Weekend Update – August 14, 2016

When the news came that Thursday’s close brought concurrent record closing highs in the three major stock indexes for the first time since 1999, it seemed pretty clear what the theme of the week’s article should be.

But as I thought about the idea of partying like it was 1999, what became clear to me was I had no idea of why anyone was in a partying kind of mood on Thursday as those records finally fell.

Ostensibly, the market was helped out by the 16% or so climbs experienced by the first of the major national retailers to report their most recent quarterly earnings.

Both Macy’s (M) and Kohls (KSS) surged higher, but there really wasn’t a shred of truly good news.

At least not the kind of news that would make anyone believe that a consumer led economy was beginning to finally wake up.

The market seemed to like the news that Macy’s was going to close 100 of its stores, while overlooking the 3.9% revenue decline in the comparable quarter of 2015.

In the case of Kohls the market completely ignored lowered full year guidance and focused on a better than expected quarter, also overlooking a 2% decline in comparable quarter revenue.

For those looking to some good retail news as validating the belief that the FOMC would have some basis to institute an interest rate increase in 2016, there should have been some disappointment.

That’s especially true when you consider that the last surge higher was in response to the stronger than expected Employment Situation Report in what could only be interpreted as an embrace of economic growth, even if leading to an increased interest rate environment.

With Friday’s Retail Sales Report showing no improvement in consumer participation, you do have to wonder about those signs pointing toward that rate hike.

Of course the official Retail Sales data are backward looking and it’s really only the future that matters, but for that matter, the early retail reports aren’t exactly painting an optimistic picture for whatever remains in 2016.

It can’t be clear to anyone what awaits. Other than repeating the usual refrains such as interest rates can’t get any lower, oil prices can’t get any lower and stocks can’t go any higher, the only thing that is clear is that whatever is anticipated is so often unrealized.

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

I’m not really sure why Dow Chemical (DOW) was punished as the past week came to its close. Of course, I understand that news of institutional buyers lightening their own load of shares can have a direct impact on the supply and demand equation and can also create a sense of needing to get out of the same position by investor lemmings.

I suppose that there may be others looking to escape over the next few days even as there is little to suggest a fundamental reason for heading for the exits.

While I already own 2 lots of its shares, I view the decline of last week as an opportunity to add shares, as the decline may have been simply nothing more than needing to digest some of its recent gains.

Dow Chemical probably has little downside with regard to its complex proposed deal with DuPont (DD) and probably has some upside potential when approval is at hand. In the meantime, however, simply continuing to trade in its recent range, along with its still generous option premiums and dividends, makes Dow Chemical an appealing potential position.

With earnings now out of the way and following a 10% decline, Gilead Sciences (GILD) is again looking attractive.

As with Dow Chemical, institutional investors have been reportedly been net sellers of shares and those shares are now at a 2 year low.

While it might be a serious mistake to believe that those shares couldn’t go any lower, there are some near term inducements to consider a position at this time and to do so without regard to what may be substantive issues for those with a longer term horizon on the company, its products and its shares.

In addition to a nice premium, particularly relative to an overall decreasing volatility environment, there is an upcoming dividend.

That dividend is still a few weeks away, so there could be some consideration to initially establishing a position through the sale of put options.

There is considerable liquidity in that market and if faced with assignment there could be ample opportunity to keep the short put position alive by rolling it over to the following week.

With that upcoming dividend, however some attention may need to be given to the possibility of taking assignment in an effort to then capture the dividend.

Finally, I’m not certain how many times in a lifetime I can consider buying shares of MetLife (MET). It is a stock that I am almost always on the fence about whether the timing is just right.

One of the things about it and some other stocks that really creates a timing problem for me is when earnings and an ex-dividend date are tightly entwined. Putting the two together, sometimes even their sequencing requires some additional thought.

Too much thought is often something that only serves to muddy things and in my case is often the reason that I end up not owning MetLife shares.

I’ve already done enough thinking in my lifetime, so there’s really not much reason to go and look for more opportunities requiring analysis of any kind.

Now, however, with both of those events in the back mirror and with nearly 3 months to go until they become issues again, it may be time to consider those shares once again.

The theory, which is getting really long in the tooth, is that interest rates have to be heading higher. As we all know, however, regardless of how true that may logically have to be, there’s nothing in our past to have prepared us for such a long and sustained period of ultra-low interest rates.

And so MetLife has not followed interest rates higher, because interest rates haven’t gone higher, much to everyone’s continuing surprise.

Not that this past week’s retail results would give anyone reason to believe that the economy really is heating up and that interest rates will follow, you still can’t escape the “sooner or later” school of logic.

I know that I can’t.

At its current level and with some decent downside support, I think that this may be a good point to get back on that rising interest rate bandwagon and use MetLife as the vehicle to prosper from systemically increased costs.

Traditional Stocks:  Dow Chemical, MetLife

Momentum Stocks:  Gilead Sciences

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – July 31, 2016

Let me get this straight.

The people sequestered in their nearly meeting for 2 days in Washington and who only have to consider monetary policy in the context of a dual mandate are the smartest guys in the room?

We often hear the phrase “the smartest guys in the room.”

Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment and sometimes there may be a bit of sarcasm attached to its use.

I don’t know if anyone can sincerely have any doubt about the quality of the intellect around the table at which members of the FOMC convene to make and implement policy.

While there may be some subjective baggage that each carries to the table, the frequent reference to its decisions being “data drive” would have you believe that the best and brightest minds would be objectively assessing the stream of data and projecting their meaning in concert with one another.

One of the hallmarks of being among the smartest in the room is that you can see, or at least are expected to see what the future is more likely to hold than can the person in the next room. After all, whether you’re the smartest in the room and happen to be at Goldman Sachs (GS) or at the Federal Reserve, no one is paying you to predict the past.

If you’re a Goldman Sachs shareholder and you’re using its share price as a measure, you may have been wondering if the smarts left the room sometime in 2013, albeit coming back for an occasional visit to slum with old friends.

I went to high school with their previous CFO. I can tell you that he was a pretty smart guy among a school of very smart guys. While I was proud of my standardized test scores and they opened up doors, they were absolutely mediocre within the context of the entire graduating class.

From the date he left Goldman Sachs in January 2013, those shares have trailed the S&P 500 by 10%.

You might also be wondering about the Federal Reserve and the smaller subset of its members comprising the FOMC.

When an interest rate increase was announced in December 2016, there were more than subtle hints that 2016 would herald a series of small interest rate increases.

Why would anyone do that?

Clearly, the smartest guys in the room had to believe that the economy was showing signs of growth in the year ahead that would warrant those increases. Mere mortals may not have seen those signs nor had the confidence to proceed and effect policy change.

In the meantime. 2016 has had nothing but mixed signals coming from the economy and even more muddled signals coming from individual members of the FOMC.

As individuals it may be difficult to lay aside some of the biases that pepper interpretation of data, but once in the room and at the table, the smartest should be able to set aside subjectivity.

So it may be even more disappointing that as last Friday’s GDP data was released, there wasn’t much in the way of news to suggest that the economy was warranting even consideration of an interest rate increase, much less an actual increase.

On the day before the GDP was released, the betting was that there was nearly a 50% chance of seeing an interest rate hike in by December 2016.

Now, even with lots more data to come over the course of the next 5 months, that certainty is sure to decrease, just as market volatility and uncertainty decreases in tandem.

What may be clear is that the designation of being the “smartest in the room,” may be no different from what we see in most every stock chart.

Prices wax and wane and perhaps so does the ability to live up to the “smartest” designation.

Or maybe the smartest guy had also left the room, just as may have been the case at Goldman Sachs.

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

As I look around at all of the issues of the day and the sort of things that can and have moved the stock market lately, Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI), which reports earnings this week, doesn’t share too many of the risks faced by so many.

Unless of course you put lots of faith into charts, in which case everything has been telling you to sell, sell, sell.

Whether its the Bollinger Band, the MACD Signal or the 50 and 200 day moving averages, I think that the proverbial horse has left the gait and shares happen to be at a price that has served me well in the past.

Sinclair Broadcasting, even as we think less and less of terrestrial broadcasting is a growing behemoth, that like its print brethren is probably not going to really be disappearing anytime soon.

Unlike most earnings related trades, I don’t think that I’m interested in pursuing this one through the sale of puts. There isn’t enough liquidity and as a result the bid- ask spreads are just too great to be able to reliably roll these over to avoid assignment.

In addition, sometime in the September 2016 option cycle there is an ex-dividend date, so I would be inclined to either do a buy/write before earnings with a September 2016 expiration or, if concerned about earnings, wait until after their announcement.

In that case, if shares do sink lower, I would then consider selling out of the money current month puts and would take share assignment, if necessary, rather than attempting to roll the puts over. Then, if possible, I would attempt to sell calls on the newly assigned shares in the hopes of securing the dividend, the option premium and perhaps some capital gains on the shares, as well.

PayPal (PYPL) on the other hand, does face some of the challenges that many others do. Currency exchange rates and consumer lethargy are in the equation and despite slightly increased guidance, shares didn’t too terribly well after recently reporting earnings.

Unlike Sinclair Broadcasting, though, PayPal options have nice liquidity and offer extended weekly expirations.

With no dividend to complicate the decision, this is a position that could easily lend itself to consideration of the sale of put options. At its current price, I could envision PayPal as being a potential opportunity for serial rollover or serial sale of puts, even as the share price may increase and existing short put positions expire.

Hewlett Packard (HPQ) seems about as unexciting as anything, except for perhaps Yahoo (YHOO). Sometimes the mighty fall and sometimes their offspring get far more attention than the staid parent that seems to be going nowhere.

I rolled over some Hewlett Packard options last week and have watched as the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) spin off has continued to perform very well.

I lost those shares to assignment, but their combination, during their respective holding periods had been very good and I think that Hewlett Packard, which reports earnings near the end of the August 2016 has potential to generate some respectable returns, as well.

While my initial interest would be in the sale of weekly call options, if in a position to later consider rolling over, I would keep my eye on the upcoming earnings and then the ex-dividend date a few weeks later.

In so doing, Hewlett Packard could easily become a longer term holding and ideally one that could generate some additional periodic income by virtue of the sale of call options along the way.

Finally. MetLife (MET) is ex-dividend this week and the thesis that it stands to benefit in the early stages of a rising interest rate environment has been waiting a long time for that environment to manifest itself.

Besides that problem, shares are at a near term high having recovered from a nearly 11% one day drop after the “Brexit” vote and Janus’ Bill Gross opining that insurers, banks and pension funds were “slowly going bankrupt.”

I don’t particularly like to go after stocks after that kind of a recovery, but I think that there may be more ahead. Of course, the other problem is that the day before the ex-dividend date, MetLife will report earnings, so to get this dividend you may really have to earn your money.

The option market is expecting only a 3.7% move in either direction, so the option premiums are not that bloated as earnings do approach, but there shouldn’t be too much reason to suspect that MetLife will take a different course from others in the financial sector that have already reported.

Since there is an ex-dividend date, rather than selling puts to take advantage of an earnings related opportunity, I would execute a buy/write using an at the money strike weekly or extended weekly or a slightly out of the money August 2016 expiration date.

In any of those cases an early assignment in the event of an earnings related price surge would result in a very nice 3 day ROI, even if ceding the dividend to the option buyer.

I like those kind of scenarios, especially if there some other identifiable target to re-invest the proceeds of the early assignment

Traditional Stocks: Hewlett Packard

Momentum Stocks: PayPal

Double-Dip Dividend: MetLife (8/4 $0.40)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Sinclair Broadcasting (8/3 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 – July 3, 2016

We often have an odd way of accepting someone’s decision to change their mind.

