Weekend Update – June 12, 2016

Sometimes you just have nowhere to go.

One thing that was fairly certain last week was that there wasn’t too much of a trend and there wasn’t any clear path to follow.

As markets began testing the 18000 level on the DJIA and 2100 on the S&P 500, the chorus was loud and clear.

There is no place to go but up.

The alternating chorus was that there was no place to go but down.

The market instead went sideways, but not very far as all roads seemed to be closed off.

After the previous week, which ended precisely unchanged, this past week managed to move 0.1%,

Granted, the first three days of the week did seem to benefit from Chairman Janet Yellen’s superb demonstration of how hedging your words works to allow people to hear whatever it is that they want to hear.

Following Monday afternoon’s talk, Dr. Yellen essentially said something to the effect of “It’s not good out there, but it’s all good. You know what I mean?”

Years ago I heard a fairly odd individual present a lecture on the pharmacological management of children requiring sedation. He referred to the well known age and weight based rules regarding dosages, but said they were inadequate. Not surprisingly, after listening to him for a brief while, it was only his eponymous rule that could determine the correct amount of sedative agents to administer to a child.

He referred to his rule by example and these were his precise words, that I still remember 30 years later.

“You take the kid’s weight and then you take a day like today. It’s hot, but it’s not hot. You know what I mean?”

Like Janet Yellen, he was from Brooklyn.

The old Brooklyn. Not modern day Brooklyn. In fact, both were from the same Bay Ridge Brooklyn neighborhood.

While I still remember those words 30 years later, they had no influence on me other than to believe that sometimes a monkey can have more credibility than someone with a degree.

The strength of Dr. Yellen’s words, however, starting already growing dim as the latter half of the week approached and traders were left wondering what was going to be the driver for anything between now and the July 2016 FOMC meeting.

Of course, even though most everyone discounts any action at next week’s FOMC meeting, there’s always the chance of a reaction to any change in the wording of the statement as it’s released.

In that event the subsequent press conference may carry even more weight than usual, although you would have to wonder what Yellen could say that would be substantively different from the non-committal tone she struck this week.

With earnings season nearly at its end the catalysts appear to be few between now and that July 2016 FOMC Statement release. Some upcoming and compelling GDP and Employment Situation Report numbers, particularly if there are strong upward revisions, could be all the catalysts necessary, but after this past Friday’s performance, oil prices may be relevant once again.

That’s after a couple of weeks of the stock market not tethering itself too tightly to oil prices. But with interest rates possibly taking a back seat for a short while, there may be a void to fill and oil seems the logical driver.

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

I haven’t traded much in the past few weeks, nor for 2016, for that matter, but oil has gotten more of my attention than anything else.

Although Marathon Oil (MRO) has gone significantly higher in the past 10 weeks, following Friday’s decline, I wouldn’t mind owning shares for a third time during that time period.

Following oil’s run higher and seeing it break the $50 level, that level may be under assault and those oil company shares that had moved nicely higher in 2016 may also be under assault.

Friday was an example of the risk that may lie ahead of some oil companies, but the option premiums are reflective of those risks, just as they were when I first added Marathon Oil and Holly Frontier (HFC) in the past 2 months, to keep company with my uncovered lots of shares in those companies.

Even with Marathon Oil’s decline on Friday, those shares are still somewhat higher than I would like if considering re-establishing a position. However, with any further weakness on Monday, despite the near term risk, this is probably my most likely trade for the week.

While I’m anxious to open some new positions, that doesn’t include the need to be reckless. Despite the downside risk to opening a new position in Marathon Oil, the liquidity in the options market is fairly good in the event of a need to rollover the position following a large adverse price move.

With the availability of extended weekly options if there is such an adverse price move, there would be opportunity to extend the time frame of the expiration and collect some premium while waiting for the inevitable volatility to take the price higher and then lower and then higher again.

Both Gilead Sciences (GILD) and Tiffany & Company (TIF) are ex-dividend this week.

I have some subscribers for whom Gilead has been a long time favorite and I often wished that I had followed their path. There were certainly no signs preventing me from doing so.

At almost all price points over the past 2 years, a position in Gilead, if either buying shares and selling calls or simply selling puts, would have been a good place to be, if rolling over calls or puts and having some patience.

That is the case even at most of the various high points thanks to the option premiums and the dividends and the ease of rolling over positions owing to the options liquidity offered.

With eyes only on the dividend and a short term holding, I don’t think very much about its drug pipeline or pricing pressures or opportunities that may come following the Presidential election. Having a short term horizon makes all of those sentinel events new opportunities and the latter uncertainty is still very far off.

With Tiffany shares just barely above their 2 year lows, it has been more than 3 years since I’ve owned shares.

Perhaps coincidentally, that last time was at the current price.

Back then, when only monthly options were available, my preference was to consider a purchase of shares during the final week of the monthly option cycle or when an ex-dividend date was upcoming.

This week happens to offer both, but Tiffany now offers extended weekly options.

With a much higher dividend per share than when I last owned it and a yield that is enhanced by its current price, Tiffany is back on my radar screen.

As challenged as retail has been since Macy’s (M) started off a string of disappointing earnings reports and as flat as the world’s economies have been, particularly those important for Tiffany’s sales, I think that this is both a good time and a good opportunity to consider a new position, but as with Gilead, it may require some patience.

If while exercising that patience there is opportunity to continue collecting option premiums, patience is well rewarded. With earnings more than 2 months away, I wouldn’t mind the opportunity to serially roll over calls, but also wouldn’t mind being able to exit the position prior to earnings.

Finally, I haven’t had much reason to think about buying shares of Oracle (ORCL) lately. The last time I owned shares was nearly 3 years ago and at that time I owned them on 3 separate occasions over the course of a few months.

In my ideal world, that would be the case with most stocks when opening a new position, but that hasn’t been the case for me of late. Maybe Marathon Oil will change that this week, but I think that Oracle could now be positioned to do the same.

Oracle reports earnings this week and its current price is somewhat above the mid-way point between its recent high and recent low.

I generally like to consider a purchase when a stock is at or slightly below that mid-way point. However, even with the risk of earnings approaching and without a really compelling premium despite the added risk of upcoming earnings, I’m considering a position.

However, with the chart in mind and seeing the climb that Oracle shares had taken since February, as well as the precipitous declines it has been known to take, I have no interest in establishing a position prior to earnings.

