Weekend Update – May 1, 2016


There was potentially lots that could have moved the market last week.

Earnings season was getting into full swing as oil continued its march higher.

As if those weren’t enough, we had an FOMC Statement release and a GDP report and even more earnings to round out the week.

But basically, none of those really mattered.

The FOMC expressed some confidence in the economy even as the GDP may have said otherwise the following day and earnings were all over the place with the market not being very forgiving when already lowered expectations weren’t met or were being pushed out another quarter.

Again, none of that mattered.

What really mattered was when Carl Icahn, who unlike Chicken Little, calmly told the world that he had sold his entire stake in Apple (AAPL) for fears of what China’s “attitude” might be with regard to the company.

The initial interviewer misinterpreted Icahn’s comments to mean that he was worried about the Chinese economy itself and that may have been exactly how traders interpreted Icahn’s words, although a second interviewer correctly interpreted Icahn’s comments and got him to add clarity.

Icahn confirmed that he was actually worried about the possibility that China would be less of a reliable partner for Apple and not that he envisioned a new round of meltdowns in the CHinese economy or in their financial institutions.

Big difference.

The reaction to Icahn’s exit was pretty swift and not only in shares of Apple, which already had a disappointing earnings report the prior day and saw shareholders faced with a large overnight losses.

Icahn’s sense of calm in reporting that perhaps the Chinese sky was falling down on Apple was in contrast to Chicken Little in another very different way.

Chicken Little, while he may have been wrong about the sky falling, had good intentions for society as he sought to spread the word so that everyone would have an opportunity to seek protection.

Not that Carl Icahn had any obligation to do so, but his exit from Apple and the sounding of the warning came too late for most.

Beyond that, I’m not too certain that any suggestion or interpretation of a clarion call from Icahn leading to the exit from stocks is intended to do anything other than leave him in a better position as a predator.

Given that Icahn Capital Management’s largest holding is in the eponymous Icahn Enterprises LP (IEP), representing approximately 50% more of the portfolio’s value than did Apple, it may not be too surprising that this was a good time to cash in on a very successful 30 month investment in Apple shares.

Shareholders in Icahn Enterprises may wonder when their share of the estimated $4.3 billion in pre-tax cash resulting from the Apple sale will find its way into their pockets.

Good luck with that, unless you’ve got some skin in Icahn Capital Management.

Like Pershing Capital’s profitable exit from Mondelez (MDLZ), sometimes there’s more to a sale than may meet the eye, especially when your portfolio is populated with some very heavy and risky bets that had seen better days.

Not to say that Icahn needed the cash, and he is certainly in a better position this week after some recent strength in some very hard hit energy and commodity related positions.

Icahn is actually in a great position at the moment as others take cover heeding his warning.

With lots of cash and the ability to move markets lower by making bearish comments, as he has been making for the past couple of years, this Chicken Little easily stands to profit from those who heed his warnings.

It’s not exactly like warning everyone to seek shelter at the fire station as the tornado is approaching and then taking the opportunity to ransack people’s homes, but it’s close.

After suffering some significant losses over the past 2 years, it may be time for Icahn to start his ransacking as he looks for those left vulnerable after seeking shelter.

With a quiet week ahead, despite an seemingly unending stream of earnings, I don’t have too much interest getting ahead of Friday’s Employment Situation Report. Neither am I very interested in being part of the test group that discovers that the stock market will finally disassociate itself from energy prices, as the climb in the latter continues.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll be selling, it just means that I may not be all that excited about buying in the coming week.

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

This coming week I have a singular interest and only a handful of stocks that may satisfy that interest.

The interest is in accumulating dividends.

If I had to have a dual mandate for the week it would also be to minimize risk while seeking those dividends.

In addition to Apple, which goes ex-dividend this week, I also have sights set on shares of Intel (INTC) and Starbucks (SBUX).

There’s nothing terribly exciting about Intel at the moment, just as there isn’t anything terribly exciting about anything that’s classified as “old technology.”

As weak as the S&P 500 was last week, those old technology names were even weaker. While I’m no Icahn, sometimes that really is the time to look for advantage, although in the case of another old technology name, Seagate Technology (STX) that is also ex-dividend this week, weakness sometimes only begets more weakness.

I don’t think that will be the case for Intel, which after a strong move higher that started when the market began its February turnaround, has lots of price support below its current level.

Intel shares have traded in a fairly narrow range over the past month and that appeals to me as a possible source of recurring premium income if able to execute serial rollovers while awaiting some appreciation on shares.

Starbucks doesn’t have a terribly exciting dividend, but what it does do very well is to rebound from sharp declines.

It also generally doesn’t take very long for those rebounds to get underway.