A change of mind is frequently thought to be a sign of a poorly conceived conviction or a poorly conceived initial position.

Few politicians change their minds because they know that they will be assailed for weakness or for having caved in, as opposed to having given careful and objective thought to a complex topic.

Of course, then there’s also the issue of a politician changing their mind simply for political expediency or political advantage.

That kind of distasteful behavior, although perhaps pragmatic, just stokes our cynicism.

We sometimes get upset at a child’s frequent changes of mind and want to instill some consistency that ultimately stifles ongoing thought and assessment.

At the same time, as parents, we are often faced with alternating opinions as to whether we need to be consistent in application and formulation of the rules we set or whether there should be some ability to make the rules a living entity that is responsive to events and circumstances.

When I was a child, I attended a “Yeshiva,” which is a Jewish version of a parochial school. We were taught to abide by Biblical laws, include the law regarding Kosher foods.

One day, when I was about 10 years old, I found a package of ham in our refrigerator and confronted my mother about the blatant violation of a sacred rule.

Her response was, and I remember it some 50 years later, was “if it tastes good, it’s Kosher.”

Okay, then. There are rules and there are rules that can be changed.

Of course, we completely abhor it when someone changes their mind and moves away from a position that we hold near and dear, while at the same time rejoicing when someone changes an opinion to come over to our side.

Just a few weeks ago Janet Yellen was roundly criticized for changing her tone, as many asked what could possibly have happened in the economy in the intervening weeks to have caused a tangible shift in sentiment and more importantly, policy.

Yet, when it comes to the stock market, we accept incredibly rapid and seismic shifts on a regular basis, as if there had been tangible and readily identifiable reasons for those frequent 180 degree reversals.

Many seeking on air time express their changes of opinion without ever acknowledging their previous opinion. In those cases it’s not really a change unless the viewer remembers the preceding opinion, as the interviewer is rarely going to embarrass a guest or regular contributor.

In hindsight, it is sometimes easy to offer a rationale for sudden changes in direction. However, believing the rationale or believing the claim of identifying the variable at play, may be as delusional as offering the opinion.

The one thing that won’t change is that those hindsight and revisionist pats on the back will never change.

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

A month ago I wrote about one of the available investment tools that tracks “volatility.” When discussing the potential use of iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN (VXX), it was in the context of the then upcoming FOMC announcement.

As the short term trade as which it was intended, that timing was fortuitous. However, if held onto or rolled over in an effort to milk even more of the rich premium, it would not have been very fortuitous as that trade really did end along with the FOMC announcement.

The reversal of volatility was a reflection of the suddenness with which change comes to investor sentiment.

The performance of the Volatility Index at the end of last week and the every beginning of this week had lots of people confused as the typically expected association between a declining market and an increasing measure of volatility broke down, especially during those periods that large declines were reduced heading into the close.

When that does happen and it happens infrequently, it is very often a sign of a real reversal ahead and that is certainly what we saw as the market completely changed its mind when the opening bell rang on Tuesday.

With volatility again at 2 year lows, there can be reason to believe that we are at an inflection point as the market may attempt to test its handful of resistance levels below its all time closing high.

But that inflection point can also bring a move in the opposite direction, as those points are a perfect place to teeter and either catapult or plunge.

With good liquidity and an always provocative premium, even an adverse movement can be played by rolling over to a longer term expiration. I almost always prefer initiating a position through the sale of put options.

Another potential opportunity could have come heading into the “Brexit” vote, but both the outcome of the vote and the response to the result were so unpredictable, that I didn’t consider its use at that time.

But that’s ancient history by now and more predictable opportunity may again be here.

With earnings season ready to begin just a week from now, the equation must again be mindful of the kind of havoc or opportunity that can be created when a penny here or a penny there comes as a surprise.

The real surprises ahead may be related to forward guidance, as we can begin expecting lots of companies to begin moaning about the potential impact of the “Brexit” vote and currency exchange hardships.

At a time when very few companies have been winning fans over on the basis of their earnings the next few months can be especially challenging and I’m wary of selecting positions with a short term mindset if that short term crosses the date of earnings reporting.

In the case of MetLife (MET) that means almost a month before the risk of earnings is added to the continuing risk associated with plummeting interest rates.

If you could somehow go back in time to when the FOMC announced a small interest rate increase in December 2016, you would probably have a really hard time finding anyone who would have believed that 6 months later we would not have had another or even two increases and that the 10 Year Treasury would be offering a 1.46% yield.

What you would have found, as those yields went lower and lower, was that even the relative hawks within the Federal Reserve were squawking less and less as they changed their minds about where the future was going to take the US economy.

While General Electric (GE) recently lost its “Systemically Important” label and shackles by virtue of shedding significant financial assets, MetLife did it the old fashioned way.

They litigated in order to prevent such a designation and won in its battle.

It’s hard, however, to make a case that MetLife shares were rewarded in any way relative to their peers or the S&P 500 since having won that battle.

It’s that under-performance and that enhanced premium that have me interested in adding shares.

With earnings scheduled for August 3, 2016 and an as of yet unannounced ex-dividend date. Traditionally, the ex-dividend date is the same or following day of earnings, except for the 2nd Quarter report. There has typically been a one week lag when 2nd Quarter earnings are announced.

In this case, if a purchase of MetLife shares is warranted, I would consider the sale of a longer term call option, such as the August 19, 2016 and would also give strong consideration to the use of out of the money strikes, as opposed to the shorter term and near the money or in the money strikes.

While I still suffer with a much more expensive lot of Marathon Oil (MRO), that suffering has been attenuated a little bit in 2016 as I’ve now owned new shares on 4 occasions as it has been a repository of volatility.

That’s meant that it has had a really enhanced option premium as it has gone back and forth, changing its mind along the best of the undecided.

In doing so, its path has been higher and higher in 2016, yet those large moves have kept the premiums at very, very attractive levels.

After another assignment this past week, I would very much like to go for a fifth round of ownership, although this time, I think that I’m more inclined to consider the sale of out of the money put options, rather than the buy/writes that I had been doing.

I reserve the right to change my mind, though.

With West Texas Intermediate having fallen from and then rebounded back to the $50 level, Marathon Oil has followed suit and there isn’t too much reason to believe that the near term will bring an assault on the $47 level.

However, if it does, there is sufficient liquidity in the put market to be able to rollover those puts, although this is a position that I would also consider owning outright if faced with assignment of shares.

For those dealing with smaller lots the transaction costs differential between rolling over puts versus taking assignment and then writing calls may be a factor.

In either event, earnings are upcoming on August 3, 2016 and if owning shares or still short puts, I would likely consider utilizing an expiration date a little further out in order to withstand any possible large decline, but to also give an opportunity to secure the dividend, as paltry as it may currently be.

Finally, while the correlation between falling oil prices and rising airline prices has long ago withered and while there may not be much reason to suspect any sustained oil price decline, I’m ready to add more airline shares.

As with Marathon Oil, I still suffer from holding a much more expensive lot of shares of United Continental Holdings (UAL).

At the moment, it’s really hard to see anything positive at all, about the business.

Currency pressures, increasing fuel prices, worries over international travel are enough to include in a single sentence. However, as United Continental rebounds from its 2 year lows, I think that the slew of bad news and lowered expectations are mostly discounted.

Since United Continental does not offer a dividend and has been exceptionally volatile of late, this is one position that I would consider only through the sale of puts at this time. With that, however, you do have to be aware that earnings will be reported in just 2 weeks, so if still short those puts heading into earnings, there may be good reason to limit downside risk by rolling over the position to a date far enough into the future to allow some reasonable recovery time.

That time may be longer than anticipated, however, as my current lot of shares sits uncovered and had previously sold options with expirations 3 or more months into the future.

My actuary tells me that I may not live to regret that, so I do take some comfort in that knowledge.

Hopefully, he won’t change his mind.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife

Momentum Stocks: iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures ETN, Marathon Oil, United Continental Holdings

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – June 5, 2016

While so many people are still confused over the “Transgender Bathroom” issue, the real confusion came from this week’s Employment Situation Report.

With the odds of an interest rate hike by the FOMC’s June meeting seemingly increasing every day, you would really have to believe that the FOMC knew what was going to be in the economic news cards.

The increasing hawkish talk all seemed to be preparing us for a rate hike in just 2 weeks. Judging by the previous week’s market performance you would certainly have been of the belief that traders were finally at personal peace with the certainty of that increase.

The concept of being at personal peace is confusing to some.

I’m personally confused as to how it could have taken so long to see the obvious, unless we’re talking about stocks, interest rates and investor’s reactions.

What I find ironic is that the proposal for all inclusive bathrooms is really age old, at least at the NYSE, when there was a recent time that there was only a need for a single sex bathroom, anyway.

Just like many of us know, what a great degree of certainty, which camp we belong to when nature beckons, the lines seemed to be increasingly drawn with regard to interest rates.

Even as the talk heated up there were still clear interest rate doves, albeit in diminished numbers compared to their hawkish brethren, sistren and “transgendren.”

Now, though, the certainty is muddled.

Since I don’t use public restrooms, I don’t really understand all of the controversy, nor do I understand the angst over a suspected 0.25% interest rate increase.

Nor do I understand why grown and highly educated men, women and others could be so engaged in their spreading their convictions, which even under the close scrutiny of historical hindsight, could never be validated.

With this past Friday’s Employment Situation Report most everyone was taken by surprise. Not only were current job creation numbers lower than expected, but downward revisions to previous months didn’t help to paint an optimistic picture, even as the unemployment rate continued to decline.

So what about that June interest rate hike that had been increasingly suggested by those in a position to decide?

You do have to wonder whether the Federal Reserve members are testing the waters among the investing community and gauging responses.

I hope not.

I don’t think that they really need a triple mandate or need to have their focus sullied. It’s enough that we’ve already seen an FOMC that expresses concern over China and may be further influenced by EU interest rates and even the possibility of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

No doubt that everything going on in the world just adds to the confusion. While the FOMC continually avers that it is “data driven,” perhaps it would be helpful to know what data is under the microscope and how it is weighted.

It might even be instructive to know what the data considered had been when the December 2015 interest rate increase was announced.

Nearly 6 months later it may still be difficult to see what the FOMC had seen based on the existing data and projections.

The market, in its confusion, finished the past week absolutely flat, although it did recover from some significant losses during three of the shortened trading week’s sessions.

That included a recovery following Friday’s early morning confusion. Those recoveries, though, may only lead us to a week or so of perpetuating the confusion as we wonder whether the FOMC has been setting up the market for a summer rate hike or whether the FOMC has just been completely misreading the economy.

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

I didn’t open any new positions last week and there doesn’t really seem to be much indication as to what the coming week holds, so I’m not overly certain about my activity level.

That extends to stocks, too.

But with some of its recent weakness and a healthy dividend, I think that it may end up being a relatively easy decision to add to my General Motors (GM) holdings.

It is now at a price approximately mid-way between recent highs and lows and that is often one of my preferred entry points. I also often prefer an entry point right in advance of an ex-dividend date, so the stars may be aligning for General Motors.

Already owning shares of both General Motors and Ford (F), the current lots that I own aren’t generating any premium income and they are only made tolerable by their premiums.

While I expect that each will someday make contributions beyond those dividends, I look at each lot of shares as a standalone entity and see an upcoming lot of General Motors as a vehicle for a premium, a dividend and perhaps some small capital appreciation, as well.

