Weekend Update – May 4, 2014

The instant the Employment Situation Report was released and news of the creation of 288,000 new jobs was known, the spin and the interpretations started like wild.

Even partisans have to notice how detached they and their counterparts are from a true grasp of reality as they contrive ways to take credit or lay blame without regard to truth, in the expectation that no one will notice.

Whenever substantive economic news is released you can be certain of the immediate race to blanket the media with a version of the "truth" and talking points to reinforce one side’s continuing infallibility over the other.

Never before has the "participation rate" received so much attention as those seeking to downplay the robust numbers found their voice. Others focused on having cake and eating it too, while pointing to increased jobs and increasing insurance enrollments under the Affordable Care Act.

It’s always the same and thrives in a world where classic comments like "I was for … before I was against it," barely get noticed and flip-flops are never considered as anything other than recreational footwear.

For those paying attention those flip-flops have been increasingly frequent in the markets as "risk off" and "risk on" are again concepts in vogue. They alternate with one another for investor favor on a very regular basis as there’s little indication of direction, other than the expectation by some that the relentless move higher will simply continue.

With better numbers than expected the initial positive reaction from the market quickly gave way to  the interpretation of their meaning with regard to the Federal Reserve’s Qualitative Easing taper and the forward momentum was quickly lost. As the day progressed it was clear that the thought process of the past, that "good news is bad news" and bad news will make us wealthy, was returning.

More importantly, however, in helping to shape up the day was the fact that it was a Friday. Just as Tuedays are once again pre-ordained to be market gainers, so too are Fridays recently consigned to the loss camp.

Over the past two months you could be equally certain that the final trading day of the week was most likely a Friday and that the trading week would end with renewed concerns of some escalating conflict involving Russia. Why things seem to stay quiet during the week and then come to a head on Fridays is somewhat of a mystery, but that’s been the clear trend since the onset on the crisis in Crimea.

Amazingly, yet another week that was fairly quiet during the first four trading days saw a flare up of tensions overseas on Friday and again had an impact on the markets, taking some luster off what were otherwise predominantly positive weeks. The key is that it has only been the luster, thus far, as the market hasn’t been taken down to its bare, perhaps rusting metal base.

So powerful has this trend been that another well established trend is flailing by comparison. After an impressive run of nearly two years where the markets were statistically significantly more likely to have a higher move on the date of the release of the Employment Situation Report, this Friday marked the second consecutive month where that wasn’t the case, although the pattern of the entire week of the report release being positive continued.

While economic reports are released, the FOMC announces and Russia foments, earnings are being released. Thus far, there hasn’t been very much to suggest that there is a growing economy, yet we keep reaching new market highs. The recent GDP report didn’t add anything to that belief, either, although as the ever optimistic like to point out, "it is a backward looking measure," as if forward looking measures have greater validity than that which was actually measured, rather than fantasized about.

We’ve seen this scenario before. While there are signs of  tiring market the retreats to safety, such as utilities or consumer staples hasn’t lasted very long and risk is re-embraced after only the briefest of absences. While the most risky of all have been exhibiting some bubble-like behavior that brings back memories of days past and those memories aren’t necessarily good ones.

While the uncertainty continues, to me it also continues to be surprising of the relative confidence that exists that saw this Friday close with only  a modest loss. While the precious metals market was demonstrating some nervousness the equity markets thought it safe to go home for the weekend and discounted the likelihood of a meltdown in overseas decorum, despite the signs that it was already occurring.

In the past, that would have been unusual, but now it is just more of the same, as nothing can stop the relentless march higher.

We’ve all heard that before, too.

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

While I’m not thrilled about the prospects about buying Apple (AAPL) shares after their significant run higher fueled by the announcement of a 7 to 1 split and an 8% increase in the dividend, I do like its reasonably predictable pattern of behavior in its peri-ex-dividend period. While not a certainty, that behavior tends to see price increasing going into the ex-dividend date and then shortly thereafter. With that ex-dividend date this week I would like to consider a purchase and hopefully a quick exit from the position.

While many are of the belief that Apple shares will continue their appreciation after the split, I think those waiting for the split are likely to be disappointed as the money will have been made by those taking some profits by selling their appreciated shares to those clamoring for a piece of the pie.

Lately, pharmaceutical companies are hot. Imagine being so confident that you would consider a $100 billion buyout offer to be insufficient. Yet, while they are in play there are also concerns about even more regulatory pressure, but this time over sky high pricing for potentially life saving drugs.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) straddles the worlds of "big pharma" and bio-pharma and its shares have found a nice home in this price range for the past 6 months. With earnings having been reported I think this is a good time to enter or add shares, not just for the option premium, but also for share appreciation as the sector is suddenly of interest. 

