Weekend Update – November 6, 2016

Some days we really have no clue as to what made the market move as it did, but nothing bothers us more than not knowing the reasons for everything.

We tend to like neat little answers and no untied bundles.

It starts early in life when we begin to ask the dreaded “Why?” question.

We want answers at an early stage in life even when we have no capacity to understand those answers. We also often make the mistake of querying the wrong people to answer those questions, simply on the basis of their ready availability and familiarity.

Those on the receiving end of  questions usually feel some obligation to provide an answer even if poorly equipped to do so.

While the market has now gone into a 9 consecutive day decline, it seems only natural to wonder why that’s been happening and of course, some people, have to offer their expert explanation.

It is of course understandable that the question is posed, as earnings haven’t been terrible and neither have economic data. Yet, a 9 day decline hasn’t happened since 1980 and has taken the market into a stealth 5% decline.

Sometimes “not too hot and not too cold” is just the perfect place to be, although from a stock market investor’s perspective, there is always the future that has to be addressed and then discounted.

In fact, with the release of the Employment Situation Report this past Friday, there may be enough time to cast off “fear of the known” as investors can acclimate to the stronger probability that the FOMC will finally move to increase interest rates next month. 

So why was the past week as it was and please don’t tell me “it is as it is,” which is an answer that even a three year old asking the obligatory “why” question would never find acceptable.

In the absence of any real reason and even in the absence of any ability to twist news into the opposite of what it really is, sometimes you just have to make up an answer.

As parents, many of us have done that with our children and have learned that if you answer with an air of confidence and authority, you’ve done your job, even if you have no clue as to the real answer to the question posed.

From the day that news came forth that additional emails may have been found related to the server scandal so inartfully responded to by one of the Presidential candidates, the market decline has been largely attributed to the fear that the other Presidential candidate’s electability was enhanced.

Of course, the reaction of the market when that news was initially released was likely not coincidental, so it gave a new reason to explain the unexplainable going forward and that excuse for the market’s weakness this past week was used in great abundance.

The investor class, if that association is correct, is fearful of the unknown that might accompany the election of an untested billionaire, who may not be as wealthy as he regularly portrays himself to be. 

Or perhaps, given all of the wildness accompanying this entire campaign, the electorate is worried about whether either of the Vice Presidential candidates is equipped to take the top job when indictments may come through during the Inaugural Ball.

But that still leaves us this coming week, when the market will wake up on Wednesday morning, likely having perfect knowledge of the election results, assuming no repeat of 2000.

If the assertions this past week are accurate and the billionaire has to turn his interests back to his business ventures, the expectation that the market would bounce nicely higher would be reasonable.

On the other hand, there’s always that unknown and if instead of focusing on business, the focus is on creating a Presidential Cabinet, we may pine for the days of a simple 5% decline.

The potential for an instant, even if short lived, evaporation of wealth, could throw a little wrench into the FOMC’s well laid plans. We, and they, have waited for a year for the second of what was expected to be a series of small interest rate increases through 2016.

Even the FOMC may have to find itself dealing with the unknown, but be assured, we will be the last to know, as we come to the realization that sometimes it really is as it is.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in the Traditional, Double Dip Dividend,

This is a week that could easily go in any direction.

With the market down 5% from its September high, it wouldn’t take very much to get to correction levels, but by the same token a bounce from last week could easily be in store if election fears aren’t materialized.

While there are those who believe that the pharmaceutical industry may have greater concerns in the event of a Clinton victory, I think that has already been largely discounted.

You could be excused for not believing that if you glanced at Pfizer’s (PFE) weekly call option premium in a week that it also happens to be ex-dividend.

With the uncertainty at hand over the election, if I do dip into already low cash reserves, I’m more inclined to want to chase a dividend and am not entirely receptive to taking on undue risk.

At its current strike price, Pfizer offers some of that safety, especially with the additional cushion of its option premium and the generous dividend.

As with many stocks that I follow, sometimes it’s just a question of awaiting a drop in price to decide to once again wade in and own shares. I believe that Pfizer is at that price and it is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning for a longer term in the event of a short term adverse price movement. For those with a longer term outlook, Pfizer may be a great addition to a LEAPS covered portfolio.

While it isn’t paying a dividend this week, or even during this current monthly option cycle, Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI) is another stock whose share price is really appealing to me.

I’ve only owned it on 7 occasions over the past 3 years and have sometimes owned it for as long as 8 months, but never at a price this low.

Sinclair Broadcasting just reported earnings and responded well, despite a slight miss on the bottom line. 

It has, over the past years traded so predictably within a range, that at this price I would be very open to adding shares, but with its ex-dividend date coming in the early part of the December 2016 option cycle, would most likely sell a December option and would also consider the use of an out of the money option, rather than a near or in the money strike price.

While any capital intensive business, such as terrestrial broadcasting may suffer from an increasing interest rate environment, Sinclair Broadcasting keeps growing its reach and its revenues reflect that growth, having increased nearly 27% in the past year.

What’s a week without another consideration of Marathon Oil (MRO)?

Again, just like last week, I won’t be following this suggestion, because I’m already at my limit of 3 open positions, wither log shares or short puts.

Last week would have been another good week to initiate an earnings related short put position as shares bounced very nicely higher when earnings were released, but then succumbed to energy price pressures to end the week virtually unchanged.

With no reason to suspect that the sector’s volatility has come to an end and no reason to suspect that the individual name will break below its support, I think that this will be another good week to consider a position.

This time, however, with the ex-dividend date being the following Monday, there may be reason to consider going long shares and selling a 2 week dated call option in the attempt to capture the dividend.

Alternatively, a weekly put option could be sold and if in jeopardy of being assigned, simply taking assignment rather than rolling the puts over.

I did that recently with another lot of Marathon Oil shares and sold calls into its earning strength, with the hope of capturing its dividend and as much option premium as I could possibly get, for as long as I can get it if shares can continue to be confined in the $13 – $16 price range.

Finally, last week it was Coach’s (COH) time to report earnings and this week it will be Michael Kors (KORS) under scrutiny.

Coach’s reception was a good one and its shares spiked as it reported earnings early in the week, but it eventually succumbed to market pressures and end the week down 1%.

In the meantime, the days when Kors was seemingly thriving at the expense of Coach have long been over and the two are more likely to see their stock prices in lockstep these days.

That’s what makes Kors so appealing this week as the option market is implying a large price move, but there may still be opportunity despite the uncertainty being expressed.

The implied move is 10.5% and while that defines a price range of about $44 – $54, you could still derive a 1% weekly ROI by selling a put option 14.2% below Friday’s closing price.

I’m not overly anxious about spending any money this week, but this trade is an appealing one. My expectation is that Kors will have a reasonably well received earnings report and that it will come with enough time between it and election results to potentially shake off any adverse macro-market movement.

Traditional Stocks:  Sinclair Broadcasting 

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

Double-Dip Dividend:  PFE (11/8 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: KORS (11/10 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 28, 2016

It is really amazing that as big as the United States’ economy is, everything may now simply be part of a very delicate balancing act.

“Momentum” is a simple concept in classical mechanics and is generally expressed as the product of the mass of an object and its velocity.

The term “momentum” is often used when describing stocks, but many described as having momentum can be easily pushed off their track.

Another simple concept and part of classical physics, is that of “inertia.” Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion.

When a “momentum stock” has a relatively low market capitalization it isn’t too hard for resistance to match and overcome that momentum.

Greed and fear may play roles, too, in such cases, but those aren’t terms that Isaac Newton used very often.

The US economy may often move at what seems like a glacial speed, but its easy to overlook how difficult it is to alter its path due to its huge size.

That’s what makes the job of the FOMC so difficult. 

Outcomes resulting from their actions may take a long, long time to become obvious. Sometimes the FOMC acts to increase momentum and sometimes they have to act to increase resistance.

Stock market investors prefer the former, but history suggests that the early stages of the latter may be a great time for optimism.

While both momentum and inertia may be simple concepts, when considered together that’s not so much the case. Fortunately for the FOMC, the “Irresistible Force Paradox” suggests that there can be no such thing as an unstoppable object or an irresistible force.

Something has to give over the course of time.

While I’m no apologist for the George Bush presidency, the seeds for the beginning of an improvement in the economy often cited as beginning in about February 2009 could only have been sown much earlier. Similarly the economic stress in early 2001 could only have had its roots quite a bit earlier. However, our minds make temporal associations and credit or blame is often laid at the feet of the one lucky or unlucky enough to be in charge at the time something becomes obvious.

We’re now facing two delicate balances.

The first is the one continually faced by the FOMC, but that has been on most everyone’s mind ever since Janet Yellen became Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The balance between managing inflation and not stifling economic growth has certainly been on the minds of investors. Cursed by that habit of making temporal associations, the small interest rate hike at the end of 2015, which was feared by many, could be pointed to as having set the stage for the market’s 2016 correction.

That leaves the FOMC to ponder its next step. 

While stressing that its decisions are “data driven” they can’t be completely dismissive of events around them, just as they briefly made mention of some global economic instability a few months ago, widely believed to have been related to China.

This past week’s GDP sent mixed messages regarding the critical role of the consumer, even as the previous week showed an increase in the Consumer Price Index. Whether rising health care costs or rising rents, which were at the core of the Consumer Price Index increase could hardly be interpreted as representing consumer participation, the thought that comes to mind is that if you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.

The FOMC has to balance the data and its meaning with whatever biases each voting member may have. At the same time investors have to balance their fear of rising rates with the realization that could be reflecting an economy poised to grow and perhaps to do so in an orderly way.

But there’s another delicate balance at hand.

While we’ve all been watching how oil prices have whipsawed the stock market, there’s been the disconnect between lower oil prices borne out of excess supply and stock market health.

For those pleased to see energy prices moving higher because the market has gone in the same direction, there has to be a realization that there will be a point that what is perceived as good news will finally be recognized as being something else.

It’s hard to imagine that a continuing rise in oil will continue to be received as something positive by investors. Hopefully, though, that realization will be slow in coming. Otherwise, we face having had the worst of all worlds. Stocks declining as oil declined and then stocks declining as oil moves higher.

Now that JP Morgan Chase (JPM) has let everyone know just how on the hook it may be on its oil loan portfolio, it’s becoming more and more clear why the market is following in the same direction as oil has gone.

If the price of oil goes too low there may be drains on the banking system if there are defaults on those loans. We could again be hearing the phrase “too big to fail,” although this time instead of over-leveraged individuals losing their homes, all of the beneficiaries from the US oil boom could be at risk.

Of course, if oil goes too high and does so without being fundamentally driven, it can put a damper on a consumer driven economy that isn’t looking very robust to start.