I also own some shares of Macy’s (M) and they were the first retail earnings disappoi8ntment of this recent earnings season. One of my current lots is uncovered and like General Motors, the dividend makes it tolerable, as do previously accumulated option premiums.

Macy’s is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week. I especially like those kind of situations where there may be an unity to purchase shares and then sell in the money calls with an expiration date of the week of the ex-dividend.

In such cases, if the shares are assigned early, they must be called away at the end of the current week. In that case, the call seller effectively receives an enhanced weekly premium. That enhancement, which comes from the time portion of the premium, in essence is like getting a portion of the dividend.

However, in this instance, I may consider an extended weekly option, but perhaps using a near the money strike price, anticipating some continued capital appreciation in shares, as well.

If that capital appreciation materializes before the ex-dividend date, the chance for early assignment may still exist, but the loss of the dividend could easily be offset by the combination of option premium and capital appreciation, along  with the opportunity to take assignment proceeds and put them back to work the very next week.

Finally, sometimes in the midst of confusion, there is opportunity.

I don’t know of anyone who believes that interest rates are going to continue staying where they are and they certainly can’t get much lower.

Of course, that kind of confidence is bound to get slapped down and reminds me of the same belief when it came to the price of oil.

But the reality is that Friday’s Employment Situation Report shock probably won’t last too long insofar as the interest rate sensitive financial sector is concerned. The rates on the 10 Year Treasury have gone up and down in fits and starts and following Friday’s decline is at a fairly well established level of support.

With that in mind, I have a hard time deciding between MetLife (MET) and Morgan Stanley (MS) and may consider both as the week is ready to begin.

While neither should be considered as harboring undue risk, their option premiums are reflective of undue risk.

However, as opposed to stocks that truly do reflect significant risk and are typically best suited for shorter term holding periods, both MetLife and Morgan STanley could easily be held for the longer term and offer attractive dividends, as well, in the event of a longer term holding period.

As I’ve done recently with some energy holdings, which have certainly been volatile, I would embrace the enhanced premium and even consider rolling over positions if they were likely to be assigned, as well.

As long as those premiums are enriched, the lure of holding onto those positions, particularly in light of a real risk that may be less than the perceived risk, is strong.

There isn’t too much confusion about that in my mind.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks:  none

Double-Dip Dividend:   General Motors (6/8 $0.38), Macy’s (6/13 $0.38)

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 – March 6, 2016

Depending upon what kind of outlook you have in life, the word “limbo” can conjure up two very different pictures.

For some it can represent a theologically defined place of temporary internment for those sinners for whom redemption was still possible. 

In simple terms it may be thought of as a place between the punishing heat and torment of hell below and the divineness and comfort of heaven above.

Others may just see an image reminding them of a fun filled Caribbean night watching a limber individual dancing underneath and maybe dangerously close to a flaming bar that just keeps getting set lower and lower.

Both definitions of “limbo” require some significant balancing to get it just right.

For example, you don’t get entrance into the theologically defined “Limbo” if the preponderance of your sins are so grievous that you can’t find yourself having died in “the friendship of God.” Instead of hanging around and waiting for redemption, you get a one way ticket straight to the bottom floor.

It may take a certain balance of the quantity and quality of both the good and the bad acts that one has committed during their mortal period to determine whether they can ever have a chance to move forward and upward to approach the pearly gates of heaven.

If you’ve ever watched a limbo dancer, you know that it’s more than just the ability to flex a spinal cord. There’s also the balance that has to be maintained while somehow still moving forward and downward.

One limbo makes you strive to move you to a higher plane and the other strives to make you move to a lower plane.

Why they’re called the same thing confuses me.

After this week’s surprisingly high Employment Situation Report that was coupled with an unexpected lower average wage, the data that the FOMC finds itself analyzing seems itself to be getting more and more confusing to mere mortals.

At the same time more and more people are craving for some pronouncement of clarity.

Along with that confusion comes a need for the FOMC to balance the relative importance and meanings of the individual bits of data coming in and trying to understand what it all means going forward, if you accept that their decisions are data driven.

And, of course, there can’t be a reason to suspect that the decisions made will be anything but data driven. It’s just that there’s no data that assesses the interpretation of those economic data points and to explain why there may be widely differing opinions among the FOMC’s highly capable analysts.

Of course, there will be no shortage of critics ready to excoriate the decision makers for whatever decision they reach. However, if the FOMC members ever feel the heat they certainly do a good job of hiding that fact.

For now, markets continue to follow oil, including during its intra-day reversals and as long as oil continues to move higher, that’s a good thing.

With a nearly 10% increase this past week in oil, stocks had another great week, especially if you were holding any number of a long beleaguered series of stocks.

But as the week is set to begin, with very little of economic news scheduled and no fundamental change in anything, we’re left in limbo as we await the FOMC’s decision the following week.

Whether to continue the 3 week rally or to take profits is going to be anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt that oil will some day be redeemed.

Not as certain is whether the stock market will come to realize that it is the reason behind prevailing oil prices and not the prices themselves that should determine whether the stock market is worthy of redemption, as well.

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

Unlike Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), many of the week’s extraordinarily performing stocks didn’t take the death of a founder or hedge fund activist to propel them forward, although it did seem as if the market placed a high multiple on death.

Having long suffered through the ownership of far too many commodity related stocks I was happy to see death and non-death related companies move higher, but still have no reason to believe that they are anywhere but remaining in limbo, with their own redemptions still being but a dream.

General Motors (GM) emerged from limbo during the throes of the financial crisis and under new leadership has weathered some difficult issues that could have been far more ruinous in an earlier time.

Like so many stocks over the past few weeks its shares have shown recovery and I believe that there is more ahead being propelled by fundamental factors. With shares being ex-dividend this week it looks like a good time to consider adding shares and selling either a weekly near the money contract or considering adding an additional week if the strike price is in the money.

In the latter case, using the slightly longer term contract would offset the loss of the dividend in the event shares are assigned early.

In a perfect example of how the herd is wrong, while we were all awaiting a rise in interest rates since the FOMC raised rates more than 3 months ago, all of those recommendations based on a rising interest rate environment were ill advised.

You know that if you owned shares of most anything in the financial sector.

I know that I know that to be the case, but I think we now may be in store for some sustained interest rate increases in the 10 Year Treasury and should see more strength being reflected in the financial sector.

One of my favorites in the event that those rates do finally resist making everyone look foolish again is MetLife (MET).

Even after having made up some lost ground over the past 3 weeks it still has more upside following a gap lower after its most recent earnings report.

While it has an admirable dividend as well, it tends to be associated with its earnings report date, which is still 2 months away. I would consider a purchase of shares and the sale of short term call contracts, further considering rolling over those contracts if assignment is likely at a price near the strike level.

It wasn’t so long ago that Seagate Technology (STX) may as well have given up. When storage was being talked about as being a commodity, most had written it off as irrelevant for anyone’s portfolio.

When a product becomes a mere commodity the conventional wisdom is that the stock becomes dead money, but it has been hard to characterize Seagate Technology as having anything but life.

Sometimes that existence has been fairly erratic as it is prone to sharp moves higher and lower, often both in narrow time frames.

That gives options an attractive premium, reflecting the enhanced volatility.

Seagate Technology is a stock that I prefer to consider through the sale of out of the money puts and am often happy rolling those puts over in an attempt to avoid being assigned shares.

With its ex-dividend date is still 2 months away, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to do so on a serial basis and accumulating those premiums in the process. If still faced with assignment in the week leading up to that ex-dividend date I would take assignment in an effort to then grab the dividend.

The caveat is that Seagate Technology’s dividend is unsustainably high. Seagate, during its existence as a publicly traded company did briefly reduce and then suspend its dividend for nearly 2 years, beginning at the depth of the market’s 2009 meltdown. but has been consistently raising it since the resumption.

It may be time for either a respite or some killer earnings. If selling puts I would prefer the latter.

I also like the idea of selling puts into price weakness. In the event that Dow Chemical (DOW) shows some weakness as the week gets ready to begin, I may consider the sale of put options.

What may put some pressure on Dow Chemical is the news that broke after the closing bell on Friday that DuPont (DD), well along the way toward its complex merger with Dow Chemical, may have another suitor with very, very deep pockets.

That suitor is reported to be BASF SE (BASFY) the Germany based chemical company, who may have to dig extra deep due to the Euro insisting that it make its way toward parity with the US Dollar.

For its part, Dow Chemical may be forced to dig deeper to complete the deal, but the after hours trading actually saw some increase in Dow Chemical’s share price, as well, perhaps reflecting the perceived value of the Dow Chemical and DuPont merger, which may be too afar along to be disrupted by something other than regulators.

Finally, while commodities led the week higher, the advance was broad. However, in the “No Stock Left Behind” march higher during the late half of February and beginning of March are some pharmaceutical names.

Pfizer (PFE), while not the poorest of a cohort of under-performers over the past 3 weeks while the market has been working hard to erase 2016’s losses, was at the bottom of the heap this past week.

While it still has a big unresolved issue ahead of it with regard to its strategy to escape significant US tax liability by merging with Ireland based Allergan (AGN), it has long ceded the premium that investors had given it when the news of the proposal first broke.

While there is no assurance that Pfizer and Allergan will receive regulatory approval, while the proposal itself is in limbo, there continues to be opportunity to utilize Pfizer as a vehicle to generate option premiums.

With its healthy dividend, a long sojourn in limbo could be propitious for option writers, particularly if there is little downside risk associated with the merger being blocked.

 
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Motors (3/9 $0.38)

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 – 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 – January 3, 3016

The "What If" game is about as fruitless as it gets, but is also as much a part of human nature as just about anything else.

How else could I explain having played that game at a high school reunion?

That may explain the consistent popularity of that simple question as a genre on so many people’s must read lists as the New Year begins.

Historical events lead themselves so beautifully to the "What If" question because the cascading of events can be so far reaching, especially in an interconnected world.

Even before that interconnection became so established it didn’t take too much imagination to envision far reaching outcomes that would have been so wildly different around the world even a century or more later.

Imagine if the Union had decided to cede Fort Sumpter and simply allowed the South to go its merry way. Would an abridged United States have been any where near the force it has been for the past 100 years? What would that have meant for Europe, the Soviet Union, Israel and every other corner of the world?

Second guessing things can never change the past, but it may provide some clues for how to approach the future, if only the future could be as predictable as the past.

Looking back at 2015 there are lots of "what if" questions that could be asked as we digest the fact that it was the market’s worst performance since 2008.

In that year the S&P 500 was down about 37%, while in 2015 it was only down 0.7%. That gives some sense of what kind of a ride we’ve been on for the past 7 years, if the worst of those years was only 0.7% lower.

But most everyone knows that the 0.7% figure is fairly illusory.

For me the "what if" game starts with what if Amazon (AMZN), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT) and a handful of others had only performed as well as the averages.

Of course, even that "what if" exercise would continue to perpetuate some of the skew seen in 2015, as the averages were only as high as they were due to the significant out-performance of a handful of key constituent components of the index. Imagining what if those large winners had only gone down 0.7% for the year would still result in an index that wouldn’t really reflect just how bad the underlying market was in 2015.

While some motivated individual could do those calculations for the S&P 500, which is a bit more complex, due to its market capitalization calculation, it’s a much easier exercise for the DJIA.

Just imagine multiplying the 10 points gained by Microsoft , the 30 pre-split points gained by Nike (NKE), the 17 points by UnitedHealth Group (UNH), the 26 points by McDonalds (MCD) or the 29 points by Home Depot (HD) and suddenly the DJIA which had been down 2.2% for 2015, would have been another 761 points lower or an additional 4.5% decline.

