Weekend Update – October 30, 2016

It’s good to have certainty in all matters of life.

I think.

There’s no doubt that stock market investors like to have certainty, or at the very least they really don’t like uncertainty.

Personally, when it comes to investing and the opportunities present when pursuing the sale of options, I like that intersection between certainty and uncertainty, especially if there is a volley back and forth, but the range is well defined.

That’s because that volley gives rise to more generous option premiums even as the risk may not reflect what is being paid.

Within that context, I’ve liked 2016, other than the brief reaction served up in response to the December 2015 interest rate increase decision by the FOMC.

With 2016 coming to an end in just 2 months and after the past week of corporate earnings, it was still hard to know where the economy was standing and whether the FOMC might have better justification to finally implement another rate increase, as we’ve all been expecting for almost a year.

So far, this most recent earnings season hasn’t provided very much of a pattern of good news on top and bottom line beats and there hasn’t very much in the way of optimistic guidance being given.

What certainty was missing over the past week with regard to the direction of the economy gave way to some certainty on Friday, however.

That morning the latest GDP data was released and there was good reason to believe that the consumer was back and spending money.

More people at work coupled with higher wages for those new jobs is the combination that we’ve been patiently waiting for to have its impact on spending and it may provide more of the certainty that the FOMC members need to move forward.

More of that certainty may come as national retailers begin releasing their earnings reports the week after next. Even as Amazon (AMZN) shares fell 5% as they delivered a rare earnings miss this past week, given the backward looking GDP statistics, there may be reason to anticipate some optimistic guidance from the likes of Macy’s (M), Target (TGT) and Kohls (KSS).

Where there was also considerable certainty was that the stock market may have been spooked a bit by the idea that the upcoming Presidential election results might be changed with news of the discovery of more Presidential “wannabe” e-mails.

I’ve been voting in Presidential elections since 1972. If you had ever asked me whether the investing class would have more confidence in the election of one party over another, I would have had great certainty in the belief that a specific party was consistently favored. That has been the case even when history suggests that economic outcomes may be better with the other party in the White House.

Friday’s response to the injection of uncertainty into the electoral process was swift, but may presage an election results rally as we get ready to close out 2016 and face the increasing certainty of a rising rate environment.

That is, of course, assuming that there isn’t another shoe left to drop over the course of the next 2 weeks. Even as a resurging consumer may now be in a better position to pick up that extra shoe or two, I’m not certain that would be enough to offset the uncertainty of an unwanted surprise.

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

I don’t know whether newly employed workers, or those enjoying a higher minimum wage are going to be the one’s flocking into all of those Coach (COH) stores, although I’m pretty certain they won’t be, I’m always intrigued by Coach as earnings are to be announced.

That intrigue doesn’t extend to trying to understand Coach’s sales strategies or its competitive position in the marketplace. The intrigue is based solely on the opportunity to generate an acceptable rate of return relative to the perceived risk of share ownership.

I almost always have owned shares, on and off, over the past 10 years and have gone through many earnings reports. What Coach hasn’t been able to do over the past few years is to have predictable bounce backs following large earnings related price declines, which it had been able to consistently do earlier in the decade.

What appeals to me about Coach at earnings hasn’t changed over the past 10 years. That is the opportunity to either secure a generous premium for the sale of options or the opportunity to buy shares at what appears to be a bargain price after the occasional disappointment.

Share ownership, even during a period of slow retracement of earnings related losses can be less onerous as long as Coach is able to maintain its dividend.

As long as dividends are on the table, the only stock going ex-dividend next week that may interest me is Intel (INTC). Unlike Microsoft (MSFT) which also just announced earnings and closed at new highs, Intel hasn’t been grabbing very much attention and is coming off its near term highs.

That recent 7% decline since earnings makes entry at this level more appealing, but I don’t expect any meaningful bounce higher in the near term. If shares do stay in the $34-$36 range, I would be more than  happy with the ability to cobble together multiple option premiums and the dividend and wouldn’t mind converting the position into a longer term holding with the expectation that there will be some substantive economic expansion in 2017 that will include the technology sector.

What I like about Intel at the moment, in addition to its upcoming dividend, is that it may be headed into a period of being range-bound. If so, that represents an opportunity to serially collect option premiums. Those premiums aren’t very rich, but that is the price to be paid for a stock that is not likely to break very far out from its range even with the infusion of significant unexpected uncertainty.

While International Paper (IP) isn’t ex-dividend until the following week, it also represents an opportunity that I have frequently sought to exploit.

That is the attempt to repurchase shares that had been assigned away from me recently, but at a higher price. I don’t necessarily mind shares going up and down while in my portfolio, as long as they are actively generating some kind of income, but I much prefer if they are in someone else’s portfolio during the down cycle.

International Paper just reported earnings and it gave an earnings surprise with disappointments on both top and bottom lines. The ensuing fallout was fairly minor, however.

My concern with adding a position is that there may still be some downside to come if you’re the kind who watches chart patterns. There may not be much price support until about $42.50.

For that reason, I might wait a day or two to see if there is any additional downward risk and if there is, or if shares remain at their Friday closing level, I would consider adding shares and then selling an extended weekly option in an effort to capture the dividend and extract some additional time premium from the sale.

In the event of further downside after having made the purchase, I would be comfortable turning the International Paper position into a longer term holding, as the 4.1% dividend makes it easier to wait.

Finally, what’s a week without another consideration of a position in Marathon Oil?

The difference, though, is that this week, while I do like the opportunity offered as it announces earnings, I will not be making any trades to open a new position.

That’s because I already have 3 open lots in Marathon Oil, including two long positions and one short put position.

My limit on any position is 3 open lots and I’m a big believer in having a personal set of rules in place.

I rolled over the short put position last week to an expiration right before the following Monday’s ex-dividend date.

In the event that lot may be assigned, I would take that assignment in order to collect the dividend and in the event that it was going to expire, I would close it out and consider the purchase of shares and immediate sale of calls.

I also had a more deep in the money short put position assigned, so I’m hoping to be able to sell calls on that position to take advantage of the earnings uncertainty enhanced premiums, while still hoping to hold onto the position long enough for the dividend, even as it is only 1.5%.

With earnings this week the options market isn’t expressing very much uncertainty over its price range. The expectation is that the move will be about 6%, which isn’t very different from what it has been for much of the past few months.

Generally, when considering the sale of puts in the face of earnings I look for a strike price outside of the range implied by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the weekly contract.

That won’t be available for Marathon Oil, so I would be more inclined to consider the outright purchase of shares and the sale of calls, but only after earnings and only if the shares do not surge in price.

The intent would be to open a position in advance of the ex-dividend date and I would consider the sale of a slightly longer dated call option that rather than a typical double dipping approach, would use an out of the money strike in an attempt to secure capital gains on shares and secure the dividend, while sacrificing some premium.

If you’re looking for certainty, however, the only certainty that I can offer is that I will not be making this trade.

 

Traditional Stocks:International Paper

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (11/3 $0.26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: COH (11/1 AM), Marathon Oil (11/2 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 7, 2016

If the recently deceased Harlem Globetrotters’ great player, Meadowlark Lemon had been alive today and helping the equally great band, The Byrds, re-write their classic song, it would likely get a new title.

The title would perfectly describe what this past week was a all about.

“Spin, Spin, Spin.”

Whether it was post-Iowa Caucus result speeches by the candidates or President Obama’s comments in the aftermath of Friday’s disappointing Employment Situation Report and downward revision to the previous month, it’s easy to see the spin going around and around.

No wonder the stock market is getting dizzy and dizzier, despite its heights getting lower and lower.

With confusion coming from Iowa regarding the definition of “winning” from both sides of the aisle you could easily be excused for shaking your head as the week started.

Then, when a picture of decreasing employment numbers alongside increasing jobless claims numbers was painted as reflecting an increasingly robust economy you could have been further excused for shaking your head into the week’s end.

Politicians who want an opportunity to create a legacy, as well as lame duck politicians who want to cement a legacy are very adept at spin and the ability to portray everything in terms of black and white.

The other side is always wrong and the facts are as portrayed and not as fact.

For stock investors life was much easier when only having to deal with the paradoxical association between oil and stocks.

You simply awoke in the morning and saw where West Texas Intermediate was trading and knew that the stock market would go in the same direction.

Now they’re back into having to decide whether news they hear is good or bad and whether to react appropriately to that news or paradoxically.

Of course, that would be easier if news was really presented on a factual basis and not so quickly subjected to overwhelmingly sanctimonious spin.

With the notion that evidence of a slow down in the economy would make the likelihood of further Federal Reserve rate hikes less, bad news was once again being taken as good news. The predominance of oil, however, as a factor in the market’s direction may have been obscuring some of that newly rediscovered fractured thought process.

With the market having spent the week going back and forth with numerous large intra-day moves and some large daily moves, it all came down to Friday’s trading to determine the fate of the DJIA for the week, as it had only been 34 points lower heading into the final day of trading. That week included one day with a loss of 290 points and the following day with a gain of 193 points.

If you were among those for whom confidence could have been inspired by those kind of movements, then any kind of upcoming spin could have led you in any direction.

Of course, the direction also depended on whether you are now of the increasing frame of mind that good news is bad news.

While we awaited Friday morning’s Employment Situation Report release and the DJIA had been down only 0.2%, the broader indexes weren’t faring quite as well.

The S&P 500 had already been 1.3% lower on the week and the NASDAQ 100 was down 2.6%.

With Friday morning’s release, the data, while disappointing was likely not weak enough to give cause for much celebration for those looking for good reason to dismiss the possibility of future interest rate hikes in 2016.

What may have cast a pall on the market was the Presidential spin that focused on the 4.9% jobless rate and wage growth.

If you were among those interpreting bad news as being good, you had to interpret that kind of spin as being good news.

And that can only be bad as the FOMC had certainly not closed the door on further interest rate increases in its recent statement.

While the DJIA lost an additional 1.3% to end the week, the NASDAQ 100 tacked on an additional 3.4% to its already sizable loss for the week, while the S&P 500 lost an additional 1.9%.

Good luck trying to spin that as we begin to prepare for the coming week.

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

Having suffered the direct blow from decrease oil prices and the indirect blow from what those decreasing prices have wrought upon the market, it’s not easy to consider adding another energy position.

Who can begin to count the number of times over the past 15 months that it didn’t look as if we had hit a once in a generation kind of rock bottom bargain price for a barrel of oil?

With ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) having just slashed its dividend, you do have to wonder whether British Petroleum (NYSE:BP) could be next.

WHile its dividend this week is presumably safe, it’s harder to make that case for the remainder of 2016 if rude prices continue to test lows. In its defense, British Petroleum is better diversified than ConocoPhillips is after having spun off its refining assets a few years ago, but the risk of insufficient cash flow is still there.

What is also there is a very nice option premium in reflection of further risk.

Looking at the option premiums, I am inclined to look at more than a weekly option contract, as is normally my approach for positions going ex-dividend during the week.

The exaggerated volatility of the past 2 weeks is really enhancing the premium and the dividend is extraordinary, while likely having more safety than the option market may be surmising.

Also ex-dividend this week are DuPont (NYSE:DD) and International Paper (NYSE:IP).

While DuPont has gone considerably higher in the past two weeks, I believe that in the absence of general market weakness it can recapture much of what had been lost following the announcement of a complex deal with Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW).

With some strength also seen in Dow Chemical recently, I took the opportunity to sell calls on uncovered shares and is a portion of the strategic theme for this week, I used an out of the money strike price and a longer term time frame than I would normally consider in an effort to lock in some higher volatility driven option premiums and to regain lost share value.

The same approach holds for if considering a purchase of International Paper.

