stock appears that offers that combination of sharp price swings, but with the added feature of trading in a relatively narrow range.

For as long as Marathon Oil can do that, I don’t care if it’s a broken record and keep returning back to the same place.

Even though I still have a lot priced at about $28, the predominantly short term trades in 2016 on additional lots have more than offset the paper loss on that poorly timed position and afforded the opportunity to be patient.

With expiration of $14 short puts contracts last week, I would again be interested in the sale of puts, especially if Marathon Oil opens the week with some weakness.

As I mentioned in previous week, there are those little matters of upcoming earnings the following week and as of yet unannounced ex-dividend date.

Because of the earnings, if faced with a need to keep the short put position open, I generally try to sell longer term dated puts in order to get some additional protection and time, in the event of an adverse price move.

However, in this case, that might create some risk with the upcoming dividend. For that reason, I would usually prefer to take assignment of shares and then be in a position to write calls, if possible, while also trying to retain the dividend.

I do have an existing lot of $15 short puts expiring this week and expect to do exactly tat if faced with the need to roll those short puts over again.

Once earnings are done, I’m hoping that Marathon Oil spends the next 3 months continuing to be an excellent serial rollover candidate, whether through the sale of put options or as a traditional buy and write.

With it, the message hasn’t at all been mixed in 2016.

It’s mediocrity has been the stuff that dreams and profits are made of, as every broken record should sound so good.

Traditional Stocks: AT&T, Wells Fargo

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – November 1, 2015

The recently deceased Hall of Fame catcher, Yogi Berra, had many quotes attributed to him, some of which he admitted were uttered by him.

One of those allegedly genuine quotes had Yogi Berra giving directions to his home, ending with the words “when you get to the fork in the road, take it.”

People have likely written PhD dissertations on the many levels of meaning that could be contained in that expression in the belief that there was something more deep to it when it was originally uttered.

We’ll probably never know whether the original expression had an underlying depth to it or was simply an incomplete thought that took on a life of its own.

Nearly each month during the Janet Yellen reign as Chairman of the Federal Reserve we’ve been wondering what path the FOMC would take when faced with a potential decision.

Each month it seems that investors felt that they were being faced with a fork in the road and there was neither much in the way of data to decide which way to go, just as the FOMC was itself looking for the data that justifies taking action.

While that decision process hasn’t really taken on a life of its own, the various and inconsistent market responses to the decisions all resulting in a lack of action have taken on a life of their own.

Over much of Yellen’s tenure the market has rallied in the day or days leading up to the FOMC Statement release and I had been expecting the same this past week, until having seen that surge in the final days of the week prior.

Once that week ending surge took place it was hard to imagine that there would still be such unbridled enthusiasm prior to the release of the FOMC’s decision. It was just too much to believe that the market would risk even more on what could only be a roll of the dice.

Last week the market stood at the fork in the road on Monday and Tuesday and finally made a decision prior to the FOMC release, only to reverse that decision and then reverse it again.

I don’t think that’s what Yogi Berra had in mind.

With the FOMC’s non-decision now out of the way and in all likelihood no further decision until at least December, the market is now really standing at that fork in the road.

With retail earnings beginning the week after next we could begin seeing the first real clues of the long awaited increase in consumer spending that could be just the data that the FOMC has been craving to justify what it increasingly wants to do.

The real issue is what road will the market take if those retail earnings do show anything striking at all. Will the market take the “good news is bad news” road or the “good news is good news” path?

Trying to figure that out is probably about as fruitless as trying to understand what Yogi Berra really meant.

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

When it comes to stocks, I’m often at my happiest when I can go in and out of the same stocks on a serial basis.

While it may be more exciting to discover a new stock or two every week to trust with your money, when it comes to making a choice, I’d much rather take the boring path at the fork.

For those inclined to believe that Yogi Berra meant to tell his prospective guests that they shouldn’t worry when they got to the fork in the road, because both paths could lead to his home, I’m inclined to believe that the boring path will have fewer bumps in its road.

After 2 successive weeks of being in and out of Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), I’m ready to do each or both again in the coming week.

Morgan Stanley, which was ex-dividend last week, has now recovered about half of what it lost when it reported earnings earlier in the month. Its decline this past Friday and hopefully a little more as the new week gets set to begin, would again make it an attractive stock to (“re”)-consider.

While volatility has been declining, Morgan Stanley’s premium still continues elevated, even though there’s little reason to believe that there will be any near term reason for downward price pressure. In fact, a somewhat hawkish FOMC statement might give reason to suspect that the financial sector’s prospects may be brighter in the coming quarter than they were in this quarter past.