We’re just 3 weeks away from the next FOMC Statement release and Chairman Yellen’s press conference may tip some balances. For much of the past two weeks the stock market has been celebrating higher oil and data suggesting no immediately forthcoming interest rate increase.

Of course, the FOMC may have its own irresistible force at play, perhaps explaining the earlier interest rate hike which didn’t seem to be supported by economic data. That force may be. a pre-determined intention to see rates rise

The market is of the belief that oil price momentum higher won’t meet its match in the negating force of increased interest rates, but one person may hold the balance in her hands.

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

Speaking of momentum and being easily thrown of track, Cypress Semiconductor (CY) comes to mind.

It trades at a high beta and is prone to volatile moves in either direction. It’s most recent direction has been lower, after having spiked sharply higher on news of its proposed buyout of another company.

When they were stranded at the alter by another suitor shares started a sharp descent from which it may finally be ready to emerge.

With a market capitalization of less than $3 billion it was easily knocked off track, but could just as easily get back on.

With an ex-dividend date in the April 2016 option cycle and with earnings in the May 2016 option cycle, I’m likely to add shares this coming week and will probably sell the April 2016 options while doing so.

I do have some concern about the company being able to continue its dividend, but IU don’t imagine that most who are invested in Cypress Semiconductor are doing it for the dividend, so I don’t believe that would represent significant downside pressure.

While February’s nice turnaround has left the S&P 500 significantly less in the hole for 2016. the financial sector has been continuing to have a difficult time as expectations for rising interest rates have proved premature.

American International Group (AIG) is near a 52 week low, but it hasn’t been the worst of that group even as it approaches a 20% correction for 2016.

What the downward pressure in the financial sector has brought has been enhanced option premiums. With a now respectable dividend as part of the equation and an ex-dividend the following week, I would consider selling something other than a weekly option

Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) is on a roll of late and has earnings announced this week. It has a habit of being explosive when it does announce earnings and also has a habit of quickly giving back gains from news perceived as being positive. However, it has not given back the gains since its gap higher in November 2015.

What may make consideration of Abercrombie interesting this week is that it is also ex-dividend on the same day as earnings are announced.

While I normally consider the sale of puts before or after earnings, the combination of earnings, an ex-dividend date and a 13.3% implied price move has me thinking a bit differently.

I’m thinking of buying shares and then selling deep in the money calls.

Based on Friday’s closing price of $28.50, the sale of a weekly $25 strike call option at a premium of $4 would result in an ROI of 1.8% if assigned early in order to capture the dividend.

Since the ex-dividend date is March 2nd, that early assignment would have to come on Tuesday, March 1st and would preclude earnings exposure.

If, however, early assignment does not occur, the potential ROI for a full week of holding could be 2.5%, but with earnings risk. The $25 strike price is within the lower boundary implied by the option market, so one has to be prepared for a price move that may require further action.

Weyerhauser (WY) is also ex-dividend this week and its 2016 YTD loss is nearly 15%. The consensus among analysts, who are so often very late to react to good or bad news, are solidly bullish on shares at these levels.

With its merger with Plum Creek Timber now complete, many expect significant cost savings and operational synergies. 

It’s dividend isn’t quite as high and its payout ratio is almost half that of Cypress Semiconductor, but still far too high to be sustained. REIT or no REIT, paying out more than 100% of your earnings may feel good for a while if you’re on the receiving end, but is only a formula for Ponzi schemers of “The Producers.”

For now, that doesn’t concern me, but with an eye toward the upcoming ex-dividend date, which is on a Friday, I would consider selling an extended weekly option and then wouldn’t mind terribly if the options were exercised early.

Finally, I’m not one to be very interested in getting in on a stock following a climb higher, nor am I one to spend too much time reading charts.

But Coach (COH) which is ex-dividend this week gives me some reason to be interested.

A one-time favorite of mine either right before an ex-dividend date or following a large earnings related price decline, I’ve been holding onto an uncovered lot of shares for quite some time. Only the dividend has made it tolerable.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be terribly interested in considering adding shares of Coach following a 16% climb in the past month. However, shares are now making their second run at resistance and there is an 11% gap higher if it can successfully test that resistance.

It has been a prolonged drought for Coach as it was completely made irrelevant by Kors (KORS) for quite some time. During that time Kors had momentum and was also perceived as the force to stop Coach.

Time and tastes can change lots of things. That’s another delicate balance and for now, the balance seems to be back on the side of Coach.

Traditional Stocks: American International Group

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

Double-Dip Dividend: Coach (3/2 $0.34), Weyerhauser (3/4 $0.31)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (3/2 AM)

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

Weekend Update – January 31, 2016

 

 Whether you’re an addict of some sort, an avid collector or someone who seeks thrills, most recognize that it begins to take more and more to get the same exhilarating jolt.

At some point the stimulation you used to crave starts to become less and less efficient at delivering the thrill.

And then it’s gone.

Sometimes you find yourself pining for what used to be simpler times, when excess wasn’t staring you in the face and you still knew how to enjoy a good thing.

We may have forgotten how to do that.

It’s a sad day when we can no longer derive pleasure from excess.

It seems that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy the idea of an expanding and growing economy, historically low interest rates, low unemployment and low prices.

How else can you explain the way the market has behaved for the past 6 months?

Yet something stimulated the stock market this past Thursday and Friday, just as had been the case the previous Thursday and Friday.

For most of 2016 and for a good part of 2015, the stimulus had been the price of oil. but more than often the case was that the price of oil didn’t stimulate the market, but rather sucked the life out of it.

We should have all been celebrating the wonders of cheap oil and the inability of OPEC to function as an evil cartel, but as the excess oil has just kept piling higher and higher the thrill of declining end user prices has vanished.

Good stimulus or bad stimulus, oil has taken center stage, although every now and then the debacles in China diverted our attention, as well.

Every now and then, as has especially been occurring in the past 2 weeks, there have been instances of oil coming to life and paradoxically re-animating the stock market. It was a 20% jump in the price of oil that fueled the late week rally in the final week of the January 2016 option cycle. The oil price rise has no basis in the usual supply and demand equation and given the recent dynamic among suppliers is only likely to lead to even more production.

It used to be, that unless the economy was clearly heading for a slowdown, a decreasing price of oil was seen as a boost for most everyone other than the oil companies themselves. But now, no one seems to be benefiting.

As the price of oil was going lower and lower through 2015, what should have been a good stimulus was otherwise.

However, what last Thursday and Friday may have marked was a pivot away from oil as the driver of the market, just as we had pivoted away from China’s excesses and then its economic and market woes.

At some point there has to be a realization that increasing oil prices isn’t a good thing and that may leave us with the worst of all worlds. A sliding market with oil prices sliding and then a sliding market with oil prices rising.

It seems like an eternity ago that the market was being handcuffed over worries that the FOMC was going to increase interest rates and another eternity ago that the market seemed to finally be exercising some rational judgment by embracing the rate rise, if only for a few days, just 2 months ago.

This week saw a return to those interest rate fears as the FOMC, despite a paucity of data to suggest inflation was at hand, didn’t do much to dispel the idea that “one and done” wasn’t their plan. The market didn’t like that and saw the prospects of an interest rate increase as a bad thing, even if reflecting improving economic conditions.

But more importantly, what this week also saw was the market returning to what had driven it for a few years and something that it never seemed to tire of celebrating.

That was bad news.

This week brought no good news, at all and the market liked that.

Negative interest rates in Japan? That has to be good, right?

A sluggish GDP, oil prices rising and unimpressive corporate earnings should have sent the market into a further downward spiral, but instead the idea that the economy wasn’t expanding was greeted as good news.

Almost as if the Federal Reserve still had some unspent ammunition to throw at the economy that would also serve to bolster stocks, as had been the case for nearly 6 years.

It’s not really clear how much more stimulus the Federal Reserve can provide and if investors are counting on a new and better high, they may in for a big disappointment.

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

I’m a little surprised that my brokerage firm didn’t call me last week, to see if I was still alive,  because it was the second consecutive week of not having made a single trade.

Despite what seem to be bargain prices, I haven’t been able to get very excited about very many of the ones that have seemed alluring. Although this coming Monday may be the day to mark a real and meaningful bounce higher, the lesson of the past 2 months has been that any move higher has simply been an opportunity to get disappointed and wonder how you ever could have been so fooled.

I’m not overly keen on parting with any cash this week unless there some reason to believe that the back to back gains of last week are actually the start of something, even if that something is only stability and treading water.

Building a base is probably far more healthy than trying to quickly recover all that has been quickly lost.

With weakness still abounding I’m a little more interested in looking for dividends if putting cash to work.

This week, I’m considering purchases of Intel (INTC), MetLife (MET) and Pfizer (PFE), all ex-dividend this coming week.

With the latter two, however, there’s also that pesky issue of earnings, as MetLife reports earnings after the close of trading on its ex-dividend date and Pfizer reports earnings the day before its ex-dividend date.

MetLife has joined with the rest of the financial sector in having been left stunned by the path taken by interest rates in the past 2 months, as the 10 Year Treasury Note is now at its lowest rate in about 8 months.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

But if you believe that it can’t keep going that way, it’s best to ignore the same argument used in the cases of the price of oil, coal and gold.

With MetLife near a 30 month low and going ex-dividend early in the week before its earnings are reported in the same day, there may be an opportunity to sell a deep in the money call and hope for early assignment, thereby losing the dividend, but also escaping the risk of earnings. In return, you may still be able to obtain a decent option premium for just a day or two of exposure.

The story of Pfizer’s proposed inversion is off the front pages and its stock price no longer reflects any ebullience. It reports earnings the morning of the day before going ex-dividend. That gives plenty of time to consider establishing a position in the event that shares either go lower or have relatively little move higher.

The option premium, however, is not very high and with the dividend considered the option market is expecting a fairly small move, perhaps in the 3-4% range. Because of that I might consider taking on the earnings risk and establishing a position in advance of earnings, perhaps utilizing an at the money strike price.

In that case, if assigned early, there is still a decent 2 day return. If not assigned early, then there is the dividend to help cushion the blow and possibly the opportunity to either be assigned as the week comes to its end or to rollover the position, if a price decline isn’t unduly large.

Intel had a nice gain on Friday and actually has a nice at the money premium. That premium is somewhat higher than usual, particularly during an ex-dividend week. As with Pfizer, even if assigned early, the return for a very short holding could be acceptable for some, particularly as earnings are not in the picture any longer.

As with a number of other positions considered this week, the liquidity of the options positions should be  sufficient to allow some management in the event rollovers are necessary.

2015 has been nothing but bad news for American Express (AXP) and its divorce from Costco (COST) in now just a bit more than a month away.

The bad news for American Express shareholders continued last week after reporting more disappointing earnings the prior week. It continued lower even as its credit card rivals overcame some weakness with their own earnings reports during the week.