MetLife (MET) also just reported earnings and is currently trading a little above the mid-point of its recent comfortable range. It has actually held up nicely while interest rates have fallen and the 10 Year was testing the 2.5% level. MetLife would have been expected to also lose some luster in a falling rate environment, but it has shown very nice resilience. In addition to its usually attractive option premium shares are ex-dividend this week, compounding its lure.

Starbucks (SBUX) also is ex-dividend this week and I’ve resigned myself over the past month that shares won’t be returning, hopefully, to the levels that I previously thought represented fair pricing. I’ve only owned 3 lots of shares in 2014, but each time I hear Howard Schultz speak the more inspired I get regarding his vision for the company that goes well beyond ingestibles. It has become one of those companies upon which I like to use out of the money call options when adding shares, as I think there is always room for its short term appreciation.

eBay (EBAY) is one of those companies that so many people love to disparage. Of course it’s decision to repatriate foreign cash this week and pay taxes is somewhat puzzling, although perhaps should be cheered as being patriotic, it evokes policy discussion, particularly as other companies seek tax inversion benefits by moving offshore.

Certainly Carl Icahn can’t be terribly pleased with what eBay is doing, as he likely interprets the decision as a squandering of his billions, so I expect things to heat up at eBay. However, even without the tax issue and even without Carl Icahn as part of the equation, eBay has been as reliant of a covered option play as can be found and with some patience can be a very reliable partner in the creation of an income stream. The only thing that would make its shares more appealing to me would be the initiation of a dividend, so I hope Carl Icahn is reading.

Chesapeake Energy (CHK), speaking of Carl Icahn, reports earnings this week. It has long been one of my very favorite covered option trades, but my last lot was assigned more than $2 ago. As opposed to many trades that I like to make when earnings are announced and which are done through the sale of put contracts, with no desire to own shares, I wouldn’t mind ownership of shares.

As the week begins its trading it will simply be a question of whether a covered call position or the sale of puts provides a better rate of return and future prospects for continuing generation of income or quick closure. At the moment I’m more inclined to consider the sale of puts, however the initial market sentiment may shift my own, especially if shares open and stay higher.

Also reporting earnings this week is Nu Skin (NUS). Unlike Chesapeake, and much more like Herbalife (HLF), I’m not terribly interested in owning shares. NuSkin last reported earnings just 2 months ago after a delay of about a month in reporting its previous earnings. That;s never a good thing. In addition, its business practices are also occasionally called into question even by governments, as it has significant interests in China, which has alleged that the business ay be a pyramid scheme.

NuSkin, for its part, has re-started its distributor recruitment after nearly 3 months of abeyance in China. WHile earnings may  adversely impacted, and its shares certainly dived after the initial news in January 2014, I believe that it is already baked into expectations. What I do expect is positive guidance, even though there’s possibly reason not to believe much from companies in those kind of business. While I can’t make a compelling case for owning shares, there may be a case for selling puts prior to earnings or for the more cautious, doing so after earnings if there is a plunge in reaction to the report.

GameStop (GME) reports earnings later this month. Since January 2014 its chart looks very similar to NuSkin, which is not meant as a compliment. It is one of those companies that makes you wonder how it is that it still exists in this world of streaming data. it’s most recent challenge was news of Wal-Mart (WMT) getting into the used video game business in exchange for Wal-Mart vouchers. I sold puts at that time following the sharp drop in shares and happily saw the position quickly expire,as so often the initial response has little reason to  head in the same direction as cooler heads prevail.

With well known short interest that is always mentioned in the same breath as its name, GameStop had fully recovered from its Wal-Mart induced loss, but has recently faltered again. It appears to have some decent price support within about $3 of its current price and the kind of option premiums that could make that risk – reward proposition appealing for some, although May 22, 2014 earnings do add to the potential risk.

Finally, I was watching the action of JP Morgan (JPM) closely during the final hour of trading on Friday. That’s because I was expecting shares to be assigned, but a late decline in shares was threatening to see it dip below the $55.50 strike level. Ultimately shares closed at $55.58, but after the closing bell immediately slumped about a dollar lower as it announced the expectation that its trading revenues would drop 20% in the next quarter and that it had some exposure in the Russian market. 