Seagate Technology, which reported earnings last week is ex-dividend this week and I would like to take advantage of either the very generous dividend, the call option premium or both.

For the past 2 weeks I had sold puts, but was prepared to take assignment rather than rolling over the short put option position in the event of an adverse price movement.

That was due to the upcoming ex-dividend date and an unwillingness as a put seller to receive a lower premium than would ordinarily be the case if no dividend was in the equation. Just as call buyers often pay a greater premium than they should when a stock is going ex-dividend, put sellers frequently receive a lower premium when selling in advance of an ex-dividend date.

I would rather be on the long end of a pricing inefficiency.

But as Seagate Technology does go ex-dividend and while its volatility remains elevated there are a number of potential combinations, all of which could give satisfactory returns if Seagate spends another week trading in a defined range.

Based upon its Friday closing price a decision to sell a near the money $38 weekly contract, $37.50 or $37 contract can be made depending on the balance between return and certainty of assignment that one desires.

For me, the sweet spot is the $37.50 contract, which if assigned early could still offer a net 1.2% ROI for a 2 day holding period.

I would trade away the dividend for that kind of return. However, if the dividend is captured, there is still sufficient time left on a weekly contract for some recovery in price to either have the position assigned or perhaps have the option rolled over to add to the return.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is ex-dividend this week and then reports earnings after the closing bell on that same day.

Like Morgan Stanley, it stands to benefit in the event that an interest rate increase comes sooner rather than later.

Since the decision to exercise early has to be made on the day prior to earnings being announced this may also be a situation in which a number of different strike prices may be considered for the sale of calls, depending on the certainty with which one wants to enter and exit the position, relative top what one considers an acceptable ROI for what could be as little as a 2 day position.

Since MetLife has moved about 5% higher in the past 2 weeks, I’d be much more interested in opening a position in advance of the ex-dividend date and subsequent earnings announcement if shares fell a bit more to open the week.

If you have a portfolio that’s heavy in energy positions, as I do, it’s hard to think about adding another energy position.

Even as I sit on a lot of British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) that is not hedged with calls written against those shares, I am considering adding more shares this week as British Petroleum will be ex-dividend.

Unlike Seagate Technology and perhaps even MetLife, the British Petroleum position is one that I would consider because I want to retain the dividend and would also hope to be in a position to participate in some upside potential in shares.

That latter hope is one that has been dashed many times over the past year if you’ve owned many energy positions, but there have certainly been times to add new positions over that same past year. If anything has been clear, though, is that the decision to add new energy positions shouldn’t have been with a buy and hold mentality as any gains have been regularly erased.

With much of its litigation and civil suit woes behind it, British Petroleum may once again be like any other energy company these days, except for the fact that it pays a 6.7% dividend.

If not too greedy over the selection of a strike price in the hopes of participating in any upside potential, it may be possible to accumulate some premiums and dividends, before someone in a position to change their mind, decides to do so regarding offering that 6.7% dividend.

Finally, if there’s any company that has reached a fork in the road, it’s Lexmark (NYSE:LXK).

A few years ago Lexmark re-invented itself, just as its one time parent, International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), did some years earlier.

The days about being all about hardware are long gone for both, but now there’s reason to be circumspect about being all about services, as well, as Lexmark is considering strategic alternatives to its continued existence.

I have often liked owning shares of Lexmark following a sharp drop and in advance of its ex-dividend date. It won’t be ex-dividend until early in the December 2015 cycle and there may be some question as to whether it can afford to continue that dividend.

However, in this case, there may be some advantage to dropping or even eliminating the dividend. It’s not too likely that Lexmark’s remaining investor base is there for the dividend nor would flee if the dividend was sacrificed, but that move to hold on to its cash could make Lexmark more appealing to a potential suitor.

With an eye toward Lexmark being re-invented yet again, I may consider the purchase of shares following this week’s downgrade to a “Strong Sell” and looking at a December 2015 contract with an out of the money strike price and with a hope of getting out of the position before the time for re-invention has passed.

In Lexmark’s case, waiting too long may be an issue of sticking a fork in it to see if its finally done.

Traditional Stocks: Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Lexmark

Double-Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (11/4 $0.60), MetLife (11/4 $0.38), Seagate Technology (11/4 $0.63)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: MetLife (11/4 PM)

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

Weekend Update – August 23, 2015

It wasn’t too long ago that China did what it continues to believe that it does best.

It dictated and restricted behavior.