Those occasional sharp declines also help to nudge its option premiums higher as there will always be those who are of the belief that declines do beget more declines and the uncertainty that creeps in serves to boost those premiums.

While their coffee makes me exceptionally jittery, I’ve never felt the same about the shares, although I haven’t owned any for a couple of years. I think this may be a good time to consider opening a position and selecting an out of the money strike price in an effort to get the best of all worlds this week.

Finally, Apple.

I find it pretty amazing that in the absence of really any good news for what seems like an eternity for Apple, it’s price hasn’t suffered even more.

That’s faint praise, for sure.

However, ever since the inception of its dividend, purchasing shares just prior to that ex-dividend date, has generally been a good move, if armed with a short term horizon.

What distinguishes this upcoming ex-dividend date is that shares have taken quite a hit in the days immediately preceding that date.

With the exception of Apple’s decline from its 2012 highs, when most everyone was giddy about how it would become a $1000 stock and surpass a $1 trillion market capitalization, those declines have been fairly short lived.

However, on the flip side, in addition to whatever truth may be found in Icahn’s stated concerns, there really hasn’t been any obvious catalyst for Apple other than ever improving sales of its flagship product.

With that phenomenon perhaps on hiatus, one does have to consider that there aren’t too many supports between its current price and about $85.

And then $75.

With that in mind, I still am not ready to run away from the possibility of share ownership.

WWID?

What would Icahn do?

Well, he did it already, just by pushing for the buybacks and the dividends some 30 months ago.

Amid the lack of good news at last week’s earnings was the announcement of a dividend increase and the expectation that share buybacks will continue and be able to provide some price support.

Whether those buybacks in the past few years have been a good use of its cash may forever be open to debate, but while it’s happening, it is definitely a comfort to those in a position of risk.

While those buybacks and declining share price shrink Apple’s market capitalization to a point that it’s now half of that anticipated $1 trillion, I think it is again becoming a good trading vehicle, as opposed to a good investment.

Thank you, Uncle Carl, for having forever changed Apple.

 

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Apple (5/5 $0.57), Intel (5/4 $0.26), Starbucks (5/3 $0.20)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  none

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

Weekend Update – August 10, 2014

Back in 2007 there was a sign that most mere mortals failed to recognize or understand as they stood in the path of peril.

A messenger delivered such a sign some seven years earlier, as well, and did so again last month.

The messenger was old, perhaps as old as the universe itself and his words and actions did foretell of the dangers that awaited, yet they were not appreciated as such, not even by the messenger, who may also have served as the executioner.

The proposed acquisitions of Chris-Craft and Dow Jones, in 2000 and 2007, respectively, were among the signs of market tops preceding terrible plunges that each saw the sacrifice of a generation of investors, some of whom are still said to be hiding as they await some sign of safety to begin investing once again.

The re-appearance of the messenger should give them some pause before considering a return to the action.

However, in a strange kind of way the “all safe” sign may have been delivered this week, as Rupert Murdoch, whose timing with his large previous acquisitions has been exquisite in its accuracy for coinciding with market tops has now sent a counter sign.

Barely a month ago, for those believing in the power of Murdoch, it was ominous that he would have proposed a buy out of Time Warner (TWX), but this week that offer was revoked, perhaps offering a respite to investors fearing another plunge from what may be destined to be a market top.

While many are speculating as to the reason for Murdoch’s change of heart, could it be that he has come to the realization that his offering price was just too high and that history, which has a habit of repeating itself, was poised to do so again?

Probably not, as once you get the taste, it’s all about the hunt and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Murdoch either regroups, as the world appreciates that Time Warner’s share value is far less without Murdoch’s pursuit or as he seeks a new target.

As far as the revocation of the offer being a counter sign, this past week didn’t seem to receive it as such, as market weakness from last week continued amidst a barrage of international events.

But Murdoch wasn’t alone this week in perhaps having some remorse. Sprint (S), which never really made an overt bid for T-Mobile (TMUS), did however, overtly withdraw itself from that fray, just as T-Mobile was thumbing its nose at the French telecommunications company, Illiad’s (ILD) bid.

Walgreen (WAG) may have had a double dose of remorse this week as it announced that it would buy the remainder of a British drug store chain but would not be considering doing a tax inversion. They may have first regretted the speculation that they would be doing so as they undoubtedly received considerable political pressure to not move its headquarters. Seeing its shares plunge on that news may have been additional cause for remorse.

While Murdoch may have significant personal wealth tied to the fortunes of his company and may have a very vested interest in those shares prospering, that may not always be the case, as for some, it may be very easy to spend “other people’s money” in pursuit of the target and be immune to feelings of remorse.