I would, however, very strongly consider opening a position if shares decline by anything approaching the 5% implied move that the options market is predicting. In that event, I would likely sell puts to open a position, but would be mindful of an upcoming ex-dividend date either late in the July 2016 option cycle or early in the August cycle.

Things have been quiet at Oracle for a while as Larry Ellison has stepped back and replaced a form of autocratic rule with muddled lines of leadership. In the past when Oracle disappointed on earnings, Ellison was always quick to point fingers.

Since I don’t currently own shares and have nothing to lose, I welcome a sharp decline in Oracle, only in the hope that it might re-animate Ellison and perhaps re-create a leadership structure that will move forward even if all signs say there is nowhere to go.



Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

Double-Dip Dividend: Gilead Sciences (6/14 $0.47), Tiffany & Co (6/16 $0.45)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Oracle (6/16 PM)

 

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

Weekend Update – October 4, 2015

If you’re a parent, even if 50 years have passed since the last episode, you can probably still remember those wonderful situations when your child was having a complete meltdown, even as the kid really didn’t know what it is that they wanted.

Sometimes a child can get so out of control over something that they wanted so badly that even when finally getting it, they just couldn’t regain control. We’ve all seen kids carry on as if there was some horrible void being perceived in their lives that was still gaping and eating away at their very core even when their immediate issue had already been resolved.

I think that’s the only way to explain the market ups and downs that we’ve been seeing, starting from the week of the most recent FOMC Statement release and all the way through to the last trading day of the past week.

The market has gone from a condition of apoplexy over the very thought of an interest rate hike to a melt down when that very same interest rate hike didn’t materialize.

Whether the moves have been up or down the rational basis has become more elusive and knowing what to do in response has been difficult. It’s been a little bit easier to simply accept the fact that there is such a phenomenon as “the terrible twos” and just ride out the storm.

Trying to understand that kind of behavior is tantamount to trying to use rational thought processes when dealing with a child in the midst of an uncontrollable outburst.

Sometimes it’s just best to ignore what you see unfolding before your eyes and let events run their course. That may not be a call for total passivity, though, and completely giving up on things, but the belief that you can outsmart or out-think a rampaging child or a rampaging market is destined for failure.

Followings Friday’s 1.4% gain in the S&P 500 that index was down only about 8.7% from its summer time highs, after having been down as much as 11.9% after the first day of trading this past week.

In doing so, the market has continued its dance around that 10% correction line while having a regular series of irrational outbursts that have alternated between plunges and surges.

Like most parents, there is some pride that comes into play when a child finally is able to come to a stage in life when those uncontrollable and irrational outbursts have run their course. For most kids once they’ve gotten through that phase it never returns, although for some adults it may manifest itself in different ways.

I don’t know if this week is going to be that week when some pride is warranted, but at the very least the market took some time in-between its outbursts this week to collect itself. In doing so, it either continued to hover around that 10% correction line and avoided spiraling out of control or took some positive steps toward finally recovering from that correction.

It started with a 300+ point drop on Monday with almost nothing happening on Tuesday as it geared up for a 200+ point gain on Wednesday.

Then, it did virtually nothing again on Thursday, only to see the bottom drop out after some very disappointing Employment Situation Report numbers on Friday morning.

This time, “disappointing” meant employment numbers that were far lower than expected and lower revisions to the previous month.

Had the same numbers been put forward a few months ago they would have engendered elation, but now that market thinks it knows what it wants and as always, when it doesn’t get it there’s a tantrum at hand.

Then, suddenly, something just seemed to click, just a it occasionally does with a child. Sometimes it may simply be exhaustion or a realization of the futileness of demonstrable outbursts, but at other times a spark may get lit that creates a path to a greater understanding of things.

The morning turnaround on Friday occurred at that point at which the S&P 500 was approaching its lowest level since the correction began and had chartists scurrying to their charts to see where the next stop below awaited.

Instead, however, the S&P 500 climbed 3% from those depths having turned positive for the day by noontime and then continuing so soar even more.

Of course, while there may be some pride in what can be interpreted as a sudden realization of the unwarranted behavior in the morning, I always get wary of such large moves, even when they’re to my benefit. When seeing those kinds of intra-day reversals, my thoughts go from recognizing them as reasonably normal tantrums, to the less normal exhibition of a bipolar disorder.

With earnings season beginning at the end of this coming week, we may soon find out whether the market is capable of exhibiting some rational responses to real news.

I’m optimistic that those responses will be more appropriate than has been the case over the last 2 earnings seasons when the option market had repeatedly under-estimated the magnitude of those responses.

Any sign that top line and bottom line numbers are both heading in the right direction may paint those disappointing Employment Situation Report numbers as an aberration. That could be just the spark we all need to get over the hump of interest rate worries and escape the developmental binds that throw us into fits of rage.

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

I never get tired of doing the same thing over and over again. There may be a psychiatric diagnostic code for that sort of thing, but when it comes to stocks it can be a very rational way of behaving especially when those stocks start falling into a pattern of trading in a narrow price range.

However, if all those stocks did was to trade in that narrow range and didn’t have a moment of explosive behavior or two before returning to a more normal path, there would be no reason to consider owning them for any reason other than perhaps for the relative safety of their dividend income.

But those occasional moves higher and lower make the sale of calls worthwhile even when the shares are seemingly moribund. Both General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) are recently exhibiting the kind of behavior that can generate a very respectable return, both in relative and absolute terms, especially if the opportunity presents to buy shares on a serial basis following share assignment.

I had 2 lots of General Electric assigned this past week and would be very willing to own them for the sixth time in 6 weeks. However, following its late day turnaround on Friday, along with the rest of the market, I would probably only do so if its price came closer to $25.

With a remaining lot of shares and options set to expire this week, I would still have an eye on selling new weekly calls, but if requiring rollover at the end of the week, I would consider bypassing the cycle ending week of October 16th, and perhaps selling extended weekly calls, as General Electric will report earnings that morning.

I now own 2 lots of Bank of America and three lots at any one time is my self imposed limit, but trading at the $15.50 level has a relative feeling of safety for me. As with General Electric, however, if purchasing or adding shares, there is that little matter of upcoming earnings. While most likely beginning the process with a weekly call, if requiring a rollover as being faced with expiration rather than assignment, I would probably opt to bypass the October 16 expirations in the event of some poorly received news on earnings.