Part of the covered call strategy that I like to employ is the serial or recurrent purchase of positions. Nothing seems to work better than having shares assigned and then buying them back at lower prices.

Those kinds of opportunities are always serendipitous and you certainly can’t take credit when they occur, but they do occur with reasonable frequency. Any further erosion in shares on Moinday morning may be a good opportunity to welcome shares back after a weekend apart.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, eBay, JP Morgan Chase

Momentum: GameStop

Double Dip Dividend: Apple (5/8) , MetLife (5/7), Starbucks (5/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Chesapeake Energy (5/6 PM) , NuSkin (5/6 AM)

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

Weekend Update – February 3, 2013

On Wednesday evening, Bloomberg Rewind host, Matt Miller tweeted that he was interviewing Wilbur Ross in a live segment in a few moments and was soliciting questions for one of the century’s greatest investors and serial turnaround artists.

Never really needing a reason to Tweet, I was nonetheless pleased that my question was chosen, but I especially liked the ultimate answer. I simply wanted to know if the cool and calm demeanor that Wilbur Ross always displays when on television was ever belied by emotion that got in the way of a business or management decision.

The answer was, to me, at least, incredibly profound and absolutely reflective of the persona that we get to see when he makes appearances. Ross said that in takeovers things often do not go as planned, but you have to “roll with the punches.” He further went on to point out that emotions conspire to work against you in making decisions and taking actions. He was calm and collected in his response and barely showed any facial grimacing or twitching when the question was being asked.

I, on the other hand was twitching, contorting and breathing rapidly at the mere use of my question. I do the same with every tick up and down of every stock I own.

My initial thought was that was probably among the best pieces of advice that could ever be given, but it was just too bad that human nature so reflexively intervenes.

One of the things that I like about buying stocks and then selling calls is that it takes so much of the emotion out of the equation. It also frees you from being held hostage to each and every dive that shares can take for no rational reason. This week alone we watched Petrobras (PBR) drop nearly 10% as it announced fuel increases that Deutsche Bank (DB) described as a “positive” action and Chesapeake Energy (CHK) surge 10% on news that their founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon, would be leaving in 3 months. In the case of Chesapeake Energy that surge was dissipated in just a day, although that may have been as irrational as the initial move.

Recently, large adverse moves impacted shares of Tiffany (TIF) and YUM Brands (YUM) as downgrades, stories, rumors, a smattering of data and a myriad of other factors took their turns at poking holes in whatever support existed for share price. Of course, they weren’t alone in the cross hairs of the barrage of often transiently irrelevant “facts.”

But by and large, if you sell covered options you can roll with the punches. Instead of feeling the anguish when your stock takes a hit it’s similar to seeing road-kill. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy, but for the most part you realize that in the big picture it’s all just a blip. Those options that someone else was kind enough to buy from you protect you from having to suffer through the anguish and gives you a chance to get over the initial emotional reaction so that when it is time to make a decision, such as at the end of the option period, you can do so with a far less clouded mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little Wilbur Ross inside of all of us? Maybe even better would be to be his sole heir, though.

As everyone seemed to be giddy about the fact that the DJIA briefly crossed 140000 for the first time since 2007, I reminded myself of how short a period of time it remained there and then saw that the slopes of the periods preceding the 2007 and 2013 tops are remarkably similar. If anything, maybe a bit more steep this time around?

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Fortunately for me that was the time I learned to start going with the punches and had already started protecting my stocks with calls and then used the premiums generated to purchase more shares during the ensuing drops.

Not that history is ever in a position to repeat itself, but we’ve seen this before.

As always, this week’s potential stock positions are all intended as part of a covered option strategy, whether through the sale of covered calls or puts. The selections fall into the usual categories of Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividends or “PEE” stocks (see details).

As the market found itself celebrating jobs on Friday, one sector that was left behind was retail. Among my favorites this year has been The Gap (GPS). They’re mundane, not terribly innovative, but they are ubiquitous and always a safe fashion choice. Although its next support level appears to be 10% lower it does offer an appealing enough option premium to accept that risk of wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo.

Murphy Oil (MUR) just took a large hit after announcing earnings. More and more I question the extreme earnings related reactions. What seems to separate some stocks from one another is the rapidity at which they recover from those reactions. The faster the recovery the easier it is to call it an over-reaction. Otherwise, if I own such shares and they don’t rebound quickly, it’s just a case of them being under-appreciated. In Murphy Oil’s case, I think it was a welcome over-reaction.