While it’s recent earnings report exceeded expectations and met whisper numbers, its stock price trend for the past year has been decidedly lower and lower, even in the absence of structural or operating issues.

While its payout ratio is getting uncomfortably high, the generous premium should continue to be safe and I might consider locking in the premium for a longer term, perhaps to even encompass an additional ex-dividend date in May 2016, although upcoming earnings would also have to be considered if doing so.

For that reason, I might even consider going out to a July 2016 expiration in the anticipation that some of that lost luster in its price will be regained by then,

Although not ex-dividend this week, EMC Corporation (NYSE:EMC) is among some of those fallen angels in the technology sector and which are beginning to celebrate their newly found volatility with some enhanced option premiums.

Somehow lost in the story with EMC is that there is a buyout offer that appears to be on track for completion and at a price that is substantially higher than Friday’s closing price.

I’m not one to play in the same arena with those expert in the science and art of arbitrage, but this one seems to offer some opportunity, even as the deal isn’t expected to close until the end of the year.

While there may still be regulatory hurdles head, EMC appears to be a willing partner and while awaiting a decision, there are still some dividends to be had.

For that reason, I might consider buying shares and selling a longer term and significantly out of the money option contract. Since I also already have existing shares at $30, I might consider combining lots and selling calls at a strike below the cost of the original lot, not counting accumulated premiums and dividends.

Finally, I just don’t think that I can any longer resist buying shares of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) at this level.

eBay was one of my more frequent holdings until the announcement of its definitive plan to spin off its profitable PayPal (NASDAQ:PYPL) unit.

What could be more appropriate when talking about the week’s spin than to look at a post-spin eBay?

For years I loved holding eBay as it made little net movement, even as it had occasional spikes and plunges usually earnings related. All that meant was that it had an attractive option premium, with relatively little risk associated with it, as long as you didn’t mind those occasional plunges that were inevitably reversed.

WIth no real challenge ahead of it other than market risk in general, eBay is now at its post spin-off low and is offering a great option premium for what I perceive to be low risk.

WIth those premiums so attractive, but mindful that there may be near term market risk, I would probably think in terms of selling longer term and out of the money call contracts on any shares that I purchased.

While the market could continue to be further dragged down by declining oil prices and while games are still being played with what economic data really means and how it should be interpreted, you do have to wonder how any of that impacts eBay.

I know that I do.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, EMC Corporation

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (2/10 $0.59), DuPont (2/10 $0.38), International Paper (2/11 $0.38)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:

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

Weekend Update – November 8, 2015

For a very brief period of time before October’s release of the Employment Situation Report and for about 90 minutes afterward, the stock market had started doing something we hadn’t seen for quite a while.

Surprisingly, traders had been interpreting economic news in a rational sort of way. Normally, you wouldn’t have to use the word "surprisingly" to describe that kind of behavior, but for the preceding few years the market was focused on just how great the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy was for equity investors and expressed fear at anything that would take away their easy access to cheap money or would make alternative investments more competitive.

The greatest increment of growth in our stock market over the past few years occurred when bad news was considered good and good news was considered good.

To be more precise, however, that greatest increment of growth occurred when there was the absence of good economic news in the United States and the presence of good economic news in China.

What that meant was that good economic news in the United States was most often greeted as being a threat. Meanwhile back in the good old days when China was reporting one unbelievable quarter after another, their good economic news fueled the fortunes of many US companies doing business there.

Then the news from China began to falter and we were at a very odd intersection when the market was achieving new highs even as so many companies were in correction mode as a Chinese slowdown and supremacy of American currency conspired to offset the continuing gift from the FOMC.

At the time of the release of October’s Employment Situation Report the market initially took the stunningly low number and downward revisions to previous months as reflecting a sputtering economy and added to the losses that started some 6 weeks earlier and that had finally taken the market into a long overdue correction.

90 minutes later came an end to rational behavior and the market rallied in the belief that the bad news on employment could only mean a continuation of low interest rates.

In other words, stock market investors, particularly the institutions that drive the trends were of the belief that fewer people going back to work was something that was good for those in a position to put money to work in the stock market.

Of course, they would never come right out and say that. Instead, there was surely some proprietary algorithm at work that set up a cascading avalanche of buy orders or some technical factors that conveniently removed all human emotion and empathy from the equation.

As bad as the employment numbers seemed, the real surprise came a few weeks later as the FOMC emerged from its meeting and despite not raising rates indicated that employment gains at barely above the same level everyone had taken to be disappointing would actually be sufficient to justify an interest rate increase.

The same kind of reversal that had been seen earlier in the month after the Employment Situation Report was digested was also seen after the most recent FOMC Statement release had started settling into the minds of traders. However, instead of taking the market off in an inappropriate direction, there came the realization that an increase in interest rates can only mean that the economy is improving and that can only be a good thing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to this past week and with the uncertainty of the week ending release of the Employment Situation Report the market went nicely higher to open the first 2 days of trading.

There seemed to be a message being sent that the market was ready to once again accept an imminent interest rate increase, just as it had done a few months prior.

That seemed like a very adult-like sort of thing to do.

The real surprise came when the number of new jobs was reported to be nearly double that of the previous month and was coupled with reports of the lowest unemployment rate in almost 8 years and with a large increase in wages.

Most any other day over the past few years and that combination of news would have sent the market swooning enough to make even the fattest finger proud.

With all of those people now heading back to work and being in a position to begin spending their money in a long overdue return to conspicuous consumption, this coming week’s slew of national retailers reporting earnings may provide some real insight into the true health of the economy.

While the results of the past quarter may not yet fully reflect the improving fortunes of the workforce, I’m more inclined to listen closely to the forecasting abilities of Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s (M) and his fellow retail chieftains than to most any nation’s official data set.

Hopefully, the good employment news of last week will be one of many more good pieces to come and will continue to be accepted for what they truly represent.

While the cycle of increasing workforce participation, rising wages and increased discretionary spending may stop being a virtuous one at some point, that point appears to be far off into the future and for now, I would trade off the high volatility that I usually crave for some sustained move higher that reflects some real heat in the economy.

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

What better paired trade could there be than Aetna (AET) and Altria (MO)?

I don’t mean that in terms of making the concurrent trades by taking a long position in one and a short position in the other, but rather on the basis of their respective businesses.

In the long term, Altria products will likely hasten your death while still making lots of money in the process and Aetna’s products will begrudgingly try to delay your death, being now forced to do so even when the costs of doing so will exceed the premiums being paid.

Either way, you lose, although there may be some room for a winner or two in either or both of these positions as they both had bad weeks even as the broader market finished higher for the 6th consecutive week.

Both have, in fact, badly trailed the S&P 500 since it started its rally after the October Employment Situation Report.

Aetna, although still sporting a low "beta," a measure of volatility, has been quite volatile of late and its option premium is reflecting that recent volatility even as overall volatility has returned to its historically low levels for the broader market.

With Aetna having recently reported earnings and doing what so many have done, that is beating on earnings, but missing on revenues, it had suffered a nearly 8% decline from its spike upon earnings.

That seems like a reasonable place to consider wading in, particularly with optimistic forward guidance projections and a very nice selection of option premiums.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is ex-dividend this week. Although its dividend is well below that of dividend paying stocks in the S&P 500 its recent proposal to buy competitor Rite Aid (RAD) has increased its volatility and made it more appealing of a dividend related trade.

With some displeasure already being expressed over the buyout, Walgreens Boots Alliance will surely do the expected and sell or close some existing stores of both brands and move on with things. But until then, the premiums will likely continue somewhat elevated as Walgreens seeks to further spread its footprint across the globe.

With about a 10% drop since reporting earnings at the end of October there isn’t too much reason to suspect that it will be single out from the broader market to go much lower, unless some very significant and loud opposition to its expansion plans surfaces. With the Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaching, I don’t think that those objections are going to be voiced in the next week or two.

International Paper (IP) is also ex-dividend this coming week and I think that I’m ready to finally add some shares to an existing lot. Like many other stocks in the past year, it’s road to recovery has been unusually slow and it is a stock that has been among those falling on hard times even as the market rallied to its highs.

While it has recovered quite a bit from its recent low, International Paper has given back some of that gain since reporting earnings last week.

Its price is now near, although still lower than the range at which I like to consider buying or adding shares. The impending dividend is often a catalyst for considering a purchase and that is definitely the case as it goes ex-dividend in a few days.

Its premium is not overly generous, as the option market isn’t perceiving too much uncertainty in the coming week, but the stock does offer a very nice dividend and I may consider using an extended option to try and make it easier to recoup the share price drop due to its dividend distribution. 

Macy’s reports earnings this week and it has had a rough ride after each of its last two earnings reports. When Macy’s is the one reporting store closures, you know that something is a miss in retail or at least some real sea change is occurring.

The fact that the sea change is now showing profits at Amazon (AMZN) for a second consecutive quarter may spell bad things for Macy’s.

The options market must see things precisely that way, because it is implying a 9.2% move in Macy’s next week, which is unusually large for it, although no doubt having taken those past two quarters into account.

Normally, I look for opportunities to sell puts on those companies reporting earnings when I can achieve a 1% ROI on that sale by selecting a strike price outside of the range implied by the option market.

In this case that’s possible, although utilizing a strike that’s 10% below Friday’s close doesn’t offer too large of a margin for error.

However, I think that CEO Lundgren is going to breathe some life into shares with his guidance. I think he understands the consumer as well as anyone, just as he had some keen insight long before anyone else, when explaining why the energy and gas price dividend being received by consumers wasn’t finding its way to retailers, nearly a year ago.

Finally, the most interesting trade of the week may be Target (TGT).

Actually, it may be a trade that takes 2 weeks to play out as the stock is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week and then reports earnings two days later.

Being ex-dividend on a Monday means that if assigned early it would have to occur by Friday of this coming week. However, due to earnings being released the following week the option premiums are significantly enhanced.

What that offers is the opportunity to consider buying shares and selling an extended weekly, deep in the money call with the aim of seeing the shares assigned early.

For example, at Friday’s close of $77.21, the sale of a November 20, 2015 $75.50 call would provide a premium of $2.60.

That would leave a net of $0.89 if shares were assigned early, or an ROI of 1.15% for the 5 day holding, with shares more likely to be assigned early the more Target closes above $76.06 by the close of Friday’s trading.

However, if not assigned early that ROI could climb to 1.9% for the 2 week holding period even if Target shares fall by as much as 2.2% upon earnings.

So maybe it’s not always a misplaced sense of logic to consider bad news as being a source for good things to come.

 

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Altria

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/12 $0.44), Target (11/16 $0.56), Walgreens Boots Alliance (11/12 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Macy’s (11/11 AM)

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

Weekend Update – August 9, 2015

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

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

Or now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean besides the paper fortune teller?

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

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

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

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

“Beat on earnings, missed on revenues.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: none

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

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

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

Weekend Update – July 5, 2015

I used to work with someone who used the expression “It’s as clear as mud,” for just about every occasion, even the ones that had obvious causes, answers or paths forward.

Initially, most of us thought that was just some kind of an attempt at humor until eventually coming to the realization that the person truly understood nothing.

Right now, I feel like that person, although the fact that it took a group of relatively smart people quite a while to realize that person had no clue, may be more of a problem.

It should have been obvious. That’s why we were getting the big bucks, but the very possibility that someone who was expected to be capable, was in reality not capable, wasn’t even remotely considered, until it, too, became painfully obvious.

I see parallels in many of life’s events and the behavior of stock markets. As an individual investor the “clear as mud” character of the market seems apparent to me, but it’s not clear that the same level of diminished clarity is permeating the thought processes of those who are much smarter than me and responsible for directing the use of much more money than I could ever dream.