But it’s a different story when it’s your own money in question. “Investor’s Remorse” can have applicability in both the micro and macro sense. We have all made a stock purchase that we’ve come to regret. However, in the larger sense, the remorse that may have been felt in 2000 and 2007 as Murdoch flexed his muscles was related to the agony of having remained fully invested in the belief that the market could only go higher.

When we see the potential signs of an apocalypse, such as increasing buyout offers and increasing numbers of initial public offerings while the market is hitting new highs, one has to wonder whether remorse will be the inevitable outcome. An Italian recession and the German stock exchange in correction may add to concerns.

Philosophically, my preference has long been to miss an upward climb to some degree by virtue of not being fully invested, rather than to be fully engaged during a market decline.

A drop of 10% seems like a lot, but it will seem even more when you realize that you must gain 11% just to once again reach your baseline. Having been that route I believe it’s much easier to drop 10% than it is to gain 11%. Just ask anyone who now own stocks that may have suddenly found themselves officially in “correction territory.”

As I get older I have less and less time and less appetite for remorse. I would assume that Rupert Murdoch feels the same, but he may also have a sense of immunity coupled with the secret for immortality, neither of which I enjoy.

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

This week’s selections include a number of recent targets and perhaps sources of remorse that may now find themselves better suited for those spending their own money, rather than that of other people.

Time Warner shareholders have been on a rollercoaster ride over the past three weeks as they saw a plunge on the same order as an initial surge in that time span. They may be experiencing some remorse for their leadership not being willing to consider Murdoch’s overture. The revocation of the offer, beautifully timed to dampen the good news of Time Warner’s earnings perhaps helped to limit any upside gains from earnings and adding to the feeling that Murdoch was the key to attaining “fair value,” even if that fair value may now no longer represent a premium to the initial bid.

However, with shares now back to their pre-offer level, which admittedly was at the then high for the year, the option premiums are quite high, reflecting the potential for more action. The challenge is knowing in which direction.

In the case of T-Mobile, it was a whirlwind week seeing an offer from abroad which wasn’t taken very seriously by anyone and then seeing the presumptive acquirer drop out of the game.

It’s hard to say who if anyone would have had any remorse, certainly not its out front CEO, John Legere, but no doubt shareholders experienced some, as shares plummeted in the belief that suitors were dropping like flies.

While Legere talks a boisterous game and did all he could to close the door to any future with Sprint, the reality is that T-Mobile needs both spectrum and cash and Legere needs a “sugar daddy” and one with lots of patience and tolerance.

For anyone willing to get in bed with T-Mobile, the good news is that they can have John Legere. The bad news is that they get John Legere.

But for a short term trade, suddenly T-Mobile is in correction territory and as long as there may still be prospects of capital appreciation, the option premiums are very enticing.

Walgreen shares fell nearly 15% on news that it wasn’t going to do a tax inversion, which seems far more than appropriate, as shares had their major ascent about 6 months ago long before most had ever heard of tax inversion.

I’ve been waiting for a while for Walgreen shares to return to the $60 level and the current reason hardly seems like one that would keep shares trading at that low level. Some recovery over the past two days doesn’t dampen the attraction to its shares.

Target (TGT) certainly should have experienced some remorse over the manner in which its data security practices were managed. In Target’s case, they put an additional price tag on that remorse that reversed the recent climb in shares, but was just really part of the obligatory dumping of all bad news into a single quarter to honor the ascension of a new CEO.

I’ve owned Target shares for a while waiting for it to recover from its security breach related price drop. Uncharacteristically, I haven’t added to my holdings as I usually do when prices drop because I haven’t had the level of confidence that I usually want before doing so. Now, however, I’m ready to take that plunge and don’t believe that there will be reason for further personal remorse. WIth an upcoming dividend, I don’t mind waiting for it to share in an anticipated pick up in the retail sector.

I’ve certainly had remorse over my ownership of shares in Whole Foods (WFM). While its co-CEOs are certainly visionaries, they have been facing increasing competition, are engaged in an aggressive national expansion and have one CEO that tends to make inopportune comments reflecting personal beliefs that frequently impact the stock price.

To his credit John Mackey has expressed some regrets over his choice of words in the past, but recently there has been little to inspire confidence. A recent, albeit small, price climb was attributed to a rumor of an activist position. While I have no idea of whether there’s any validity to that, Whole Foods does represent the kind of asset that may be appealing to an activist, in that it has a well regarded product, significantly depressed share price and leadership that may have lost touch with what is really important.

Mondelez (MDLZ) may or may not have any reason to feel remorse over adding activist investor Nelson Peltz onto its Board of Directors and to his decision to stop seeking a merger deal with Pepsi (PEP). Investors, however, may have some remorse as shares suddenly find themselves in correction over the past month.