Add another 15 points from Boeing (BA) and another 10 from Disney (DIS) and we’re starting to inch closer and closer to what could have really been a year long correction.

Beyond those names the pickings were fairly slim from among the 30 comprising that index. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better and the NASDAQ 100, up for the year, was certainly able to boast only due to the performances of Amazon, Netflix (NFLX), Alphabet and Facebook (FB).

Now, also imagine what if historically high levels of corporate stock buybacks hadn’t artificially painted a better picture of per share earnings.

That’s not to say that the past year could have only been much worse, but it could also have been much better.

Of course you could also begin to imagine what if the market had actually accepted lower energy and commodity prices as a good thing?

What if investors had actually viewed the prospects of a gradual increase in interest rates as also being a good thing, as it would be reflective of an improving, yet non-frothy, economy?

And finally, for me at least, What if the FOMC hadn’t toyed with our fragile emotions and labile intellect all through the year?

Flat line years such as 2015 and 2011 don’t come very often, but when they do, most dispense with the "what if" questions and instead focus on past history which suggests a good year to follow.

But the "what if" game can also be prospective in nature, though in the coming year we should most likely ask similar questions, just with a slight variation.

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

What if money is running dry to keep the buyback frenzy alive?

Or, what if corporate earnings actually reflect greater consumer participation?

You may as well simply ask what if rational thought were to return to markets?

But it’s probably best not to ask questions when you may not be prepared to hear the answer.

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

For those, myself included, who have been expecting some kind of a resurgence in energy prices and were disbelieving when some were calling for even further drops only to see those calls come true, it’s not really clear what the market’s reaction might be if that rebound did occur.

While the market frequently followed oil lower and then occasionally rebounded when oil did so, it’s hard to envision the market responding favorably in the face of sustained oil price stability or strength.

I’ve given up the idea that the resurgence would begin any day now and instead am more willing to put that misguided faith into the health of financial sector stocks.

Unless the FOMC is going to toy with us further or the economy isn’t going to show the kind of strength that warranted an interest rate increase or warrants future increases, financials should fare well going forward.

This week I’m considering MetLife (MET), Morgan Stanley and American Express (AXP), all well off from their 2015 highs.

MetLife, down 12% during 2015 is actually the best performer of that small group. As with Morgan Stanley, almost the entirety of the year’s loss has come in the latter half of the year when the S&P 500 was performing no worse than it had during the first 6 months of the year.

Both Morgan Stanley and MetLife have large enough option premiums to consider the sale of the nearest out of the money call contracts in an attempt to secure some share appreciation in exchange for a somewhat lo0wer option premium.

In both cases, I think the timing is good for trying to get the best of both worlds, although Morgan Stanley will be among the relatively early earnings reports in just a few weeks and still hasn’t recovered from its last quarter’s poorly received results, so it would help to be prepared to manage the position if still held going into earnings in 3 weeks.

By contrast, American Express reports on that same day, but all of 2015 was an abysmal one for the company once the world learned that its relationship with Costco (COST) was far more important than anyone had believed. The impending loss of Costco as a branded partner in the coming 3 months has weighed heavily on American Express, which is ex-dividend this week.

I would believe that most of that loss in share has already been discounted and that disappointments aren’t going to be too likely, particularly if the consumer is truly making something of a comeback.

There has actually been far less press given to retail results this past holiday season than for any that I can remember in the recent and not so recent past.

Most national retailers tend to pull rabbits out of their hats after preparing us for a disappointing holiday season, with the exception of Best Buy (BBY), which traditionally falls during the final week of the year on perpetually disappointing numbers.

Best Buy has already fallen significantly in th e past 3 months, but over the years it has generally been fairly predictable in its ability to bounce back after sharp declines, whether precipitous or death by a thousand cuts.

To my untrained eye it appears that Best Buy is building some support at the $30 level and doesn’t report full earnings for another 2 months. Perhaps it’s its reputation preceding it at this time of the year, but Best Buy’s current option premium is larger than is generally found and I might consider purchasing shares and selling out of the money calls in the anticipation of some price appreciation.

Under Armour (UA) is in a strange place, as it is currently in one of its most sustained downward trends in at least 5 years.

While Nike, its arch competitor, had a stellar year in 2015, up until a fateful downtrend that began in early October, Under Armour was significantly out-performing Nike, even while the latter was some 35% above the S&P 500’s performance.

That same untrained eye sees some leveling off in the past few weeks and despite still having a fairly low beta reflecting a longer period of observation than the past 2 months, the option premium is continuing to reflect uncertainty.

With perhaps some possibility that cold weather may finally be coming to areas where it belongs this time of the year, it may not be too late for Under Armour to play a game of catch up, which is just about the only athletic pursuit that I still consider.

Finally, Pfizer (PFE) has been somewhat mired since announcing a planned merger, buyout, inversion or whatever you like to have it considered. The initially buoyed price has fallen back, but as with Dow Chemical (DOW) which has also fallen back after a similar merger announcement move higher, it has returned to the pre-announcement level.

I view that as indicating that there’s limited downside in the event of some bad news related to the proposed merger, but as with Dow Chemical, Best Buy and Under Armour, the near term option premium continues to reflect perceived near term risk.

Whatever Pfizer;’s merger related risk may be, I don’t believe it will be a near term risk. From the perspective of a call option seller that kind of perception in the face of no tangible news can be a great gift that keeps giving.

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (1/6 $0.29)

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 – December 13, 2015

Sometimes if you take a step back and look at the big picture it’s much easer to see what’s going on as you distance yourself from the source.

No one, for example, falls off a cliff while watching the evening news from the safety of their media room, although being in the last car of a train doesn’t necessarily protect you when the lead car is getting ready to take a dive.

I’m not certain that anyone, whether knee deep in stocks or just casually looking at things from a dispassionate distance could have foreseen the events of the past week.

For starters, there really were no events to foresee. Certainly none to account for the nearly 4% decline in the S&P 500, with about half of that loss coming on the final trading day of the week.

What appears to have happened is that last week’s strong Employment Situation Report was the sharp bend in the track that obscured what was awaiting.

Why the rest of the track beyond that bend disappeared is anyone’s guess, as is the distance to the ground below.

With Friday’s collapse that added on to the losses earlier in the week, the market is now about 6% below its August highs and 2.3% lower on the year, with barely 3 weeks left in 2015.

Not too long ago we saw that the market was again capable of sustaining a loss of greater than 10%, although it had been a long time since we had last seen that occur. The recovery from those depths was fairly quick, also hastened by an Employment Situation report, just 2 months ago.

I don’t generally have very good prescience, but I did have a feeling of unease all week, as this was only about the 6th time in the past 5 years that I didn’t open any new positions on the week. All previous such weeks have also occurred in 2015.

The past week had little to be pleased about. Although there was a single day of gains, even those were whittled away, as all of the earlier attempts during the week to pare losses withered on the vine.

Most every sell-off this year, particularly coming at the very beginning of the week has seemed to be a good point to wade in, in pursuit of some bargains. Somehow, however, I never got that feeling last week, although I did briefly believe that the brakes were put on just in time before the tracks ran out up ahead early during Thursday’s trading.

For that brief time I thought that I had missed the opportunity to add some bargains, but instead used the strength to roll over positions a day earlier than I more normally would consider doing.

That turned out to be good luck, as there again was really no reason to expect that the brakes would give out, although that nice rally on Thursday did become less impressive as the day wore on.

Maybe that should have been the sign, but when you’re moving at high speed and have momentum behind you, it’s not easy to stop, much less know that there’s a reason to stop.

Now, as a new and potentially big week is upon us with the FOMC Statement release and Janet Yellen’s press conference to follow, the real challenge may be in knowing when to get going again.

I plan on being circumspect, but wouldn’t mind some further declines to start the coming week. At some point, you can hand over the edge and realize that firm footing isn’t that far below. Getting just a little bit closer to the ground makes the prospect of taking the leap so much easier.

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

It’s not entirely accurate to say that there were no events during the past week.

There was one big, really big event that hit early in the week and was confirmed a few days later.

That was the merger of DJIA component DuPont (DD) and its market capitalization equivalent and kissing cousin, Dow Chemical (DOW).

After both surged on the initial rumor, they gave back a substantial portion of those gains just two days later.

I currently own shares of Dow Chemical and stand to lose it to assignment at $52.50 next week, although it does go ex-dividend right before the end of the year and that may give some incentive to roll the position over to either delay assignment or to squeeze out some additional premium.

While it would be understandable to think that such a proposed merger would warrant regulatory scrutiny, the announced plans to break up the proposed newly merged company into 3 components may ease the way for the merger.

A with the earlier mega-merger between Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN) for some more questionable reasons related to tax liability, even if higher scrutiny is warranted, it’s hard to imagine action taken so quickly as to suppress share price. Because of that unlikely situation, the large premium available for selling Dow Chemical calls makes the buy/write seem especially inviting, particularly as the dividend is factored into the equation.

General Motors (GM) is ex-dividend this coming week and like many others, the quick spike in volatility has made its option premiums more and more appealing, even during a week that it is ex-dividend.

I almost always buy General Motors in advance of its dividend and as I look back over the experience wonder why I hadn’t done so more often. 

Its current price is below the mean price for the previous 6 holdings over the past 18 months and so this seems to be a good time to add shares to the ones that I already own.

The company has been incredibly resilient during that time, given some of its legal battles. That resilience has been both in share price and car sales and am improving economy should only help in both regards.

After a month of rolling over Seagate Technology (STX) short puts, they finally expired this past Friday. The underlying shares didn’t succumb to quite the same selling pressure as did the rest of the market.

As with Dow Chemical, I did give some thought to keeping the position alive even as I want to add to my cash position and the expiration of a short put contract would certainly help in that regard.

With the Seagate Technolgy cash back in hand after the expiration of those puts, I would like to do it over again, especially if Seagate shows any weakness to start the week. 

Those shares are still along way away from recovering the large loss from just 2 months ago, but they have traded well at the $34.50 range.

By my definition that means a stock that has periodic spasms of movement in both directions, but returns to some kind of a trading range in between. Unfortunately, sometimes those spasms can be larger than expected and can take longer than expected to recover.

As long as the put market has some liquidity and the options are too deeply in the money, rolling over the short puts to keep assignment at bay is a possibility and the option premiums can be very rewarding

Finally, it was a rough week for most all stocks, but the financials were hit especially hard as the interest rate on a 10 Year Treasury Note fell 6%.

That hard hit included Morgan Stanley (MS), which fell 9% on the week and MetLife (MET), which fared better, dropping by only 8%.

The decline on the former brought it back down to the lows it experienced after its most recent earnings report. At those levels I bought and was subsequently assigned out of shares on 4 occasions during a 5 week period.

In my world that’s considered to be as close to heaven as you can hope to get.

With the large moves seen in Morgan Stanley over the past 2 months it has been offering increasingly attractive option premiums and can reasonably be expected to begin to show some strength as an interest rate increase becomes reality.

MetLife, following the precipitous decline of this past week is now within easy striking distance of its 52 week low. However, shares do appear to have some reasonably good price support just $1 below Friday’s close and as with Morgan Stanley, the option premiums are indicating increased uncertainty that’s been created because of the recent strong moves lower.

In a raising rate environment those premiums can offset any near term bumpiness in the anticipated path higher, as these financial sector stocks tend to follow interest rates quite closely.