Poorly received news is an apt way to describe anything emanating from China these days. While there are lots of potential “poster child” examples of the risks associated with any stock that has exposure in China, among the more respected names has to be caterpillar (NYSE:CAT).

For many rational reasons, well known short seller Jim Chanos laid out his short thesis on caterpillar nearly 30 months ago and following a substantial move higher, the virtue of patience has begun to start its rewards.

With shares now down about 40% from a year ago, there’s still no telling if this is the bottom, but a constellation of events has me considering a position.

With its ex-dividend date the next week and then earnings the following week and a weekly option premium that reflects the near term risk, I’m ready to consider that risk.

If selling a weekly option doesn’t look as if it will result in an assignment, I would probably consider trying to roll over those options to the ex-dividend week, but with a mind toward giving up that dividend by selling a deep in the money call option in an effort to collect some additional premium, but to be out of shares prior to earnings.

Failing that, however, the next step would be to attempt to roll over those shares and again selecting an expiration date that bypasses the immediate threat of earnings and then holding on tightly as one of the least respected CEOs over the past few years may again be in people’s cross-hairs.

YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) reports earnings this week and as ubiquitous as their locations may be in the United States, it’s almost always their Chinese holdings that get the attention of investors.

Following a strong move higher on Friday, I would be reluctant to start the week by selling puts on YUM shares, as it reports earnings Tuesday afternoon, unless there is some significant giveback of those weekending gains. At the moment, the option market is implying a price move of about 5.7%.

A 1% ROI could potentially be obtained through the sale of a weekly put at a strike level 6.7% below Friday’s close, but that may be an insufficient cushion, given YUM’s earnings history, even when the CHinese economy has not been so highly questionable. However, in the event of some price pullback prior to earnings or a large price drop after earnings, I would consider a position.

In the event of a large pullback after earnings, however, rather than selling puts, as I might usually want to do, YUM is expected to have its ex-dividend date the following week, so I might consider the purchase of shares and the sale of calls. But even then, depending on the prevailing option premiums, I could possibly consider sacrificing the dividend for the premiums that could come from selling deep in the money calls and possibly using an extended option expiration date.

Equally ubiquitous, at least in some portions of the United States is Dunkin Brands (NASDAQ:DNKN). Following a disastrous reception on Thursday to their forward guidance and the barely perceptible rebound the following day, this is a stock that I’ve wanted to repurchase for nearly a year.

With only monthly options available and without a wide assortment of strike levels, this may be a good position to consider a longer term option sale, as it reports earnings at the beginning of the November 2015 cycle and will likely have its ex-dividend date in the November or December cycle.

During this latest downturn, I’ve had a more profound respect for trying to accumulate dividends, especially as the increased volatility has created option premiums that subsidize more of the dividend related price drop in shares. In doing so, sometimes there may be just as good opportunity in trying to induce early assignment of shares by selling deeper in the money calls that you usually might do in a lower volatility environment and using an extended option timeframe.

Both Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) may benefit from those approaches, although when the size of the dividend is larger than the strike price unit, such as in the case of Verizon, the advantage is a bit muted.

However, with Verizon reporting earnings on October 20th, some consideration might be given toward selling an in the money option expiring on that date, in an effort to get the larger, earnings enhanced premium, even while potentially sacrificing the dividend.

Oracle doesn’t offer the same generous dividend as does Verizon, nor does it have earnings immediately at hand.

It can be approached in a much more simplistic fashion in an attempt to capture both the dividend and the option premium by considering a sale of a call hovering near the current price. because it is ex-dividend on a Friday, there may be some opportunity to enhance the yield by selling an extended weekly option, again, possibly risking early assignment, but atoning for some of that with some additional premium

Finally, how can there be anything good to say about Abercrombie and Fitch (NYSE:ANF)? I’ve been practicing Chanos like patience on a much more expensive lot of shares, but in the meantime have found some opportunity by buying shares and selling calls in the $20-22 range.

Having now done so on 4 occasions in 2015 it nay be time to do so again as it closed in at the lower end of that range. With its earnings due relatively late in the current cycle this position can be considered either through the sale of puts or as a buy/write.

Traditional Stocks: Caterpillar, Dunkin Donuts, General Electric

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, Bank of America

Double-Dip Dividend: Oracle (10/9 $0.15), Verizon (10/7 $0.565)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/6 PM)

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

Weekend Update – June 28, 2015

To call the stock market of this past week “a dog” probably isn’t being fair to dogs.

Most everyone loves dogs, or at least can agree that others may be able to see some positive attributes in the species. It’s hard, however, to have similar equanimity, even begrudgingly so, toward the markets this week.

What started off strongly on Monday and somehow wasn’t completely disavowed the following day, devolved unnecessarily on Wednesday and without any strong reason for doing so.

In fact, it was a week of very little economic news. We were instead focused on societal news that likely made little to no impression on the markets as a whole, although one sector did stand out.

That sector was health care, as the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act was a re-affirmation of a key component of the legislation and delayed any need to come up with an alternative, while still allowing Presidential contenders to criticize it heading into election season.

That’s a win – win.

It also keeps the number of uninsured at their lowest levels ever and puts more money in the pockets of hospitals and insurers, alike.

That’s another win – win.

While those two are usually on the opposite sides of most health care related arguments investors definitely agreed that the Affordable Care Act was and will continue to be additive to their bottom lines.

There is no health care flag, however.

The “Rainbow Flag” got a big thumbs up last week as the Supreme Court re-affirmed the right to dignity and the universal right to have access to divorce courts. The Court’s decision and its impact on businesses and the economy was a topic of speculation that was designed to fill air time and empty columns in the business section, as it came on a quiet day to end the week.

The Confederate Flag, of course, got a big thumbs down, after 150 years of quiet and thoughtful deliberation over its merits and what it represented. The decision by major retailers to stop sales of items with the Confederate flag on them can only mean that their demand wasn’t very significant and those items will probably be sent overseas, just as is done with the tee shirts of the losing Super Bowl team, so we can expect to see lots of photos of strangely attired impoverished third world children in the future.

And that leaves Greece, the EU, the IMF and the World Bank. For those most part, those aren’t part of our societal concerns, but they do concern markets.

Just not too much this past week.