What often brings clarity is a storm that washes away the clouds and that perfect storm may now be brewing.

Whatever the outcome of the Greek referendum and whatever interpretation of the referendum question is used, the integrity of the EU is threatened if contagion is a by-product of the vote and any subsequent steps to resolve their debt crisis.

Most everyone agrees that the Greek economy and the size of the debt is small potatoes compared to what other dominoes in the EU may threaten to topple, or extract concessions on their debt.

Unless the stock market has been expressing fear of that contagion, accounting for some of the past week’s losses, there should be some real cause for concern. If those market declines were only focused on Greece and not any more forward looking than that, an already tentative market has no reason to do anything other than express its uncertainty, especially as critical support levels are approached.

Moving somewhat to the right on the world map, or the left, depending on how much you’re willing to travel, there is news that The People’s Republic of China is establishing a market-stabilization fund aimed at fighting off the biggest stock selloff in years and fears that it could spread to other parts of the economy. Despite the investment of $120 billion Yuan (about $19.3 billion USD) by 21 of the largest Chinese brokerages, the lesson of history is that attempts to manipulate markets tends not to work very well for more than a day or so.

That lesson seems to rarely be learned, as market forces can be tamed about as well as can forces of nature.

The speculative fervor in China and the health of its stock markets can create another kind of contagion that may begin with US Treasury Notes. Whether that means an increased escape to their safety or cashing in massive holdings is anyone’s guess. Understanding that is far beyond my ken, but somehow I don’t think that those much smarter than me have any clue, either.

Back on our own shores, this week is the start of another earnings season, although that season never really seems to end.

While I’ve been of the belief that this upcoming series of reports will benefit from a better than expected currency exchange situation, as previous forward guidance had been factoring in USD/Euro parity, the issue at hand may be the next round of forward guidance, as the Euro may be coming under renewed pressure.

Disappointing earnings at a time that the market is only 3% below its all time highs together with international pressures seems to paint a clear picture for me, but what do I know, as you can’t escape the fact that the market is only 3% below those highs.

The upcoming week may be another in a succession of recent weeks that I’ve had a difficult time finding a compelling reason to part with any money, even if that was merely a recycling of money from assigned positions.

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

Much of my interests this week are driven purely by performance relative to the S&P 500 over the previous 5 trading days and the belief that the extent of those price moves were largely unwarranted given the storm factors.

One exception, in that it marginally out-performed the S&P 500 last week, is International Paper (NYSE:IP). However, that hasn’t been the case over the past month, as the shares have badly trailed the market, possibly because its tender offer to retire high interest notes wasn’t as widely accepted as analysts had expected and interest payment savings won’t be realized to the anticipated degree.

Subsequently, shares have traded at the low end of a recent price cut target range. As it’s done so, it has finally returned to a price that I last owned shares, nearly a year ago and this appears to be an opportune time to consider a new position.

With that possibility, however, comes an awareness that earnings will be reported at the end of the month, as analysts have reduced their paper sales and expectations and profit margins have been squeezed as demand has fallen and input costs have risen.

DuPont’s (NYSE:DD) share decline wasn’t as large as it seemed as hitting a new 52 week low. That decline was exaggerated by about $3.20 after the completion of their spin-off of Chemours (NYSE:CC).

As shares have declined following the defeat of Nelson Peltz’s move to gain a seat on the Board of Directors, the option premium has remained unusually high, reflecting continued perception of volatility ahead. At a time when revenues are expected to grow in 2016 and shares may find some solace is better than expected currency exchange rates.

Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY) has been on my wish list for the past few weeks and continues to be a possible addition during a week that I’m not expecting to be overly active in adding new positions.

What caused Cypress Semiconductor shares to soar is also what was the likely culprit in its decline. That was the proposed purchase of Integrated Silicon Solution (NASDAQ:ISSI) that subsequently accepted a bid from a consortium of private Chinese investors.

What especially caught my attention this past week was an unusually large option transaction at the $12 strike and September 18, 2015 expiration. That expiration comes a couple of days before the next anticipated ex-dividend date, so I might consider going all the way out to the December 18, 2015 expiration, to have a chance at the dividend and also to put some distance between the expiration and earnings announcements in July and October.

Potash (NYSE:POT) is ex-dividend this week and was put back on my radar by a reader who commented on a recent article about the company. While I generally lie to trade Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), the reader’s comments made me take another look after almost 3 years since the last time I owned shares.

The real difference, for me at least, between the 2 companies was the size of the dividend. While Potash has a dividend yield that is about twice the size of that of Mosaic, it’s payout ratio is about 2.7 times the rate of that of Mosaic.

While that may be of concern over the longer term, it’s not ever-present on my mind for a shorter term trade. When I last traded Potash it only offered monthly options. Now it has weekly and expanded weekly offerings, which could give opportunity to manage the position aiming for an assignment prior to its earnings report on July 30th.

During a week that caution should prevail, there are a couple of “Momentum” stocks that I would consider for purchase, also purely on their recent price activity.

It’s hard to find anything positive to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF). However, if you do sell call options, the fact that it has been trading at a reasonably well defined range of late while offering an attractive dividend, may be the best nice thing that can be said about the stock.

I recently had shares assigned and still sit with a much more expensive lot of shares that are uncovered. I’ve had 2 new lots opened in 2015 and subsequently assigned, both at prices higher than the closing price for the past week. There’s little reason to expect any real catalyst to move shares much higher, at least until earnings at the end of next month. However, perhaps more importantly, there’s little reason to expect shares to be disproportionately influenced by Greek or Chinese woes.

Trading in a narrow range and having a nice premium makes Abercrombie and Fitch a continuing attractive position, that can either be done as a covered call or through the sale of puts.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) is another whose shares were recently assigned and has given back some of its recent price gains while banks have been moving back and forth along with interest rates.

With the uncertainty of those interest rate movements over the next week and with earnings scheduled to be released the following week, I would consider a covered call trade that utilizes the monthly July 17, 2015 option, or even considering the August 21, 2015 expiration, to get the gift of time.

Finally, Alcoa (NYSE:AA) reports earnings this week after having sustained a 21.5% fall in shares in the past 2 months. That’s still not quite as bad as the 31% one month tumble it took 5 years ago, but shares have now fallen 36% in the past 7 months.

The option market is implying a 5% price movement next week, which on the downside would bring shares to an 18 month low.

Normally, I look for the opportunity to sell a put option in advance of earnings if I can get a 1% ROI for a weekly contract at a strike price that’s below the lower level determined by the option market’s implied movement. I usually would prefer not to take possession of shares and would attempt to delay any assignment by rolling over the short put position in an effort to wait out the price decline.

In this case the ROI is a little bit less than 1% if the price moves less than 6%, however, at this level, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares, especially if Alcoa is going to move back to a prolonged period of share price stagnation as during 2012 and 2013.

That was an excellent time to be selling covered calls on the shares as premiums were elevated as so many were expecting price recovery and were willing to bet on it through options.

You can’t really go back in time, but sometimes history does repeat itself.

At least that much is clear.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, DuPont, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Potash (7/8)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (7/8 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 – June 14, 2015

The investing community is either really old or thinks it’s really well versed in history.

The prospects of interest rates going higher must be evoking memories of the Jimmy Carter era when personal experiences may have been pretty painful if on the wrong side of a prime interest rate of 21.5%.

I’d be afraid, too, of reliving the prospects of having to take out a 20% loan on my Chevrolet Vega.

The interest rate isn’t what would bother me, though. That Vega still evokes nightmares.

If not old enough to have had those personal experiences, then investors must be great students of history and simply fear the era’s repeat.

Unfortunately, neither group seems to readily recall the experiences of the intervening years when hints of inflation appearing over the horizon were addressed by a responsive Federal Reserve and not the Federal Reserve presided over by the last Chairman to have come from a corporate background.

It’s unfortunate only because the stock market has been held hostage, despite having reached new highs recently, by fears of a return to a long bygone era, which was also characterized by a passive Federal Reserve Chairman who opposed raising interest rates as a fiscal tool and while inflation was rapidly growing, believed that it would self-correct. 

G. William Miller was certainly correct on that latter belief as rates did self-correct once reaching that 21.5% level, although they lasted longer than did most people’s Vegas, while Miller’s length of tenure as Chairman of the Federal Reserve did not.

Passivity and benign neglect weren’t the best ways to approach an economy then and probably not a very good way to do so now.

This past week seemingly provided more of the confirmatory data the FOMC has been waiting upon to make the long signaled move that has also been long feared. Following the previous week’s Employment Situation Report and this past week’s JOLTS report and Retail Sales report, every indication is now pointing to an economy that is heating up.

Not as much as the crankcase of my Vega that caused so many engine blocks to crack, but enough to get the FOMC to act in a way that the interest rate dovish Miller would not.

Still, the various bits of information coming in during the week caused major moves in both stock and bond markets, although the cumulative impact was negligible, even while the details were attention getting.

 

While Janet Yellen has been referred to as a “dove,” when compared to Miller, she is a ravenous hawk who only needs a clear signal of when to swoop. While the FOMC will meet this week it’s not too likely that there will be any policy changes announced, although sometimes it’s all about the wording used to describe the committee’s thoughts.

As recently as 2 weeks ago many were thinking that rate hikes might not come until 2016. However, now the prevailing chatter is that September 2015 is the target date for action.

However with the July 2015 meeting coming at the very end of the month and the opportunity to peruse another month’s worth of data what would be easier than making that decision then, particularly coming in-between June and September scheduled press conferences?

That would take most by surprise, but at least it gets this ordeal over.

Like so many things in life, the anticipation can be the real ordeal as the reality pales in comparison. Somehow, though, that’s not a lesson that’s readily learned.

Unless the upcoming earnings season will have some very nice upside surprises due to a continuing strengthening of the US Dollar that never arrived, there doesn’t appear to be any catalyst on the horizon to prompt the stock market to test its highs. That is unless we finally get a chance to remove the yoke of fear.

Real students of history will know that the fear of those interest rate hikes, especially in the early stages of an overtly improving economy, is unwarranted.

After a week of not opening a single new position I’d love to see some clarity that can only come from FOMC decisiveness. It may well be a long hot summer ahead, but it’s time to embrace the heating up of the economy for what it is and celebrate its arrival and put the ghost of G. William to rest.

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

While markets were gyrating wildly this past week and news regarding Greece, the IMF and ECB kept going back and forth, I found myself shaking my head as the biggest story of the week seemed to be the upcoming CEO change at Twitter (TWTR). 

Although I am short puts and have a real interest in seeing shares rise, I sat wondering why a company that was so small, employed so few people and contributed so little to the economy, could possibly receive so much attention for a really inconsequential story.

Beyond that, the company could go away tomorrow and its 300 million monthly active users wouldn’t be facing a gap very long others in Silicon Valley could step in to fill that gap in a heartbeat and do so without all of the dysfunction characterizing the company.

One thing that strikes me is that with the change the Board of Directors will continue to have 3 past CEOs. A friend of mine was once Chairman of an academic department that had 4 past Chairman still active on the faculty. He said it was absolutely intolerable and he couldn’t act without continuing second guessing and sniping.

Among the characteristics of some selections this week is strong and unequivocal leadership. Right or wrong, it helps to be decisive.

It also helps to offer a dividend, as that’s another recurring theme for me, of late.

General Electric (GE) has been led by the same individual for nearly 15 years. While it may not be helpful to his legacy to compare General Electric’s stock performance relative to the S&P 500 under his tenure to that of his predecessor, no one can accuse GE of standing still and being indecisive.