The only lesson to be learned is that sometimes it pays to not follow too closely if there’s a cliff awaiting you both.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: General Motors (12/16 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – November 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Lexmark

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

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

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

Weekend Update – September 27, 2015

Subscribers to Option to Profit received preliminary notification of this week’s stock selections on Friday, September 25th, 8:00 AM EDT and updated at 10:20 AM. The full article was distributed on Saturday, at 11:25 AM)

I doubt that Johnny Cash was thinking about that thin line that distinguishes a market in correction from one that is not.

jhgty

For him, walking the line” was probably a reference to maintaining the correct behavior so that he could ensure holding onto something of great personal value.

Sometimes that line is as clear as the difference between black and white and other times the difference can be fairly arbitrary.

Lately our markets have been walking a line, not necessarily borne out of a clear distinction between right and wrong, but rather dancing around the definition of exactly what constitutes a market correction, going in and out without much regard.

The back and forth dance has, to some degree, been in response to mixed messages coming from the FOMC that have left the impression of a divergence between words and actions.

Regardless, what is at stake can hold some real tangible value, despite a stock portfolio not being known for its ability to keep you warm at night. Indirectly, however, the more healthy that portfolio the less you have to think about cranking up the thermostat on those cold and lonely nights.

It had been a long, long time since being challenged by that arbitrary 10% definition, but ever since having crossed that line a month ago there’s been lots of indecision about which direction we were heading.

This week was another good example of that, just as the final day of the week was its own good example of the back and forth that has characterized markets.

Depending on your perspective our recent indecision about which side of the line we want to be on is either creating support for a launching pad higher or future resistance to that move higher.

When you think about the quote attributed to Jim Rogers, “I have never met a rich technician,” you can understand, regardless of how ludicrous that may be, just how true it may also be.

While flipping a coin may have predictable odds in the long term, another saying has some real merit when considering the difficulty in trying to interpret charts and chart patterns,

That is “the market can stay irrational far longer than you can stay liquid.” Just a few wrong bets in succession on the direction can have devastating effects.

The single positive from the past 10 days of trading, however, is that the market has started behaving in a rational manner. It finally demonstrated that it understood the true meaning of a potential interest rate hike and then it reacted as a sane person might when their rational expectation was dashed.

Part of the indecision that we’ve been displaying has to be related to what has seemed as a lot of muddled messages coming from the FOMC and from Federal Reserve Governors. One minute there are hawkish sentiments being expressed, yet it’s the doves that seem to be still holding court, leading onlookers to wonder whether the FOMC is capable of making the decision that many believe is increasingly overdue.

In a week where there was little economic news we were all focused on personalities, instead and still stewing over the previous week’s unexpected turn of events.

It was a week when Pope Francis took center stage, then Chinese President Xi trying to cozy up to American business leaders before his less welcoming White House meeting, and then there was finally John Boehner.

The news of John Boehner’s early departure may be the most significant of all news for the week as it probably reduces the chance of another government shutdown and associated headaches for all.

It also marked something rare in Washington politics; a promise kept.

That promise of strict term limits was included in the “Contract with America” and John Boehner was a member of that incoming freshman Congressional Class of 1995 running on that platform, who has now indicated that he will be keeping that promise after only 11 terms in office.

None of that mattered for markets, but what did matter was Janet Yellen’s comments after Thursday’s market close when she said that a rate hike was likely this year and that overseas events were not likely to influence US policy.

That was something that had a semblance of a definitive nature to it and was to the market’s liking, particularly as the coming week may supply new economic information to justify the interest rate hawks gaining control.

Friday’s revised GDP data indicating a 3.9% growth rate for the year is a start, as the coming week also bring Jobless Claims, the Employment Situation Report and lots of Federal Reserve officials making speeches, including more from Janet Yellen, who had been reclusive for a while prior to the September meeting and Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.

As a prelude to the next earnings season that begins in just 2 weeks, the stage could be set for an FOMC affirmation that the economy is growing sufficiently to begin thinking about inflation for the first time in a long time.

After being on the other side of the inflation line for a long time and seeing a lost generation in Japan, it will feel good to cross over even as old codgers still dread the notion.

Both sides of the line can be the right side, but not at the same time. Now is the time to get on the right side and let rising interest rates reflect a market poised to move higher, just as low interest rates subsidized the market for the past 6 years. However, as someone who likes to sell options and take advantage of this increased volatility, I welcome continued trading in large bursts of movement up and down, as long as that line is adhered to.

Since the mean can always be re-calculated based on where you want to start your observations, this reversion to the new mean, that just happens to be 10% below the peaks of the summer, can be a great neighborhood to dance around.

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

Last week I was a little busier than has been the usual case of late with regard to opening new positions. Following the sharp sell offs to end the previous week I had a reasonably good feeling about the upcoming week, but now feel fortunate to have emerged without any damage.

I don’t feel the same level of optimism as the new week is set to begin, but there really is no reason to have much conviction one way or another, although there appears to be a more hawkish tone in the air as Janet Yellen is attempting to give the impression that actions will be aligned with words.

With the good fortune of getting some assignments as the week came to its close and having some cash in hand, I would like to build on those cash reserves but still find lots of temptations that seek to separate me from the cash.

The temptations aren’t just the greatly diminished prices, but also the enhanced premiums that accompany the uncertainty that’s characterizing the market.

That uncertainty is still low by most standards other than for the past couple of years, but taking individual stocks that are either hovering around correction or even bear market declines and adding relatively high premiums, especially if a dividend is also involved, is a difficult combination to walk away from.

The stocks going ex-dividend in the upcoming week that may warrant some attention are EMC Corporation (EMC) and Cisco (CSCO).

I own shares of both and both have recently been disappointing, Cisco, after its most recent earnings report looked as if it was surely going to be assigned away from me, but as so many others got caught up in the sudden downdraft and has fallen 14% since earnings, without any particularly bad news. EMC for its part has dropped nearly 13% in that same time period.

As is also so frequently the case as option premiums are rising, those going ex-dividend may become even more attractive as an increasing portion of the share’s price drop due to the dividend gets subsidized by the option premium.

That is the case for both Cisco and EMC. In the case of EMC, when the ex-dividend is early in the week you could even be excused for writing an in the money call with the hope that the newly purchased shares get assigned, as you could still potentially derive a 1% ROI on such a trade, yet for only a single day of holding.

Cisco, which goes ex-dividend later in the week may be a situation where it is warranted to sell an expanded weekly option for the following week that is also in the money by greater than the amount of the dividend, again in an effort to prompt an early assignment.

Doing so trades off the dividend for additional premium and fewer days of holding so that the cash may potentially be recycled into other income generating positions.

On such position is Comcast (CMCSA) which is ex-dividend the following Monday and if assigned early would have to be done so at the conclusion of this week.

While the entire media landscape in undergoing rapid change and while Comcast has positioned itself as best as it can to withstand the quantum changes, a trade this week is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the shares for the income that it may be able to produce and isn’t a vote of confidence in its strategic initiatives and certainly not of its services.

The intention with Comcast is considering the sale of an in the money October 9 or October 16, 2015 call and as with Cisco or EMC, consider forgoing the dividend.

However, for any of those three dividend related trades, I believe that their prices alone are attractive enough and their option premiums enhanced enough, that even if not assigned early, they are in good position to be candidates for serial sale of call options or even repurchases, if assigned.

As long as considering a Comcast purchase, one of my favorites in the sector is Sinclair Broadcasting (SBGI). I currently own shares and most often consider initiating a new position as an ex-dividend date is approaching.

That won’t be for a while, however, the second criteria that I look at is where its price is relative to its historical trading range and it is currently below the average of my seven previous purchases in the past 16 months.

While little known, it is a major player in the ancient area of terrestrial television broadcasting and has significant family ownership. While owners of Cablevision (CVC) can argue the merits or liabilities of a closely held public company, the only real risk is that of a proposal to take the company private as a result of shares having sunk to ridiculously low levels.

I don’t see that on the horizon, although the old set of rabbit ears may be to blame for any fuzzy forecasting. Instead of relying on high technology and still being available the old fashioned way for free viewing, Sinclair Broadcasting has simply been amassing outlets all over the county and making money the old fashioned way.

As I had done with my current lot of shares, I sold some slightly longer term call options, as Sinclair offers only the monthly variety. Since it reports earnings very early in November and will likely go ex-dividend late that month, I would consider selling out of the money calls, perhaps using the December 2015 options in an effort to capture the dividend, the option premium and some capital gains on shares.

While religious and political luminaries were getting most of the attention this past week, it’s hard to overlook what has unfolded before our eyes at Volkswagen (VLKAY). Regulatory agencies and the courts may be of the belief that you can’t spell “Fahrvergnügen,” Volkswagen’s onetime advertising slogan buzzword, without “Revenge.” Unfortunately, for those owning shares in the major auto manufacturer’s, such as General Motors (GM), last week’s news painted with a very broad brush.

General Motors hasn’t been immune to its own bad news and you do have to wonder if society places greater onus and personal responsibility on the slow deaths that may be promoted by Volkswagen’s falsified diesel emissions testing than by the instantaneous deaths caused by faulty lock mechanisms.

For its part, General Motors appears to really be bargain priced and will likely escape the continued plastering by that broad brush. With an exceptional option premium this week, plumped up by the release of some sales data and a global conference call, GM’s biggest worry after having resolved some significant legal issues will continue to be currency exchange and potential weakness in the Chinese market.

With earnings due to be reported on October 21st, if considering a purchase of General Motors shares, I would think about a weekly or expanded weekly option sale, or simply bypassing the events and going straight to December, in an effort to also collect the generous dividend and possibly some capital gains while having some additional time to recover from any bad news at earnings.

MetLife (MET) is a stock that is beautifully reflective of its dependency on interest rates. As rates were moving higher and the crowd believed that would go even higher, MetLife followed suit.

Of course, the same happened when those interest rate expectations weren’t met.

Now, however, it appears that those rates will be getting a boost sooner, rather than later, as the FOMC seems to be publicly acknowledging its interests in a broad range of matters, including global events and perhaps even stock market events.

With a recently announced share buyback, those shares are now very attractively priced, even after Friday’s nearly 2% gain.

With earnings expected at the end of the month, I would consider the purchase of shares coupled with the sale of some out of the money calls, hoping to capitalize on both capital gains and bigger than usual option premiums. In the event that shares aren’t assigned prior to earnings, I would consider then selling a November 20 call in an effort to bypass earnings risk and perhaps also capture the next dividend.

Finally, I’ve been anxious to once again own eBay (EBAY) and have waited patiently for its price to decline to a more appealing level. While most acknowledge that eBay gave away its growth prospects when it completed the PayPal (PYPL) spin-off, it has actually out-performed the latter since that spin-off, despite being down  nearly 12%.

While eBay isn’t expected to be a very exciting stock performer, it hadn’t been one for years, yet was still a very attractive covered option trading vehicle, as it’s share price was punctuated by large moves, usually earnings related. Those moves gave option buyers a reason to demand and a reason for sellers to acquiesce.

That hasn’t changed and the volatility induced premiums are as healthy as they have been in years. As that volatility rises in the stock and in the overall market, there’s more and more benefit to be gained from selling in the money options both for enhanced premium and for downside protection.

It would be good to welcome eBay back into my portfolio. Even if it won’t keep me warm, I could likely buy someone else’s flea bitten blanket at a great price, using its wonderful services.