The European Union was very forward thinking in the design of its flag. Rather than being concrete and having the 12 stars represent its member nations, those stars are said to represent characteristics of those member states. In other words Greece could leave the EU and the flag remains unchanged. Although the symbolism of the stars being arranged in a circle to represent “unity” may have to come under some scrutiny.

The growing realization is that would likely not be the same for the EU itself, as an exit by Greece would ultimately be “de minimis.” Either way, we should get some more information this week, as IMF chief Christine Legarde’s June 30th line in the sand regarding Greece’s repayment is quickly approaching.

It may be too late for a proposed “Plan B” for Greece to prevent default, as the European Union is now in its 86th trimester.

Still, despite a week of little news, somehow it was another week of pronounced moves in both directions that ultimately managed to travel very little from home.

New and existing home sales data suggested a strengthening in that important sector and the revised GDP indicated that the first quarter wasn’t as much of a dog as we all had come to believe. But there really wasn’t enough additional corroborating data to make anyone jump to the conclusion that core inflation was now exceeding the same objective that Janet Yellen had just stated weren’t being met.

So any concerns about improving economic news shouldn’t have led anyone to begin expressing their fears of increased interest rates by selling their stocks.

But it did.

Wednesday’s sell-off followed the news that the revised 2015 first quarter GDP was only down by 0.2% and not the previously revised 0.7%.

That makes it seem as if nerves and expectations for a long overdue correction or even a long overdue mini-correction are ruling over common sense and rational thought.

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

The coming week is a holiday shortened one and will have the Employment Situation Report coming on Thursday, potentially adding to interest rate nervousness if numbers continue to be strong.

After Micron Technology’s (NASDAQ:MU) earnings disappointment last week it may be understandable why a broad brush was used within the technology sector to drive prices considerably lower on Friday. However, it wasn’t Micron Technology that introduced the weakness. The past two weeks haven’t been particularly kind to the sector.

At a time that I’m under-invested in technology and otherwise very reluctant to commit new funds, the sector has a disproportionate share of my attention in competition for whatever little I’m willing to let go.

With Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) having also recently reported disappointing earnings and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX) reporting in the next 3 weeks, it may be an interesting period.

While Micron Technology brought up concerns about PC sales, they are more dependent upon those than some others that have found salvation in laptops, tablets and mobile devices.

What was generally missing from Micron’s report, however, was placing the blame for lower revenues on currency exchange, unlike as was just done by Oracle. Micron focused squarely on decreasing product demand and pricing pressure.

That lack of adverse impact from currency exchange is a theme that I’m expecting as the upcoming earnings season begins. Whereas the previous earnings reports provided dour guidance on expectations of USD/Euro parity, the Dollar’s relative weakness in the most recent quarter may provide some upside surprises.

With share prices in Microsoft and Intel having dropped, this may be a good time to add positions in both, as they could both be significant beneficiaries of an improvement in currency exchange, as both await any bump coming from the introduction of Windows 10. I haven’t owned shares of Microsoft for a while and have been looking for a new entry point. At the same time, I do own shares of Intel and have been looking for an opportunity to average down and ultimately leave the position, or at least underwrite some of the paper losses with premiums on contracts written on an additional lot of shares.

While Seagate Technology doesn’t report its earnings until July 15th, following its weakness over the last 7 weeks, I’m considering the sale of puts in the weeks in advance of earnings. Those premiums are elevated and will become even more so during the actual week of earnings. In the event of an adverse price move, there might be a need to rollover the puts to try and avoid or delay assignment. However, at some point in the August 2015 option cycle the shares will be ex-dividend, so a shift in strategy, pivoting to share ownership maybe called for if still short the put options.

While Oracle and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) don’t report earnings for a while, both have upcoming ex-dividend dates that add to their appeal. In the case of Oracle, it’s ex-dividend date is on Monday of the following week, which opens the possibility of ceding the dividend to early assignment in exchange for getting two weeks of premium and the opportunity to recycle proceeds from an assignment into another income producing position.

Also going ex-dividend on the Monday of the following week is The Gap (NYSE:GPS). It is one of my favorite stocks, even though it rarely seems to be doing anything right these days.

Part of its allure is that it continues to provide monthly sales data and the uncertainty with those report releases consistently creates option premium opportunities usually seen only quarterly for most stocks as they prepare to release earnings.

As long as The Gap continues to trade in a range, as it has done for quite some time, there is opportunity by holding shares and serially selling calls, while collecting dividends, as the company attempts to figure out what it wants to be, as it closes stores, yet announces plans to take over the Times Square Toys ‘R Us location, for those NYC tourists that just have to jet a pair of khakis to remember their trip.

Finally, American Express (NYSE:AXP) goes ex-dividend this week. It has been extremely range bound ever since the initial shock of losing its co-branding relationship with Costco (NASDAQ:COST) in 2016.

My wife informed me this morning that after about 30 years of near exclusive use of American Express, she has replaced it with another credit card. While that’s not related to the Costco news, it is something that American Express will likely be experiencing more and more in the coming months. That may, of course, explain the spate of mailings I’ve recently received to entice continuing loyalty.

While that comes at a cost, that’s still tomorrow’s problem and the market has likely discounted the costs of the partnership dissolution, as well as the lost revenues.

I like the price range and I like the option premium and dividend opportunities for as long as they may persist, but my loyalty to shares may only go for a week at a time.

Traditional Stocks: Intel, Microsoft

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: American Express (6/30), Cisco (7/1), Oracle (7/6), The Gap (7/6)

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 14, 2015

The investing community is either really old or thinks it’s really well versed in history.

The prospects of interest rates going higher must be evoking memories of the Jimmy Carter era when personal experiences may have been pretty painful if on the wrong side of a prime interest rate of 21.5%.

I’d be afraid, too, of reliving the prospects of having to take out a 20% loan on my Chevrolet Vega.

The interest rate isn’t what would bother me, though. That Vega still evokes nightmares.

If not old enough to have had those personal experiences, then investors must be great students of history and simply fear the era’s repeat.

Unfortunately, neither group seems to readily recall the experiences of the intervening years when hints of inflation appearing over the horizon were addressed by a responsive Federal Reserve and not the Federal Reserve presided over by the last Chairman to have come from a corporate background.