That price drop brings Mondelez shares back into consideration for rotation into my portfolio, especially if looking for classically “defensive” positions in advance of an anticipated market decline. With an almost competitive dividend, a decent option premium and the possibility of some price bounce back the shares look attractive once again.

DuPont (DD) and Eli Lilly (LLY) are both ex-dividend this week and there’s rarely reason to feel remorse when a dividend can make you feel so much better, especially when well in excess of the average for S&P 500 stocks. Lilly’s recent fall in the past two weeks and DuPont’s two month’s decline offer some incentive to consider adding shares at this time and adding option premiums to the income mix while waiting for the market to return to an upward bias.

Cree (CREE) reports earnings this week and is always an exciting ride for a lucky or unlucky investor. It is a stock that either creates glee or remorse.

My most recent lot of shares came from eventually taking assignment of shares following the sale of puts after the previous earnings report, thinking that they couldn’t possibly go down any further in a significant manner. I don’t have any remorse, as I’ve been able to generate option premium revenue on having rolled the puts over and then having sold calls subsequent to assignment. I may, however, have some remorse after this coming week’s earnings.

The option market is once again looking for a significant earnings related move next week. For the trader willing to risk remorse a 1% weekly ROI may be achieved at a strike level 12% below the current price. For those less tolerant of risk, if shares do drop significantly after earnings, some consideration can be given to selling out of the money puts and being prepared to manage the position, as may become necessary.

Finally, how can you talk about remorse and not mention Halliburton (HAL)? From drilling disasters to adventures in Iraq Halliburton really hasn’t needed to be remorseful, because somehow it always found a way to prosper and move beyond the “disaster du jour.”

In hindsight, it seems so perfectly appropriate that for a period in time its CEO was future Vice President Dick Cheney, who didn’t even express any remorse for having shot a good friend in the face.

That’s the kind of leadership that we need in a company being considered for its worthiness of our personal assets, because we are capable of remorse and are pained by the prospects of engaging in it.

With some recent price weakness, as being experienced in the energy sector, now appears to be a good time to take advantage of Halliburton’s price retreat and save the remorse for others.

Traditional Stocks: Halliburton, Mondelez, Target, Time Warner, Walgreen, Whole Foods

Momentum: T-Mobile

Double Dip Dividend: DuPont (8/13), Eli Lilly (8/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (8/12 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.

Weekend Update – March 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend:  Mondelez (3/27)

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

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

Weekend Update – November 10, 2013

Is there life after momentum slows?

There was no shortage of stocks taking large price hits last week, as earnings season had already begun its slowdown phase. However, for some of the better known momentum stocks the slightest mis-steps were all the reason necessary to flee with profits.

For those who live long enough, it should never come as a surprise that some things are just destined to slow down.

Momentum fits into that category, although based on the past week it’s more of a question of falling down than slowing down for some.

After the fact, no one seemed to be surprised.

In a week that saw a decrease in the ECB’s main lending rate that was widely described as being a “surprise'” later in the day came reports that most economists expected the cut. The market clearly didn’t, however, as the economists may have neglected to pass on their views.

And then there was a surprisingly large increase in non-farm payroll jobs. Somehow everyone was taken off guard and the market responded by interpreting good news as good news and finished the week with a flourish.

What surprised me, however, was that there was such a disconnect between the anticipated numbers and the actual report, which covered the period of the government shutdown. The disconnect had to do with methodology, as forecasts didn’t take into account that government statistics considered furloughed employees to be employed, since they were to receive back, through legislative action.

Oops.

In effect, Friday’s rally was based on a misunderstanding of methodology. It will also certainly be interesting to see what impact Ben Bernanke’s statement after the market’s close may have on Monday’s trading.

I think the unemployment rate probably understates the degree of slack in the labor market. I think the employment-population ratio overstates it somewhat, because there are important downward trends in participation

Unfortunately, Friday’s gains complicate the goal of finding bargain priced stocks in the coming week, but with a little water having been thrown on the fire there may be opportunity yet.

Everyone, including me, likes to look for clues and cues that have predictive value. Parallels are drawn at every opportunity to what we know from the past in the expectation that it can foretell the future.

For some the sudden increase in IPOs coming to market and the sudden fall of many momentum stocks heralds a market top. In hindsight, if it does occur, it will be regarded as “no surprise.” If it doesn’t occur within the attention span of most paying attention it will simply be conveniently ignored.

For others the reversal of fortune may represent values and not value traps.

But no matter what the case there is life after momentum slows. It’s just a question of accommodation to new circumstances.