 

Traditional Stocks:  eBay, General Motors, MetLife, Sinclair Broadcasting

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Comcast (10/5 $0.25), Cisco (10/1 $0.21), EMC Corp (9/29 $0.12)

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 23, 2015

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

It dictated and restricted behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stock: none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (8/27 PM)

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

Weekend Update – August 2, 2015

Like many people I know who have seen the coming attractions for “Vacation,” I’m anxious to see the film having laughed out loud on the two occasions that I saw the coming attractions.

That’s one of the benefits of diminishing short term memory and ever lower standards for what I find entertaining.

My wife and I usually rotate over who gets to select the next movie we see, although it usually works out to a 3 to 1 ratio in her favor. We tend to like different genres. But on this one, we’re both in agreement.

I’m under no illusions that the upcoming “vacation” being taken by the Federal Reserve and its members will have anywhere near the hijinks that the scripted “Vacation” will likely have.

For a short while the usually very visible and very eager to share their opinion members of that august institution will not garner too much attention and the stock market will be left to its own devices to try and interpret the meaning of incoming economic data in a vacuum.

The greatest likelihood is that the Federal Reserve Governors and the members of the FOMC will also be busily evaluating the economic data that will continue to accrue during the remainder of the summer, even as they have a much abridged speaking schedule in August.

I count only 3 scheduled appearances for August, which means less opportunity to go off script or less opportunity to speak one’s own mind, regardless of how that mind may lack influence where it really matters.

That then translates into less opportunity to move markets through casual comments, observations or expressions of personal opinion, even when that opinion may carry little to no weight.

While FOMC members may be taking a vacation from their public appearances for a short while, they’ll be able to give some thought to the most recent economic data which isn’t painting a picture of an economy that is expanding to the point of worry or perhaps not even to the point of justifying action.

The GDP data reported this week came in below estimates and further there was no indication of wage growth. For an FOMC that continually stresses that it will be “data driven” one has to wonder where the justification would arise to consider an interest rate increase even as early as September.

This coming week’s Employment Situation Report could alter the landscape as could the upcoming earnings reports from retailers that will begin in about 2 weeks.

With less attention being paid to when an interest rate hike may or may not occur, perhaps more attention will be paid to the details that would trigger such an increase and interpret those details on their surface, such that good news is greeted as good news and bad news as bad. That would mean a greater consideration of fundamental criteria rather than interpretation of the first or second order changes that those fundamentals might trigger.

Meanwhile, the market continues to be very deceiving.

While the S&P 500 is only about 1.5% below its all time high and the DJIA is about 3.5% below its high, it’s hard to overlook the fact that 40% of the latter’s component companies are in bear market correction.

That seems to be such an incongruous condition and the failure to break out beyond resistance levels after successfully testing support could be pointing to a developing dynamic of higher lows, but lower highs. That’s something that technicians believe may be a precursor to a breakout, but of indeterminate direction.

A lot of good that is.

The fact remains that the market has been extremely unpredictable from week to week, exhibiting something resembling a 5 steps forward and almost 5 steps backward kind of pattern throughout 2015.

With this past week being one that moved higher and bringing markets closer to its resistance level, the coming week could be an interesting one if China remains under control and fundamentals coming from earnings and economic data paint a picture of good news.

Given my low volume of trading over the past few weeks I feel that I’ve been on an extended, but unplanned vacation. Unfortunately, there are no funny tales to recount and the weeks past feel like weeks lost.

Although I’ve never really understood those who complained about having “too much quality family time” and welcomed heading back to work, I think I now have a greater appreciation for their misery.

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

Last week I purchased shares of Texas Instruments (NASDAQ:TXN) with dividend capture in mind. However, on the day before the ex-dividend date shares surged beyond my strike price and I decided to roll those options over in a hope that I could either retain the dividend and get some additional premium, or, in the event of early assignment, simply retain the additional premium.

This week, despite semi-conductors still being embattled, I’m interested in adding shares of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), also going ex-dividend during the week.

While patiently awaiting the opportunity to sell new calls on a much more expensive existing position, I’m very aware that Intel is one of those DJIA components in correction mode. However, I don’t believe Intel will be additionally price challenged unless caught in a downward spiraling market. While I’d love to see some rebound in price for my existing shares, I’d be more than satisfied with a quick turnaround of a new lot of shares and capture of dividend and option premium.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) is also ex-dividend this week. It, too, may be in the process of developing higher lows and lower highs, which may serve as an alert.

With interest rates under pressure in the latter half of the week, MetLife followed suit lower, with both peaking mid-week. Any consideration of adding shares of MetLife for a short term holding should probably be done in the context of the expectation for interest rates climbing. If you believe that interest rates are still headed lower, the prospect of dividend capture and option premium may not offset the risk associated with the share price being pulled toward its support level.

MetLife shares are currently a little higher priced than I would like, but with a couple of days of trading prior to the ex-dividend date, I would be more enticed to consider a dividend capture trade and the use of an extended weekly option if there is price weakness early in the week.

I haven’t owned shares of Capital One Financial (NYSE:COF) in a number of years, although it’s always on my watch list. I almost included it in last week’s selection list following it’s impressive earnings related plunge of about 13%, but decided to wait to see if it could show any attempt to stem the tide.

In a sector that has generally had positive earnings this past quarter the news that Capital One was setting aside 60% more for credit losses came as a stunner, as its profitability ratio also fell.

Some price stability came creeping back last week, however, although still leaving shares well off their highs from less than 2 weeks ago. Even after some price recovery, Capital One Financial joins along with those DJIA stocks that are in correction mode and may offer some opportunity after being oversold.

Despite still owning a much too expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF), I’m always attracted to its shares, even when I know that they are likely not to be good for me.

There’s something perverse about that facet of human nature that finds attraction with what most know is bound to be a train wreck, but it can be so hard to resist the obvious warning signals.

While having that expensive lot of shares the recent weakness in Abercrombie and Fitch shares that have taken it below the tight range within which it had been trading makes me want to consider adding shares for the fourth time in 2015.

The option premiums are generally attractive, befitting its penchant for large moves and there is nearly 4 weeks to go until it reports earnings, so there may be some time to manage a position in the event of an adverse price movement.

I might consider the sale of puts with Abercrombie, rather than a buy/write. The one caveat about doing so and it also pertains to being short calls, is that if the ensuing share price is sharply deviating from the strike price when looking to execute a rollover, the liquidity may be problematic and the bid-ask spreads may be overly large and detrimental to someone who feels pressure to make a trade.

Finally, for those that have real intestinal fortitude, both Green Mountain Keurig (NASDAQ:GMCR) and Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) have been in the cross hairs of well known activists and both report earnings this week.

The Green Mountain Keurig saga is a long one and began some years ago when questions arose regarding its accounting practices and issues of inventory. Thrown later into the equation were questions regarding the sale of stock by its founder who had also served as CEO and Chairman until he was fired.

What Green Mountain has shown is that second acts are possible, as it has, very possibly through a lifeline offered by Coca Cola (NYSE:KO), emerged from a seeming spiral into oblivion.

Somewhat ominously, at its recent earnings report and conference, Coca Cola made no mention of its investment in Green Mountain, which has seen its share price fall by more than 50% in the past 9 months. It has been down that path before, having fallen by about 65% just 4 years ago in 2 month period.

Are there third and fourth acts?

The options market is implying a price move of about 10.7%. Meanwhile, one can potentially obtain a 1% ROI for the week if selling a put contract at a strike as much as 14% below this past Friday’s close.

In light of how this current earnings season has punished those disappointing with their earnings, even that fairly large cushion between the implied move and the strike that could deliver a 1% ROI still leads to some discomfort. However, I would very much consider the sale of puts after the earnings report if shares do plunge.

Herbalife has had its own ongoing and long saga, as well, that may be coming toward some sort of a resolution as the FTC probe is nearly 18 months old and follows allegations of illegality made nearly 3 years ago.

Following a fall to below $30 just 6 months ago, a series of court victories by Herbalife have helped to see it realize its own second act, as shares have jumped by 65% since that time.

The options market is implying a share price move of about 16%.

Considering that any day could bring great peril to Herbalife shareholders in the event of an adverse FTC decision, that implied move isn’t unduly exaggerated, as more than business results are in play at any given moment.

However, if that intestinal fortitude does exist, especially if also venturing a trade on Green Mountain, a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained by selling puts at a strike nearly 29% below Friday’s closing price.

Now that’s a cushion, but it may be a necessary one.

If the news is doubly bad, combining disappointing earnings and the coincidental release of an FTC ruling the same week that Bill Ackman would immensely enjoy, I might recommend a vacation, if you can still afford one.

Traditional Stocks: Capital One Finance

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double-Dip Dividend: Intel (8/5), MetLife (8/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Keurig (8/5 PM), Herbalife (8/5 PM)

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

Weekend Update – May 17, 2015

The nice thing about the stock and bond markets is that anything that happens can be rationalized.

That’s probably a good thing if your job includes the need to make plausible excuses, but unless you work in the finance industry or are an elected official, the chances are that particular set of skills isn’t in high demand.

However, when you hear a master in the art of spin ply his craft, it’s really a thing of beauty and you wonder why neither you nor anyone else seemed to see things so clearly in a prospective manner.

Sometimes rationalization is also referred to as self-deception. It is a defense mechanism and occasionally it becomes part of a personality disorder. Psychoanalysts are divided between a positive view of rationalization as a stepping-stone on the way to maturity and a more destructive view of it as divorcing feeling from thought and undermining powers of reason.

In other words, sometimes rationalization itself is good news and sometimes it’s bad news.

But when it comes to stock and bond markets any interpretation of events is acceptable as long as great efforts are taken to not overtly make anyone look like an idiot for either having made a decision to act or having made a decision to be passive.

That doesn’t preclude those on the receiving end of market rationalizations to wonder how they could have been so stupid as to have missed such an obvious connection and telegraphed market reaction.

That’s strange, because when coming to real life personal and professional events, being on the receiving end of rationalization can be fairly annoying. However, for some reason in the investing world it is entirely welcomed and embraced.

In hindsight, anything and everything that we’ve observed can be explained, although ironically, rationalization sometimes removes rational thought from the process.

The real challenge, or so it seems, in the market, is knowing when to believe that good news is good and when it is bad, just like you need to know what the real meaning of bad news is going to be.

Of course different constituencies may also interpret the very same bits of data very differently, as was the case this past week as bond and stock markets collided, as they so often do in competition for investor’s confidence.

We often find ourselves in a position when we wonder just how news will be received. Will it be received on its face value or will markets respond paradoxically?

This week any wonder came to an end as it became clear that we were back to a world of rationalizing bad news as actually being something good for us.

In this case it was all about how markets viewed the flow of earnings reports coming from national retailers and official government Retail Sales statistics.

In a nutshell, the news wasn’t good, but that was good for markets. At least it was good for stock markets. Bond markets are another story and that’s where there may be lots of need for some quick rationalizations, but perhaps not of the healthy variety.

In the case of stock markets the rationalization was that disappointing retail sales and diminished guidance painted a picture of decreased inflationary pressures. In turn, that would make it more difficult for an avowed data driven Federal Reserve to increase interest rates in response. So bad news was interpreted as good news.

If you owned stocks that’s a rationalization that seems perfectly healthy, at least until that point that the same process no longer seems to be applicable.

As the S&P 500 closed at another all time high to end the week this might be a good time to prepare thoughts about whether what happens next is because we hit resistance or whether it was because of technical support levels.

^TNX Chart

On the other hand, if you were among those thought to be a member of the smartest trading class, the bond traders, you do have to find a way to explain how in the face of no evidence you sent rates sharply higher twice over the past 2 weeks. Yet then presided over rates ending up exactly where they started after the ride came to its end.