It’s unfortunate only because the stock market has been held hostage, despite having reached new highs recently, by fears of a return to a long bygone era, which was also characterized by a passive Federal Reserve Chairman who opposed raising interest rates as a fiscal tool and while inflation was rapidly growing, believed that it would self-correct. 

G. William Miller was certainly correct on that latter belief as rates did self-correct once reaching that 21.5% level, although they lasted longer than did most people’s Vegas, while Miller’s length of tenure as Chairman of the Federal Reserve did not.

Passivity and benign neglect weren’t the best ways to approach an economy then and probably not a very good way to do so now.

This past week seemingly provided more of the confirmatory data the FOMC has been waiting upon to make the long signaled move that has also been long feared. Following the previous week’s Employment Situation Report and this past week’s JOLTS report and Retail Sales report, every indication is now pointing to an economy that is heating up.

Not as much as the crankcase of my Vega that caused so many engine blocks to crack, but enough to get the FOMC to act in a way that the interest rate dovish Miller would not.

Still, the various bits of information coming in during the week caused major moves in both stock and bond markets, although the cumulative impact was negligible, even while the details were attention getting.

 

While Janet Yellen has been referred to as a “dove,” when compared to Miller, she is a ravenous hawk who only needs a clear signal of when to swoop. While the FOMC will meet this week it’s not too likely that there will be any policy changes announced, although sometimes it’s all about the wording used to describe the committee’s thoughts.

As recently as 2 weeks ago many were thinking that rate hikes might not come until 2016. However, now the prevailing chatter is that September 2015 is the target date for action.

However with the July 2015 meeting coming at the very end of the month and the opportunity to peruse another month’s worth of data what would be easier than making that decision then, particularly coming in-between June and September scheduled press conferences?

That would take most by surprise, but at least it gets this ordeal over.

Like so many things in life, the anticipation can be the real ordeal as the reality pales in comparison. Somehow, though, that’s not a lesson that’s readily learned.

Unless the upcoming earnings season will have some very nice upside surprises due to a continuing strengthening of the US Dollar that never arrived, there doesn’t appear to be any catalyst on the horizon to prompt the stock market to test its highs. That is unless we finally get a chance to remove the yoke of fear.

Real students of history will know that the fear of those interest rate hikes, especially in the early stages of an overtly improving economy, is unwarranted.

After a week of not opening a single new position I’d love to see some clarity that can only come from FOMC decisiveness. It may well be a long hot summer ahead, but it’s time to embrace the heating up of the economy for what it is and celebrate its arrival and put the ghost of G. William to rest.

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

While markets were gyrating wildly this past week and news regarding Greece, the IMF and ECB kept going back and forth, I found myself shaking my head as the biggest story of the week seemed to be the upcoming CEO change at Twitter (TWTR). 

Although I am short puts and have a real interest in seeing shares rise, I sat wondering why a company that was so small, employed so few people and contributed so little to the economy, could possibly receive so much attention for a really inconsequential story.

Beyond that, the company could go away tomorrow and its 300 million monthly active users wouldn’t be facing a gap very long others in Silicon Valley could step in to fill that gap in a heartbeat and do so without all of the dysfunction characterizing the company.

One thing that strikes me is that with the change the Board of Directors will continue to have 3 past CEOs. A friend of mine was once Chairman of an academic department that had 4 past Chairman still active on the faculty. He said it was absolutely intolerable and he couldn’t act without continuing second guessing and sniping.

Among the characteristics of some selections this week is strong and unequivocal leadership. Right or wrong, it helps to be decisive.

It also helps to offer a dividend, as that’s another recurring theme for me, of late.

General Electric (GE) has been led by the same individual for nearly 15 years. While it may not be helpful to his legacy to compare General Electric’s stock performance relative to the S&P 500 under his tenure to that of his predecessor, no one can accuse GE of standing still and being indecisive.

The one thing that I continually bemoan is that I haven’t owned shares of GE as often as I should have over the past few years. Despite it’s relative under-performance over the years, other than 2015 YTD, it has been a very reliable covered call position. Its fairly narrow trading range, reasonable premium and its safe and excellent dividend are a great combination if not looking for dizzying growth and the risk that attends such growth.

Shares are ex-dividend this week and that may be the motivator I need to consider committing some funds at a time when I’m not terribly excited about doing so.

Although Larry Ellison has stepped back from some of his responsibilities at Oracle (ORCL), there’s not too much doubt that he is in charge. Who other than such a powerful leader could convince two other powerful business leaders to be in a CEO sharing arrangement?

Oracle reports earnings this week and is expected to go ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle. The options market is predicting only a 3.9% price move over the course of the coming week. 

There isn’t an appealing premium available for selling puts outside of the price range predicted by the options market, but Oracle is a company that I wouldn’t mind owning, rather than simply taking advantage of it to generate earnings volatility induced premiums. It’ like GE, is a company that I haven’t owned frequently enough over the years, as it has also been a very good covered call position, even while frequently trailing the S&P 500 over recent years.

Cypress Semiconductor (CY) is another company with a strong leader, who also happens to be a visionary. It’s stock price surged upon news that it was going to acquire Integrated Silicon Solution (ISSI), but over the past week has been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride as the buyout went from Cypress Semiconductor missing a self-designated deadline to obtain regulatory approval, to then arranging financing and culminating in ISSI announcing that it had accepted the Cypress offer.

Or so it seemed.

That rollercoaster ride is likely to continue next week as the coveted buyout target has just recommended accepting an offer from a Chinese private equity consortium just a day after announcing it had accepted Cypress’ offer.

A special meeting of ISSI stockholders has now been called for June 19, 2015. With a close eye on that meeting and its outcome, I would consider waiting until then to make a decision of Cypress Semiconductor shares, that will go ex-dividend the following week.

While it’s clear that the market valued the combination of the two companies, the disappointment may now be factored in, although perhaps not fully. Cypress Semiconductor is a company that I’ve long admired, particularly as it has acted as an technology incubator and have liked as a covered option trade, although at a lower price. 

American Express (AXP) has also been led by a strong CEO for nearly 15 years. Of late, he may have been subject to some criticism for the opacity related to the company’s relationship with Costco (COST), as their co-branding credit card agreement will be ending in 2016 and surprisingly represented a large share of American Express’ profits. However, for much of the earlier years American Express was a good investment vehicle and offered a differentiated and profitable product.