At this point it’s very hard to imagine any company specific news for American Express that hasn’t already been factored into its 3 1/2 year lows.

The weekly option premium reflects continued uncertainty, but I think that this is a good place to establish a position, either through a buy/write or the sale of puts. Since the next ex-dividend date is more than 2 months away, I might favor the sale of puts, however.

Yahoo (YHOO) reports earnings this week and as important as the numbers are, there has probably been no company over the past 2 years where far more concern has focused on just what it is that Yahoo is and just what Yahoo will become.

Whatever honeymoon period its CEO had upon her arrival, it has been long gone and there is little evidence of any coherent vision.

In the 16 months since spinning off a portion of its most valuable asset, Ali Baba (BABA), it has been nothing more than a tracking stock of the latter. Ali Baba has gone 28.6% lower during that period and Yahoo 28% lower, with their charts moving in tandem every step of the way.

With Ali Baba’s earnings now out of the way and not overly likely to weigh on shares any further, the options market is implying a price move of 7.6%.

While I usually like to look for opportunities where I could possibly receive a 1% premium for the sale of puts at a strike price that’s outside of the lower boundary dictated by the option market, I very much like the premium at the at the money put strike and will be considering that sale.

The at the money weekly put sale is offering about a 4% premium. With a reasonably liquid option market, I’m not overly concerned about difficulty in being able to rollover the short puts in the event of an adverse move and might possibly consider doing so with a longer term horizon, if necessary.

Finally, there was a time that it looked as if consumers just couldn’t get enough of Michael Kors (KORS).

Nearly 2 years ago the stock hit its peak, while many were writing the epitaph of its competitor Coach (COH), at least Coach’s 23% decline in that time isn’t the 60% that Kors has plunged.

I haven’t had a position in Kors for nearly 3 years, but do still have an open position in Coach, which for years had been a favorite “go to” kind of stock with a nice dividend and a nice option premium.

Unfortunately, Coach, which had long been prone to sharp moves when earnings were announced, had lost its ability to recover reasonably quickly when the sharp moves were lower.

While Coach is one of those rare gainers in 2016, nearly 13% higher, Kors is flat on the year, although still far better than the S&P 500.

While I don’t believe that Coach has turned the tables on Kors and is now “eating their lunch” as was so frequently said when Kors was said to be responsible for Coach’s reversal of fortune, I think that there is plenty of consumer to go around for both.

Kors reports earnings this week and like COach, is prone to large earnings related moves.

With no dividend to factor into the equation, Kors may represent a good  opportunity for those willing to take some risk and consider the sale of out of the money puts.

WIth an implied move of 8.5% next week, it may be possible to get a 1.1% ROI even if shares fall by as much as 11.3% during the week.

A $4.50 move in either direction is very possible with Kors after having dropped nearly $60 over the past 2 years. However, if faced with the possibility of assignment of shares, particularly since there is no dividend, I would just look for any opportunity to continue rolling the short puts over and over.

If not wanting to take the take the risk of a potential large drop, some consideration can also be given to selling puts after earnings, in the event of a large drop in shares. If that does occur, the premiums should still be attractive enough to consider making the sale of puts after the event.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express

Momentum Stocks:  none

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (2/3 $0.26), MetLife (2/3 $0.38), Pfizer (2/3 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (2/2 AM), Yahoo (2/2 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 – May 24, 2015

There was a time, a long time ago, that people actually made telephone calls and the ones on the receiving end didn’t have Caller ID to screen those calls.

Back in those days, without any screening device, there were lots of wrong numbers. Sometimes, if it got to the point that you actually began to recognize the voice on the other end, those wrong numbers could become annoying. Of course, the time of the day also played a role in just how annoying those wrong numbers could be and they always seemed to come at the worst of times.

For example, just imagine how bad the timing might be if you discovered that the wrong GDP numbers had played a role, maybe a major role, in helping stock markets move higher in the belief that interest rate increases weren’t going to be imminent.

Somehow, that’s not as funny as the intentionally wrong number prank phone calls made by Bart Simpson.

Although anyone could make the honest mistake of dialing a wrong number, in the back of your mind you always wondered what kind of an idiot doesn’t know how to dial? After all, it was just a simple question of transposing numbers into action.

Otherwise, numbers were a thing of beauty and simply reflected the genius of mankind in their recognition and manipulations.

For many years I loved arithmetic and then I learned to really enjoy mathematics. The concept that “numbers don’t lie” had lots of meaning to me until I learned about interpretative statistics and came to realize that numbers may not lie, but people can coerce them into compromising themselves to the point that the numbers themselves are blamed.

As we’ve all been on an FOMC watch trying to predict when a data driven Federal Reserve would begin the process of increasing rates it’s a little disconcerting to learn that one of the key input numbers, the GDP, may not have been terribly accurate.

In other words, the numbers themselves may have lied.

As those GDP reports had been coming in over the past few months and had been consistently disappointing to our expectations, many wondered how they could possibly be reflecting a reality that seemed to be so opposite to what logic had suggested would be the case.

But faced with the sanctity of numbers it seemed a worthless exercise to question the illogical.

While many of us are wary of economic statistics that we see coming from overseas, particularly what may be self-serving numbers from China, there’s basically been a sense that official US government reports, while subject to revision, are at least consistent in their accuracy or inaccuracy, as the methodology is non-discriminatory and applied equally.

It really comes as a blow to confidence when the discovery is made that the methodology itself may be flawed and that it may not be a consistently applied flaw.

The word for that, one that we heard all week long, was “seasonality.”

The realization that the first quarter GDP was inaccurate puts last month’s FOMC minutes released this past week in a completely different light. While the FOMC Governors may not have been inclined to increase rates as early as this upcoming June’s meeting, that inclination may at least have been partially based upon erroneous data. That erroneous data, although perhaps isolated to a particular time of the year, therefore, may also impact the rate of change observed in subsequent periods. Those projected trends are the logical extension of discrete data points and may also contribute to policy decisions.

But not so readily once you find that you may have been living a lie.

Next week, a holiday shortened trading week, ends with the release of the GDP and may leave us with the question of just what to do with that data.

This past Friday, Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen gave an address and didn’t offer any new insights into the thoughts of the FOMC, particularly as the issue of the integrity of data was concerned.

With the S&P 500 resting for the week at what may either be a resistance level or a support level, what she also didn’t do was to offer stock market bulls a reason to believe that a dovish FOMC would take a June interest rate increase off the table to offer a launching pad.

As the market sits right below its record closing highs and with earnings season begin to wind down, taking those always questionable numbers away with them until the next earnings season begins in less than 2 months, all we have left is the trust in the consistency and accuracy of economic reports. However, taking a look at both the Shanghai and Hang Seng Indexes, maybe questionable numbers isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) and Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) have been very much linked in people’s minds ever since Coach’s very disappointing sales and earnings report in July 2013. At that time the storyline was that Coach was staid and uninteresting and had been supplanted in all ways by Kors.

To a large degree that mindset still continues, despite Kors steep descent from its highs of 2014. What has gone unnoticed, however, is that other than for the 6 month period after that disastrous earnings report in 2013, Coach shares have actually out-performed Kors through most of the time thereafter.

Coach didn’t fare terribly well after its most recent earnings report and its price has since returned back to where it had built a comfortable base. With an ex-dividend date upcoming the following week I think that I’m ready to add shares to a more expensive pre-existing lot that has been waiting for more than a year to be assigned and the past 8 months to be joined by another lot to help alleviate its misery.

With that upcoming dividend and with this week being a shortened trading week and offering lessened option premiums, I would likely consider a purchase of Coach shares and the sale of an extended weekly option, probably also seeking some capital gains on shares by using an out of the money strike price.

Kors on the other hand is reporting earnings this week and the option market is implying a 7.5% price movement. While not a very big differential, a 1% ROI may be achieved with the sale of a weekly put option if the shares fall less than 8.3% next week. If willing to add an additional week to the put contract expiration that would allow a fall of almost 10% before being at risk of assignment of shares.

Normally I don’t like to go more than a week at a time on a put sale unless needing to rollover a put that is deep in the money in order to prevent or delay assignment. However, the premiums this week are somewhat lower because of the holiday and that means that risk is a little bit higher if selling puts with a particular ROI as a goal in mind.

While Coach has been resistant to being buried and cast away, it’s hard to find a company that has had more requiems written for it than GameStop (NYSE:GME).

With game makers having done well of late there may be reason to delay a public performance of any requiem for yet another quarter as GameStop continues to confound investors who have long made it a very popular short position.

Unlike Kors, which pays no dividend, I do factor a dividend into the equation if selling puts in advance or after earnings are reported. GameStop reports earnings this week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the June 2015 option cycle.

With the option market having an implied price move of 6.2% as earnings are released, a 1% ROI can be achieved with the sale of a weekly put if shares don’t fall more than 6.8%. However, if faced with assignment, I would try to rollover the put options unless the ex-dividend date is announced and it is in the coming week. In that event, I would take assignment and consider the sale of calls with the added goal of also capturing the dividend.

I’ve been waiting a long time to re-purchase shares of Baxter International (NYSE:BAX) and always seem drawn to it as it is about to go ex-dividend. This week’s ex-dividend date arrives at a time when shares are approaching their yearly low point. I tend to like that combination particularly when occurring in a company that is otherwise not terribly volatile nor prone to surprises.

As with some other trades this week I might consider bypassing the weekly option and looking at an extended weekly option to try to offset some of the relatively higher transaction costs occurring in a holiday shortened week.

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) is also ex-dividend this week and seems to have found stability after some tumultuous trading after its January 2015 earnings report. With some upcoming technology and telecom conferences over the next 2 weeks there may be some comments or observations to shake up that stability between now and its next earnings report. However, if open to that risk, shares do offer both an attractive option premium and dividend.

With shares currently situated closer to its yearly low than its high it is another position that I would consider selling an extended weekly option and seeking to also get some capital gains on shares by using an out of the money strike price.

Finally, retail hasn’t necessarily been a shining beacon of light and whatever suspicions may surround the GDP, there’s not too much question that retailers haven’t posted the kind of revenues that would support a consumer led expansion of the economy, although strangely shoes may be exception.

One of the more volatile of the shoe companies has been Deckers Outdoor (NYSE:DECK) and if the option market is any judge, it is again expected to be volatile as it reports earnings this week.

The option market is implying a 10.5% price move in one direction or another this coming week as earnings are released and guidance provided.

Meanwhile, a 1% ROI could potentially be achieved from the sale of a put option if the shares don’t fall more than 15.4%. That’s quite a differential and may be enough to mitigate the risk in the shares of a company that are very prone to significant ups and downs.