The one thing that I continually bemoan is that I haven’t owned shares of GE as often as I should have over the past few years. Despite it’s relative under-performance over the years, other than 2015 YTD, it has been a very reliable covered call position. Its fairly narrow trading range, reasonable premium and its safe and excellent dividend are a great combination if not looking for dizzying growth and the risk that attends such growth.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and that may be the motivator I need to consider committing some funds at a time when I’m not terribly excited about doing so.

Although Larry Ellison has stepped back from some of his responsibilities at Oracle (ORCL), there’s not too much doubt that he is in charge. Who other than such a powerful leader could convince two other powerful business leaders to be in a CEO sharing arrangement?

Oracle reports earnings this week and is expected to go ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle. The options market is predicting only a 3.9% price move over the course of the coming week. 

There isn’t an appealing premium available for selling puts outside of the price range predicted by the options market, but Oracle is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning, rather than simply taking advantage of it to generate earnings volatility induced premiums. It’ like GE, is a company that I haven’t owned frequently enough over the years, as it has also been a very good covered call position, even while frequently trailing the S&P 500 over recent years.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) is another company with a strong leader, who also happens to be a visionary. It’s stock price surged upon news that it was going to acquire Integrated Silicon Solution (ISSI), but over the past week has been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride as the buyout went from Cypress Semiconductor missing a self-designated deadline to obtain regulatory approval, to then arranging financing and culminating in ISSI announcing that it had accepted the Cypress offer.

Or so it seemed.

That rollercoaster ride is likely to continue next week as the coveted buyout target has just recommended accepting an offer from a Chinese private equity consortium just a day after announcing it had accepted Cypress’ offer.

A special meeting of ISSI stockholders has now been called for June 19, 2015. With a close eye on that meeting and its outcome, I would consider waiting until then to make a decision of Cypress Semiconductor shares, that will go ex-dividend the following week.

While it’s clear that the market valued the combination of the two companies, the disappointment may now be factored in, although perhaps not fully. Cypress Semiconductor is a company that I’ve long admired, particularly as it has acted as an technology incubator and have liked as a covered option trade, although at a lower price. 

American Express (AXP) has also been led by a strong CEO for nearly 15 years. Of late, he may have been subject to some criticism for the opacity related to the company’s relationship with Costco (COST), as their co-branding credit card agreement will be ending in 2016 and surprisingly represented a large share of American Express’ profits. However, for much of the earlier years American Express was a good investment vehicle and offered a differentiated and profitable product.

Since that announcement and once the surprise was digested, American Express has traded in a narrow range following a precipitous drop in shares that discounted the earnings hit that was still to be a year away.

That steadiness in share price with the overhang of uncertainty, has made shares another good covered call and they, too, will be ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle.

International Paper (IP) may stand as the exception to the previous stocks. It has a new CEO and won’t be offering a dividend until the August or September 2015 cycle.

In fact, its recently retired CEO was once on a CNNMoney list of the 5 most over-paid CEOs.

What it does have is a recent 10% decline in share price that has finally brought it back to the neighborhood in which I wouldn’t mind considering shares. Like GE and Oracle, in hindsight, I wish I had owned shares more frequently over the years, not because of its share out-performance, as that certainly figured into the poor value received from its past CEO, but rather from that steady combination of option premiums and dividends along with a reasonably steady share price. 

Finally, although the sector isn’t very large, there hasn’t been a shortage of activity going in within the small universe of telecommunications companies and cable and satellite providers, of late.  

Verizon (VZ) has been making its own news with a proposed buyout of AOL (AOL), which is a relatively small one when compared to the other deals being made or proposed.

While matching the performance of the S&P 500 YTD, it is lagging well behind in the past month, but in doing so, it is also becoming more attractive, as it returns to the $47 neighborhood. It also will be going ex-dividend in the July 2015 option cycle and always has a reasonable option premium relative to the manageable risk that it generally offers.

At a time when there is ongoing market certainty there is a certain amount of comfort that comes from dividends and that comfort makes decisions easier to make.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Cypress Semiconductor, International Paper, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: General Electric (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Oracle (6/17 PM)

 

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

 

 

Weekend Update – February 8, 2015

There’s not too much doubt that this past week had a character that was very different from nearly every week that had preceded it thus far in 2015, which has been predominated by sad faces.

The problem encountered in January and helping to create a sea of sad faces is that we were all expecting to begin seeing evidence of an improving economy. That kind of anticipation timed along with what we often believe to be a traditionally positive January market easily set the stage for disappointment.

The narrative that seemed so logical and convincing included more jobs, higher wages and newfound personal wealth due to slashed energy prices. The problem, though, was that when the time came for corroborating data to take the narrative into the realm of non-fiction it just wasn’t on the same page.

Retail Sales weren’t what we were expecting and neither was the GDP. Manufacturing data was falling and the early results from earnings season were less than stellar, as good news failed to materialize or coalesce into a coherent story in support of the narrative.

However, this past week caught glimpses of good news to come, as some prominent national retailers provided improved guidance that was finally in line with the theory that we had come to accept as gospel. Finally there was some indication that lower energy prices were going to result in more discretionary spending. What was especially encouraging was that the improvement on the retail side was no longer being confined to the more luxurious end of the spectrum.

I preferred this week’s “happy face” version of 2015, even if the week did end on a little bit of a down note after a day that featured a near flawless “Employment Situation Report,” that included some sizeable revisions to previous months.

In a perfect example of the concept that “as an investor and a consumer you can not have your cake and eat it, too” the market went higher, but so did 10 Year Treasury rates and energy prices, but within reason that can be a good trade-off.

2015 has been pretty dizzying thus far. All you have to do is take a look at an S&P 500 chart since having reached market highs at the end of December 2014. It doesn’t take long to realize that market tests have been coming at a far greater frequency or on a more compressed time frame than they had been coming in almost 3 years.

The good news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those selling. The bad news is that the alternating plunges and surges are creeping into option premium pricing for those buying.

The activity seen in 2015 will lead some to believe that it demonstrates the market’s resilience, while others will be less optimistic and point out that large moves higher, as have been commonplace in 2015 are typically seen in or approaching bear markets.

Fortunately, we will have hindsight to guide us.

Until that point that hindsight kicks in there is the problem of deciding whether it’s a smiling face or a sad face that awaits in the near future.

With the otherwise under-appreciated JOLT Survey, which Janet Yellen has said held increasing importance as it may indicate workforce optimism and another Retail Sales report coming this week, there may be more reason to add to the trickle of evidence that may validate last week’s happy faces.

Of course, while official government reports and data are certainly meaningful, despite a propensity toward revision, the really meaningful data may start coming in just a few weeks. At that time the major retailers begin to release their earnings. Perhaps more importantly than those earnings ending in December 2014, they will have also had 2 additional months of observation to either validate or negate the narrative and also provide changed forward guidance.

I have my “happy face” mask within easy reach, although the sad face is never far away.

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

One of the reasons that I like Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) so much is that it is prone to large and decisive movements, but is otherwise a fairly staid stock that has a nice habit of seeing its price revert toward the mean.

Fastenal reported good earnings just a few weeks ago, but this past week reported weaker than expected January sales resulting in another of those decisive movements that rippled through to its competitors, as well.

The hindsight tool indicates that over the past few years these kind of drops from about the $45 level have proven to be a good time to purchase or add shares. While only offering a monthly options contract there are now only 2 weeks remaining on the February 2015 cycle. However, during the 10 occasions that I have owned shares in the past 18 months I’ve held them through only a single monthly option cycle just once, so it does tend to be a longer holding.

While “old tech” was weak last weak and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has been weak since releasing its earnings, a nearly 10% drop seems excessive, but a welcome return to a price level last seen 6 months ago.

Among my favorite kind of option contract sales, but ones that I only infrequently get to execute, are for those going ex-dividend on a Monday. In such cases, early assignment has to occur on the previous Friday. If selling an option contract expiring the same week as the ex-dividend date and shares are assigned early to capture the dividend, the contract seller won’t get the dividend, but does get an additional week of premium and a return of cash from the assignment which can then be re-invested to generate more income.

Microsoft shares go ex-dividend on Tuesday February 17th, the day after the Presidents Day holiday. That means if an option contract is to be exercised early it must be done on the preceding Friday and may offer one of those opportunities to benefit whether the option is exercised early or not.

Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE:RDS.A) also goes ex-dividend this week. While oil was nearly 10% higher for the week and may reasonably be expected to undergo some short term profit taking, as too many have foregone their bearish sentiment, Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to decrease its capital expenditures is just another in the steps necessary to nudge the supply-demand equilibrium toward a balance favoring price.

The process, however, unless there is an unexpected event or change in policy, such as Saudi Arabia cutting production in exchange for Russia’s support of the Syrian regime, is a slow one. I would, therefore, look at a holding in Royal Dutch Shell to be of a longer term nature and the absence of weekly options removes some of the risk of short term volatility.

However, if it’s volatility that you’re looking for, then Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) may be just the thing, as precious metals has seen a very clear increase in its volatility and has trickled down to the level of the miners.

Over the past 2 months this has been one of my favorite trades as I’ve rolled over existing positions numerous times, sometimes more than once in a week and even electing to rollover when assignment was nearly certain in order to keep deriving income from the holding.

As seen this past week and nearly every week in the past 2 months these shares can move up and down very quickly, but for those who believe that precious metals or some proxy should be in the speculative portion of their portfolio, this may be a suitable addition, especially as uncertainty abounds in stocks, bonds, currencies and metals.

While I only have room for one energy sector position, Marathon Oil also goes ex-dividend this week and has reasons to be considered.

While its dividend is far below that of Royal Dutch Shell, it has also suffered a far greater decline from its recent high level. While I think that decline near its end, it does have earnings to report on February 18, 2015, a week after its ex-dividend date.

Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO), unlike Royal Dutch Shell does offer weekly option contracts providing opportunities to focus on either or both events by selecting different expiration dates. In the case of Marathon, as we’ve seen with many others in the energy sector reporting their earnings, the reality has been better than the fears and shares have done well in the aftermath. With that in mind I look at Marathon as potentially offering a good dividend and upside potential from earnings, in addition to an option premium that;’s enhanced by the upcoming earnings as well as the added volatility surrounding energy names.

International Paper (NYSE:IP) also is ex-dividend this week and while it is near its 52 week high and 20% higher from its earnings release in October 2014, its near term prospects don’t appear to hold a return to that level. Instead, I think that there is still room for some capital appreciation, or at least continuing to trade in its recent range, while offering the opportunity to accumulate premiums.

The company has been very shareholder friendly with spin-offs, increasing share buybacks and dividend increases in each of the past 5 years. That’s a nice combination for those who need something to offset the lack of excitement in its actual businesses.

After announcing record earnings, but weak forward guidance, shares of Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI) briefly suffered a sharp fall. However, when there was some opportunity to really evaluate the increased share buyback announced and the increased dividend analysts dismissed the importance of the lowered guidance and shares recovered.

Other than experiencing some currency headwinds, margins on its products are expected to increase as it its share of digital download revenues. After all, what is a “millennial” going to spend their newly found cash on if not gaming? In return, Activision may have some upside share potential supported by its buyback and a nice option premium to help atone for the adventure that may await with share ownership.

Finally, what’s a day without the report of a new cyber-hack and the theft of personal data? Last week’s report of a massive and successful attack of a healthcare insurer, that made away with personally identifying data and not just credit card numbers, may be the start of massive headaches for many in the 14 states served by that insurer who may find that joining the witness protection program and changing their name and date of birth may be the best remedy.

While retaining FireEye (NASDAQ:FEYE) after the hack isn’t terribly different from closing the barn door a little too late, it certainly raises the profile of companies in the cyber-security arena even higher.