Southwestern Energy (SWN) has been lagging behind some of its sector mates thus far in 2013, but that situation is reversed if looking at the one year comparisons. It reports earnings early in the March 2013 option cycle and I believe may be poised to challenge its 52 week high.

I’m somewhat reluctant to consider adding Intel shares (INTC) this week. The only lure is the dividend that comes along with it as it goes ex-dividend on February 5, 2013. My reluctance stems from the fact that if I add shares my Intel position will be too large and it has been a disappointingly under-performing asset in the months I’ve held shares, having waited a long time for something of a rebound. While I don’t expect $24 or $25 any day soon, I’m comfortable with $21, a dividend and some option premiums. At least that would ease some of the paper cuts on my wrists.

Starbucks (SBUX) another favorite is a reluctant choice this week, as well, but only because of its strong gain in Friday’s trading and the fact that its option contracts are spread a bit too far apart. With more and more options being offered at strike prices in $1 and even $0.50 gradations the $2.50 and $5 differences seen with some stocks makes them less appealing, especially if selling options to optimize income production over share gains. What’s really needed is for more people to read these articles and drive up the option trading voliume as they realize what an opportunity exists.

Chesapeake Energy has been in the news quite a bit this year, but for all of the wrong reasons. AS usual, its high profile story this week concerned its founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon. The market quickly added 10% to share value upon learning that McClendon will be leaving the company in April 2013. It quickly gave that gain up during the course of the rest of this week. This is a position, that if I decide to enter, would likely be done on the basis of selling put options. That has been a common theme as I’ve re-entered Chesapeake Energy positions over the years.

What again distinguishes this week’s target stocks is that there is greater emphasis on risk, specifically earnings related risk, as Friday’s jobs data numbers fueled a strong week ending rally that further added to already high stock prices, making bargains harder to find.

Acme Packet (APKT) was one of the first earnings related situations that I described in an article entitled “Turning Hatred into Profits” that sought to create income from either disappointment or reaffirmation. It’s share price is higher now than it was the last time around, but I think that a 1% or more ROI for the chance that it’s share price may go down 10% or less after earnings is a reasonable risk-reward venture. If it works again, I may even try to understand what it is that Acme Packet does the next time earnings season rolls around.

Baidu (BIDU) has been on my lists for the past 2 months or so and has been purchased several times. Under the best and calmest of circumstances it is a volatile stock and is sometimes a frustrating one to match strike price premiums with anticipated objectives because the price moves so quickly. As it gets ready to report earnings, it too can easily move 10% in either direction, yet still meet my threshold of 1% ROI for the level of risk taken.

When it comes to stocks that are capable of making big moves in either direction on any given day and especially on earnings, there aren’t many that are better at doing so than Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). This is certainly a stock that has required “going with punches” over the past few years, but it has been a mainstay of my speculative slice of my portfolio for quite a while. I typically think in terms of 25% moves when it comes to earnings. In this case I’m looking at about a 25 to 1 proposition. A 25% drop for securing a 1% profit for one week. If not, then it’s just back to the usual Green Mountain “grind” and selling calls until shares are assigned.

While Herbalife (HLF) has been having all of the fun and getting all of the attention, poor NuSkin (NUS) has been ignored. But, it too, reports earnings this week. I have no opinion on whether NuSkin or any other company are engaged in questionably ethical business practices, I just see it as a vehicle to throw off option premium with relatively little risk, despite it’s overall risky persona. It’s not a stock that I would want to hold for very long, so the availability of only monthly options is of some concern.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was one of the most early and most frequent members of my covered call strategy. It always feels strange when I don’t have shares. As it gets ready to report earnings this coming week I’m reminded why it so often makes numerous and sizable movements, especially in response to earnings. It has a bad habit of giving pessimistic guidance, but after a long courtship you learn to accept that failing because even if punished after conference calls it always seems to get right back up.

Finally, Panera Bread (PNRA) reports earnings next week. It too is highly capable of having large earnings related movements. Its CEO has lots of Howard Schultz-like characteristics in that he truly knows the business and every intricate detail regarding his company. Interestingly, it went up almost 4% just 2 trading days before earnings are released. That kind of investor “commitment” before a scheduled event always concerns me, but I’m not yet certain just how much it scares me.

Traditional Stocks: Murphy Oil, The Gap, Southwestern Energy

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 2/5), Starbucks (ex-div 2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Acme Packet (2/4 PM), Baidu (2/4 PM), Panera Bread (2/5 PM), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (2/6 PM), NuSkin (2/6 AM), Riverbed Technology (2/7 PM)

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

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy

 

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