You really can’t blame them, as for the past 67 years the government has done a very good job of controlling everything within its borders and rarely had to give up much in return.

This time it believed that it could control natural market forces with edicts and with the imposition of a very market un-natural prohibition against selling shares in a large number of stocks.

In the immediate aftermath of that decision nearly 2 months ago, the Shanghai Index had actually fared quite well, especially when you consider that in the month prior that index had taken a free fall and dropped 30% over the course of 27 days.

A subsequent 21% rebound over 15 days after the introduction of new “rules” to inactivate gravitational pull, likely re-inforced the belief that the government was omnipotent and emboldened it as it went forth with a series of rapid and significant currency devaluations, even while sending confusing signals when it moved in to support its currency.

I’ve often wondered about people who engage in risky behaviors, such as free fall jumping. What goes on in their mind, besides the obvious thrill, that tells them they can battle nature and natural laws and be on the winning side?

As with lots of things in life, we have the tendency to project in a very optimistic way. A single victory against all odds suddenly becomes the expected outcome in the future, as if nature and its forces had never heard of the expression “fool me once, shame on me….”

Given China’s track record in getting what it wants they can’t be blamed for believing that they are bigger than the laws that govern markets.

When you believe that you are right or invincible, you don’t really think about such pesky matters as consistency and the likelihood that things will eventually catch up with you.

While it may not be unusual to place some restrictions on trading when things are looking dire, the breadth of the Chinese stock trading restrictions was really broad. The suggestion that those responsible for rampant speculation and “malicious” short selling might suffer anirreversible form of punishment simply sought to ensure that any remaining miscreants severed their alliance with their normal behavior.

But when you’re on a streak and no one questions you, what reason is there to not continue in the same path that got you there? It’s just like not selling your stock positions and pocketing the gains.

Since those restrictions were imposed the Shanghai Index has actually gone 1% higher, which is considerably better than our own S&P 500 which has declined 5% after today’s free fall.

So clearly erecting a dam, even if on the wrong side of the natural flow, has helped and the score is Chinese Government 1, Natural Forces 0.

Except of course if you drill down to the past few days and see a drop of about 13%, while the S&P 500 has gone down 6%.

When the dam breaks, it’s not just the baby in the bath water that’s going to get wet, but more on that, later. That downdraft that we felt on our shores blew in from China as we got sucked in by the vacuum created from their free fall.

As with other instances of trying to do battle with nature there may be the appearance of a victory if you have a very, very short timeframe, but at some point the dam is going to burst and only time can really get things back under control enough to allow an opportunity to rebuild.

This past week was the worst in over 4 years as the S&P 500 fell 5.8%. At this point people are looking at individual stocks and are no longer marveling about how many are in correction territory, but rather how many are approaching or are in bear territory.

I haven’t kept track, but 2015 has been a year in which it seems that the most uttered phrase has been “and the markets have now given up all of their gains for the year.”

While I don’t spend too much time staring at charts and thinking about technical factors, you would have had a very difficult time escaping the barrage of comments about the market having dipped below its 200 Day Moving Average.

The level that I had been keeping my eye on as support was the 2045 level on the S&P 500 and that was breached in the final hour of trading on Thursday, leaving the 2000 level the next likely stop.

That too was left behind in the dust, as is the usual case when in free fall.

As mentioned earlier in the month, those technicals were showing a series of lower highs and higher lows, which is often interpreted as meaning that a break-out is looming, but gives no clue as to the direction.

Now we know the direction, not that it helps any after the fact.

While the DJIA ended the week down a bit more than 10% off from its all time highs, allowing this to now be called a “correction,” the broader S&p 500 is only 7.8% lower. While many elected to sell on their way out in the final hour of the week, I wasn’t, but don’t expect to be very actively buying next week, without some sign of a functioning parachute or at least some very soft land at the bottom.

Buying is something that I will probably leave to those people who are more daring than I tend to be.

However, even they seem to have been a little more careful as this most recent sell-off hasn’t shown much in the way of enticing dare devils to buy on the substantial dips.

Even people prone to enjoying the thrill of a nice free fall are exercising some abundance of caution. While I prefer not to join them on the way down, I don’t mind keeping their company for now.

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

I succumbed a little to the sell off late in the week on Thursday and purchased some shares of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) in the final hour, right before another leg downward in a market that at that point was already down nearly 300 points.

That simply was a lesson in the issue that faces us all when prices seem to be so irrationally low. Distinguishing between a value priced stock and one that is there to simply suck money out of your pocket isn’t terribly easy to do.