The nice thing about that, though, is that the bond traders could just dust off the same rationalization they used for surging rates in mid-March 2015.

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

Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) has had a big two past weeks, not necessarily reflected in its share price, but in the news it delivered. The impending departure of John Chambers as CEO and the announcement of his successor, along with reporting earnings did nothing to move the stock despite better than expected revenues and profits. In fact, unlike so many others that reported adverse currency impacts, Cisco, which does approximately 40% of its revenues overseas was a comparative shining star in reporting its results.

However, unlike so many others that essentially received a free pass on currency issues, because it was expected and who further received a free pass on providing lowered guidance, Cisco’s lowered guidance was thought to muzzle shares.

However, as the expected Euro – USD parity is somehow failing to materialize, Cisco may be in a good position to over-deliver on its lowered expectations. In return for making that commitment to its shares with the chance of a longer term price move higher, Cisco offers a reasonable option premium and an attractive dividend.

Both reporting earnings this week, Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ), have fortunes that are, to a small degree, related to one another.

In two weeks I will try to position myself next to the husband of the Hewlett Packard CEO at an alumni reunion group photo. By then it will be too late to get any earnings insights, not that it would be on my agenda, since I’m much more interested in the photo.

No one really knows how the market will finally react to the upcoming split of the company, which coincidentally will also be occurring this year at the previous employer of the Hewlett Packard CEO, Meg Whitman.

The options market isn’t anticipating a modest reaction to Hewlett Packard’s earnings, with an implied move of 5.2%. However, the option premiums for put sales outside the lower boundary of that range aren’t very appealing from a risk – reward perspective.

However, if the lower end of that boundary is breached after earnings are released and approach the 52 week lows, I would consider either buying shares or selling puts. If selling puts, however and faced with the prospects of rolling them over, I would be mindful of an upcoming ex-dividend event and would likely want to take ownership of shares in advance of that date.

I currently own shares of Best Buy and was hopeful that they would have been assigned last week so as to avoid them being faced with the potential challenge of earnings. Instead, I rolled those shares over to the June 2015 expiration, possibly putting it in line for a dividend and allowing some recovery time in the event of an earnings related price decline.

However, with an implied move of 6.6% and a history of some very large earnings moves in the past, the option premiums at and beyond the lower boundary of the range are somewhat more appealing than is the case with Hewlett Packard.

As with Hewlett Packard, however, I would consider waiting until after earnings and then consider the sale of puts in the event of a downward move. Additionally, because of an upcoming ex-dividend date in June, I would consider taking ownership of shares if puts are at risk of being exercised.

It’s pretty easy to rationalize why MetLife (NYSE:MET) is such an attractive stock based on where interest rates are expected to be going.

The only issue, as we’ve seen on more than one recent occasion is that there may be some disagreement over the timing of those interest rate hikes. Since MetLife responds to those interest rate movements, as you might expect from a company that may be added to the list of “systemically important financial institutions,” there can be some downside if bonds begin trading more in line with prevailing economic softness.

In the interim, while awaiting the inevitable, MetLife does offer a reasonable option premium, particularly as it has traded range-bound for the past 3 months.

A number of years ago the controlling family of Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) thought it had a perfectly rationalized explanation for why public shareholders would embrace the idea of taking the company private.

The shareholding public didn’t agree, but Cablevision hasn’t sulked or let the world pass it by as the world of cable providers is in constant flux. Although a relatively small company it seems to get embroiled in its share of controversy, always keeping the company name in the headlines.

With a shareholder meeting later this month and shares going ex-dividend this week, the monthly option, which is all that is offered, is very attractive, particularly since there is little of controversy expected at the upcoming shareholder meeting.

Also going ex-dividend this week, and also with strong historical family ties, is Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). What appeals to me about shares right now, in addition to the dividend, is that while they have been trailing the S&P 500 and the Health Care SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLV) since early 2009, those very same shares tend to fare very well by comparison during periods of overall market weakness.

In the process of waiting for that weakness the dividend and option premium can make the wait more tolerable and even close the performance gap if the market decides that 2022 on the S&P 500 is only a way station toward something higher.

Finally, there are probably lots of ways one can rationalize the share price of salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM). Profits, though, may not be high on that list.

salesforce.com has certainly been the focus of lots of speculation lately regarding a sale of the company. However, of the two suitors, I find it inconceivable that one of them would invite the CEO, Marc Benioff back into a company that already has a power sharing situation at the CEO level and still has Larry Ellison serving as Chairman.

I share price was significantly buoyed by the start of those rumors a few weeks ago and provide a high enough level that any disappointment from earnings, even on the order of those seen with Linkedin (NYSE:LNKD), Yelp (NYSE:YELP) and others would return shares to levels last seen just prior to the previous earnings report.

The options market is implying a 7.3% earnings related move next week. After a recent 8% climb as rumors were swirling, there is plenty of room for some or even all of that to be given back, so as with both Best Buy and Hewlett Packard, I wouldn’t be overly aggressive in this trade prior to earnings, but would be very interested in joining in if sellers take charge on an earnings disappointment. However, since there is no dividend in the picture, if having sold puts and subject to possible exercise, I would likely attempt to rollover the puts rather than take assignment.

But either way, I can rationalize the outcome.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend: Cablevision (5/20), Johnson and Johnson (5/21)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Best Buy (5/21 AM), Hewlett Packard (5/21 PM), salesforce.com (5/20 PM)

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

Weekend Update – April 12, 2015

This was one of those rare weeks where there wasn’t really any kind of theme to guide or move markets.

The week started with some nervousness about where the opening would take us after the previous Friday’s very disappointing Employment Situation Report statistics. On that day some were obliged to even suggest that it was a conspiracy that the report was released on Good Friday, as the markets were conveniently closed for what was supposedly known in advance to be a report that would have otherwise sent markets tumbling.

How convenient. Talk about a fairy tale.

That was as rational an outlook as was the response of the futures and bond markets trading, as they remained opened for holiday abbreviated sessions. Futures did go tumbling and interest rates plunged, leaving a gap for markets to deal with 3 days later.

But by then, after the mandatory initial response to those S&P 500 levels as the market opened, rational thought returned and the market had a very impressive turnaround beginning within minutes of the open.

Some brave souls may have remembered the market’s out-sized response to the previous month’s extraordinarily strong Employment Situation Report data that took the market down for the month to follow, only to see revisions to the data a month later. The 3 days off may have given them enough presence of mind to wonder whether the same outlandish response was really justified again.

One thing that the initial futures response did show us is that the market may be poised to be at risk regardless of what news is coming our way. One month the market views too many jobs as being extremely negative and the next month it views too few jobs as being just as negative.

Somewhere right in the middle may be the real sweet spot that represents the “No News is Good News” sentiment that may be the only safe place to be.

That is the true essence of a Goldilocks stock market, no matter what the accepted definition may be. It is a market where only the mediocre may be without risk. However, the question of whether mediocrity will be enough to continue to propel markets to new heights is usually easily answered.

It isn’t.

After a while warm porridge loses its appeal and something is needed to spice things up to keep Goldilocks returning. U.S. traded stocks have plenty of asset class competition in the event that they become mediocre or unpredictable.

The coming week may be just the thing to make or break the current malaise, that despite having the S&P 500 within about 0.7% of its all time high from just a month ago, is only 2.1% higher for 2015.

Granted that on an annualized basis that would bill respectable, but if the 2015 pattern of alternating monthly advances and declines continues we would end the year far from that annualized rate.

The catalyst could be this new earnings season which begins in earnest next week as the big banks report and then in the weeks to follow. Where the catalyst may arise is from our lowered expectations encountering a better reality than anticipated, as we’ve come to be prepared for some degree of lowered earnings due to currency considerations.

The real wild card will be the balance between currency losses and lower input costs from declining energy prices, as well as the impact, if any from currency hedges that may have been created. Much like the hedging of oil that some airlines were able to successfully implement before it became apparent how prescient that strategy would be, there may be some real currency winners, at least in relative terms.

I actually don’t really remember how the story of Goldilocks ended, but I think there were lots of variations to the story,depending on whether parents wanted to soothe or scare.

The real lesson is that you have to be prepared for either possibility.

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

WIth General Electric (NYSE:GE) getting most everyone’s attention this past Friday morning with plans to divest itself of most of its non-industrial assets, that may leave us with one fewer “systemically important” financial institution.

Too bad, for MetLife (NYSE:MET), which might find it would be less miserable with that proposed assignment if it had more company. It’s easy to understand why financial institutions would want to rid themselves of the yoke they perceive, however, it may be difficult to imagine how MetLife’s desire to avoid that designation can become reality. That is unless the battle goes a very long distance, which in turn could jeopardize a good deal of whatever confidence exists over the restraints that are intended to prevent another financial meltdown.

I believe that the eventuality of those restraints and capital requirements impacting MetLife’s assets is already factored into its share price. If so, MetLife is simply just a proxy for the direction of interest rates, which continue to be volatile as there is still uncertainty over when the eventual interest rate increases will be coming from the FOMC.

While waiting for that to happen MetLife has been trading in a fairly tight range and offering an attractive option premium and dividend. I’ve already owned shares on 3 occasions in 2015 and look forward to more opportunities while waiting to figure out if the economy is too hot or not hot enough or just right.

With the coming week being dominated by bank earnings, one that isn’t reporting until the following week is Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). Thus far 2015 hasn’t been especially kind to the money center banks, but it has held Morgan Stanley in particular low regard.

With its well respected CFO heading to warmer pastures it still has a fairly young CEO and lots of depth, with key people continually being exposed to different parts of the company, thereby lessening dependence on any one individual.

With earnings from other banks coming this week the option premiums on Morgan Stanley are a little higher than usual. However, since they report their own earnings before the market opens on Monday of the following week, it would be a good idea to attempt to rollover weekly contracts if not likely to be assigned or to simply sell extended weekly contracts to encompass the additionally enhanced premiums for both this week and the next

Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) is no stranger to significant earnings related price drops. It did so again last week and the options market correctly created the price range in which the stock price varied.

While Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to those kind of drops, it does tend to have another common characteristic in that it frequently recovers from those price drops fairly quickly. That’s one reason that when suggesting that consideration be given to selling puts on it last week prior to earnings, I suggested that if threatened with assignment I would rather accept that than to try and rollover the put contracts.

Now that the damage has been done I think it’s safe to come back and consider another look at its shares. If recent history holds true then a purchase could be considered with the idea of seeking some capital gains from shares in addition to the option premiums received for the call sales.

SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) reports earnings this week and has been on quite a wild ride of late. It has the rare distinction of scaring off investors on two occasions in advance of this week’s upcoming earnings. Despite an 11% price climb over the past week, it is still down nearly 20% in the past 2 weeks.

The option market is implying a relatively small 6.8% move in the coming week which is on the low side, perhaps in the belief that there can’t possibly be another shoe to be dropped.

Normally, when considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings I like to look for a strike price that’s outside of the range defined by the options market that will return at least a 1% ROI for the week. However, that strike level is only 7.1% lower, which doesn’t provide too much of a safety cushion.

However, I would be very interested in the possibility of selling puts on SanDisk shares after earnings in the event of a sharp drop or prior to earnings in the event of significant price erosion before the event.

Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST) also reports earnings this coming week and didn’t change its guidance or offer earnings warnings as it occasionally does in the weeks in advance of the release.