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).

eBay (EBAY) like so many stocks that I consider tends to trade in a range. While eBay is often criticized for being “range bound” there is some comfort in knowing that it is less likely to offer an unwanted surprise than many other stocks. My shares were assigned this past week and are now trading at the upper range of where I may normally initiate a position. However, having owned shares on ten separate occasions this year I would be anxious to do so again on the slightest of pullbacks.

Although hardly a momentum stock, Mondelez (MDLZ) had some earnings woes this past week, although it did recover a bit, perhaps simply being carried along by a rallying market. Shares are still a little higher than I would like for an entry point, but I expect that as a short term selection it will match market performance, while in a market turn-down it will exceed performance.

Fastenal (FAST) is another fairly sedate company, yet its stock often has some large moves. I see Fastenal as a leading indicator of economic activity, but also very sensitive to the economy. I think its most recent price weakness will be reversed as the impact of a resolution of the government’s shutdown trickles down to the economy. I currently own shares with a contract set to expire this week, but at this price am considering doubling down on what in essence can be a weekly option contract during the final week of the November 2013 cycle.

Deere (DE) is another range bound stock, that in hindsight I should have bought on numerous occasions over the past few months. Good option premiums, a good dividend and not facing some of the same external pressures as another favorite, Caterpillar (CAT), makes Deere a perennially good selection within its sector.

I currently own shares of both Eli Lilly (LLY) and International Paper (IP), both of which go ex-dividend this week. Unlike many other stocks that I discuss, I have not owned either on multiple occasions this year and my current shares are now below their cost. Both emerged unscathed after recent earnings reports, although both are down considerably from their recent highs and both have considerably under-performed the S&P 500 from the time for its first in a series of market highs on May 21, 2013. That latter criterion is one that I have been using with some regularity as the market has continued to reach new highs in an effort to identify potential late comers to the party.

Which finally brings me to the momentum stocks that have my attention this week, some of which may be best approached through the sale of put options and may be best avoided in a weakening market.

Much has been said of the “ATM effect” on Facebook (FB), as speculation that investors were selling Facebook shares to raise money to buy Twitter (TWTR) shares. Following an abrupt reversal during its conference call when there was a suggestion that adolescents were reducing their Facebook use shares have just not regained their traction. Sometimes it’s just profit taking and not driven by the allure of a newer stock in town. But assuming that the “ATM effect” has some validity and with a large gap between the Twitter IPO price and its 7% lower price on its first full day of trading, I can’t imagine now taking the opportunity to sell Facebook in order to purchase Twitter shares. On its own merits Facebook may be a momentum stock that has a cushion of protection until its next earnings report, unless an errant comment gets in the way, again.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) is much higher than the level at which I last owned shares at $21. Waiting for a return has been fruitless and as a result, rather than having owned shares on 15 occasions, as in 2012, thus far, I’ve only had five bouts of ownership. With the melodrama surrounding its founder and ex-CEO in its past, Chesapeake may begin trading a bit more on fundamentals rather than hopes for a return to its glory days. at such, its price action may be less unidirectional than it has been over the past four months. After last week’s earnings report related drop, while still higher than I would like, I think there may be reason to consider a new entry, perhaps through the sale of put options.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is a stock that has been testing my patience through the year. More precisely, however, I’ve had no real issue with Freeport McMoRan’s leadership, in fact, given metal prices, it has done quite well. What I don’t understand is how it has been taking so long for markets to appreciate its strategic initiatives and long term strategies. For much of the year my shares have been non-performing, other than for dividend payments, but with a recent run higher some are generating option premium income streams. Despite the run higher, I am considering adding more shares as the entire metals complex has been showing strength and some stability, as well.

Finally, while I’ve said before that I don’t spend too much time looking at charts, a recent experience with Tesla (TSLA) was perhaps a good reason to at least acknowledge that charts can allow you to look at the past.

While it’s probably always a good week to be Elon Musk, relatively speaking last week wasn’t so good, as both Tesla and Solar City (SCTY) were treated harshly after earnings were released. The spin put around another reported car fire that its resultant heat could be garnered to power several mud huts didn’t give shares much of a boost, perhaps because that might have cannibalized SolarCity sales, with the two companies likely having much overlap in ownership.

Tesla reported earnings last week and took a drubbing through successive days.

A reader of last week’s article asked:

“George, what are your thoughts on a sale of Puts on TSLA which reports Tuesday?”

My response was:

“TSLA isn’t one that I follow, other than watching in awe.

But purely on a glance at this week’s option pricing the implied volatility is about 12% and you can get a 1% ROI on a strike that’s about 17% lower, currently $135

It looks as if it may have price support in the $134-$139 range, but it’s hard to know, because its ascent has been so steep that there may not be much of a real resting point.