FireEye reports earnings this week and if you only looked at a 6 month chart you would think that it had done well in scratching its way back toward its August 2014 level. However, a look beyond 6 months shows just how far shares have fallen in the past year.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move upon earnings and based on past history that may be an under-estimate of what may be possible. However, one may be able to obtain a 1% ROI by selling a weekly put option at a strike level that is about 15.7% Friday’s closing price.

However, since shares are already up about 12% in the past week, I would consider the sale of puts only if there is a meaningful price decline prior to earnings, or if that doesn’t occur, if there is a significant decline after earnings, as FireEye has disappointed in the past and it’s a fickle stock market that has to decide whether the past is more important than the future.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal

Momentum Stocks: Activision Blizzard, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper , Marathon Oil (2/11), Microsoft (2/17), Royal Dutch Shell (2/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: FireEye (2/11 PM)

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

 

Weekend Update – November 9, 2014

Pity the poor hedge fund manager.

For the second consecutive year hedge fund managers are, by and large, reportedly falling far short of their objectives and in jeopardy of not generating their performance fees. 

We all know that those mortgages aren’t going to pay themselves, so their choices are clear.

You can close up shop, disown the shortfalls and try to start anew; you can keep at business as usual and have your under-performance weigh you down in the coming year; or you can roll the dice.

In 2013 it may have been easy to excuse lagging the S&P 500 when that index was nearly 30% higher while you were engaging in active management and costly complex hedging strategies. This year, however, as the market is struggling to break a 10% gain, it’s not quite as easy to get a bye on a performance letdown.

The good news, however, is that the 2014 hurdle is not terribly far out of reach. Despite setting new high after new high, thus far the gains haven’t been stupendous and may still be attainable for those hoping to see daylight in 2015.

The question becomes what will desperate people do, especially if using other people’s money knowing that half of all hedge funds have closed in the past 5 years. Further more funds were closed in 2013 and fewer opened in 2014 than at any point since 2010. It has been a fallow pursuit of alpha as passivity has shown itself fecund. Yet, assets under management continue to grow in the active pursuit of that alpha. That alone has to be a powerful motivator for those in the hedge fund business as that 2% management fee can be substantial.

So I think desperation sets in and that may also be what, at least in part, explained the November through December outperformance last year as the dice were rolled. Granted that over the past 60 years those two months have been the relative stars, that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the past 15 years as hedge funds have become a part of the landscape.

Where it has been the case has been in those years that the market has had exceptionally higher returns which usually means that hedge funds were more likely to lag behind and in need of catching up and prone to rolling the dice.

While the hedging strategies are varied, very complex and use numerous instruments, rolling the dice may explain what appears to be a drying up in volume in some option trading. As that desperation displaces the caution inherent in the sale of options motivated buyers are looking at intransigent sellers demanding inordinately high premiums. With the clock ticking away toward the end of the year and reckoning time approaching, the smaller more certain gains or enhancements to return from hedging positions may be giving way to trying to swing for the fences.

The result is an environment in which there appears to be decreased selling activity, which is especially important for those that have already sold option contracts and may be interested in buying them back to close or rollover their positions. In practice, the environment is now one of low bids by buyers, reflecting low volatility but high asking prices by sellers, often resulting in a chasm that can’t be closed.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen the chasm on may stocks closed only in the final minutes of the week’s trading when it’s painfully obvious that a strike price won’t be reached. Only then, and again, a sign of desperation, do ask prices drop in the hopes of making a sale to exact a penny or two to enhance returns.

So those hedge fund managers may be more likely to be disingenuous in their hedging efforts as they seek to bridge their own chasms over the next few weeks and they could be the root behind a flourish to end the year.

Other than a continuing difficulty in executing persona trades, I hope they do catch up and help to propel the market even higher, but I’m not certain what may await around the corner as January is set to begin.

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

I already own shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) and am continually amazed at the gyrations its price sees without really going very far. In return for watching the shares of this provider of ubiquitous components go up and down, you can get an attractive option premium that reflects the volatility, but doesn’t really reflect the reality. In addition, if holding shares long enough, there is a nice dividend to be had, as well. Selling only monthly call options, I may consider the use of a December 2014 option and may even consider going to the $11 strike, rather than the safer $10, borrowing a page from the distressed hedge fund managers.

I had my shares of Intel (INTC) assigned early this week in order to capture the dividend. I briefly had thoughts of rolling over the position in order to maintain the dividend, but in hindsight, having seen the subsequent price decline, I’m happy to start anew with shares.

Like the desperate hedge fund managers, I may be inclined to emphasize capital gains on this position, rather than seeking to make most of the profit from option sales, particularly as the dividend is now out of the equation.

I may be in the same position of suffering early assignment on existing shares of International Paper (IP) as it goes ex-dividend this week. With a spike in price after earnings and having a contract that expires at the end of the monthly cycle, I had tried to close the well in the money position, but have been faced with the paucity of reasonable ask prices in the pursuit of buying back options. However, even at its current price, International Paper may be poised to go even higher as it pursues a strategy of spin-offs and delivery of value to its investors.

With decent option premiums, an attractive dividend and the chance of further price appreciation, it remains a stock that I would like to have in my portfolio.

Mosaic (MOS) is a stock that I have had as an inactive component of my portfolio after having traded it quite frequently earlier in the year at levels higher than its current price and last year as well, both below and above the current price. It appears that it may have established some support and despite a bounce from that lower level, I believe it may offer some capital appreciation opportunities, as with Intel. As opposed to Intel, however, the dividend is still in the equation, as shares will go ex-dividend on December 2, 2014. With the availability of expanded weekly options there are a mix of strategies to be used if opening this position.

It seems as if there’s barely a week that I don’t consider adding shares of eBay (EBAY). At some point, likely when the PayPal division is spun off, the attention that I pay to eBay may wane, but for now, it still offers opportunity by virtue of its regular spikes and drops while really going nowhere. That typically creates good option premium opportunities, especially at the near the money strikes.

I currently own shares of Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) a company that has quietly become the largest owner of local television stations in the United States. It is now trading at about the mid-point of its lows and where it had found a comfortable home, prior to its price surge after the Supreme Court’s decision that this past week finally resulted in Aereo shutting down its Boston offices and laying off employees, as revenue has stopped.

Sinclair Broadcasting will be ex-dividend early in the December 2014 option cycle and offers a very attractive option. It reported higher gross margins and profits last week, as short interest increased in its shares the prior week. I think that the price drop in the past week is an opportunity to initiate a position or add to shares.

Mattel (MAT) is a company that I haven’t owned in years, but am now attracted back to it, in part for its upcoming dividend, its option premium and some opportunity for share appreciation as it has lagged the S&P 500 since its earnings report last month.

However, while holiday shopping season is approaching and thoughts of increased discretionary consumer spending may create images of share appreciation, Mattel has generally traded in a very narrow range in the final 2 months of the year, which may be just the equation for generating some reasonable returns if factoring in the premiums and dividend.

Twitter (TWTR) continues to fascinate me as a stock, as a medium and as a source of so many slings and arrows thrown at its management.

Twitter has always been a fairly dysfunctional place and with somewhat of a revolving door at its highest levels before and after the IPO. While it briefly gained some applause for luring Anthony Noto to become its CFO, the spotlight heat has definitely turned up on its CEO, Dick Costolo.

Last week I sold Twitter puts in the aftermath of its sharp decline upon earnings release. While the puts expired, I did roll some over to a lower strike price as the premium was indicating continued belief in the downside momentum.

This week I’m considering adding to the position, and selling more puts, especially after the latest round of criticisms being launched at Costolo. At some point, something will give and restore confidence. It may come from the Board of Directors, it  may come from Costolo himself or it may even come from activists who see lots of value in a company that could really benefit from the perception of professional management.

I’m not certain how many times I’ve ended a weekly column with a discussion of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF), but it’s not a coincidence that it frequently warrants a closing word.

Abercrombie and Fitch has been one of my most rewarding and frustrating recurrent trades over the years. At the moment, it’s on the frustrating end of the spectrum following Friday’s revelations regarding sales that saw a 17% price drop. That came the day after an inexplicable 5% rise, that had me attempting to rollover an expiring contract but unable to find a willing seller for the expiring leg.

Over the course of a cumulative 626 days of ownership, spanning 21 individual transactions, my Abercrombie and Fitch activity has had an annualized return of 32% and has seen some steep declines in the process, as occurred on Friday.

This has been an unnecessarily “in the news” kind of company whose CEO has not weathered well and for whom a ticking clock may also be in play. Over the past years each time the stock has soared it has then crashed and when crashing seems to resurrect itself.

Earnings are expected to be reported the following week and premiums will be enhanced as a result. While I currently have an all too expensive open lot of shares I’m very interested in selling puts, as had been done on nine previous occasions over those 626 days. In the event assignment looks likely I would attempt to rollover those puts which would then benefit from enhanced premiums and likely be able to be rolled to a lower strike.

However, if then again faced with assignment, I would consider accepting the assignment, as Abercrombie and Fitch is due to go ex-dividend sometime early in the December 2014 option cycle. However, I would also be prepared for the possibility of the dividend being cut as its payout ratio is unsustainable at current earnings.

 

 

Traditional Stocks:  Cypress Semiconductor, eBay, Intel, Mattel, Mosaic, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Twitter

Double Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – August 24, 2014

For two consecutive summers back in 1981 and 1982 I found myself in Jackson Hole.

Although both times were in August, I don’t recall having run across any Federal Reserve types at the time. However, if they were there, they certainly weren’t staying in the same campground, but I’m guessing that their table was set much the same as mine, when big decisions in an era of 15% Fed Funds rates and the burgeoning money supply were being made.

Or maybe they were simply unwinding after a long day of exchanging white papers.

And not the type that are rolled, as good old fashioned Jackson Hole cowboys were reported to do. Too much exchanging of those rolled papers could definitely lead you into some kind of complacency. I know that I really didn’t care too much about what was going to happen next and was content to just let it all keep happening without my input.

This past week was one when neither decisions nor inputs were really required from investors as the market had its best week in about four months. With the exception of a totally inconsequential FOMC statement release, there was absolutely no economic news, or really no news of any kind at all. In fact, awaiting the scheduled remarks from Mario Draghi was elevated to the status of “breaking news” as most people were tiring of seeing celebrities getting doused with a bucket of ice, under the guise of being news.

In an environment like that how could you not exercise complacency? Going along for the ride has been a good strategy, just ask most hedge fund managers. While they, and I, were elated with the sudden spike in volatility just two weeks ago, talk of a 30% surge in volatility have been replaced by silence and sulking for them and justifiable complacency for most other investors.

Even though it was another in a series of Fridays with potentially unsettling news coming from Ukraine, this time regarding violation of their border by a Russian convoy, the market completely ignored the news, as it did the encounter of a US military jet with a Chinese fighter plane at a distance reported to be 20 feet.

That seemed odd.

Instead, all eyes were focused on the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual soiree in Jackson Hole, awaiting the keynote speech by Janet Yellen and then some words from her European counterpart, Mario Draghi.

For her part, Janet Yellen’s prepared remarks had no impact on markets, which were largely unchanged for the day.

The speculation that the real market propelling catalyst would come from Draghi, who was said to be ready to announce a large round of European quantitative easing turned out to be unfounded and so the week ended on a whimper, with many traders exercising their complacency by having embarked on an early start to the last of summer’s weekends.

While not going out in a blaze of glory markets again thrived on the lack of any news. In that kind of environment you can easily get used to the good times. With many believing that the Federal Reserve’s policies were responsible for those good times and having a “dove” at its helm, even with telegraphed interest rate hikes and an end to quantitative easing, auto-pilot seems so right.