Since that announcement and once the surprise was digested, American Express has traded in a narrow range following a precipitous drop in shares that discounted the earnings hit that was still to be a year away.

That steadiness in share price with the overhang of uncertainty, has made shares another good covered call and they, too, will be ex-dividend during the July 2015 option cycle.

International Paper (IP) may stand as the exception to the previous stocks. It has a new CEO and won’t be offering a dividend until the August or September 2015 cycle.

In fact, its recently retired CEO was once on a CNNMoney list of the 5 most over-paid CEOs.

What it does have is a recent 10% decline in share price that has finally brought it back to the neighborhood in which I wouldn’t mind considering shares. Like GE and Oracle, in hindsight, I wish I had owned shares more frequently over the years, not because of its share out-performance, as that certainly figured into the poor value received from its past CEO, but rather from that steady combination of option premiums and dividends along with a reasonably steady share price. 

Finally, although the sector isn’t very large, there hasn’t been a shortage of activity going in within the small universe of telecommunications companies and cable and satellite providers, of late.  

Verizon (VZ) has been making its own news with a proposed buyout of AOL (AOL), which is a relatively small one when compared to the other deals being made or proposed.

While matching the performance of the S&P 500 YTD, it is lagging well behind in the past month, but in doing so, it is also becoming more attractive, as it returns to the $47 neighborhood. It also will be going ex-dividend in the July 2015 option cycle and always has a reasonable option premium relative to the manageable risk that it generally offers.

At a time when there is ongoing market certainty there is a certain amount of comfort that comes from dividends and that comfort makes decisions easier to make.

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express, Cypress Semiconductor, International Paper, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: General Electric (6/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings:  Oracle (6/17 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 29, 2015

Fresh off of his estate’s victory in a copyright infringement suit, Marvin Gaye comes to my mind this week as I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.

With the Passover holiday approaching this week, I’m also reminded that much of the basis of re-telling the story of the exodus from Egypt is in response to the questions asked by children.

Among the classes of children traditionally described are the wise child, the evil child, the simple one and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask a question.

When it comes to trying to understand the past week I’m feeling a bit more like one of the latter two of those categories, although I still retain the option of holding onto my evil persona.

The week started with the Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve, who coincidentally had been the Governor of the Bank of Israel many years after the exodus, getting some laughs with jokes that maybe only economists would appreciate. However, to his credit he was able to tone down his hawkish sentiments while still staying true to his tenets, but without frightening markets. That was nice to see, as it was his comments just 2 days after Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony that brought an end to the February rally and, perhaps coincidentally, set us on the path for March.

That hasn’t been a very good path for most investors and with only 2 days of trading remaining in the quarter has it threatening to be the first losing quarter in quite a while as we learned that the most recent quarterly corporate profits over the same time period fell for the first time since 2008.

Yet that news didn’t seem to bother markets this morning as they had a rare session ending with a higher close.

With Stanley Fischer putting everyone into a good mood from a dose of Federal Reserve humor all went pretty well to start the week, with Monday looking like it would mark the first time of having two consecutive days higher in over a month. That was the case until the final 15 minutes of trading and then the market just continued in that downward path throughout most of the rest of the week.

But why? Someone, somewhere had to be asking the obvious question that 3 out of 4 categories of children are capable of asking.

What’s going on?

Friday’s GDP data for the 4th Quarter of 2014 showed no change with the economy growing at an annual 2.2% rate. That’s considerably less than projections based upon lower energy prices fueling a resurgence of consumer activity in the coming year, even recognizing that those perceived benefits were theoretically in only their very nascent stages in late 2014.

While the GDP data is certainly backward looking there’s been nothing happening to support that consumer led growth that we’ve all believed was coming.

Corporate profits are falling, retail sales are flat and home sales aren’t exactly setting the economy on fire, all as energy prices are well off their earlier eye popping lows.

So you might think that would all add an arrow to the quiver of interest rate doves, but the market hasn’t been embracing the idea of continuing low interest rates as much as it’s been fearing the prospects of increasing interest rates.

But this week had nothing to fear. Even the most influential of the hawks seemed and sounded accommodating, but the market wasn’t buying it.

This past week, like recent weeks, has made little sense no matter how much you try to explain it. Just like it’s hard to explain how the defendant’s weren’t aware of the existence of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” or that somehow pestilence, boils and locusts rained down upon the Pharoahs.

No matter how you look at it reason is not reigning.

Even a child who doesn’t know how to ask knows when something is going on.

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

I purchased some American Express (NYSE:AXP) shares a few weeks ago shortly after the news of their loss of Costco (NASDAQ:COST) as a co-branding partner. Coincidentally that decision came at the same time as both my wife and I had individual issues with American Express customer service.

With a combined history of more than 65 years of using American Express as our primary personal and business cards, we’ve done so largely for their customer service. My wife, after speaking to almost 15 representatives is ready to give her card the boot and she reminded me that she’s had that card longer than she’s had me, so I should be on notice.

Coming as no surprise, American Express just announced workforce cutbacks that will only serve to weaken what really distinguished them from the rest, but that may be what it takes to start making shares look attractive again as the company substitutes cost savings for revenues.

Fortunately, my shares from a few weeks ago were quickly assigned and now it looks as if another opportunity may be at hand as it has re-traced its bounce from the sizable drop it took when the Costco news was made known. It’s upcoming ex-dividend date this week adds to the attraction as the company is wasting no time in taking steps to offset what are now expected to be significant revenue losses beginning in 2016.

Who knew to ever ask just how important Costco was to American Express?

I purchased shares of Dow Chemical last week in order to capture the dividend. What I wasn’t expecting was the announcement coming Friday morning of their plans to merge a portion of the company with Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN) while becoming a majority owner of Olin.

Fortunately that announcement waited until Friday morning so that I was able to retain the dividend. Had it come after Thursday’s close and based on the initial price reaction, those shares would have been assigned early.

While Dow Chemical has been somewhat phlegmatic lately as it tracks energy prices, the sale to Olin appears to be responsive to activist Dan Loeb’s desire to shed low margin businesses. This deal looks to be a great one for Dow Chemical and may also demonstrate that it is serious about improving margins.

GameStop (NYSE:GME) reported earnings this past Friday and recovered significantly from its preliminary decline. I was amazed that it did so after watching what appeared to be a very wooden and canned performance by its CFO during an interview before trading began that didn’t seem very convincing. However, shortly after trading did begin shares climbed significantly.