In a very speculative portion of my portfolio I might be able to find some money to justify that trade.”

As it turned out Tesla closed the week at $137.95 and now has my attention. You do have to give some credit to its chart on that one. WIth disappointment over its sales, supply chain issues and reports of car fires and even Elan Musk suggesting that “Tesla’s stock price is more than we have any right to deserve,” it has fallen by nearly 21% from the time of that comment, barely 2 weeks prior to earnings. Although to be entirely fair shares did fully recover from a 7.5% decline in the aftermath of the statement in advance of earnings.

While still not knowing where the next resting point may be in the $119-$122 range, representing as much as another 13% price drop. With earnings out of the way to enhance option premiums the risk-reward proposition isn’t as skewed toward reward. However, for those looking to recapture of bit of their own momentum, despite the realization that the end may be near, a put sale can return an ROI of approximately 1.4% at a strike price nearly 6% below Friday’s close is not breached.

The nice thing about momentum slowing is that if you fall the floor isn’t as far away as it used to be.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, eBay, Fastenal, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Facebook, Freeport McMoRan, Tesla

Double Dip Dividend: Eli Lilly (ex-div 11/13), International Paper (ex-div 11/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Disclosure: I am long CAT, CHK, DE, FAST, FCX, IP, LLY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Weekend Update – September 29, 2013

“There’s always a calm before the storm” is a fairly well known saying that doesn’t always accurately define a sequence of events.

Are all storms preceded by a period of calm? Is calm always followed by a storm?

The predictive capability of a period of calm hasn’t necessarily been validated among meteorological circles.

Being a meteorologist, however, is very similar to being a stock analyst or a market technician. No one really expects you to get it right, because you get it wrong so often. Besides, you would have to be a fool to fully predicate your actions on their prognostications. Neither group tends to publicly sit down and review the signals that had them sending the wrong messages.

Other than that meteorologists often get their wardrobes provided at no cost, while market analysts often get unlimited supplies of antacids. Meteorologists, though often wrong, are still very often beloved by their audience. I’m not certain the same can be said for stock analysts.

This past week was a forgettable one in just about all aspects. It was a week of calm, at least as far as potentially market moving news tend to go. Yet even in the midst of a sea of calm, the market was down over 1% and was unable to hold the 1700 level on the S&P 500, bringing us back to a level last seen about 10 days ago, when all was sunny.

While meteorologists often look to macro events, such as “El Nino,” or even global warming, the macro events that may move our markets are many and varied, but none seem to have paid a call this week. In fact, even factors that in the past sent chills of fear and uncertainty into the hearts of investors, such as a government shutdown or impending default on US obligations, have thus far barely elicited a yawn.

The perfect storm of good news and absence of bad news has simply continued. Aalthough this week was one of relative calm it’s hard to not notice dark clouds on the horizon, most of which are preceded by the fear of “what if.” What if tapering begins? What if the government is shut down? What if there is a government default?

Maybe that’s why Goldman Sachs (GS) just recommended the use of portfolio protective puts and that sentiment was quickly echoed by many that had access to a microphone. Coming in advance of the beginning of the new earnings season it reminds us that the just completed earnings season had few reasons to believe that growth was the trend at hand.

Of course, one could also be of the opinion that with everyone rallying to secure their protective puts this could be the perfect time to prepare for another market move higher.

In an effort to hedge the hedge, I am continuing to keep my cash reserves at relatively high levels but am still confident that with each week there are reasonably attractive trades that have a degree of safety and can create current income streams to help offset any market weakness.

If there is calm ahead, I prefer to look for stocks this week that are somewhat boring and have been trading in a reasonably narrow range. That kind of calm is just the tonic for covered option strategies.

This week the potential stock selections are restricted to the “Traditional” category, as no appealing choices were found in the Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

On an otherwise bad day to end the week, Microsoft (MSFT) danced to its own drummer, as Steve Ballmer, the outgoing CEO performed one of his characteristic morale raising dances at what is likely to be the final annual company wide meeting at which he presides. Reportedly, the day’s bump in share price came as the rumor regarding Ford (F) CEO Alan Mulally made the rounds indicating that his interest in assuming the position at Microsoft was strengthening. While it seems difficult to understand the synergy it may simply be another example of the market’s appetite for an anti-Ballmer. But without regard to immediate stories regarding transition in leadership, Microsoft just continues to offer a good combination of option premiums and dividends at this level, as it further commits itself toward creating its own ecosystem, perhaps not with an eye on increasing marketshare, but rather on retaining the loyalty of customers who might otherwise feel the lure of the competition.