Until it doesn’t.

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

This week I’m drawn to summer under-performers and there appear to be quite a few among companies that can have a place even in very traditional portfolios.

^SPX ChartIn a world that increasingly seems dominated by technology and bio-technology, my initial thoughts this week are focused on heavy metal, although that may be a consequence of some neuron debilitating nights in Jackson Hole.

Deere (DE) announced further layoffs this past week and has been mired at $85 level. Despite record crop yields Deere has gone fallow of late. While I may still like to see it trading a little lower, it is definitely in the range that I like to own shares, not having done so since August 2013, despite it being a portfolio mainstay, at one point. While its premiums are somewhat depressed along with most everything else, at the moment stocks that have under-performed the S&P 500 for the summer have some enhanced appeal at the market’s current dizzying heights.

Although the question “how much further could it possibly fall?” is not one whose answer most people would want to hear, I like considering high quality companies that have under-performed, as the market adds to its own risk for reversal.

Also in the heavy metal business, General Motors (GM) has been subject to more scrutiny than most companies could ever withstand and I think its CEO, Mary Barra, has reacted and performed admirably, trying to get ahead of the news. In that process General Motors has also found itself mired, but trading in a fairly predictable range, having a nice option premium and an upcoming dividend offer reasons for consideration. However, in order to capture the dividend I may consider the use of a monthly contract, although expanded weekly options are available. With a Monday ex-dividend date, one can even consider the sale of a September 12, 2014 contract and trade off an extra week of option premium for the dividend, if assigned early.

International Paper (IP) may not be the stuff of heavy metal, but there is a chance that some of those white papers controlling our economic and banking policies were presented on their products. It’s also possible that some of those erstwhile cowboys passed an International Paper product along to their friends around the campfire, years ago.

At its current trading level, International Paper has my attention, although I do already own some more expensive and uncovered shares. Management has sequentially created value for investors through strategic spin-offs, which may continue and a healthy dividend. It, too, has under-performed the S&P 500 of late and should have limited geo-political risk, although it does have manufacturing facilities in Russia and “International” in its name.

It’s not too often that I think about adding shares of a Dow component or a really staid “blue chip.” However, despite some low option premiums that usually accompany such names, this week it just feels right, perhaps as somewhat of an antidote to geo-political risk.

Both McDonalds (MCD) and Kellogg (K) also happen to be ex-dividend this week and are generous in their distributions. Both have also taken their lumps recently, badly trailing the already mediocre S&P 500 through the first two months of summer.

While McDonalds isn’t entirely immune to geo-political risk, witness the sudden closure of its flagship Russian restaurant and others throughout the country, following the pattern initially seen in Crimea months ago, the risk seems to be limited, as the real issues are with declining American tastes for its products.

Kellogg quietly manufactures its products in 18 countries and markets them nearly everywhere in the world, yet it’s not too likely that anyone or any government will make Kellogg the scapegoat for its geo-political shenanigans. Although I’ve never purchased shares, it’s a company that I consistently look at in order to capture its dividend, but have always gone elsewhere to be requited.

This time may be different, though. The combination of under-performance, option premium and dividend, coupled with a little bit of a time buffer through the use of a monthly option contract provides some comfort at a time when the world may be a tinderbox.

Halliburton (HAL) also goes ex-dividend this week, but its puny dividend isn’t the sort of thing that beckons anyone to begin a chase. However, shares have recently been under attack. Although only mildly trailing the S&P 500 for the summer its decline in the past month has been 8%. That’s enough to get my attention in return for receiving an option premium and perhaps a dividend payment, as well.

Pfizer (PFE) is somewhat of a mystery to me. It is thought to have a relatively shallow pipeline of new drugs, has been rebuffed in its attempt to swallow up some competition and perhaps gain a tax inversion opportunity. The mystery, though, is why shares had fallen as they have done over the summer. Whatever disappointment existed due to the failed buyout was in excess of any premium that the market attached to that buyout and the favorable tax situation.

As with International Paper, I already own uncovered shares, but am willing to now add shares as it has shown the ability to bounce back from its recent lows. While its premium isn’t necessarily the most provocative, in the past it has been the ability to repeatedly rollover shares that has been the real reward.

You can add Blackstone (BX) to the list of uncovered positions that I hold, with the most recent contract expiring this past Friday. Undoubtedly, Blackstone’s prospects are tied to a healthy stock market and an overall healthy economy, as its varied business interests and investments are the real product and they live and die through the whims of both masters.

That’s the kind of risk that’s represented in its high beta and reflected in its option premiums. However, in this period of extraordinarily low volatility, even Blackstone is having a hard time generating premiums of old. Still, its recent decline, in the absence of any real news and during a market rise makes me believe that despite the warning signs, it may offer some safety, particularly if there is further strength in the financial sector, as in the past week.

I had been hoping to have my shares of Best Buy (BBY) assigned this past week, in order to have a free and clear mind when considering the upcoming earnings report this week. That wish was granted and its again time to consider a trade in shares.

Best Buy frequently offers a good earnings related trade due to its enhanced premiums, that in turn are due to its propensity for explosive earnings related moves. While the option market is currently assigning an implied move of 8% next week, an ROI of 1% can currently be achieved by selling puts at a strike level 8.7% below Friday’s closing price.

I generally like to see a larger gap between the implied volatility and the strike price returning the threshold premium before considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings. In this case, I may be more inclined to wait after earnings and willing to pile on if shares disappoint. However, with an ex-dividend date just two weeks later, rather than selling puts in the aftermath of a large share drop I might consider the purchase of shares and sale of call options.

Finally, what a roller coaster Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) has found itself riding. After garnering the honor being named the “Worst CEO of 2013” shares have made an impressive turnaround.

I have no clue how suddenly its products could have become “cool” again, or why teens may now be flocking to its stores or what aggressive strategic changes CEO Jeffries may have implemented, but the sudden favor it has found among investors is undeniable, as shares have left the S&P 500 behind in the dust over the past month.

For me, that kind of share acceleration is a perfect message to consider the sale of puts as earnings are to be released.

The option market is implying a price move of 8.6%, however, a 1% ROI may be achieved at a strike level 13.8% below Friday’s close. That’s the kind of gap that I like seeing. However, as with Best Buy, there is the matter of an ex-dividend date, which happens to be on the same date as earnings are released.

If wanting to take part in this trade, that essentially leaves three different scenarios, including the commonly executed sale of puts before or after earnings. In the case of doing so before earnings the sale of puts in the face of an impending ex-dividend date frequently works to the disadvantage of the seller, much in the same way as selling calls into an ex-dividend date serves as a seller’s advantage.

That disadvantage is eliminated in selling puts after earnings, in the event of the share’s decline. However, another possibility, and one that would very likely include retention of the dividend, is the sale of deep in the money calls, particularly if using a monthly expiration. Additionally, if shares move higher after earnings, once the added volatility is removed the deeper in the money position may likely be closed at a small net price following concurrent share sales, allowing funds to be re-deployed.

Take that, complacency.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Deere, General Motors, International Paper, Pfizer

Momentum:

Double Dip Dividend: Halliburton (8/29), Kellog (8/28), McDonalds (8/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (8/28 AM), Best Buy (8/26 AM)

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

Weekend Update – March 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend:  Mondelez (3/27)

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

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

Weekend Update – February 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details). A companion article this week explores some additional earnings related trades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

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

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

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

Weekend Update – February 9, 2014

Everything is crystal clear now.

After three straight weeks of losses to end the trading week, including deep losses the past two weeks everyone was scratching their heads to recall the last time a single month had fared so poorly.

What those mounting losses accomplished was to create a clear vision of what awaited investors as the past week was to begin.

Instead, it was nice to finish on an up note to everyone’s confusion.

When you think you are seeing things most clearly is when you should begin having doubts.

Who saw a two day 350 point gain coming, unless they had bothered to realize that this week was featuring an Employment Situation Report? The one saving grace we have is that for the past 18 months you could count on a market rally to greet the employment news, regardless of whether the news met, exceeded or fell short of expectations.

That’s clarity. It’s confusing, but it’s a rare sense of clarity that comes from being so successful in its ability to predict an outcome that itself is based upon human behavior.

As the week began with a 325 point loss in the DJIA voices started bypassing talk of a 10% correction and starting uttering thoughts of a 15-20% correction. 10% was a bygone conclusion. At that point most everyone agreed that it was very clear that we were finally being faced with the “healthy” correction that had been so long overdue.

When in the middle of that correction nothing really feels very healthy about it, but when people have such certainty about things it’s hard to imagine that they might be wrong. With further downside seen by the best and brightest we were about to get healthier than our portfolios might be able to withstand.

It was absolutely amazing how clearly everyone was able to see the future. What made things even more ominous and sustaining their view was the impending Employment Situation Report due at the end of the week. Following last month’s abysmal numbers, ostensibly related to horrid weather across the country, there wasn’t too much reason to expect much in the way of an improvement this time around. Besides, the Nikkei and Russian stock markets had just dipped below the 10% threshold that many define as a market correction and as we’re continually reminded, it’s an inter-connected world these days. It wasn’t really a question of “whether,” it was a matter of “when?”

Then there was all that talk of how high the volatility was getting, even though it had a hard time even getting to October 2013 levels, much less matching historical heights. As everyone knows, volatility comes along with declining markets so the cycle was being put in place for the only outcome possible.

After Monday’s close the future was clear. Crystal clear.

Instead, the week ended with an 0.8% gain in the S&P 500 despite that plunge on Monday and a highly significant drop in volatility. The market responded to a disappointing Employment Situation Report with what logically or even using the “good news is bad news” kind of logic should not have been the case.

Now, with a week that started by confirming the road to correction we were left with a week that supported the idea that the market is resistant to a classic correction. Instead of the near term future of the markets being crystal clear we are left beginning this coming week with more confusion than is normally the case.

If it’s true that the market needs clarity in order to propel forward this shouldn’t be the week to commit yourself. However, the only thing that’s really clear about our notions is that they’re often without basis so the only reasonable advice is to do as in all weeks – look for situational opportunities that can be exploited without regard to what is going on in the rest of the world.

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

If you’re looking for certainty, or at least a company that has taken steps to diminish uncertainty, Microsoft (MSFT) is the one. With the announcement of the appointment of Satya Nadella, an insider, to be its new CEO, shares did exactly what the experts said it wouldn’t do. Not too long ago the overwhelming consensus was that the appointment of an outsider, such as Alan Mullaly would drive shares forward, while an insider would send shares tumbling into the 20s.

Microsoft simply stayed on its path with the news of an inside candidate taking the reigns. Regardless of its critics, Microsoft’s strategy is more coherent than it gets credit for and this leadership decision was a quantum leap forward, certainly far more important than discussions of screen size. With this level of certainty also comes the certainty of a dividend and attractive option premiums, making Microsoft a perennial favorite in a covered option strategy.

The antithesis of certainty may be found in the smallest of the sectors. With the tumult in pricing and contracts being promulgated by T-Mobile (TMUS) and its rebel CEO John Legere, there’s no doubt that the margins of all wireless providers is being threatened. Verizon (VZ) has already seen its share price make an initial response to those threats and has shown resilience even in the face of a declining market, as well. Although the next ex-dividend date is still relatively far away, there is a reason this is a favorite among buy and hold investors. As long as it continues to trade in a defined range, this is a position that I wouldn’t mind holding for a while and collecting option premiums and the occasional dividend.