I like considering adding shares of GameStop after a decline, as there is a long history of people predicting its coming demise and offering very rational and compelling reasons of why they are correct, only to see shares have a mind of their own.

I had shares assigned just a week earlier and was happy to see that assignment come right after its ex-dividend date but before earnings. Now at a lower price it looks tempting again, although I would probably hold out for a little bit more of a decline, perhaps approaching Friday morning’s opening lows.

While GameStop has a reasonably low beta you wouldn’t know it if you owned shares, but fortunately the options market knows it and typically offers premiums that reflect the sudden moves shares are very capable of taking.

Up until about 30 minutes before Friday’s close it hadn’t been a very good week to be in the semiconductor business. That may have changed, at least for a moment or two, as it was announced that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was in talks to purchase Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR).

Among those stocks benefiting from that late news was Micron Technology (NASDAQ:MU), which has fallen even more than Intel in 2015.

Micron Technology reports earnings this week and is no stranger to large earnings related moves. The options market, however is implying only a 5.5% price move next week. While I normally look for a strike level that’s outside of the range defined by the implied move that offers at least a 1% ROI for the week, this coming week is a bit odd.

That’s because Micron Technology reports earnings after the market’s close on Thursday, yet the market will be closed for trading on Good Friday.

For that reason I would consider looking at the possibility of selling puts for the following week, but would like to see shares give up some of the gains made in response to the Intel news.

While Intel’s late news helped to rescue it from having sunk below $30 for the first time in 9 months, it did nothing for Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) nor Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO). They, along with Intel had been significantly under-performing the S&P 500 this week and for the year to date.

Both Cisco and Oracle are ex-dividend this week and following their drops this past week both are beginning to have appeal once again.

With a holiday shortened week and also going ex-dividend the expectation is that option premiums would be noticeably lower, However, both Cisco and Oracle are offering a compelling combination of option premiums and dividends along with some chance of recovering some of their recent losses.

The real challenge for each may be related to currency exchange and how it will impact earnings. However, barring early earnings warnings, Cisco won’t report earnings for another 7 weeks and Oracle not for another 12 weeks, so hopefully that would allow plenty of time to extricate from a position before the added risk of earnings comes into play.

Finally, I came close to buying shares of SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK) just a couple of days ago, looking to replace shares that were assigned just 2 weeks earlier.

It’s not often that you see a company give earnings warnings twice within the space of about 2 months, but SanDisk now has that distinction and has plunged on both of those occasions.

What SanDisk may have discovered is what so many others have, in that being an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) supplier may be very much a mixed blessing or curse, depending on your perspective at the moment.

While its revenues are certainly being squeezed I’m reminded of a period about 10 years ago when SanDisk was essentially written off by just about everyone as flash memory was becoming to be considered as nothing more than a commodity.

In that time anyone with a little daring would have done very well in that time period with shares nearly doubling the S&P 500 performance.

With a nearly 25% drop over the past few days, even as a commodity or a revenue stressed company, SanDisk may have some opportunity as it approaches its 18 month lows.

As with many other stocks that have taken large falls, I would consider entering a new position through the sale of put options and if faced with the possibility of assignment would try to roll the position over to a forward week in an attempt to delay or preclude assignment while still collecting a premium.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, SanDisk

Double Dip Dividend: American Express (3/31), Cisco (3/31), Oracle (4/2)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Micron Technology (4/2 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 – September 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

Bonds, currencies and precious metals?

Ugly and stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Momentum: Coach, Joy Global, Yahoo

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

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

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

Ellison Fiddles While Oracle Burns

Maybe I belong to a different generation, but I have certain expectations regarding behavior and responsibility, especially when other’s are your subordinates and maybe even extending to your shareholders.

As a short term holding I’ve always looked to Oracle (ORCL) as a potential addition to my portfolio that relies on the use of a covered call strategy.

While I have often thought of buying Oracle shares, in 2013 I’ve only done so twice, this most recent occasion being in advance of its earnings report. In hindsight, however, I wish I had done so much more frequently because of how mediocre its price performance has been.

As a covered option trader I like mediocrity, at least when it comes to share price. That’s the perfect price behavior to be able to buy shares and sell calls or simply sell puts and collect premiums, sometimes dividends and sometimes small capital gains on shares with relatively little fear of large price swings downward. With little movement in underlying shares you can do so over and over again.

Oracle was truly perfect, that is of course, as long as you ignore the two earnings reports prior to Wednesday evening’s numbers being released.

Any company can see its shares tumble after releasing earnings or providing guidance. In fact, it doesn’t even take bad numbers to do so. All it takes is for disappointment or unmet expectations to permeate the crowd. After all, the saying “buy on the rumor and sell on the news” got its start in the aftermath of what would seem like paradoxical behavior from investors.

So I think a company can sometimes be excused for what happens to its shares after earnings.

What I have a harder time excusing is the excoriating finger pointing that came on that occasion six moths ago when Oracle shares plummeted in what appeared to be a company specific issue, as its competitors didn’t fair as poorly in their reports and didn’t suffer similar market misfortunes.

Larry Ellison, the CEO, blamed his salesforce for the quarter. He cited their lack of urgency which allowed third quarter sales to slip into the fourth quarter. I don’t really now how Oracle’s sales force is compensated, but deferring sales is not a typical strategy.

When the next earnings report was released this time Ellison blamed Oracle’s performance on the poor global economic environment, stating “It was clearly an economic issue, not a product, competitive issue,” during the ensuing conference call. That, of course, despite the fact, that once again the competition seemed to not experience the same issues. I guess those sales that previously had been said to slip into this quarter remained slipped.

Surely they would show up for the next earnings report.

AS CEO it’s probably easier pointing fingers at others. That’s certainly the strategy that ruling despots use when there’s a need to deflect criticism or place blame to account for the wheat crop shortage.

At the very least Ellison has at least been visible, perhaps too visible. The world learned of his purchase of 97% of the Hawaiian island, Lanai and wondered at that point whether his attention would be diverted from the job of running Oracle, notwithstanding the presence of its President, Mark Hurd.

He was all too visible recently when referring to Google (GOOG) CEO Larry Page as “acting evil” and questioned the ability of Apple (AAPL) to survive in the absence of Steve Jobs.