As the sell off continued the following day to bring the August 2015 option cycle to its end the financial sector continued to be hit very hard as interest rates continued their decline.

It wasn’t very long ago that the 10 Year Treasury was ready to hit 2.5% and many were looking at that as being the proverbial “hand writing on the wall,” but in the past month those rates have fallen more than 40% and suddenly that wall is as clean as that baby that is continually mentioned as having been thrown out with the bath water, which coincidentally may be the second most uttered phrase of late.

After committing some money to Bank of America, I’m actually considering adding more financial sector positions in the expectation that the decline in interest rates will be coming to an end very soon as there’s some reason to believe that the FOMC’s dependence on data may be lip service.

Generally, the association between interest rates and the performance of stocks in the financial sector is reasonably straight forward. With some limitations, an increasing interest rate environment increases the margins that such companies can achieve when they put their own money to work.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is a good example of that relationship and its share price has certainly followed interest rates lower in the past few weeks, just as it dutifully followed those rates higher.

The decline in its shares has been swift and has finally brought them back to the mid-point of the range of the past dozen purchases. While that decline has been swift, the range has been fairly consistent and as the lower end of that range is approached there’s reason to consider braving some of the prevailing winds.

With the swiftness of the decline and with the broader market exhibiting volatility, the option premiums now associated with MetLife are recapturing some of the life that they had earlier in this year and all throughout 2014.

I often like to consider adding shares of MetLife right before an ex-dividend date, but I find the current stock price level to be compelling reason enough to consider a position and perhaps consider a longer term option contract to ride out any storm that may continue to be ahead.

Blackstone (NYSE:BX) hasn’t exactly followed that general rule, but lately it has fallen back in line with that very general rule, as it has plunged in share price since its earnings report and news of some insider selling.

As an example of how easy it has been to be too early in expressing optimism, I thought that Blackstone might be ready for a purchase just 2 weeks ago, but since then it has fallen 12%, although having had nothing but positive analyst comments directed toward it during those weeks. It, too, seems to have been caught in a significant downdraft and continued uncertainty in its near term fortunes are reflected in the very rich option premiums it’s now offering.

My major concern with Blackstone at the moment is whether its dividend, now at an 8.4% yield, can be sustained.

At a time when uncertainty is the prevailing mood, there’s some comfort that could come from having dividends accrue, as long as those dividends are safe.

While it’s dividend isn’t huge, at 2.5% and very safe, Sinclair Broadcasting (NASDAQ:SBGI) again looks inviting as it followed other media companies lower this week and is now at a very appealing part of its trading range.

They have no worries about exchange rates, the Chinese economy or any of those “stories du jour” that have everyone’s attention.

Having reached an agreement with DISH Network earlier in the week to allow retransmission of its signal it saw shares plummet the following day.

Sinclair Broadcasting is ubiquitous around the nation but not exactly a household name, even in its home turf in the Mid-Atlantic. It offers only monthly options and has generally been a longer holding for me, having owned shares on six occasions in the past 15 months.

Lexmark (NYSE:LXK) was one of the early and very pronounced casualties of this most recent earnings season and it has shown no sign of recovery. The market didn’t even cheer as Lexmark announced workforce reductions.

What Lexmark has done since earnings hasn’t been encouraging as its total decline has been in excess of 30%, with a substantial portion of that coming after the initial wave of selling upon earnings being released.

Lexmark also only offers monthly options and it has a dividend yield that’s both enticing and unnerving. The good news is that expected earnings for the next quarter are sufficient to cover the dividend, but there has to be some concern going forward, as Lexmark has found itself in the same situation as its one time parent IBM (NYSE:IBM) having pivoted from its core business and perhaps needing to do so again.

With virtually no exposure to China you might have thought that Deere (NYSE:DE) would have had somewhat of an easier time of things as reporting its earnings for the past quarter.

If so, you would have been wrong, but getting it right hasn’t been the norm of late, regardless of what company is being considered.

The drop seen in Deere shares definitely came as a surprise to the options markets and to most everyone else as they became yet another to beat on earnings, but to miss on revenues.

As is the general theme, as volatility is climbing, at nearly its highest level in 3 years, the premiums are welcoming greater risk taking, even as they provide some cushion to risk.

Following its loss on Friday, even Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is now among those in correction, having sustained that decline over the past 2 weeks. With some significant exposure in China it may be understandable why Starbucks was a full participant in the market’s weakness.

Like many other stocks, the sudden decline in the context of a market decline that has led to a surge in volatility, option premiums are beginning to look better and better.