While it was a good day for Microsoft it wasn’t a very good day for Intel (INTC). While the past years have seen close correlation between the fortunes of Intel and Microsoft, they certainly diverged this week. Part of the reason was some concern regarding a delay in the start of “Intel TV,” a web based television service which was thought to be a remedy for its poorly diversified revenue sources. Intel has demonstrated some resilience in the $22.50 range and like Microsoft offers a good combination of option premiums and dividends.

I liked Dow Chemical (DOW) enough to buy it last week in the hopes of capturing its dividend and option premium. However, a late afternoon spike in its share price right before going ex-dividend resulted in early assignment of shares. Following Friday’s sharp price decline, it”s right back to where it started. Still attractive, but without the dividend. It stands in sharp distinction to many of the companies that I’ve been considering over the past two months in that it s current share price is higher than where it stood at a recent market top on May 21, 2013 when the market reacted to FOMC minutes and a Ben Bernanke press conference by embarking on a quick 4% decline.

While I liked Deere (DE) last week and almost always find myself liking it, I didn’t purchase shares last week in an attempt to capture the dividend. Sometimes, especially for stocks above $50 the nearest strike prices are too far away from the current share price to offer a premium that offers sufficient reward for the risk undertaken. That was the case last week. However, if the lower prices to close the week hold at the open of this week and remain near the strike, I think the timing may be just right to add shares of Deere.

As far as boring stocks go, Mondelez (MDLZ) is boring in everything other than its name. Even Nelson Peltz’s self-serving attempts to move share price by discussing why he believed it was an ideal take-over target for Pepsi (PEP) did nothing to stir share price in any meaningful or sustained way. That kind of price stability is ideally suited for a covered option strategy.

Retail has been a difficult sector recently, especially teen retail. However, just as Mondelez can make boring become interesting, so too can The Gap (GPS) make boredom the new chique. Well down from a brief earnings fueled rise, shares appear to have support at the $40 level and won’t face the challenge of earnings until mid-way through the November 2013 option cycle. In the interim, it also goes ex-dividend during the October 2013 cycle.

Following its recent earnings related drop Darden Restaurants (DRI) is trading at a much more appealing level. From a covered option trader’s perspective the strike prices below the $50 level, graduated in single dollars is much more attractive and offers many more opportunities than the sparser ones available above $50. While Darden may also be a boring kind of pick it’s interest level is also enhanced by a very nice dividend that comes during the October cycle.

Finally, Barclays (BCS) may have qualified as a “Momentum” selection based on its recent price movements but once the dust settles it should start trading in a more sedate manner. In addition to various legal worries and the backdrop of lethargic European economies, Barclays recently announced the need to meet increased capital reserve requirements. Doing so through the issuance of stock is never a great way to see shares appreciate. However, the issuance of “rights” to existing shareholders entitling them to purchase shares at approximately a 40% discount helped to drive up share price

Traditional Stocks: Barclays, Deere, Darden, Dow Chemical, Intel, Microsoft, Mondelez, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. The above selections may be 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 over-riding objective is to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Weekend Update – July 21, 2013

This week may have marked the last time Ben Bernanke sits in front of far less accomplished inquisitors in fulfilling his part of the obligation to provide congressional testimony in accordance with law.

The Senate, which in general is a far more genteel and learned place was absolutely fawning over the Federal Reserve Chairman who is as good at playing close to the vest as anyone, whether its regarding divulging a time table for the feared “tapering” or an indication of whether he will be leaving his position.

If anything should convince Bernanke to sign up for another round it would be to see how long the two-faced good will last and perhaps give himself the opportunity to remind his detractors just how laudatory they had been. But I can easily understand his taking leave and enjoying the ticker tape, or perhaps the “taper tick” parade that is due him.

But in a week when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Bernanke had opportunities to move the markets with their appearances, neither said anything of interest, nor anything that could be mis-interpreted.

Instead, at the annual CNBC sponsored “Delivering Alpha Conference” the ability of individuals such as Jim Chanos and Nelson Peltz to move individual shares was evident. What is also evident is that based upon comparative performance thus far in 2013, there aren’t likely to be many ticker tape parades honoring hedge fund managers and certainly no one is going to honor an index.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories. There are many potential earnings related trades this week beyond those listed in this article for those interested in that kind of trade. (see details).

A portion of this week’s selections reflect the recently wounded, but certainly not mortally, from recent disappointing earnings. While there may not be any victory tours coming anytime soon for some of them, it’s far too short sighted to not consider the recent bad news as a stepping stone for short term opportunism.

In terms of absolute dollars lost, it’s hard to imagine the destruction of market capitalization and personal wealth at the hands of Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC) and eBay (EBAY). While no one is writing an epitaph for eBay, there are no shortage of obituary writers for Microsoft and Intel. However, although most all businesses will someday go that path, I don’t think that any of that triumvirate are going to do so anytime soon, although Microsoft’s nearly 11% drop on Friday was more than the option market anticipated. It was also more than an innocent cough and may not be good for Steve Ballmer’s health.