As with Kors, there is no dividend to factor into any decision if faced with the need to either embrace or avoid assignment. In that event, I would likely try to roll the put options over to a forward week in an attempt to outlast any decline in share price and wait out price recovery, while still generating premium income.

That sounds good on paper and when it does work out that way, adding up all of those premiums on a piece of paper reminds you how beautiful simple numbers can still be.

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double Dip Dividend: Baxter International (5/28), Qualcomm (6/1)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Deckers (5/28), GameStop (5/28 PM), Kors (5/27 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 – May 3, 2015

For all the talk about how April was one of the best months of the year, that ship sailed on April 30th when the DJIA lost 192 points, to finish the month just 0.2% higher.

It will take complete Magellan-like circumnavigation to have that opportunity once again and who knows how much the world will have changed by then?

Higher Interest rates, a disintegrating EU, renewed political stalemate heading into a Presidential election, rising oil prices and expanding world conflict are just some of the destinations that may await, once having set sail.

Not quite the Western Caribbean venue I had signed up for.

With the market getting increasingly difficult to understand or predict, I’m not even certain that there will be an April in 2016, but I can’t figure out how to hedge against that possibility.

But then again, for all the talk about “Sell in May and go away,” the DJIA recovered all but 9 of those points to begin the new month. With only a single trading day in the month, if there are more gains ahead, that ship certainly hasn’t sailed yet, but getting on board may be a little more precarious when within just 0.4% of an all time closing high on the S&P 500.

The potential lesson is that for every ship that sails a new berth is created.

What really may have sailed is the coming of any consumer led expansion that was supposed to lead the economy into its next phase of growth. With the release of this month’s GDP figures, the disappointment continued as the expected dividend from lower energy prices hasn’t yet materialized, many months after optimistic projections.

How so many esteemed and knowledgeable experts could have been universally wrong, at least in the time frame, thus far, as fascinating. Government economists, private sector economists, CEOs of retail giants and talking heads near and far, all have gotten it wrong. The anticipated expansion of the economy that was going to lead to higher interest rates just hasn’t fulfilled the logical conclusions that were etched in stone.

Interestingly, just as it seems to be coming clear that there isn’t much reason for the FOMC to begin a rise in interest rates, the 10 Year Treasury Note’s interest rate climbed by 5%. It did so as the FOMC removed all reference from a ticking clock to determine when those hikes would begin, in favor of data alone.

I don’t know what those bond traders are thinking. Perhaps they are just getting well ahead of the curve, but as this earnings season has progressed there isn’t too much reason to see any near term impetus for anything other than risk. No one can see over the horizon, but if you’re sailing it helps to know what may be ahead.

What started out as an earnings season that was understanding of the currency related constraints facing companies and even gave a pass on pessimistic guidance, has turned into a brutally punishing market for companies that don’t have the free pass of currency.

All you have to do is look at the reactions to LinkedIn (NYSE:LNKD), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Yelp (NYSE:YELP) this week, as they all reported earnings. Some of those would have gladly seen their stocks tumble by only 20% instead of the deep abyss that awaited.

Before anyone comes to the conclusion that the ship has sailed on those and similar names, I have 4 words for you: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, now simply known as Keurig Green Mountain (NASDAQ:GMCR).

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

Coach (NYSE:COH) reported earnings last week and in 2015, up until that point, had quietly diverged from the S&P 500 in a positive way, if you had owned shares. As the luster of some of its competitors was beginning to fade and in the process of implementing a new global strategy, it appeared that Coach was ready to finally recover from a devastating earnings plunge a year ago.

It was at that time that everyone had firmly shifted their favor to competitor Michael Kors (NYSE:KORS) and had started writing Coach off, as another example of a company sailing off into oblivion as it grew out of touch with its consumers.

Who knew at that time that Kors itself would so quickly run out of steam? At least the COach ride had been a sustained one and was beginning to show some signs of renewed life.

I’ve owned shares of Coach many times over the years and have frequently purchased shares after earnings or sold puts before or after earnings, always in the expectation that any earnings plunge would be short lived. That used to be true, but not for that last decline and I am still suffering with a lot that I optimistically sold $50 August 2015 calls upon, the day before earnings were released.

Unlike many stocks that have suffered declines and that then prompts me to add more shares, I haven’t done so with Coach, but am ready to do so now as shares are back to where they started the year.

With a dividend payout that appears to be safe, an acceptable option premium and the prospects of shares re-testing its recently higher levels, this seems like an opportune time to again establish a position, although I might consider doing so through the sale of puts. If taking that route and faced with an assignment, I would attempt to rollover the puts until that time in early June 2015 when shares are expected to go ex-dividend, at which point I would prefer to be long shares.

As far as fashion and popularity go, Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) may have seen its ship sail and so far, any attempt to right the ship by changing leadership hasn’t played out, so clearly there’s more at play.

What has happened, though, is that shares are no longer on a downward only incline, threatening to fall off the edge. It’s already fallen off, on more than one occasion, but like Coach, this most recent recovery has been much slower than those in the past.

But it’s in that period of quiescence for a stock that has a history of volatility that a covered option strategy, especially short term oriented, may be best suited.

Just 2 weeks ago I created a covered call position on new shares and saw them assigned that same week. They were volatile within a very narrow range that week, just as they were last week. That volatility creates great option premiums, even when the net change in share price is small.

With earnings still 3 weeks away, as is the dividend, the Abercrombie and Fitch trade may also potentially be considered as a put sale, and as with Coach, might consider share ownership if faced with the prospect of assignment approaching that ex-dividend date.

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS), at least if you listen to its always opinionated CEO, John Legere, definitely has the wind blowing at its back. Some of that wind may be coming from Legere himself. There isn’t too much doubt that the bigger players in the cellphone industry are beginning to respond to some of T-Mobile’s innovations and will increasingly feel the squeeze on margins.

So far, though, that hasn’t been the case. as quarterly revenues for Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) are at or near all time highs, as are profits. T-Mobile, on the other hand, while seeing some growth in revenues on a much smaller denominator, isn’t consistently seeing profits.

The end game for T-Mobile can’t be predicated on an endless supply of wind, no matter how much John Legere talks or Tweets. The end game has to include being acquired by someone that has more wind in their pockets.

But in the meantime, there is still an appealing option premium and the chance of price appreciation while waiting for T-Mobile to find a place to dock.

Keurig Green Mountain was the topic of the second article I everpublished on Seeking Alpha 3 years ago this week. It seems only fitting to re-visit it as it gets to report earnings. Whenever it does, it causes me to remember the night that I appeared on Matt Miller’s one time show, Bloomberg Rewind, having earlier learned that Green Mountain shares plunged about 30% on earnings.

Given the heights at which the old Green Mountain Coffee Roasters once traded, you would have been justified in believing that on that November 2011 night, the ship had sailed on Green Mountain Coffee and it was going to be left in the heap of other momentum stocks that had run into potential accounting irregularities.

But Green Mountain had a second act and surpassed even those lofty highs, with a little help from a new CEO with great ties to a deep pocketed company that was in need of diversifying its own beverage portfolio.

Always an exciting earnings related trade, the options market is implying a 10.2% price move upon earnings. In a week that saw 20% moves in Yelp, LinkedIn and Twitter, 10% seems like child’s play.

My threshold objective of receiving a 1% ROI on the sale of a put option on a stock that is about to report earnings appears to be achievable even if shares fall by as much as 12.1%.

It will likely be a long time before anyone believes that the ship has sailed on Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), but there was no shortage of comments about how the wind had been taken out of Intel’s sales as it missed the mobile explosion.

As far as Intel’s performance goes, it looks as if that ship sailed at the end of 2014, but with recent rumors of a hook-up with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) and the upcoming expiration of a standstill agreement, Intel is again picking up some momentum, as the market initially seemed pleased at the prospects of the union, which now may go the hostile route.

In the meantime, with that agreement expiring in 4 weeks, Intel is ex-dividend this week. The anticipation of events to come may explain why the premium on the weekly options are relatively high during a week that shares go ex-dividend.

Finally, perhaps one of the best examples of a company whose ship had sailed and was left to sink as a withered company was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Funny how a single product can turn it all around.

it was an odd week for Apple , though. Despite a nearly $4 gain to close the week, it finished the week virtually unchanged from where it started, even though it reported earnings after Monday’s close.

While it’s always possible to put a negative spin on the various components of the Apple sales story, and that’s done quarter after quarter, they continue to amaze, as they beat analyst’s consensus for the 10th consecutive quarter. While others may moan about currency exchange, Apple is just too occupied with execution.

Still, despite beating expectations yet again, after a quick opening pop on Tuesday morning shares finished the week $4 below that peak level when the week came to its end.

None of that is odd, though, unless you’ve grown accustomed to Apple moving higher after earnings are released. What was really odd was that the news about Apple as the week progressed was mostly negative as it focused on its latest product, the Apple Watch.

Reports of a tepid reception to the product; jokes like “how do you recognize the nerd in the crowd;” reports of tattoos interfering with the full functioning of the product; criticizing the sales strategy; and complaints about how complicated the Apple Watch was to use, all seemed so un-Apple-like.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and in the very short history of Apple having paid a dividend, the shares are very likely to move higher during the immediate period following the dividend distribution.

With the announcement this past week of an additional $50 billion being allocated to stock buybacks over the next 23 months, the ship may not sail on Apple shares for quite some time.

Traditional Stocks: Coach

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (5/5), Apple (5/7)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Keurig Green Mountain (5/6 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 – October 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: EMC, Halliburton

Momentum: Abercrombie and Fitch, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Ford (10/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/28 AM), Facebook (10/28 PM), Twitter (10/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – September 21, 2014

Somewhere along the line most of us have tried the proven strategy of hanging out with people who were uglier or stupider than we perceived ourselves to be, in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.

There’s nothing really wrong in admitting that to be the case. It’s really the ultimate in victimless opportunism and can truly be a win-win for everyone involved.

The opportunist hopes to break away from that crowd and the crowd feels elevated by its association, or so goes the opportunist’s rationalization.

Markets are no different and this past week was as good of an example of that tried and tested phenomenon as you might ever find. In this case, the opportunist was the US equity market, but it really can rarely be a win-win situation.

Bonds, currencies and precious metals?

Ugly and stupid.

There were three potentially market rocking stories this week that could have struck fear in stock investors, but neither an upcoming FOMC statement, a pending independence referendum in Scotland, nor history’s largest IPO could do what common sense said should occur, particularly with liquidity being threatened from multiple directions.

You can probably thank the less than attractive alternatives for making stocks look so good to investors.

U.S. equity markets just did what we’ve become so accustomed to, other than for brief moments over the past two years, as the week ended on yet another new record high with the DJIA moving higher each day of the week.