As volatility increases, which itself is a reflection of increasing risk, there is the seeming paradox of more of that risk being mollified through the sale of in the money options. The cushion provided by those in the money options increases as the volatility increases, so that the relative risk is reduced more than an upward moving market.

Starbucks, after a prolonged period of very mediocre option premiums is now beginning to show some of the reason why option sellers prefer high volatility. It’s not only for the increased premium, but also for the premium on that premium which allows greater reward even when willing to see shares assigned at a loss.

As an example, at Starbuck’s closing price of $52.84, the weekly $52 option sale would have delivered a premium of $1.64, which would net $0.80, a 1.5% yield, if shares were assigned, even if those shares fell 1.6%.

Those kind of risk and reward end points on otherwise low risk stocks haven’t been seen in a few years and is very exciting for those who do sell options on a regular basis.

Finally, not many companies have had their obituaries prepared for release as frequently as GameStop (NYSE:GME) has had to endure for many years.

Somehow, though, even as we think that the model for gaming distribution is changing there exists a strong core of those still yearning for physicality, even if in a virtual world.

GameStop reports earnings this week and it is no stranger to strong moves. The option market, however is implying only an 8.8% move, which seems substantial, but as this most recent earnings season will attest, may be under-stated.

For those bold enough to consider the sale of puts before earnings, a 1% ROI can be achieved if shares fall less than 12.1%.

As with a number of other earnings related trades over the past few months, I’m not so bold as to consider the trade in advance of earnings, but might consider selling puts after earnings in the event of a large move downward.

Lately, that has been a better formula for balancing reward and risk, although it may result in some lost opportunities in the event that shares don’t plummet beyond the strike prices implied by the option market. That, however, can be a small price to pay when the moves have so frequently been out-sized in their magnitude and offering a reward that ends up being dwarfed by the risk.

Considering that GameStop has fallen only 4.6% from its highs, it may be under additional pressure in the event of even a mild disappointment or less than optimistic guidance.

While it may be premature to begin the flow of tears and recount the good memories of GameStop and a youth wasted, I would be cautious about discounting the concerns entirely as far as the market’s reaction may be concerned.

Traditional Stock: Blackstone, Deere, General Electric, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Lexmark (8/26 $0.36), Sinclair Broadcasting (8/28 $0.16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/27 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 – February 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Yahoo

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

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

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

Beware of Earnings Unless You Dare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Update – October 26, 2014

It’s too bad that life doesn’t come with highly specific indicators that give us direction or at least warn us when our path isn’t the best available.

Parents are supposed to do that sort of thing, but in real life the rules are pretty simple. You don’t go swimming for 30 minutes after a meal, you don’t kill people and you don’t swallow your chewing gum.

The seven additional commandments are really just derivative of those critically important first three.

Knowing the difference between right and wrong gives one the ability to change direction when getting too close to what is known to be on the wrong side of what society finds acceptable. Most people get the concept and also apply it to their personal safety.

In stock investing it’s not that simple, although there are lots of rules and all kinds of advance warning signals that may or may not work, depending on whether you were giving or receiving the information. As opposed to adolescents who eventually become adults and lose the “it can never happen to me” mentality, investors often feel a sense of immunity from what may await just beyond that point that others would avoid.

It would have been really, really nice if there was some kind of warning system that both alerted us to an upcoming decline and especially the fact that it would be abruptly followed by a reversal.

Much has been said about the various kinds of recoveries that can be seen, but if this most recent bounce higher will in fact be the recovery to the nearly 9% drop on an intra-day basis, then it is certainly of the “V-shape” variety.

This week came word that by a very large margin the activity in personal 401(k) retirement accounts had been to move out of equities, after the declines, and into fixed income instruments, after those interest rates had seen a 15% increase.

What may really complicate things is that there really is no society to provide guidance and set the boundaries. There are short sellers who like to see movement in one direction and then there are the rest of us, although we can all change those roles at any moment in time that seems to suit us.

For those that depended on the “key reversal” of a few weeks ago as a sign to buy or dipping below the 200 day moving average as a sign to sell, the past few weeks have frustrating.

On the other hand, news of rampant selling in 401(k) accounts may offer precisely the kind of prognostic indicator that many have been looking for, as being a perfectly contrarian signal and indication that the time to buy had come once again.

But what caused the sudden change that created the “V shape?”

Technicians and chart watchers will point to the sudden reversal seen on October 15th in the early afternoon as the DJIA had fallen more than 400 points. However, that 260 point mid-day reversal was lost, almost in its entirety at the following morning’s opening bell.