Lowes (LOW) is always considered an also ran in the home improvement business and some recent disappointing home sales news has trickled down to Lowes’ shares. While it does report earnings during the first week of the March 2014 option cycle, I think there is some near term opportunity at it’s current lower price to see some share appreciation in addition to collecting premiums. However, I wouldn’t mind being out of my current shares prior to its scheduled earnings report.

Among those going ex-dividend this week are Conoco Phillips (COP), International Paper (IP) and Eli Lilly (LLY). In the past month I’ve owned all three concurrently and would be willing to do so again. While International Paper has outperformed the S&P 500 since the most recent market decline two weeks ago, it has also traded fairly rangebound over the past year and is now at the mid-point of that range. That makes it at a reasonable entry point.

Conoco Phillips appears to be at a good entry point simply by virtue of a nearly 12% decline from its recent high point which includes a 5% drop since the market’s own decline. With earnings out of the way, particularly as they have been somewhat disappointing for big oil and with an end in sight for the weather that has interfered with operations, shares are poised for recovery. The premiums and dividend make it easier to wait.

Eli Lilly is down about 5% from its recent high and I believe is the next due for its turn at a little run higher as the major pharmaceutical companies often alternate with one another. With Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) having recently taken those honors, it’s time for Eli Lilly to get back in the short term lead, as it is for recent also ran Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that was lost to assignment this past week and needs a replacement, preferably one offering a dividend.

Zillow (Z) reports earnings this week. In its short history as a publicly traded company it has had the ability to consistently beat analyst’s estimates and then usually see shares fall as earnings were released. That kind of doubled barrel consistency warrants some consideration this week as the option market is implying an 11% move this week. While that is possible, there is still an opportunity to generate a 1% ROI for the week if the share price falls by anything less than 16%.

While I’m not entirely comfortable looking for volatility among potential new positions two that do have some appeal are Coach (COH) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

Coach is a frequent candidate for consideration and I generally like it more when it’s being maligned. After last week’s blow-out earnings report by Michael Kors (KORS) the obvious next thought becomes how their earnings are coming at the expense of Coach. While there may be truth to that and has been the conventional wisdom for nearly 2 years, Coach has been able to find a very comfortable trading range and has been able to significantly increase its dividend in each of the past 4 years in time for the second quarter distribution. It’s combination of premiums, dividends and price stability, despite occasional swings, makes it worthy of consistent consideration.

I’ve been waiting for a while for another opportunity to add shares of Morgan Stanley. Down nearly 12% in the past 3 weeks may be the right opportunity, particularly as some European stability may be at hand following the European Central Bank’s decision to continue accommodation and provide some stimulus to the continent, where Morgan Stanley has interests, particularly being subject to “net counterparty exposure.” It’s ride higher has been sustained and for those looking at such things, it’s lows have been consistently higher and higher, making it a technician’s delight. I don’t really know about such things and charts certainly aren’t known for their clarity being validated, but its option premiums do compel me as do thoughts of a dividend increase that it i increasingly in position to institute.

Finally, if you’re looking for certainty you don’t have to look any further than at Chesapeake Energy (CHK) which announced a significant decrease in upcoming capital expenditures, which sent shares tumbling on the announcement. Presumably, it takes money to make money in the gas drilling business so the news wasn’t taken very well by investors. A very significant increase in option premiums early in the week suggested that some significant news was expected and it certainly came, with some residual uncertainty remaining in this week’s premiums. For those with some daring this may represent the first challenge since the days of Aubrey McClendon and may also represent an opportunity for shareholder Carl Icahn to enter the equation in a more activist manner.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, Microsoft, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Coach, Morgan Stanley,

Double Dip Dividend: Conoco Phillips (ex-div 2/13), International Paper (ex-div 2/12), Eli Lilly (ex-div 2/12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (2/12 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.

Earnings Still Matter

Last week confirmed that I still like earnings season, which as behavioral adaptations go, is a good idea, as it never seems to end. Better to learn to like it than to fight it.

Based upon comments heard over the past few weeks, approximately 25% of the year represent critical earnings weeks. You simply can’t escape the news, nor more importantly the impact.

Or the opportunity.

Of the earnings related trades examined last week, I made trades in two: Facebook (FB) and Seagate Technolgy (STX). The former trade being before earnings and the latter after, both involving the sale of out of the money puts. Both of those trades met my criteria, as in hindsight, did Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG), but there’s always next quarter.

While hearing stellar numbers from Netflix (NFLX) and Facebook are nice, they are not likely to lead an economy and its capital markets forward, although they can lead your personal assets forward, as long as you’re willing to accept the risks that may be heightened during a weakening market.

Withimplied volatilitycontinuing to serve as my guide there are a number of companies that are expected to make large earnings related moves this week and they have certainly done so in the past.

Again, while I seek a 1% ROI on an investment that is hoped to last only for the week, the individual investor can always adjust the risk and the reward. My preference continues to be to locate a strike price that is outside the range suggested by the implied volatility, yet still offers a 1% or greater ROI.

Typically, the stocks that will satisfy that demand already trade with a high degree of volatility and see enhanced volatility as earnings and guidance are issued.

The coming week is another busy one and presents more companies that may fit the above criteria. Among the companies that I am considering this coming week are Anadarko (APC), British Petroleum (BP), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), International Paper (IP), Michael Kors (KORS), LinkedIn (LNKD), Twitter (TWTR), Yelp (YELP) and YUM Brands (YUM).

As with all earnings related trades I don’t focus on fundamental issues. It is entirely an analysis of whether the options market has provided an opportunity to take advantage of the perceived risk. A quick glance at those names indicates a wide range of inherent volatility and relative fortunes during the most recent market downturn.

Since my preference is to sell puts when there is already an indication of price weakness this past week has seen many such positions trading lower in advance of earnings. While they may certainly go lower on disappointing news or along with broad market currents, the antecedent decline in share price may serve to limit earnings related declines as previous resistance points may be encountered and serve as brakes to downward movement. Additionally, the increasing volatility accompanying the market’s recent weakness is enhancing premiums, particularly if sentiment is further eroding on a particular stock.

Alternatively, rather than following the need for greed, one may decide to lower the strike price at which puts are sold in order to get additional protection wile still aiming for the ROI objective.

As always when considering these trades, especially through the sale of put options, the investor must be prepared to own the shares if assigned or to manage the options contract until some other resolution is achieved.

Strategies to achieve an exit include rolling the option contract forward and ideally to a lower strike or accepting assignment and then selling calls until assignment of shares.

The table above may be used as a guide for determining which of selected companies may meet the riskreward parameters that an individual sets, understanding that adjustments may need to be made as prices and, therefore, strike prices and premiums may change.

The decision as to whether to make the trade before or after earnings is one that I make based on perceived market risk. During a period of uncertainty, such as we are presently navigating, I’m more inclined to look at the opportunities after earnings are announced, particularly for those positions that do see their shares declining sharply.

While it may be difficult to find the courage to enter into new positions during what may be the early stages of a market correction, the sale of puts is a mechanism to still be part of the action, while offering some additional downside protection if using out of the money puts, while also providing some income.

That’s not an altogether bad combination, but it may require some antacids along the way.

Weekend Update – December 8, 2013

Sometimes good things can go good.

Anyone who remembers the abysmal state of television during the turn of this century recalls the spate of shows that sought to shock our natural order and expectations by illustrating good things gone bad. There were dogs, girls, police officers and others. They appealed to viewers because human nature had expectations and somehow enjoyed having those expectations upended.

That aspect of human nature can be summed up as “it’s fun when it happens to other people.”

For those that loved that genre of television show, they would have loved the stock markets of the last few years, particularly since the introduction of Quantitative Easing. That’s when good news became bad and bad news became good. Our ways of looking at the world around us and all of our expectations became upended.

Like everyone else, I blame or credit Quantitative Easing for everything that has happened in the past few years, maybe even the continued death of Disco. Who knew that pumping so much money into anything could possibly be looked at in a negative way despite having possibly saved the free world’s economies? While many decried the policy, they loved the result, in a reflection of the purest of all human qualities – the ability to hate the sinner, but love the sin.

Then again, I suppose that stopping such a thing could only subsequently be considered to be good, but rational thought isn’t a hallmark of event and data driven investing.

With so many believing that all of the most recent gains in the market could only have occurred with Federal Reserve intervention, anything that threatens to reduce that intervention has been considered as adverse to the market’s short term performance. That means good news, such as job growth, has been interpreted as having negative consequences for markets, because it would slow the flow. Bad news simply meant that the punch bowl would continue to be replenished.

For the very briefest of periods, basically lasting during the time that it wasn’t clear who would be the successor to Ben Bernanke, the market treated news on its face value, perhaps believing that in a state of leadership limbo nothing would change to upset the party.

It had been a long time since good news resulted in a market responding appropriately and celebrating the good fortune by creating more fortunes. This past week started with that annoying habit of taking news and believing that only a child’s version of reverse psychology was appropriate in interpreting information, but the week ended with a more adult-like response, perhaps a signal that the market has come to peace with idea that tapering is going to occur and is ready to move forward on the merits of news rather than conjecture of mass behavior.

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

Coming off a nearly 200 point advance on Friday what had initially looked like relative bargains were now pricey in comparison and at risk to retrace their advances.

While last week was one in which dividends were a primary source of my happiness, unfortunately this week is not likely to be the same. As in life where I just have to get by on my looks, this week I’ll have to get by on new purchases that hopefully don’t do anything stupid and have a reasonable likelihood of being assigned or having their calls rolled over to another point in the near future. The principle reason for that is that most of the stocks going ex-dividend this week that have some appeal for me only have monthly options available. Since I’m already overloaded on options expiring at the end of the this monthly cycle my interests are limited to those that have weekly options. With volatility and subsequently premiums so low, as much as I’d like to diversify by using expanded options, they don’t offer much solace in their forward week premiums.

While the energy sector may be a little bit of a mine field these days, particularly with Iran coming back on line, Williams Companies (WMB) fits the profile that I’ve been looking for and is especially appealing this week as it goes ex-dividend. Williams has been able to trade in a range, but takes regular visits to the limits of the range and often enough to keep its option premium respectable. With no real interest in longer term or macro-economic issues, I see Williams for what it has reliably been over the course of the past 16 months and 9 trades. Despite its current price being barely 6% higher than my average cost of shares, it has generated about 35% in premiums, dividends and share appreciation.

Another ex-dividend stock this week is Macys (M). Retail is another minefield of late, but Macys has not only been faring better than most of the rest, it has also just hit its year’s high this past week. Ordinarily that would send me in the opposite direction, particularly given the recent rise. With the critical holiday shopping season in full gear, some will have their hopes crushed, but someone has to be a winner. Macys has the generic appeal and non-descript vibe to welcome all comers. While I wouldn’t mind a quick dividend and option premium and then exit, it is a stock that I could live with for a longer time, if necessary.

Citibank (C) is no longer quite the minefield that it had been. It may be an example of a good stock, gone bad, now gone good again. When I look at its $50 price it reminds me of well known banking analysts Dick Bove, who called for Citibank to hold onto the $50 price as the financial meltdown was just heating up. Fast forward five years and Bove was absolutely correct, give or take a 1 to 10 reverse split.

But these days Citibank is back, albeit trading with more volatility than back in the old days. I’m under-invested in the financial sector, which didn’t fare well last week. If the contention that this is a market that corrects itself through its sector rotation, then this may be a time to consider loading up on financials, particularly as there are hints of interest rate rises. Citibank’s beta inserts some more excitement into the proposition, however.