It actually had a nice report last quarter and initially went higher, although a few weeks later, without any tangible news, it nose-dived, along with some of its competitors.

What makes Fastenal interesting is that it is almost entirely US based and so will have very little currency risk. The risk, however, is that it is currently trading near its 2 year lows, so if considering an earnings related trade, I’m thinking of a buy/write and using a May 2015 expiration, to both provide some time to recover from any further decline and to also have a chance at collecting the dividend at the end of April.

With a much more expensive lot of shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF) long awaiting an opportunity to sell some calls upon, I’m finally ready to consider adding more shares. The primary goal is to start whittling down some of the losses on those shares and Abercrombie is finally showing some signs of making a floor, at least until the next earnings report at the end of May.

With its dysfunction hopefully all behind it now with the departure of its past CEO it still has a long way to go to reclaim lost ground ceded to others in the fickle adolescent retail market. The reasonable price stability of the past month offers some reason to believe that the time to add shares or open a new position may have finally arrived. Alternatively, however, put sales may be considered, especially if shares open on a lower note to begin the week.

Finally, I don’t know why I keep buying The Gap (NYSE:GPS), except that it never really seems to go anywhere. It does have a decent dividend, but it’s premiums are nothing really spectacular.

What appeals to me about The Gap, however, is that it’s one of those few stocks that is continually under the microscope as it reports monthly sales statistics and as a result it regularly has some enhanced premiums and it tends to alternate rapidly between disappointing and upbeat same store sales.

All in all, that makes it a really good stock to consider for a covered option strategy. It’s especially nice to see a stock that does trade in a fairly tight range, even while it may have occasional hiccoughs that are fairly predictable as to when they will occur, just as their direction isn’t at all predictable.

The Gap reported those same store sales last week and this time they disappointed. That actually marked the second consecutive month of disappointment, which is somewhat unusual, but in having done so, it still hasn’t violated that comfortable range.

I already own some shares and in expectation of a better than expected report for the following month, my inclination is to add shares, but rather than write contracts expiring this week will look at those expiring on either May 8 or May 15, 2015, taking advantage of the added uncertainty coming along with the next scheduled same store sales report. In doing so I would likely think about using an out of the money strike, rather than a near the money strike in anticipation of finally getting some good news and getting back on track at The Gap.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, MetLife, Morgan Stanley, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Fastenal (4/14 AM), SanDisk (4/15 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 15, 2015

Anyone who has seen the classic movie “Casablanca” will recall the cynicism of the scene in which Captain Renault says “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” seconds before the croupier hands him his winnings from earlier.

This week, the Chief Global Investment Strategist of Blackrock (NYSE:BLK) in attempting to explain a sell-off earlier in the week said “You’ve got the dollar up about 23 percent from the summer lows, and people are realizing this is starting to bite into earnings.”

No doubt that a stronger US Dollar can have unwanted adverse consequences, but exactly what people was Russ Koesterich referring to that had only that morning come to that realization?

How in the world could people such as Koesterich and others responsible for managing huge funds and portfolios possibly have been caught off guard?

Was he perhaps instead suggesting that somehow small investors around the nation suddenly all had the same epiphany and logged into their workplace 401(k) accounts in order to massively dump their mutual fund shares in unison and sufficient volume prior to the previous day’s closing bell?

Somehow that doesn’t sound very likely.

I can vaguely understand how a some-what dull witted middle school aged child might not be familiar with the consequences of a strengthening dollar, especially in an economy that runs a trade deficit, but Koesterich could only have been referring to those who were capable of moving markets in such magnitude and in such short time order. There shouldn’t be too much doubt that those people incapable of seeing the downstream impacts of a strengthening US Dollar aren’t the ones likely to be influencing market direction upon their sudden realization.

Maybe it just doesn’t really matter when it’s “other people’s money” and it is really just a game and a question of pushing a sell button.

This past week was another in which news took a back seat to fears and the fear of an imminent interest rate increase seems to be increasingly taking hold just at the same time as the currency exchange issue is getting its long overdue attention.

While there are still a handful of companies of importance to report earnings this quarter, the next earnings season begins in just 3 weeks. If Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is any reflection, there may be any number of companies getting in line to broadcast earnings warnings to take some of the considerable pressure off the actual earnings release.

The grammatically incorrect, but burning question that I would have asked Russ Koesterich during his interview would have been “And this comes to you as a surprise, why?”

In the meantime, however, those interest rate concerns seem to have been holding the stock market hostage as the previous week’s Employment Situation report is still strengthening the belief that interest rate increases are on the near horizon, despite any lack of indication from Janet Yellen. In addition, the past week saw rates on the 10 Year Treasury Note decrease considerably and Retail Sales fell for yet another month, even while gasoline prices were increasing.

The coming week’s FOMC meeting may provide some clarity by virtue of just occurring. With so many focusing on the word “patience” in the FOMC Statement, whether it remains or is removed will offer reason to move forward as either way the answer to the “sooner or later” question will be answered.

Still, it surprises me, having grown up believing the axiom that the stock market discounts events 6 months into the future, that it has come to the point that fairly well established economic cycles, such as the impact of changing currency exchange rates on earnings, isn’t something that had long been taken into account. Even without a crystal ball, the fact that early in this current earnings season companies were already beginning to factor in currency headwinds and tempering earnings and guidance, should at least served as a clue.

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

Years ago, before spinning off its European operations, Altria (NYSE:MO) was one of my favorite companies. While I have to qualify that, lest anyone believed that their core business was the reason for my favor, it was simply a company whose shares I always wanted to trade.

In academic medicine we used to refer to the vaunted “triple threats.” That was someone who was an esteemed researcher, clinician and teacher. There really aren’t very many of those kind of people. While Altria may represent the antithesis to what a triple threat in medicine is dedicated toward, it used to be a triple threat in its own right. It had a great dividend, great option premiums and the ability to have share appreciation, as well.

That changed once Phillip Morris (NYSE:PM) went on its own and the option premiums on the remainder of Altria became less and less appealing, even as the dividend stayed the course. I found less and less reason to own shares after the split.

However, lately there has been some life appearing in those premiums at a time that shares have fallen nearly 10% in just 2 weeks. With the company re-affirming its FY 2015 guidance just a week ago, unless it too has a sudden realization that its now much smaller foreign operations and businesses will result in currency exchange losses, it may be relatively immune from what may ail many others as currency parity becomes more and more of a reality.

Lately, American Express (NYSE:AXP) can’t seem to do anything right. I say that, as both my wife and I registered our first complaints with them after more than 30 years of membership. Fascinatingly, the events were unrelated and neither of us consulted with the other, or shared information about the issues at hand, before contacting the company.

My wife, who tends to be very low maintenance, was nearly apoplectic after being passed to 11 different people, some of whom acted very “Un-American Express- like.”

The preceding is anecdotal and meaningless information, for sure, but makes me wonder about a company that received a premium for its use by virtue of its service.

With the loss of its largest co-branding partner to take effect in 2016, American Express has already sent out notices to some customers of its intent to increase interest rates on those accounts that are truly credit cards, but my guess is that revenue enhancements won’t be sufficient to offset the revenue loss from the partnership dissolution.

To that end the investing world will laud American Express for its workforce cutbacks that will certainly occur at some point, and service will as certainly decline until that point that the consumers go elsewhere for their credit needs.

That is known as a cycle. The sort of cycle that perhaps highly paid money managers are unable to recognize, until like currency headwinds, it hits them on the head.

Still, the newly introduced uncertainty into its near term and longer term prospects has again made American Express a potentially attractive covered option candidate, as it has just announced a dividend increase and a nearly $7 billion share buyback.

Based on its falling stock price, you would think that Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) hasn’t been able to do anything right of late, either.

Sometimes your fortunes are defined on the basis of either being at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. For the moment, Macao is the wrong place and this is the wrong time. However, despite the downturn of fortunes for those companies that placed their bets on Macao, somehow Las Vegas Sands has found the wherewithal to increase its quarterly dividend and is now at 5%, yet with a payout ratio that is sustainable.

The company also has operating and profit margins that would make others, with or without exposure to Macao envious, yet its shares continue to follow the experiences of the much smaller and poorer performing Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN). That probably bothers Sheldon Adelson to no end, while it likely delights Steve Wynn, who would rather suffer with friends.

With shares going ex-dividend this week and trading near its yearly low, it’s hard to imagine news from Macao getting much worse, particularly as China is beginning to play the interest rate game in efforts to stimulate the economy. The risk, however, is still there and is reflected in the option premium.

Given the risk – benefit proposition, I ask myself “WWSD?”

What would Sheldon Do?

My guess is that he would be betting on his company to do more than just tread water at these levels.

The Gap (NYSE:GPS) fascinates me.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in one of their stores, but I know their brand names and occasionally make mental notes about the parking conditions in front of their stores. Those activities are absolutely meaningless, as are The Gap’s monthly sales reports.

I don’t think that I can recall any other company that so regularly alternates between being out of touch with what the consumer wants and being in complete synchrony. At least that’s how those monthly sales statistics are routinely interpreted and share prices goes predictably back and forth.

The good thing about all of the non-sense is that the opportunities to benefit from enhanced option premiums actually occurs up to 5 times in a 3 month period extending from one earnings report to the next, as the monthly same store sales reports also have enhanced premiums. With an upcoming dividend during the same week as the next same store sales report in early April 2015, this is a potential position that I’d consider selling a longer term option, in order to take advantage of the upcoming volatility, collect the dividend and perhaps have some additional time for the price to recoup if it reacts adversely.

MetLife (NYSE:MET) has been trading in a range lately that has simply been following interest rates for the most part. As it awaits a decision on its challenge to being designated as “systemically important” it probably is wishing for rate increases to come as quickly as possible so that it can put as much of its assets to productive use as quickly as possible before the inevitable constraints on its assets become a reality.

With interest rate jitters and uncertainty over the eventual judicial decision, MetLife’s option premiums are higher than is typically the case. However, in the world of my ideal youth, the stock market would have already discounted the probabilities of future interest rate increases and the upheld designation of the company as being systemically important.

With Intel’s announcement, this wasn’t a particularly good week for “old technology.” For Seagate Technolgy (NASDAQ:STX) the difficulties this week were just a continuation since its disappointing earnings in January. After its earnings plunge and an attempted bounce back, it is now nearly 9% lower than at the depth of its initial January drop.

That continued drop in share price is finally returning shares to a level that is getting my attention. With its dividend, which is very generous and appears to be safe, still two months away, Seagate Technology may be a good candidate for the sale of put contracts and if opening such a position and faced with assignment, I would consider trying to rollover as long as possible, either resulting in an eventual expiration of the position or being assigned and then in a position to collect the dividend.

Finally, for an unprecedented fourth consecutive week, I’m going to consider adding shares of United Continental (NYSE:UAL) as energy prices have recaptured its earlier lows. Those lows are good for UAL and other airlines and by and large the share prices of UAL and representative oil companies have moved in opposite directions.

I had shares of UAL assigned again this past Friday, as part of a pairs kind of trade established a few weeks ago. I still hold the energy shares, which have slumped in the past few weeks, but would be eager to once again add UAL shares at any pullback that might occur with a bounce back in energy prices.

The volatility and uncertainty inherent in shares of UAL has made it possible to buy shares and sell deep in the money calls and still make a respectable return for the week, if assigned.

That’s a risk – reward proposition that’s relatively easy to embrace, even as the risk is considerable.

 

Traditional Stocks: Altria, American Express, MetLife, The Gap

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, United Continental

Double Dip Dividend: Las Vegas Sands (3/19)

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.