However, we may also want to thank serendipity that IBM (IBM) and Coca Cola (KO) didn’t report their earnings last week, and that reports of a New York City Ebola patient didn’t surface until market and contagion fears had abated.

It wasn’t until the afternoon following that 400 point drop that St. Louis Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard suggested that the Federal Reserve should consider delaying its ending of Quantitative Easing.

If you were looking for a turning point, that was it.

Even those that are critical of the Federal Reserve for its QE policies have been happy to profit from those very same policies. The suggestion that QE might continue would be a definite reason to abandon fear and buy what appear to be bargain priced stocks, especially as the fixed income side’s sudden 15% increase in rates made bonds less of a bargain..

I was either flatfooted or disbelieving in the sudden climb higher, not having made any new purchases for the second consecutive week. I was almost ready to make some purchases last Thursday, following what Wednesday’s decline, but that was followed by a 120 point gap up the following morning. Instead of adding positions I remained content to watch fallen asset values recapture what had been lost, still in the belief that there was another shoe to drop while en-route perhaps to a “W-shape”

That other shoe may come on Wednesday as the FOMC releases its monthly statement. Lately, that has been a time when the FOMC has given a boost to markets. This time, however, as we continue so consumed by the nuances or changes in the wording contained in the statement, there could be some disappointment if it doesn’t give some indication that there will be a continuing injection of liquidity by the Federal Reserve into markets.

If Bullard was just giving a personal opinion rather than a glimpse into the majority of opinion by the voting members of the FOMC there may be some price to be paid.

While there will be many waiting for such a word confirming Bullard’s comments to come there also has to be a sizable faction that would wonder just how bad things are if the Federal Reserve can’t leave the stage as planned.

Welcome back to the days of is good news bad news.

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

While the move higher this week was more than impressive, there’s still no denying that these large moves higher only happen in downturns. The question that will remain to be answered is whether the very rapid climb higher from recent lows will have any kind of sustainability.

For the coming week I expect another quiet one, at least personally. The markets may be anything but quiet, as they certainly haven’t been so for the past few weeks, but trying to guess where things may go is always a dicey prospect, just seemingly more so, right now.

Despite what may be continuing uncertainty I have increased interest in earnings related and momentum stocks in the coming week.

Among those is Joy Global (JOY) a stock whose fortunes are closely aligned with Chinese economic growth. Those prospects got somewhat of a boost as Caterpillar (CAT) delivered better than expected earnings during a week that was a cavalcade of good earnings, despite some high profile disappointments. While the S&P 500 advanced 4.1% for the week and Caterpillar rose 4.6%, Joy Global may just be warming up following only a 2.1% climb higher, but still trading well below its mean for the past year.

In that year it has generally done well in recovering from any downward moves in price and after two months in that kind of trajectory may be ready to finally make that recovery.

With “old technology” continuing to do well, EMC Corp (EMC) held up surprisingly well after its majority owned VMWare (VMW) fell sharply after its own earnings were announced. EMC typically announces its earnings the morning after VMWare announces and while showing some impact from VMWare’s disappointment, rapidly corrected itself after its own earnings were released.

EMC has simply been a very steady performer and stands to do well whether staying as an independent company, being bought out pr merged, or spinning off the large remainder of its stake in VMWare. Neither its dividend nor option premium is stunning, but there is a sense of comfort in its stability and future prospects.

Halliburton (HAL) has been trading wildly of late and is well below the cost of my most recent lot of shares. WHile the entire energy sector has fallen on some hard times of late, there’s little reason to believe that will continue, even if unusually warm weather continues. Halliburton, as have others, have been down this path before and generally investors do well with some patience.

That will be what I practice with my more expensive lot. However, at its current price and volatility, Halliburton, with its just announced dividend increase offers an exceptional option premium that is worthy of consideration, as long as patience isn’t in short supply.

Another stock having required more patience than usual has been Coach (COH). It reports earnings this week and as has been the case over the past 3 years it wouldn’t be unusual to see a large price move in shares.

The options market is expecting a 7% move in shares, although in the past the moves have been larger than that and very frequently to the downside. Lately, however, Coach seems to have stabilized as it has gotten a reorganization underway and as its competitor in the hearts and minds of investors, Michael Kors (KORS) has also fallen from its highs and stagnated.

The current lot of shares of Coach that I purchased were done so after it took a large earnings related decline and I didn’t believe that it would continue doing so. This time around, I’m likely to wait until earnings are announced and if shares suffer a decline I may be tempted to sell puts, with the objective of rolling over those puts into the future if assignment appears to be likely.

