You really can’t blame the markets for wanting to remain ignorant of what is going on around it.
When you’re having a party that just doesn’t seem to want to end the last thing you want to do is answer that unexpected knock on the door, especially when you can see a flashing red and blue light projected onto your walls.
The recent pattern has been a rational one in that any bad news has been treated as bad news. The market has demonstrated a great deal of nervousness surrounding uncertainty, particularly of a geo-political nature and there has been no shortage of that kind of news lately.
On the other hand, the market has thrived during a summer time environment that has been devoid of any news. Over the past four weeks that market has had its climb higher interrupted briefly only by occasional rumors of geo-political conflict.
Given the market’s reaction to such news which seemingly is accelerating from different corners of the world, the solution is fairly simple. But it was only this week that the obvious solution was put into action. Like any young child who wants only to do what he wants to do, the strategy is to hear only what you want to hear and ignore the rest.
Had the events of this week occurred earlier in the summer we might have been looking at another of the mini-corrections we’ve seen over the past two years and perhaps more. The additive impact of learning of Russian soldiers crossing the Ukraine border, Great Britain’s decision to elevate their Terror Alert level to “Severe” and President Obama’s comment that the United States did not yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS, would have put a pause to any buying spree.
Instead, this week we heard none of those warnings and simply marched higher to even more new record closes, even ignoring the traditional warning to not go into a weekend of uncertainty with net long positions.
To compound the flagrant flaunting the market closed at another new high as we entered into a long holiday weekend. As we return to trading after its celebration the incentive to continue ignoring the world and environment around us can only be reinforced when learning that this past month was the best performing month of August in more than 10 years.
Marking the fourth consecutive week moving higher, the July worries of spiking volatility and a declining market are ancient history, occurring back in the days when we actually cared and actually listened.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
Bank of America (BAC) may be a good example of ignoring news, although it could also be an example of the relief that accompanies the baring of news. The finality of its recent $17 billion settlement stemming from its role in the financial crisis was a spur to the financial sector.
Shares go ex-dividend this week and represent the first distribution of its newly raised dividend. While still nothing worthy of chasing and despite the recent climb higher, the elimination of such significant uncertainty can see shares trading increasingly on fundamentals and increasingly becoming less of a speculative purchase as its beta has plunged in the past year.
With thoughts of conflict related risk continuing to be on my mind there’s reason to consider positions that may have some relative immunity to those risks. This week, however, the reward for selling options is unusually low. Not only is the extraordinarily depressed volatility so adversely impacting those premiums, but there are only four days of time value during this trade shortened week. Looking to use something other than a weekly option doesn’t offer much in the way of relief from the low volatility, so I’m not terribly enthusiastic about spending down cash reserves this coming week, particularly at market highs.
Still, there can always be an opportunity in the making. With the exceptions of the first and last selections for this week, like last week I’m drawn to positions that have under-performed the S&P 500 during the summer’s advance.
There was a time that Altria (MO) was one of my favorite stocks. Not one of my favorite companies, just one of my favorite stocks, thanks to drawing on the logic of the expression “hate the sin and not the sinner.”
Back in the old days, before it spun off Philip Morris (PM) it was one of those “triple threat” stocks. It offered a great dividend, great option premiums and the opportunity for share gains, as well. Even better, it did so with relatively little risk.
These days it’s not a very exciting stock, although it still offers a great dividend, but not a terribly compelling option premium, especially as the ex-dividend date approaches. However, during a time when geo-political events may take center stage, there may be some added safety in a company that is rarely associated with the word “safe,” other than in a negative context.
Colgate Palmolive (CL) isn’t a terribly exciting stock, but in the face of unwanted excitement, who needs to add to that fiery mix? Last week I added shares of Kellogg (K), another boring kind of position, but both represent some flight to safety.
Trailing the S&P 500 by 8% during the summer, shares of Colgate Palmolive could reasonably be expected to have an additional degree of safety afforded from that recent decline and that adds to its appeal at a time when risk may be otherwise be an equal opportunity destroyer of assets.
YUM Brands (YUM) and Las Vegas Sands (LVS) both have much of their fortunes tied up in China and both have come down quite a bit during the summer.
YUM Brands has shown some stability of late and I would be happy to see it trading in the doldrums for a while, as that’s the best way to accumulate option premiums. WHile doing business is always a risk in China, there is, at least, little concern for exposure to other worldwide risks and YUM may have now weathered its latest food safety challenge.
Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, may not yet have seen the bottom to the concerns related to the vibrancy of gaming in Macao. However, the concerns now seem to be overdo and expectations seem to have been sufficiently lowered, setting the stage for upside surprises, as has been the situation in the past. As with concerns regarding decreased business at YUM due to economic downturns, once you get the taste for fast food or gambling, it’s hard to cut down on their addictive hold.
T-Mobile (TMUS), despite the high profile it maintains, thanks to the efforts of its CEO, John Legere, has somehow still managed to trail the S&P500 during the summer. This past week’s comments by parent Deutsche Telecom (DTEGY) seemed to imply that they would be happy to sell their interests for a $35 price on shares. They may be willing to take even less if a potential suitor would also take possession of John Legere, no questions asked.
I think that in the longer term the T-Mobile story will not end well, as there is reason to question the sustainability of its strategy to attract customers and its limited spectrum. It needs a partner with both cash and spectrum. However, since I don;t particularly look at the longer term picture when looking for weekly selections, I’m interested in replacing the shares that were assigned this past week, as its premium is very attractive.
Whole Foods (WFM) is another position that I had assigned this past week, while I still sit on a much more expensive lot. On the slightest pullback in price, or even stability in share price, I would consider a re-purchase of shares, as it appears Whole FOods is finding considerable support at its current level and has digested a year’s worth of bad news.
In an environment that has witnessed significant erosion in option premiums, Whole Foods has recently started moving in the opposite direction. Its option premiums have seen an increase in price, probably reflecting broader belief that shares are under-valued and ready to move higher. Although I’ve been adding shares in an attempt to offset paper losses from that more expensive lot, I believe that any new positions are warranted on their own at this level and would even consider rolling over positions that are likely to be assigned in order to accumulate these enriched premiums.
I currently have no technology sector holdings and have been anxious to add some. With distrust of “new technology” and “old technology” having appreciated so much in the past few months, it has been difficult to find suitable candidates.
Both SanDisk (SNDK) and QualComm (QCOM) have failed to match the performance recently of the S&P 500 and may be worthy of some consideration, although they both may have some more downside risk potential during a period of market uncertainty.
Among challenges that QualComm may face is that it is not collecting payment for its products. That is just another of the myriad of problems that may confront those doing business in China, as QualComm, and others, such as Microsoft (MSFT), may not be receiving sufficient licensing fee payments due to under-reporting of device sales.
In addition, it may also be facing a challenge to its supremacy in providing the chips that connect devices to cellular networks worldwide as Intel (INTC) and others may be poised to add to their market share at QualComm’s expense.
For those believing that the bad news has now been factored into QualComm’s share price, having resulted in nearly a 7% loss as compared to the S&P 500 performance, there may be opportunity to establish a position at this point, although continued adverse news could test support some 6% lower.
SanDisk certainly didn’t inspire much confidence this week as a number of executives and directors sold a portion of their positions.
I don’t have any particular bias as to the meaning of such sales. SanDisk’s price trajectory over the past year certainly leaves significant downside risk, however, the management of this company has consistently steered it against a torrent of pessimistic waves, as it has survived commoditization of its core products. The risk of share ownership is mitigated by its option premium, that has resisted some of the general declines seen elsewhere, perhaps reflective of the perceived risk.
Finally, Coach (COH) has recently been in my doghouse, despite the fact that it has been a very reliable friend over the course of the past two years. But human nature being what it is, it’s hard to escape the question “what have you done for me lately?”
That’s the case because my most recent lot of Coach was purchased after earnings when it fell sharply and then surprised me by continuing to do so in a significant manner afterward, as well. Unlike with some other earnings related drops over the past two years this most recent one has had an extended recovery period, but I think that it is finally getting started.
The timing may be helped a little bit with shares going ex-dividend this week. That dividend is presumably safe, as management has committed toward maintaining it, although some have questioned how long Coach can continue to do so.
I choose not to listen to those fears.
Traditional Stocks: Altria, Colgate Palmolive, QualComm, Whole Foods, YUM Brands
Momentum: Las Vegas Sands, SanDisk, T-Mobile
Double Dip Dividend: Bank of America (9/3), Coach (9/5)
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.
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.
In 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.
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.