Last week was like a perfect storm, except that the winds blew from all different directions during the latter half of the week.

The week started a bit ominously, but after a while it was clear that selling was narrow in scope and appeared to be limited to profit taking in some of the year’s big gainers, ostensibly to raise cash for any hoped for Alibaba (BABA) allocation, that was unlikely to materialize for most retail investors.

But when the competition is weak, it doesn’t take much to shine and stand out from the crowd. With the week’s first challenge being whether the FOMC was going to accelerate their time table for raising interest rates, all it took was The Wall Street Journal’s Jon Hilsenrath expressing the belief that the phrase “considerable time,” would remain intact to allow stocks to stand out from the crowd.

Never mind that Hilsenrath had yet to demonstrate an inside track to the Yellen Federal Reserve, as he seemed to have had during the Bernanke era. Also forget about the fact that the FOMC has been using that phrase since March 2014 and sooner or later it has to give way to the relization that “considerable time” has already passed. That’s best left to deal with at some other time in the future.

Neither of those were important as all of the other options were looking worse.

With the outcome of the independence referendum being far from certain stocks had been smart enough not to have predicted the eventual outcome and put itself in jeopardy if independence was ratified. Instead the risk was borne by currencies and foreign stock markets.

Precious metals? Who in the world has been putting new money into precious metals of late?

So stocks looked great, but after getting a makeover last week, suddenly the crowd may not look so unappealing. Even precious metals may find some suitors because they just don’t want to chase after stocks and wind up getting disappointed.

Who knew that the high school experience could have taught so much about the behavior of stocks?

The behavior of stocks this week, was also similar to how high school “A-listers” may have acted when pulling in someone from the “losers.” The welcome isn’t always a full and complete embrace and somewhat circumspect or still maintaining an aura of superiority.

^SPX ChartIn this case the “A-list” DJIA greatly outperformed other major indexes this past week as the advance didn’t fully embrace a broader selection of stocks.

Despite last week’s nice gains against the odds, in this perfect storm, everything went right. Yet the embrace was with less conviction than it appeared.

That doesn’t mean that I want to go and join the losers, but I may be circumspect of the superficial appearance of those “A-listers” as next week is about to begin.

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

By comparison, Yahoo (YHOO) looks even less appealing now that it has given up a portion of its stake in Alibaba.

I purchased a small Yahoo position late this past Thursday, when noticing that the in the money option premium was rising even as shares were declining.

The following day I closed those positions shortly after Alibaba started trading as the gain in shares wasn’t matched by a similar gain the premium, resulting in a net credit greater than allowing the position to be assigned.

The funny thing was that the position never would have been assigned as reportedly Yahoo shares were being used a proxy to shorting Alibaba and share price went substantially lower, as a result, even while the value of Yahoo’s remaining stake in Alibaba appreciated by about an additional 37% from the IPO price.

While that kind of short selling strategy may continue, Yahoo is also reportedly becoming the focus of attention from other sources, while it may still stand to benefit from its continuing Alibaba position.

With lots of attention being directed toward its still unproven CEO, Marissa Mayer, as to what she will do with the IPO proceeds, I expect that the Yahoo option premium will remain elevated as so many factors are now coming into play.

While I like those prospects and expect to re-purchase shares, I don’t think that I’ll be allocating too much to this position because of all of the uncertainty involved, but do like the evolving soap opera.

When it comes to comparisons, there’s little that Blackberry (BBRY) can do to make itself look appealing. Where exactly can it hang out to be able to stand out in the crowd and get the attention of those that vote on popularity? Still, under the leadership of John Chen, Blackberry has ended its slide toward oblivion and at least gives appearances of now having a strategy and the ability to execute.

Blackberry reports earnings this coming week and thanks to a lift provided by a Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst out-performed the NASDAQ 100 for the week. 

The option market has assigned an implied move of 9.7% for the coming week and at Friday’s closing price a 1% ROI could be obtained even if shares fell by 13.7%. That kind of comparison makes Blackberry look good to me.

While maybe not looking good in comparison to its chief competitor, CVS Health (CVS) on the basis of its self proclaimed status of the guardians of the nation’s health after belatedly eliminating the sale of cigarettes from its stores, Walgreen looks food to me. That’s especially the case now that it seems to be settling into a trading range after it, too, belatedly, decided against a tax inversion strategy.

Walgreen, as with many other stocks trading in a range, but occasionally punctuated by substantive price moves related to earnings or other events, offers a nice option premium that may exceed the current risk of share ownership.

Until recently the comparison to gold during the summer worked out well for Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), having out-performed the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD). More recently, however, the Miners Index has had an abysmal month of September and is approaching a 2 year low. However, its beta is still quite low and shares are now trading below their yearly mid-point range, while offering a premium that may offset what I believe to be limited downside risk.

I don’t look at ETF vehicles very often, but this one may be right in terms of timing and price. The availability of expanded weekly options, strike prices in $0.50 increments and manageable bid-ask spreads makes this potentially a good candidate for serial rollover if it finds some support and begins trading in a range.

Fastenal (FAST) is one of those stocks that may not have much glamour and may not stand out sufficiently to get noticed. To me, though, it is a superstar in the world of covered options as it has traded reliably within a range and consistently returned to the mid-point of that range, where it currently resides.

Having rolled over shares this past Friday after a mid-session drop below the strike, I watched as it recovered enough to close above the strike. Had it been assigned, as originally thought would occur, I knew that at its current price I wanted to re-purchase shares. Instead, now I want to add shares, but being mindful that it will report earnings in just a few weeks.

Despite Alibaba’s successful IPO, it’s still difficult for me to have too much confidence in stocks that have either a heavy reliance on the Chinese economy or are Chinese companies. Fortunately or unfortunately, I do make exceptions for both situations, although far fewer for the latter.

Joy Global (JOY) has extensive interests in China and is very dependent on continued growth of the Chinese economy, which is difficult to measure with reliability. Of course with our own GDP being reported this coming Friday, we know all too well, based on the recent pattern of revisions, that data should always be viewed warily.

With some weakness in this sector, witness the recent drop in Caterpillar (CAT), Joy Global is approaching correction territory over the past month and is beginning to once again look appealing, not having owned shares in nearly a year. These shares can be volatile, but with patience and an inner sense of serenity, the option premiums can atone for moments of anxiety.

Despite still holding a very expensive lot of Coach (COH) shares for far too long, it is still one of my favorite stocks over the longer term time frame, having owned it on 21 occasions over 25 months.

Smarting from the pain of that lot I still hold, it took a while before finding the courage to purchase an additional lot, but that recent lot was assigned this past week and I’m ready to add another in its place, as it seems that Coach has found some support at its current level. In the past Coach has been an excellent covered option trade when it traded in a range. The reason for it offering attractive option premiums was due to its predictably large earnings related moves. However, in the past, it had a wonderful habit of its price reverting to the mean.

If so, I don’t mind executing serial trades, reaping premiums and the occasional premium to help offset the existing paper loss. As the luster from Kors (KORS) seems to be waning there is also less populist battering of Coach, which remains very popular internationally. It’s commitment to maintaining its dividend makes it easy to hold shares while awaiting what I hope is an inevitable, albeit, unusually slow recovery.

Whole Foods (WFM) is another of those companies that I own that is currently well below its purchase price. As with Coach, I eventually found the courage to purchase more shares and have done so 4 times in the past 3 months, as it appears to have also found some price support.

Recently its premiums have become more attractive as the company has become a topic of speculation regarding activist intervention. While I don’t think there’s too much to come of that speculation, I do believe that shares are poised to continue climbing and hopefully in a slow and sustained manner. It goes ex-dividend this week and while not the most generous of dividends it does supplement the potential return offered by also selling call options on shares sufficiently to make it an attractive consideration.

Finally, Oracle (ORCL) is back in the news and in the last couple of years that hasn’t really been a good thing. After a number of disappointing earnings reports over that time, its Chairman and CEO, Larry Ellison, blasted those around him, finding plenty of places to lay blame. His absence from last year’s earnings report and conference in order to attend Oracle Team USA’s effort in the Americas Cup race struck me as inappropriate.

Now the news of Ellison stepping down as CEO, while retaining the Chairmanship, preceded this most recent quarter’s disappointing earnings. It also  was a prelude to the announcement of a power sharing plan with the appointment of co-CEOs, because we all know how much high achievers like to share power and glory.

Yet, with this past Friday’s price decline in Oracle it is again becoming a potentially attractive purchase candidate, particularly with an upcoming, albeit modest dividend coming on October 6, 2014.

That happens to be a Monday, and I wish there were more such Monday opportunities for those stocks that I follow. Those are often the best of the “Double Dip Dividend” selections, as early assignment to capture the dividend must occur on the preceding Friday and typically means receiving an entire week’s option premium, while being able to reinvest the exercise proceeds to generate even more income.

 

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF, Oracle, Walgreen

Momentum: Coach, Joy Global, Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: Whole Foods (9/24 $0.12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Blackberry (9/23 PM)

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

Weekend Update – September 7, 2014

There was no shortage of news stories that could have prevented the market from setting yet another new closing high this week.

While much of the week was spent on discussing the tragic sequence of events leading to the death of Joan Rivers, markets still had a job to do, but may have been in no position to stop the momentum, regardless of the nature of more germane events.

Despite what everyone agrees to have been a disappointing Employment Situation Report, the market shrugged off that news and closed the week at another new record. They did so as many experts questioned the validity of the statistics rather than getting in the way of a market that was moving higher.

As the saying goes “you don’t step in front of a moving train.”

The previous day, with the announcement by ECB President Mario Draghi of further decreases in interest rates and more importantly the institution of what is being referred to as “Quantitative Easing Lite,” the market chose to ignore the same reasoning that many believed was behind our own market’s steady ascent and could, therefore, pose a threat to that continued ascent.

Many agreed that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing was a major reason for our equity market’s climb, as it fueled a flight of assets from low return bonds and from overseas. Now, with the same ingredients being assembled for a similar environment in European markets “QE Lite” could represent competition to US equity markets through our own flight of assets.

Barry Ritholtz, a noted equities analyst, recently commented that the drop in CNBC viewership to all time low levels was a “hugely bullish” sign for the markets, using their viewership as a contrarian indicator.

Never mind that along with them may be the loss of continued fuel to propel the markets onward, or consistent with disappointing employment numbers perhaps viewers are electing to drop their basic cable service before giving up their smartphone data plans.

There aren’t too many ways to stop a runaway train. The sheer momentum of a heavy projectile moving at high speed is hard to counter. You really don’t want to step in front of it as a primary strategy.

What makes that train run, however, is its fuel and at some point that fuel runs out.

However, by the same token there was no shortage of news that could have sent the markets soaring much higher.

Fuel, meet brakes.