For those that like dabbling in excitement, both Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) announce their earnings this week.

I recently came off an 8 month odyssey that began with the sale of a Twitter put, another and another, but that ultimately saw assignment as shares dropped about $14. During that period of time, until shares were assigned, the ROI was just shy of 25%. I wouldn’t mind doing that again, despite the high degree of maintenance that was required in the process.

The options market’s pricing of weekly options is implying a price movement of about 13% next week. However, at current premiums, a drop of anywhere less than 18% could still deliver a weekly ROI of about 1.2%. I look at that as a good return relative to the risk undertaken, albeit being aware that another long ride may be in store. Since Twitter is, to a large degree, a black box filled with so many unknowns, especially regarding earnings and growth prospects, even that 18% level below could conceivably be breached.

Facebook seems to have long ago quieted its critics with regard to its strategy and ability to monetize mobile platforms. In the 2 years that it has been a publicly traded company Facebook has almost always beaten earnings estimates and it very much looks like a stock that wants to get to $100.

The option market is implying a much more sedate 7.5% in price movement upon earnings release and the decline cushion is only about 9.5% if one is seeking a 1% ROI.

Both Facebook and Twitter are potentially enticing plays this coming week and the opportunities may be available before and after earnings, particularly in the event of a subsequent share decline. If trying to decide between one or the other, my preference is Twitter, as it hasn’t had the same upside move, as Facebook has had and I generally prefer selling puts into price weakness rather than strength.

After some disappointing earnings Ford Motor (F) goes ex-dividend this week. Everyone from a recent Seeking Alpha reader who commented on his Ford covered call trade to just about every talking head on television is now touting Ford shares.

Normally, the latter would be a sign to turn around and head the other way. However, despite still being saddled with shares of a very beleaguered General Motors (GM), I do like the prospects of Ford going forward and after a respite of a few years it may be time to buy shares again. The dividend is appealing and more importantly, appears to be safe and the option premiums are enough to garner some interest as shares are just slightly above their yearly low.

Finally, I don’t know of anyone that has anything good to say about Abercrombie and FItch (ANF), regardless of what the perspective happens to be. It, along with some other teen retailers received some downgrades this past Friday and its shares plummeted.

I have lost count of how often that’s been the case with Abercrombie and FItch shares and I’ve come to expect them to rise and plunge on a very regular basis. If history is any guide Abercrombie and Fitch will be derided for being out of touch with consumers and then will surprise everyone with better than expected earnings and growth in one sector or another.

I’ve generally liked to jump on any Abercrombie post-plunge opportunity with the sale of puts and while I’d be inclined to roll those over in the event of likely assignment, I wouldn’t be adverse to taking possession of shares in advance of its earnings and ex-dividend date, which are usually nearly concurrent, with earnings scheduled for November 20t, 2014.

Traditional Stocks: EMC, Halliburton

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Ford (10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/28 AM), Facebook (10/28 PM), 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 – April 21, 2013

I’m finally feeling bullish. Sort of.

Two months ago I started getting a very uneasy feeling.

Normally, money burns a hole in my pocket. Sadly for the economy, that’s not the case when it comes to consumer goods, but it’s definitely the case when it comes to stocks.

Selling options, and predominantly of the weekly variety, I often have had the pleasure of awaking Monday morning to see freshly deposited cash in my account as shares upon which I had written weekly call contracts were assigned.

But that has changed recently, ever since that uneasy feeling hit.

The principal change was not immediately going out on shopping sprees on Monday mornings and instead building up cash caches. Among the changes were also the use of longer option contract periods because of the realization that so often market downturns happen suddenly and I would prefer not to be caught flat-footed or in-between contracts when and if it does occur.

But now, after what is the worst week of 2013, it may be time for yet another transition, of sorts.

As the April 2013 cycle has come to an end and many of those contracts have been assigned or rolled over to May 2013, being flush with cash at a time that some stocks have had some meaningful declines introduces temptation.

Jim Cramer used to say “there’s always a bull market somewhere.” I may still harbor the belief that the market is poised to mime the same period of 2012, but within that bearish sentiment I do see some glimmers of hope and opportunity as there is a universe of beaten down stocks that may have deserved better.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference, during this period of pessimism is to continue seeking high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, there aren’t many of those to consider this week. Instead, earnings and injured shares predominate.