Since my timeframe is usually short, although I do currently have shares of Intel that will soon pass their one year anniversary, I don’t think their demise or even significantly more deterioration in share price will be anytime soon. All offer better value and appealing option premiums for the risk of a purchase. Additionally, both Intel and Microsoft have upcoming dividends during the August cycle that simply adds to the short term appeal. My eBay shares were assigned on Friday, but I have been an active buyer in the $50-52.50 range and welcomed its return to that neighborhood.

I currently own some shares of Apple (AAPL) and sold some $450 August 17, 2013 calls in anticipation of its upcoming earnings. While I normally prefer the weekly options, the particular shares had an entry of $445 and haven’t earned their keep yet from cumulative option premiums. The monthly option instead offered greater time protection from adverse price action, while still getting some premium and perhaps a dividend, as well. However, with earnings this week, the more adventurous may consider the sentiment being expressed in the options market that is implying a move of approximately 5% upon earnings. Even after Friday’s 1% drop following some recent strength, I found it a little surprising at how low the put premiums are compared to call options, indicating that perhaps there is some bullish sentiment in anticipation of earnings. I simply take that as a sign of the opposite and would expect further price deterioration.

I’m always looking to buy or add shares of Caterpillar (CAT). I just had some shares assigned in order to capture the dividend. After Chanos‘ skewering of the company and its rapid descent as a direct result, I was cheering for it to go down a bit further so that perhaps shares wouldn’t be assigned early. No such luck, even after such piercing comments as “they are tied to the wrong products, at the wrong time.” I’m not certain, but he may have borrowed that phrase from last year when applied to Hewlett Packard (HPQ). For me, the various theses surrounding dependence on China or the criticisms of leadership have meant very little, as Caterpillar has steadfastly traded in a well defined range and have consistently offered option premiums upon selling calls, as well as often providing an increasingly healthy dividend. To add a bit to the excitement, however, Caterpillar does report earnings this week, so some consideration may be given to the backdoor path to potential ownership through the sale of put options.

While Chanos approached his investment thesis from the short side, Nelson Peltz made his case for Pepsico’s (PEP) purchase of Mondelez (MDLZ). My shares of Mondelez were assigned today thanks to a price run higher as Peltz spoke. I never speculate on the basis of takeover rumors and am not salivating at the prospect of receiving $35-$38 per share, as Peltz suggested would be an appropriate range for a, thus far, non-receptive Pepsico to pay for Mondelez ownership. Despite the general agreement that margins at Mondelez are low, even by industry standards, it has been trading ideally for call option writers and I would consider repurchasing shares just to take advantage of the option premiums.

Fastenal (FAST) is just one of those companies that goes about its business without much fanfare and it’s shares are still depressed after offering some reduced guidance and then subsequently reporting its earnings. It goes ex-dividend this week and offers a decent monthly option premium during this period of low volatility. Without signs of industrial slowdowns it is a good place to park assets while awaiting for some sanity to be restored to the markets.

Although I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) and Michael Kors (KORS) are frequently alluring positions, although always carrying downside risk even when earnings reports are not part of the equation. I have been waiting for Kors to return to the $60 level and it did show some sporadic weakness during the past week, but doggedly stayed above that price.

Abercrombie and Fitch is always a volatile position, but offers some rewarding premiums, as long as the volatility does strike and lead to a prolonged dip. It reports earnings on August 14, 2013 and may also provide some data from European sales and currency impacts prior to that. Kors also reports earnings during the AUgust cycle and ant potential purchases of either of these shares must be prepared for ownership into earnings if weekly call contracts sold on the positions are not assigned.

Finally, it’s hard to find a stock that has performed more poorly than Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Although no one has placed blame on its leadership, in fact, they have been lauded for expense controls during demand downturns, it didn’t go unnoticed that shares rallied when the CEO announced his upcoming retirement. It also didn’t go unnoticed that China, despite being in a relative downturn, purchased a large portion of the nickel, a necessary ingredient for steel, available on the London commodity market. For the adventurous, Cliffs reports earnings this week and seems to have found some more friendly confines at the $16 level. The option market expects a 9% move in either direction. A downward move of that amount or less could result in a 1% ROI for the week, if selling put options. I suspect the move will be higher.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, eBay, Intel. Microsoft, Mondelez

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Michael Kors

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 7/24 $0.25)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (7/23 PM), Cliffs Natural Resources (7/25 PM)

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

Disclosure: I am long AAPL, FAST, CAT, CLF, INTC. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.