Like many others, Dow Chemical (DOW) took its knocks last week before recovering much of its loss. Also like many that I am attracted toward, it has been trading in a price range and has been thwarted by attempts to break out of that range. Mindful of a market that is pushing against its highs, this is a stock that I don’t mind owning for longer than most other holdings, if necessary. The generous dividend helps the patient investor wait on the event of a price reversal. For those a little longer term oriented, Dow Chemical may also be a good addition for a portfolio that sells LEAPs.

Like all but one of this week’s selections, I have owned shares of International Paper (IP) on a number of occasions in the past year. While shares are now well off of their undeserved recent lows there is still ample upside opportunity and shares seemed to have created support at the $45 level. My preference, as with some other stocks on this week’s list is that a little of the past week’s late gains be retraced, but that’s not a necessary condition for re-purchasing International Paper.

Baxter International (BAX) has been also in a trading range of late having been boxed in by worries related to competition in its hemophilia product lines to concerns over the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. Also having recovered some of its past week’s losses it, too, is trading at the mid-point of its recent range and doesn’t appear to have any near term catalysts to see it break below its trading range. The availability of expanded options provide some greater flexibility when holding shares.

Joy Global (JOY) had been on an upswing of late but has subsequently given back about 5% from its recent high. It reports earnings this week and its implied price move is nearly 6%. However, its option pricing doesn’t offer premiums enhanced by earnings for any strike levels beyond that are beyond the implied move. While a frequent position, including having had shares assigned this past week, the risk/reward is not sufficient to purchase shares or sell puts prior to the earnings release. However, in the event hat shares do drop, I would consider purchasing shares if it trades below $52.50, as that has been a very comfortable place to initiate positions and sell calls.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) on the other hand, has an implied move of about 8% and can potentially return 1.1% even if the stock falls nearly 9%. In this jittery market a 9% drop isn’t even attention getting, but a 20% drop , such as LuLuLemon experienced in June 2013 does get noticed. Its shares are certainly able to have out-sized moves, but it has already weathered quite a few challenges, ranging from product recalls, the announced resignation of its CEO and comments from its founder that may have insulted current and potential customers. I don’t expect a drop similar to that seen in December 2012, but can justify owning shares in the event of an earnings related drop.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD), long a favorite of mine, is generally a fairly staid company, as far as staying out of the news for items not related to its core business. It can often trade with some volatility, especially as it has a habit of providing less than sanguine guidance and the street hasn’t yet learned to ignore the pessimistic outlook, as RIverbed tends to report very much in line with expectations. Recently the world of activist investors knocked on Riverbed’s doors and they responded by enacting a “poison pill.” While I wouldn’t suggest considering adding shares solely on the basis of the prompting from activist investors, Riverbed has long offered a very enticing risk/reward proposition when selling covered calls or puts. It is one of the few positions that I sometimes consider a longer term option sale when purchasing shares or rolling over option contracts.

Finally, and this is certainly getting to be a broken record, but eBay (EBAY) has once again fulfilled prophecy by trading within the range that was used as an indictment of owning shares. For yet another week I had two differently priced lots of eBay shares assigned and am anxious to have the opportunity to re-purchase if they approach $52, or don’t get higher than $52.50. While there may be many reasons to not have much confidence in eBay to lead the market or to believe that its long term strategy is destined to crumble, sometimes it’s worthwhile having your vision restricted to the tip of your nose.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Macys (ex-div 12/11), Williams Co (ex-div 12/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/11 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (12/12 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 – November 17, 2013

Things aren’t always as they seem.

As I listened to Janet Yellen face her Senate inquisitors as the hearing process began for her nomination as our next Federal Reserve Chairman, the inquisitors themselves were reserved. In fact they were completely unrecognizable as they demonstrated behavior that could be described as courteous, demur and respectful. They didn’t act like the partisan megalomaniacs they usually are when the cameras are rolling and sound bites are beckoning.

That can’t last. Genteel or not, we all know that the reality is very different. At some point the true colors bleed through and reality has to take precedence.

Closing my eyes I thought it was Woody Allen’s sister answering softball economic questions. Opening my eyes I thought I was having a flashback to a curiously popular situational comedy from the 1990s, “Suddenly Susan,” co-starring a Janet Yellen look-alike, known as “Nana.” No one could possibly sling arrows at Nana.

These days we seem to go back and forth between trying to decide whether good news is bad news and bad news is good news. Little seems to be interpreted in a consistent fashion or as it really is and as a result reactions aren’t very predictable.

Without much in the way of meaningful news during the course of the week it was easy to draw a conclusion that the genteel hearings and their content was associated with the market’s move to the upside. In this case the news was that the economy wasn’t yet ready to stand on its own without Treasury infusions and that was good for the markets. Bad news, or what would normally be considered bad news was still being considered as good news until some arbitrary point that it is decided that things should return to being as they really seem, or perhaps the other way around..

While there’s no reason to believe that Janet Yellen will do anything other than to follow the accommodative actions of the Federal Reserve led by Ben Bernanke, political appointments and nominations have a long history of holding surprises and didn’t always result in the kind of comfortable predictability envisioned. As it would turn out even Woody Allen wasn’t always what he had seemed to be.

Certainly investing is like that and very little can be taken for granted. With two days left to go until the end of the just ended monthly option cycle and having a very large number of positions poised for assignment or rollover, I had learned the hard way in recent months that you can’t count on anything. In those recent cases it was the release of FOMC minutes two days before monthly expiration that precipitated market slides that snatched assignments away. Everything seemed to be just fine and then it wasn’t suddenly so.

As the markets continue to make new closing highs there is division over whether what we are seeing is real or can be sustained. I’m tired of having been wrong for so long and wonder where I would be had I not grown cash reserves over the past 6 months in the belief that the rising market wasn’t what it really seemed to be.

What gives me comfort is knowing that I would rather be wondering that than wondering why I didn’t have cash in hand to grab the goodies when reality finally came along.

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

Sometimes the most appealing purchases are the very stocks that you already own or recently owned. Since I almost exclusively employ a covered option strategy I see lots of rotation of stocks in and out of my portfolio. That’s especially true at the end of a monthly option cycle, particularly if ending in a flourish of rising prices, as was the case this week.

Among shares assigned this past week were Dow Chemical (DOW), International Paper (IP), eBay (EBAY) and Seagate Technology (STX).

eBay just continues to be a model of price mediocrity. It seems stuck in a range but seems to hold out enough of a promise of breaking out of that range that its option premiums continue to be healthy. At a time when good premiums are increasingly difficult to attain because of historically low volatility, eBay has consistently been able to deliver a 1% ROI for its near the money weekly options. I don’t mind wallowing in its mediocrity, I just wonder why Carl Icahn hasn’t placed this one on his radar screen.

International Paper is well down from its recent highs and I’ve now owned and lost it to assignment three times in the past month. While that may seem an inefficient way to own a stock, it has also been a good example of how the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole when tallying the profits that can arise from punctuated ownership versus buy and hold. Having comfortably under-performed the broad market in 2013 it doesn’t appear to have froth built into its current price

Although Dow Chemical is getting near the high end of the range that I would like to own shares it continues to solidify its base at these levels. What gives me some comfort in considering adding shares at this level is that Dow Chemical has still under-performed the S&P 500 YTD and may be more likely to withstand any market downturn, especially when buoyed by dividends, option premiums and some patience, if required.

Unitedhealth Group (UNH) is in a good position as it’s on both sides of the health care equation. Besides being the single largest health care carrier in the United States, its purchase of Quality Software Services last year now sees the company charged with the responsibility of overhauling and repairing the beleaguered Affordable Care Act’s web site. That’s convenient, because it was also chosen to help set up the web site. It too, is below its recent highs and has been slowly working its way back to that level. Any good news regarding ACA, either programmatically or related to the enrollment process, should translate into good news for Unitedhealth

Seagate Technology simply goes up and down. That’s a perfect recipe for a successful covered option holding. It’s moves, in both directions, can however, be disconcerting and is best suited for the speculative portion of a portfolio. While not too far below its high thanks to a 2% drop on Friday, it does have reasonable support levels and the more conservative approach may be through the sale of out of the money put options.

While I always feel a little glow whenever I’m able to repurchase shares after assignment at a lower price, sometimes it can feel right even at a higher price. That’s the case with Microsoft (MSFT). Unlike many late to the party who had for years disparaged Microsoft, I enjoyed it trading with the same mediocrity as eBay. But even better than eBay, Microsoft offered an increasingly attractive dividend. Shares go ex-dividend this week and I’d like to consider adding shares after a moth’s absence and having missed some of the run higher. With all of the talk of Alan Mullally taking over the reins, there is bound to be some let down in price when the news is finally announced, but I think the near term price future for shares is relatively secure and I look forward to having Microsoft serve as a portfolio annuity drawing on its dividends and option premiums.

I’m always a little reluctant to recommend a possible trade in Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Actually, not always, only since the trades that still have me sitting on much more expensive shares purchased just prior to the dividend cut. Although in the interim I’ve made trades to offset those paper losses, thanks to attractive option premiums reflecting the risk, I believe that the recent sustained increase in this sector is for real and will continue. Despite that, I still wavered about considering the trade again this week, but the dividend pushed me over. Although a fraction of what it had been earlier in the year it still has some allure and increasing iron ore prices may be just the boost needed for a dividend boost which would likely result in a significant rise in shares. I’m not counting on it quite yet, but think that may be a possibility in time for the February 2014 dividend.

While earnings season is winding down there are some potentially interesting trades to consider for those with a little bit of a daring aspect to their investing.

Not too long ago Best Buy (BBY) was derided as simply being Amazon’s (AMZN) showroom and was cited as heralding the death of “brick and mortar.” But, things really aren’t always as they seem, as Best Buy has certainly implemented strategic shifts and has seen its share price surge from its lows under previous management. As with most earnings related trades that I consider undertaking, I’m most likely if earnings are preceded by shares declining in price. Selling puts into price weakness adds to the premium while some of the steam of an earnings related decline may be dissipated by the selling before the actual release.

salesforce.com (CRM) has been a consistent money maker for investors and is at new highs. It is also a company that many like to refer to as a house of cards, yet another way of saying that “things aren’t always as they seem.” As earnings are announced this week there is certainly plenty of room for a fall, even in the face of good news. With a nearly 9% implied volatility, a 1.1% ROI can be attained if less than a 10% price drop occurs, based on Friday’s closing prices through the sale of out of the money put contracts.

Then of course, there’s JC Penney (JCP). What can possibly be added to its story, other than the intrigue that accompanies it relating to the smart money names having taken large positions of late. While the presence of “smart money” isn’t a guarantee of success, it does get people’s attention and JC Penney shares have fared well in the past week in advance of earnings. The real caveat is that the presence of smart money may not be what it seems. With an implied move of 11% the sale of put options has the potential to deliver an ROI of 1.3% even if shares fall nearly 17%.

Finally, even as a one time New York City resident, I don’t fully understand the relationship between its residents and the family that controls Cablevision (CVC), never having used their services. As an occasional share holder, however, I do understand the nature of the feelings that many shareholders have against the Dolan family and the feelings that the publicly traded company has served as a personal fiefdom and that share holders have often been thrown onto the moat in an opportunity to suck assets out for personal gain.

I may be understating some of those feelings, but I harbor none of those, personally. In fact, I learned long ago, thanks to the predominantly short term ownership afforded through the use of covered options, that it should never be personal. It should be about making profits. Cablevision goes ex-dividend this week and is well off of its recent highs. Dividends, option premiums and some upside potential are enough to make even the most hardened of investors get over any personal grudges.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper, Unitedhealth Group

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (ex-div 11/20), Cliffs Natural (ex-div 11/20), Microsoft (ex-div 11/19)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (11/19 AM), salesforce.com (11/18 PM), JC Penney (11/20 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.