Anadarko (APC) is one of those stocks that has seen a relatively large drop recently, but has been showing some strength at $79. It does report earnings on May 6, 2013, but the weekly option premium is unusually high for the period two weeks before earnings. While the monthly premiums are also attractive, this may be one of the situations where I would still consider the use of a weekly contract.

eBay (EBAY) also had a rough week. it is among those stocks that have had some significant drops that may have been overdone. Down about 7% following earnings its share price is approaching the $52.50 level where it has had some reasonable strength. It too may warrant a look at the weekly option contracts, especially if it appears as if there may be some market stability early next week.

In a similar situation, General Electric (GE) suffered a 4% earnings related loss on Friday and is down about 8% over the past 2 months. It too is approaching a price level where it has been pretty comfortable and when GE is comfortable, so am I. Flush with cash itself, GE may continue its own spending spree which is sometimes a short term share price depressant. If its current share price is maintained or goes a bit lower on Monday, it may be one of those few positions that I do not immediately cover by selling call options, but rather await some price rebound and then sell options.

I was disappointed when it was decided that Texas Instruments (TXN) would no longer have weekly options offered. However, the concern is now on hold as the monthly contracts look better and better every day, especially as volatility and premiums are increasing. Texas Instruments goes ex-dividend this week and that is a significant repository of its appeal to me. However, before it does so, it reports earnings. I don’t particularly see a compelling trade based on that event on Monday afternoon, so I would likely wait until after that occurs to decide whether the premium offered is still appealing enough to purchase shares.

Although I’m overweight in the Technology Sector, and despite the fact that its performance hasn’t been spectacular, sometimes I do find it hard to resist after price pullbacks. That was certainly the case after re-purchasing shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) after its deep fall upon earnings and disappointing guidance. Although IBM’s (IBM) earnings report on Friday cast a little bit of a pall over the sector some values appear to available. For the coming week, both Cisco (CSCO) and Oracle (ORCL), which I owned just a week ago prior to its assignment are again in a price range that works for me, Even as I hold uncovered shares of sector mate Riverbed Technology (RVBD) which reports earnings this week and often follows Oracle’s pattern, I believe that there are opportunities at these levels even in a weak overall market.

I always like MetLife (MET). So often, however, it seems just as I want to purchase shares the rest of the world has had the same idea and I’m reluctant to chase the stock. This past week, it along with the market settled down a bit. It always offers a fair option premium and it is a resilient performer even in the face of overall market adversity.

Although I also always like YUM Brands (YUM) that, unfortunately, doesn’t give me freedom to extend that to its products, as I’m now sworn to keeping my cholesterol within survivable levels. However, perhaps increasing my use of MetLife products might offset the use of YUM’s goods. After a fairly significant price fall, YUM Brands is back to the range that offers me as much comfort as their foods. I think that it is immune from near term Chinese economic concerns, the market having digested that along with its drumsticks.

With Apple (AAPL) sinking below $400/share and earnings set to be announced this week it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to believe that there may be significant price movement upon their release. Always a volatile holding upon earnings and guidance, there isn’t much pent up frustration any longer. Following more than a 40% drop in share price most shareholders and long time advocates have had ample opportunity to vent. Although Steve Jobs was notorious for his strategy of under-promising and over-delivering, it’s hard to imagine that expectations could get any lower. I think Apple is a good earnings play, factoring in a 10% price drop in return for nearly a 1% ROI. Relative to the market, i expect Apple to trade higher in the aftermath of its eagerly awaited news, which makes the sale of out of the money put options particularly appealing.

Netflix (NFLX) certainly would qualify as a finalist in any “comeback stock of the year” competition. I haven’t owned shares in almost 90 points. Like the other earnings related selections this week, it is certainly capable of a dramatic move when earnings and guidance are released. In this case, there may be opportunity to still derive a 1% ROI even if share price falls by as much as 25%. Risky? Yes, but Green Mountain (GMCR) has shown that momentum stocks can come back more than once. Even a significant price drop can no longer be counted upon as being a conclusion to the Netflix story. What was once considered the end of its run, Netflix has successfully gone on to its second life and could easily have a third.

Finally, Amazon (AMZN) is actually my least compelling earnings related trade in that the price drop cushion in order to achieve a 1% ROI is only about 8%. With a universal chorus deriding the razor thin margins and the P/E one has to wonder when that point will arrive that the market decides to treat Amazon as it does many other companies that spend time in rarefied environments. Still, if the cash in my pocket gets too hot this may be its final resting place.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Cisco, eBay, General Electric, MetLife, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (4/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Amazon (4/25 PM), Apple (4/23 PM), Netflix (4/22 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales or the sale of covered put contracts. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.