Instead, the week closed up only slightly higher, yet continuing the weekly record of more new highs that lasted all throughout August.

What the market didn’t do was to embrace the news of a Ukraine-Russia truce, whereas weeks earlier it had shown that it cared deeply about such news, rallying on its rumor and falling on renewed conflict.

Even runaway trains may be able to be controlled by applying the brakes. The lack of a strong response to the thought of a lasting truce in the Ukraine conflict may be a reflection of some working brakes that may still be part of the equation.

While this week did finish at another new closing high, it did so without real conviction. While a runaway train would have great difficulty staying on track when coming to a curve, that may be precisely where the market now finds itself.

Whether it derails or not may be as much related to whether that curve is an inflection or simply a barrier to seeing what may lay ahead.

This past week, I think the market actually got it right, by not over-reacting to anything, as it demonstrated caution, perhaps aware that the curve ahead was steep.

How unusual would that have been? Rational markets?

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

A number of potential selections this week share the common bond of having been recipients of bad news recently.

British Petroleum (BP), a perennial bad guy when it comes to environmental record and safety received word of an $18 billion fine related to the devastating Gulf Oil spill. Despite a bounce back on Friday and assignment of shares that I had bought just the previous day, the response to that fine is very reminiscent of the initial reaction to similar news that greeted Anadarko (APC).

The bad news is tantamount to nothing more than metaphoric brakes having now been applied and defining the end of their liability. On the other hand, there is certainly the possibility of payment being delayed for years as appeals work their way through the judicial system or an agreement to a lesser penalty, which could only buoy shares. The introduction of this new level of uncertainty certainly buoyed British Petroleum’s option premiums last week and that appears to be carrying through to the coming week.

The Gap (GPS) remains an anachronism as it reports monthly same store sales. For those following those results it appears that every month or two the story is at a polar opposite to previous reports and the stock responds accordingly. This time the report showed a 2% decline, whereas analysts were expecting a 2% increase in sales.

The subsequent sharp decline in shares was eased somewhat my the market’s close and is still somewhat higher than I would like to re-initiate a position, but it is back on the radar screen after having been recently assigned. At the $42 level it has been a very good covered call trade.

eBay (EBAY), despite the steady stream of disparagement, has been one of my favorite positions. It, like The Gap is a little higher than where I would ideally like to start or add to a position, but then again, what isn’t?

The bad news confronting eBay may become reality this week, as Apple (AAPL) unveils its new products on Tuesday, which are rumored to incorporate a payment system that could then compete directly with eBay’s PayPal division.

Based upon the market’s reaction to news of Carl Icahn’s position in eBay and the reaction upon rumor that eBay was telling prospective PayPal officers that it would be spun off, suggests that competition could be beneficial to eBay’s share price, as it could speed up the spin off of a very valuable asset, particularly before that asset has a chance to erode.

eBay’s option premiums for the coming week certainly are reflective of near term uncertainty that is very likely related to what most have probably already discounted.

One of the things that has made eBay a favorite of mine is the serial nature in which I’ve been able to buy shares and sell calls over the past few years. That’s a characteristic that isn’t found frequently enough and depends on a stock’s being able to trade in a reasonably defined range, while still having some occasional spikes and plunges.

T-Mobile (TMUS) is beginning to show some of those same characteristics, although it may not be in the picture for as long as eBay has been, owing to the clear message that it is in play. It needs a capital infusion just as it needs more spectrum. Its parent has already indicated that it would be a willing seller at $35.

Demonstrating some support at $28.50 and having an apparent upper cap, I like when ranges are defined, particularly as its price can easily modulate itself within that range on any news or rumor. Those sort of events help to keep its option premium appealing and enable it to be traded on a serial basis, as well, or simply rolling over option contracts to help the premiums accumulate.

I haven’t owned shares of Kors (KORS) for a while, and have not been particularly fond of it as it has largely been held responsible for the sales and share price woes at Coach (COH), which like eBay, has been one of my covered option favorites, thanks to its price mediocrity, but consistent option premium stream.

With news of a secondary stock offering whose shares represent complete divestiture by the private equity firm that once held a majority interest in the company and the departure of two board members, it can’t get too much worse for shares, unless it too is a runaway train.

News of product discounting and slowing revenue growth compounds the insult of not receiving any of the proceeds of the secondary offering, which is expected to close this coming week. As with a number of other stocks in the “bad news” category, the option premiums are elevated, but much of the bad news may have already been digested.

Among this week’s potential dividend selections, there is some recent bad news at AIG (AIG), which hasn’t been reflected in its share price.

That is additional credit to Robert Benmosche, the past CEO, who recently announced that his longstanding cancer is now thought to be of a terminal nature. His legacy, will undoubtedly include him as one of the heroes coming out of the financial crisis, with a reputation enhanced by his commitment even during periods of personal duress.

While no one is going to chase shares of AIG in order to capture its tiny dividend, it along with a number of other stocks highlighted this week continue the strategy of looking for positions that have trailed the S&P 500 during the past summer. Unlike some of the others burdened by recent bad news, AIG isn’t offering an enriched option premium, again somewhat of a tribute to the stability created by Benmosche.

Both Coca Cola (KO) and Merck (MRK) are ex-dividend this week. Neither is a frequent point of focus for me, but both may represent some reasonable safety, although Merck has out-performed the S&P 500 this summer.

As is commonly the case with companies that are DJIA components that offer better than average dividends, there isn’t as readily obtainable advantage to attempting to “double dip.” For that reason, when considering the purchase of shares in advance of the dividend and if using an in the money strike price, it may make some sense to use something other than a weekly option, so that the additional time value may end up being a factor in limiting the incidence of early exercise.

Despite both companies having significant international exposure I don’t believe that any near term flare ups will unduly drag either of them downward and during a period of continuing low volatility those dividends look ever more attractive, particularly if risk is mitigated.

Finally, Whole Foods (WFM), while not one of my recent favorite stocks, has lately been presenting excellent opportunity to whittle down paper losses on an all too expensive lot of shares that has been sitting fallow, with no hedges sold against it for a while.

It appears, from its recent price behavior that shares have found some reasonable support at $38.50 and may be ready to begin a climb higher as it may start deriving some benefits from its significant expansion over the past year. Together with the fact that its controversial co-CEO hasn’t said much in the way of inflammatory comments lately, has helped the shares maintain some semblance of stability.

In this case, Whole Foods may be ready to be the beneficiary of some good news. It, along with some others this week, are offering option premiums that are in clear contrast to the steadily decreasing premiums more commonly being seen.

Personally, I’m all for this runaway train to keep running, just as long as it does so at a reasonable speed, so that there’s plenty of opportunity to get off. Perhaps this past week’s performance shows some good common sense, which is what really makes it so unusual, but would represent a welcome change.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, eBay, The Gap, Whole Foods

Momentum: Kors, T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: AIG (9/9). Coca Cola (9/11), Merck (9/11)

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 – July 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Janet Yellen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Darden

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Family Dollar Stores

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

Weekend Update – May 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Joy Global

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

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

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

Weekend Update – April 6, 2014

This week started on such a positive note with the reassuring words of a dove, yet ended so harshly.

This time of the year it’s supposed to be the other way around with the lamb having the final word as months of a less threatening nature await ahead.

Instead, after Friday’s close, whatever optimism may have been generated by setting even more record highs earlier in the week, had given way to caution and perhaps preparation for some ill winds.

Back when I was in college it wasn’t meant as a compliment if you were referred to as being a “dove.” and the proverbial lamb was always being led to slaughter.  In fact, if you were called a “dove,” that was only in polite circles. Otherwise, the words used were far more descriptive and derisive.

By the same token, the doves out there may not have had the kindest of words for the hawks, but in nature, it’s usually the hawk that triumphs. In fact, recalling the recent mauling of a peace dove that had been just released by Pope Francis and some children, it didn’t really even require a hawk. A seagull and a lowly crow were enough for the task.

This week, though, it was the dove that ruled the day and set the tone for the week. Well, at least most of it, until its fragile nature beset itself.

A fragile market can be equally susceptible even to less formidable foes, as Friday’s sell-off had little basis and came on the day of the Employment Situation Report, which for the past 20 months or so has been strongly correlated to a higher moving market on the day of release and for the week as a whole. While the week as a whole did show an advance, the former correlation stood for only a short time before strong selling set in.

Whatever doubts there may have been regarding where Janet Yellen stood on that continuum from dove to hawk following her initial press conference, she made it clear that on issues of the Federal Reserve’s actions to help lower the unemployment rate, she was an unabashed dove and while there may be more dissenting voting members than before sitting on the Federal Reserve, she still controls the hawks, but probably keeps at least one eye wary at all times.

The stock market loved that re-affirmation of policy the way we love the beauty of a dove, even though like short sellers, we may privately relish its obliteration by a swooping predator hawk.

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).

While this was an especially brutal week for stocks on the NASDAQ and particularly for many of those stocks that had borne a disproportionate amount of everyone’s attention as they moved ever higher, many others were included in whatever wrath took hold.

With earnings season beginning this coming week there may be some return to fundamentals, however, disappointments, particularly if weather hasn’t been fully factored in or discounted may further exploit market fragility.

MasterCard (MA) was one such casualty of the stampede. There was little to account for its 2.5% drop on Friday, bringing it to its 5 month low. The previous week, faced with some potentially adverse decisions regarding swipe fees it reacted well, yet this week it did otherwise without any new challenges being sent its way. While it goes ex-dividend on Monday it’s puny dividend isn’t something that’s likely to be missed by those entering into new positions as shares find themselves at a 5 month low. Believing that last week’s selling was overdone I would consider a slightly longer option contract and the use of an out of the money strike as a means to allow some time for price repair while collecting an option premium while waiting.

While not falling quite as much as MasterCard on Friday, shares of Starbucks (SBUX) also succumbed to selling pressure. While the past week was filled with news regarding other players entering into the breakfast marketplace, including offering free cups of coffee, there was really an absence of Starbucks specific news. While breakfast taco waffles may garner some attention, Starbucks has become as much a way of life as it has a product provider. It’s current price is one where it has shown considerable strength and it too may warrant the use of slightly longer term option contracts and an out of the money strike.

Apollo Education (APOL) was a stock that I highlighted last week as a possible earnings trade. As usual, I prefer those through the sale of well out of the money put contracts prior to earnings, especially if share price is trending downward prior to earnings. In Apollo’s case shares had instead shown strength prior to the earnings release, so I stayed away from selling puts at that time. After earnings shares did sustain a drop and I then sold some out of the money puts in the hope that the drop wouldn’t continue beyond another few strike levels. While there was almost a need to roll them over on Friday as the market was crumbling, Apollo shares showed resilience, even as the market did not.

While I still don’t have much confidence in the product it offers nor the manner in which it generates its revenues, that’s largely irrelevant, as it continues to offer some reasonable returns even if shares continue to experience some decline. Once again, however, I would most likely consider the sale of puts rather than an outright purchase of shares and concomitant sale of calls.

There’s probably very little that can be added to make a discussion of Herbalife (HLF) newsworthy, but when there is, it will really be worth paying attention. While Herbalife has been a good target of put sellers following the severe price drop in the wake of regulatory and legal investigations that are being escalated, it has recovered very nicely with the realization that any real news is likely to be in the distance. It too, is a position that I would likely consider entry through the sale of out of the money puts.

This week’s dividend stocks for consideration are two that I haven’t owned for a while, as I’ve been waiting for them to return to more reasonable price levels. Sometimes the realization comes that waiting only prevents being an active participant. Aetna (AET) Abbott Labs (ABT) have long been absent from my portfolio despite continually thinking about adding them back.

With a large number of existing positions already going ex-dividend this week I’m not as anxious to add any additional ones. However, of those two, Abbott Labs is more appealing for having a higher dividend rate and for having already come off some recent price peaks. In need of additional health care sector stocks, Abbott also carries that personal appeal at this point in time. However, it reports earnings the following week so my preference, if purchasing shares, would be a quick holding and given its current option premium would even be willingly accepting of an early assignment.

Aetna has simply left me behind in the dust as I’ve been waiting for it to return to what I believed was a fair price, but apparently the market has long disagreed. While it may be some time until we all realize whether new healthcare mandates are a positive or negative for the insurers, the one thing that most everyone can agree is that the long term is always positive when your fee structure is highly responsive to actuarial data. Add to that an increasing interest rate environment and the future may be bright for insurers.

Among the shares that I had assigned this past week were Comcast (CMCSA) and Coach (COH). Following the week ending sell-off I was grateful to have as many assignments as there were, especially to replenish cash reserves in the event of buying opportunities ahead. However, among those assigned, these two are ones that I’m eager to re-incorporate into my portfolio.

Comcast, despite my personal feelings about the product and service, has just been a spectacular growth story and has had great guidance under the control of the Roberts family. My celebration of “Comcast Liberation Day” a few years ago didn’t mean that I would boycott share ownership or overlook its attributes as an investment. It’s recent 10% price drop in the past two months from its highs has offered an opportunity to find some more realistic entry points. While I’ve been following shares for quite some time, it only recently began offering weekly and expanded weekly options. For me, that was the signal, combined with the reduced share price to start initiating positions.  I envision a similar opportunity with Comcast shares on a serial basis as I have experienced with Coach.

Coach remains a stock that I feel like I could happily buy most week in and out as long as it’s trading in a $48-$54 range and have done so repeatedly when it has done so. Despite a near absence of positive news in almost two years and the company having been written off as a loser in the competitive wars, especially with Michael Kors (KORS), for those who can recognize that multiple small stock gains can be very meaningful it has been a consistent performer. With earnings approaching at the end of the month I would be less inclined to use longer term option contracts at this time, as Coach has had a recent history of sharp and unpredictable moves following earnings.

While Coach has been unable to do anything right in the eyes of many, until recently, Under Armour (UA) could do no wrong. WHile it’s still not clear whether the design of their latest skating wear for US Olympians was in any way related to their disappointing performance, Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, was a perfect study in how to present his company when under public scrutiny. 

While it received a downgrade about 3 weeks ago and subsequently fell more than 7% in that aftermath, it fell an additional 9% from that sentinel point late this week as it was carried along with the rest of the deluge. As with many others the selling was in the absence of substantive news.

With earnings season beginning this coming week, Under Armour is among those announcing early in the process on April 17, 2014. It’s volatility is commanding a health option premium at a time when many others are languishing, however, the risk may be compounded during the following week. For that reason, if considering the purchase of shares I would likely use a weekly contract and if necessary roll that over to a longer term contract in anticipation of that enhanced risk. As earnings approach, Under Armour may also turn out to be a potential earnings related trade through the sale of out of the money put options.

Finally, a number of years ago I was studying two stocks with an eye toward adding one to my regular rotation in need of another energy sector position. They were Anadarko (APC) and Apache (APA). For a while I would get their stock symbols confused and really had a difficult time discerning their differences. I still have no real idea of what those differences may be, but for some reason I gravitated toward Anadarko.

This week, that dalliance may have come to an end, at least for the time being, as my shares were assigned following an untimely and unexpected end to the Tronox litigation that was an unwelcome part of its Kerr McGee purchase.

Whatever positive comments I would normally make about Anadarko relative to its prospects for trading in a range and offering an attractive premium can now be transferred to Apache. The best part, though, is that Apache is approximately 10% below its recent high and can make me forget about Anadarko for now.

Traditional Stocks: Apache, Comcast, MasterCard, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Apollo Educational, Coach, Herbalife, Under Armour

Double Dip Dividend: Aetna (4/8), Abbott Labs (4/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – February 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 – November 3, 2013

Some things are just unappreciated until they’re gone.

If you can remember those heady days of 2007, it seemed as if every day we were hitting new market highs and everyone was talking about it when not busy flipping houses.

Some will make the case that is the perfect example of a bubble about to burst, similar to when a bar of gold bullion appears on the cover of TIME magazine, just in time to mark the end of a bull run.

On the other hand, when everyone is suddenly talking about perhaps currently being in a bubble it may be a good time to plan for even more of a good thing.

That’s emblematic of the confusion swirling in our current markets. Earnings are up. Better than expected by most counts, yet revenues are down. The stock market can do only one thing and so it goes higher.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, 2013 has been a year of hitting record after record. Yet the buzz is absent, although house flipping is back. Not that I go to many social events but not many are talking about how wild the market has been. That’s markedly different from 2007.

Listening to those who purport to know about human behavior and markets, that means that we are not yet in a stock market bubble and as such, the market will only go higher, yet that’s at odds with the rampant bubble speculation that is being promoted in some media.

I’m a little more cynical. I see the paucity of excitement as being reflective of investors who have come to believe that consistently higher markets are an entitlement and have subsequently lost their true value. No one seems to appreciate a new record setting close, anymore. The belief in the right to a growing portfolio is no different from the right to use a calculator on an exam. Along with that right comes the loss of ability and appreciation of that ability.

Without spellchecker, the editors at Seeking Alpha would have a hard time distinguishing me from a third grader, but spelling really isn’t something I need to due. It’s just done for me.

While many were unprepared in 2007 because they were caught up in a bubble, 2013 may be different. In 2007 the feeling was that it could only get better and better, so why exercise caution? But in 2013 the feeling may be that there is nothing unusual going on, so what is there to be cautious about?

AS markets do head higher those heights are increasingly met with ennui instead of wonder and awe. It’s barely been more than five years since we last felt the wrath of an over-extended market but I’m certain that the new daily records will be missed once they’re gone.

As a normally cautious person when it comes to investing, but not terribly willing to sacrifice returns for caution my outlook changes with frequency as new funds find their way into my account after the previous week’s assignment of options I had sold.

This past week I didn’t have as many assignments as I had expected owing to some late price drops on Friday, so I’m not as likely to go on a spending spree this coming week, as I don’t want to dig deeply into my cash reserve. This week I’m inclined to think more in terms of dividend paying stocks and relatively few higher beta names, although opportunity is situational and Monday morning’s opening bell may bring surprise action. I appreciate surprise and for the record, I appreciate every single bit of share appreciation and income that comes my way as a gift from this market.

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).

I currently own shares of MetLife (MET) and have done so several times this year. MetLife reported earnings this past week. They reported a nearly $2 billion turnaround in profits, but missed estimates, despite strength in every metric. They re-affirmed that a lower interest rate environment, as might be expected with a continuation of Quantitative Easing, could impact its assets’ performance in the coming year. That was the same news that created a buying opportunity in the previous quarter, so it should not have come as too much of a surprise. What did, however come as a surprise was the announcement that MetLife would no longer be offering earnings per share guidance. According to its CEO “we will instead expand our discussion of key financial metrics and business drivers, creating a more informed view of MetLife’s future prospects.” The price drop and it’s ex-dividend date this week make it a likely candidate for using my limited funds this week.

I’ve long believed that Robert ben Mosche, CEO of AIG (AIG) was something of a saint. Coming out of comfortable retirement in Croatia to attempt an AIG rescue, he continued on his quest even while battling cancer and still found the time to re-pay AIG’s very sizeable debt to US taxpayers. Who needs that sort of thing when you can live like royalty off the Mediterranean coast?

AIG was punished after reporting earnings this past week. It’s hard to say whether the in line earnings, but slightly lower revenue was to blame for the nearly 7% drop or whether joining forces with MetLife was to blame. Not that they literally joined forces, it’s just that ben Mosche announced that AIG will no longer comment on its “aspirational goals,” which was a way of saying that they too were no longer going to provide guidance. I haven’t owned shares in 2 months and that was at a lower price point than even after the large Friday drop, but I think the opportunity has re-arrived.

Wells Fargo (WFC) goes ex-dividend this week and as much as I’ve silently prayed for its share price to drop back to levels that I last owned them, it just hasn’t worked out that way. To a large degree Wells Fargo has stayed above the various banking controversies and has deflected much of the blame and scrutiny accorded others. At some point it becomes clear that prices aren’t likely to drop significantly in the near term, so it may be time to capitulate and get back on the wagon. However, what does give me some solace is that shares have trailed the S&P 500 during the three time frames that I have been recently using, each representing a near term top of the market; May 21, August 2 and September 19, 2013.

In the world of big pharma, Merck (MRK) has shared in little of the price strength seen by some others. In fact, of late, the best Merck has been able to do to prompt its shares higher have all come on the less constructive side of the ledger. Only the announcement of workforce reductions and other cost cutting steps have been viewed positively.

But at some point a value proposition is created which isn’t necessarily tied to pipelines or other factors pertinent to long term price health. In this case, a quick 7% price drop is enough to warrant consideration of a company paying an attractive dividend and offering appealing enough option premiums to sustain interest in shares even if they stagnate while awaiting the next price catalysts. Besides, if you’re selling covered calls, there’s nothing better than share price stagnation.

What is a week without drawing comparisons between Michael Kors (KORS) and Coach (COH)? Coach has become everyone’s favorite company to disparage, although on any given day it may exchange places with Caterpillar. Kors, is of course, the challenger that has displaced Coach in the hearts of investors and shoppers. Having sold Coach puts in advance of earnings and then purchasing shares even after those expired, those were assigned this past week. However, at this price level Coach is still an appealing covered option purchase and well suited for a short term strategy, even if there is validity to the thesis that it is ceding ground to Kors.

Kors, on the other hand, is doing everything right, including entering the S&P 500. It’s hard not to acknowledge its price ascent, even after a large secondary offering. While I know nothing of fashion and have no basis by which to compare Coach and Kors, I do know that as Kors reports earnings this week the option market is implying approximately 7.5% price move in either direction. However, anything less than a 10% decline in price can still deliver a 1% ROI

Williams Companies (WMB) is one of those companies that seems to fly under the radar. Although I’ve owned shares many times there has never been a reason compelling me to do so on the basis of its business fundamentals. Instead, ownership has always been prompted by an upcoming dividend or a sudden price reversal. In this case I just had shares assigned prior to earnings, which initially saw a big spike in price and then an equally large drop, bringing it right back to the level that I have found to be a comfortable entry point.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) reported earnings last week and I did not purchase additional shares or sell puts, as I thought I might. Too bad, because the company acquitted itself well and shares moved higher. I think that shares are just starting and while RIverbed Technology has probably been my most lucrative trading partner over the years, purely on the basis of option premiums, this time around I am unlikely to write call options on all new shares, as I think $18 is the next stop before year end, particularly if the overall market doesn’t correct.

What can anyone add to the volumes that have been said about Apple (AAPL) and Intel (INTC)? Looking for insights is not a very productive endeavor, as the only new information is likely to currently exist only as insider information. Both are on recent upswings and both have healthy dividends that get my attention because of their ex-dividend dates this week. Intel offers nothing terribly exciting other than its dividend, but has been adding to its price in a stealth fashion of late, possibly resulting in the assignment of some of my current shares that represent one of the longest of my holdings, going back to September 2012. While I have always liked Intel it hasn’t always been a good covered call stock because when shares did drop, such as after earnings, the subsequent price climbs took far too long to continually be able to collect option premiums. However, without any foreseeable near term catalysts for a significant price drop it offers some opportunities for a quick premium, dividend and perhaps share appreciation, as well.

Finally, in its short history of paying dividends Apple’s shares have predominantly moved higher after going ex-dividend, although there was one notable exception. Given the factors that may be supporting Apple’s current price levels, including pressure from activist investors and Apple’s own buybacks, I’m not overly concerned about the single historical precedence and think that the triumvirate of option premium, dividend and share appreciation makes it a good addition to even a conservative portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Merck, Williams Companies

Momentum Stocks: Coach, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Apple (ex-div 11/6), Intel (ex-div 11/5), MetLife (ex-div 11/6), Wells Fargo (ex-div 11/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (11/5 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 – October 20, 2013

With the S&P 500 having reached an all time high this past week you could certainly draw the conclusion that a government shutdown is a good thing and flirting with default is a constructive strategy. At a reported cost of only $24 Billion associated with closure and nothing more than a symbolic “Fitch slap” credit watch issued, perhaps we should look forward to the next potential round in just a few months.

For me, this past week marked the slowest week of opening new positions that I can recall since the 2009 market bottom. Although history suggests that the eleventh hour is a charm, the zeal of some more newly elected officials was reminiscent of a theological premise that believes in order to save it you must first destroy the world. That kind of uncertainty is the kind in which you get your affairs in order rather than embarking on lots of new and exciting initiatives.

With manufactured uncertainty temporarily removed the market can focus on earnings and other things that most of us believe are somewhat important.

One thing that will be certain is that wherever possible the next earnings season will attempt to lay some blame for any disappointments upon the government shutdown. This past week it certainly didn’t take Stanley Black and Decker (SWK) and eBay (EBAY) very long to already take advantage of that excuse. Who knew that government purchasing agents were unable to use eBay for Blackhawk helicopter replacement parts during their unexpected furlough?

As with the previous earnings season the financial sector started off the reports in a promising way, although early in the season the results are mixed, with some significant surges and plunges. What is clear is that investors are paying particular attention to guidance.

One earnings report that caught my attention was from Pet Smart (PETM). My father always believed that no matter what the economic environment, people would always find the wherewithal to spend on the pets and their kids. Pet Smart’s disappointing earnings focused on a “challenged consumer” and lower customer traffic. That can’t be a good sign. If pets are going wanting what does that portend for the rest of us?

Yet, on the other hand, Align Technology (ALGN) discussed last week, was a different story. Certainly representing discretionary spending and not benefiting from any provisions in the Affordable Care Act, their orthodontic appliances see no barriers from the economy ahead, as they reported great earnings and guidance.

Also clouding the picture, perhaps both literally and figuratively, is the positive guidance provided by Peabody Energy (BTU). For a nation that has been said to “move on coal,” that has to be a signal of something positive going forward.

This week, with lots of cash from assignments of October 2013 option contracts, I’m anxious to get back to business as usual, but still have a bit of wariness. However, despite the appearances of a reluctant consumer, I’m encouraged by recent activity in the speculative portion of my portfoli0, enough so to consider adding to those positions, even at market highs.

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).

The news from Peabody Energy in addition to some recent price stabilization in Walter Energy (WLT), Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) and Freeport McMoRan (FCX) have me in a hopeful mood after long having suffered with positions in all three.

A year ago at this time I believed that Freeport McMoRan would be among the best performers in 2013, but subsequent to that it has only recently started on its recovery from the price plunge it sustained when announcing plans to acquire Plains Exploration and Production, as it planned to expand its asset base to include oil and natural gas. While the long term vision may be someday vindicated, 2013 has not been a stellar year. But, like some others this week, there has been a steady strengthening in its price, despite significantly lower gold, oil and copper prices, year to date. While its dividend has made holding shares marginally tolerable through the year, I think it is now ready to start a sustained climb and it offers appealing call premiums to create income or provide downside protection. Earnings are reported this week, but the option market is not expecting a very large move.

Another company slowly climbing higher, but still with a great distance to travel is Walter Energy . In addition to suffering through a proxy fight this year and significant challenges to management, declining coal prices and a slashed dividend, I believe that it is also poised to continue climb higher. I recently tested the waters and added shares along with selling in the money calls. Those were just assigned, but I think that I’m ready to dip deeper.

Sticking to the same theme, Cliffs Natural Resources goes hand in hand with Walter Energy, at least in its price behavior and disappointments. It too has slashed its dividend and its CEO has retired. Like Walter Energy, I recently started adding shares and had them assigned this week. Cliffs reports earnings this week and unlike Freeport McMoRan, the option market is expecting a larger price move.

While I rarely do more than glance at charts, in the case of Cliffs Natural Resources the 5 Year price chart may suggest a long term pattern that has shares at the beginning of a sustained climb higher.

As with many positions that are preparing to report earnings, I typically consider potential entry through the sale of put options.

Also reporting earnings this week is Cree (CREE). Thanks to legislation its LED light bulbs have become ubiquitous in home improvement stores and homes. It has the features of companies that make potentially alluring earnings trades. In this case, this always volatile moving company can sustain up to a 14% price decline and still return a 1% ROI for the week. The only real consideration is that it is capable of making that decline a reality, so if selling puts you do have to be prepared to take ownership.

While already having reported earnings and falling into the “disappointing” category, Fastenal (FAST), which I look at as being an economic barometer kind of company has already started regaining its price decline. It will be ex-dividend this week offering an additional reason to consider its purchase, even though I already own lower priced shares and rarely buy additional lots at higher prices. However, with W.W. Grainger (GWW) recently reporting positive earnings I’m encouraged that Fastenal will follow, but in the meantime the dividend and option premium make it easier to wait.

Also going ex-dividend this week is Williams-Sonoma (WSM). I considered its purchase last week, but it fell victim to a week of my inaction. While perhaps at risk to suffer from decreased spending at some higher end stores it has already fallen about 11% from its recent high point. However, since it reports earnings just prior to the expiration of the November 2013 option cycle, I might consider utilizing a December 2013 covered call sale.

The Gap (GPS) isn’t at risk of losing too many high end customers, it has just been losing customers, at least on the basis of its most recent monthly report. It is one of those retailers that still reports monthly comparison figures. That’s just one more bullet that needs to be dodged in addition to potential surprises during earnings season. Shares went precipitously lower with its most recent retail report and caught me along with it. It is near a price support level and represents an opportunity to either purchase additional shares to attempt to offset paper losses of an earlier lot or to establish an initial covered position.

While eBay may not sell used Blackhawk helicopter parts it somehow found a way to link its coming fortunes to the government shutdown. Suffering a significant price drop following earnings and guidance shares were once again in a channel of great familiarity. Having traded reliably in the $50-$52.50 range the sight of it falling was well received. However, late in the trading session on Friday someone else must have seen the same appeal as shares suddenly jumped $1.65 in about 20 minutes. That takes away some of the appeal. What takes away more of the appeal was the explanation by CEO Donahoe that spurred the surge, when he explained that he and his CFO did not mean to sound so dour about holiday prospects, it’s just that they both had colds.

On the other hand UnitedHealth Group (UNH) is a company that may be able to justifiably point its finger at the Federal government when it reports earnings again in January 2014. Already suffering a nearly 10% drop in the past week related to 2014 guidance, UnitedHealth is a major player in the options available on the Affordable Health Care Act exchanges. While perhaps not being able to blame the shutdown for any revenue related woes, disappointing enrollment statistics may be in the making. The additional price drop on Friday, following the large drop on Thursday may be related to enrollment challenges rather than projections of lower Medicare funding in the coming year. However, nearing a price support and following such a large price drop provides a combination that makes ownership appealing. Perhaps eBay employees should consider signing up en masse in the event they are all prone to colds that effect their ability to perform. In enough numbers that may be helpful to UnitedHealth Group’s 2014 revenues.

Of course, while the market seemed to rejoice at what could only be construed as the return to health of the eBay executives, Groupon (GRPN) is another example of a stock whose price has returned to more lofty levels following surgical removal of its CEO. It is one of a handful of stocks that I sold last year taking a capital loss and swore that I would never buy again. Now down about 15% from its recent high, which itself was up approximately 500% from its not too distant low, Groupon is a different company in leadership, product and prospects. While still a risky position

Finally, a name that everyone seems to disparage these days is Coach (COH). While there is certainly sufficient reason to believe that retailers, even the higher end retailers are being challenged, Coach is beginning to be perceived as taking a back seat to retailer Michael Kors (KORS). SHares have certainly been volatile, especially at earnings and Coach reports earnings this week. Having owned shares a number of times in the past year, my preference is to sell puts in advance of earnings in anticipation of a large drop. Currently, the option market is implying nearly a 9% move. A 1% ROI for the week can be obtained through such a sale if the price drop is less than 12%.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, The Gap, United Health Group

Momentum Stocks: Groupon, Walter Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 10/23), Williams Sonoma (ex-div 10/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Coach (10/22 AM), Freeport McMoRan (10/22), Cree (10/22 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (10/24 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.