In a way, perhaps that kind of presence is preferable to the CEO that fails to make any statements following tragic events on one of his cruise liners, not once, but on two occasions. Maybe Ellison won some new customers over with his goodwill.

But here we were, on the day that Oracle was primed to report earnings yet again. For my money, and I did buy shares on Monday, it was inconceivable to me that someone with as much at stake, especially on a reputational level would allow a third successive disappointing report. Whether by slashing costs, financial optics or perhaps by virtue of those sales that slipped from one quarter to the next and then to this one, I was certain that there would be no repeat of the embarrassing price slides the last two times.

Funny thing, though.

Instead of being an integral part of the earnings report and guidance, Larry Ellison was cheering on the crew of Oracle Team USA in a losing effort at today’s America’s Cup race.

Again, call me old fashioned, but I like to see my CEOs involved in what may have a substantive effect on my fortunes.

The good news is that Oracle didn’t have a meltdown after reporting its earnings. In fact shares went higher until reversing the course when the conference call started and the new disappointments were made known, including guiding significantly lower growth than had been expected.

To give Ellison some benefit of the doubt, perhaps he knew that the initial response would be relatively muted and his presence was unnecessary. Besides, was he going to be able to have credibility going back to the well again and blaming macroeconomic business conditions?

Not with me, he wouldn’t.

With two days to go until expiration of the weekly options I had sold I expect to be able to extricate myself from the position relatively easily and show a profit for the effort.

In all likelihood I’ll also look for any other opportunity to purchase shares because sometimes mediocrity is the gift that just keeps giving. As long as Ellison will be fiddling and paying attention elsewhere, I don’t mind an Oracle that simply treads water and stays in place, although I’m sure that the Larry Ellison of old would never have accepted or allowed that kind of an existence.

Herb Greenberg, of TheStreet.com is once again soliciting nominations for the worst CEO of the year. As far as I know the rules don’t exclude absentee CEOs. While Oracle is only trailing the S&P 500 by approximately 19% YTD and is certainly performing better than other companies with less than capable management, the shame factor is worthy of your vote.

Weekend Update – September 15, 2013

Month after month of seeing market gains finally came to an end in August. The streak had started in November 2012 and for those who are prone to remember oddities, we even had a string of 20 consecutive gaining Tuesdays during that span.

Of course we also eclipsed the 2007 Dow Jones and S&P 500 highs and subsequently did so on repeated occasions, all while “Chicken Littles” like me kept waiting for the correction that never came.

The small head fake correction that began near the end of May was barely a blip and was quickly erased as more new highs were established, but the trading patterns of August seemed to indicate that perhaps the rally was getting tired and the market not only began sputtering, but also lost ground as Syrian related tensions were in the air.

Anxious to see a modest correction so that I would finally have something constructive to do with the cash I had been raising, I wasn’t terribly happy with what would come in September, with the first seven trading days having seen gains.

Not only did they make gains, but there were three consecutive triple digit gains. Adding insult to injury was the root cause of those triple digit gains.

While avoiding the use of military force, at least in the near term, is somewhat comforting, the very idea that a Russian proposed plan could avert military action against Syria was about as implausible as anything that occurred in the 20th or 21st centuries, with the possible exception of the Russian President speaking directly to American citizens through an op-ed piece in the New York TImes (NYT).

Russian peace plan? Can those words even possibly all be in a single paragraph?

But with fear centered around uncertainty regarding military action against Syria temporarily tabled, the market ignored August and also ignored the historical nature of Septembers past. By Friday morning, just seconds after the opening bell, all of August’s losses had been recovered.

Somehow, I am neurologically incapable of saying “Thank you, Vladimir.”

Instead, the increasingly nervous part of me wonders what there is that awaits that will continue to send markets higher? Are there unseen catalysts or are there now more opportunities for disappointment, particularly if Russian efforts, inspired by an off the cuff remark by Secretary of State Kerry, prove to be inadequate?

I’ve been asking questions in a similar vein for months now, but the answer has always been in the affirmative, even if the catalysts weren’t always apparent.

Of course, now there’s also the question of the market’s reaction to the expected announcement of the nomination of Lawrence Summers as the next Federal Reserve Chairman. The rumor that such an announcement would come today was denied, but that should come as no surprise, as President Obama had his heart set on doing so by attaching a banner to a Tomahawk missile.

If Syria fails to deliver a market correction and neither fear of the “Taper” nor the nomination of Summers can do so, at least we will have Congress back and fully engaged so that a new round of budget crises can at least allow the market to bounce up and down, which is far more healthy for someone relying on a covered option strategy. If that happens, I can hold my head up high and point to a momentary drop lower and sat “See? That correction.”

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

I’ve only opened a limited number of new positions in the last few weeks and don’t anticipate seeing that pattern change this week, unless there is a substantive near term correction to last week’s price increases. Those increases, for example, are the reason why I have no Double Dip Dividend selections this coming week, as the risk of experiencing some price pullbacks outweighs the benefits of garnering option premiums and dividends. As it is, instead of the usual number of potential selections, this week’s list contains only 5 names.

Certainly a controversial place to begin looking in the new week is Apple (AAPL). I purchased shares last week following the large drop on Wednesday when disappointment began to settle in for varied reasons. The small recovery that I was expecting never really came, but instead of being disappointed by the inability to quickly close my position, I think that there is simply continued opportunity to pick up additional shares. However, as opposed to the rare instance of having purchased shares and not immediately having sold calls, I do plan to do so this time around if adding shares.

Apple, while not necessarily making significant changes to its product line is making significant changes to the way it conducts its business. From a trade-in program, to less expensive models, to not taking pre-orders on the upcoming iPhone 5S, to dividends and buybacks, they are shaking up their daily approach to existence on all fronts. From my vantage point the short term emphasis is that “cash is king” and that share price matters. I especially like Tim Cook’s philosophy that market share isn’t as important as having enough money to be in control of one’s destiny. The recent product announcements should see to it that the cash keeps pouring in and helps to secure that destiny.

Continuing with the controversial theme is Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). I had written about the possibility of adding shares recently, but did not do so. Instead, I continued selling calls on a lower priced lot of shares to try and continue to offset substantial paper losses from older lots. That’s a slow process but I think at this current level the process can be speeded up by adding more shares. Highly levered to economic news from China does add to the risk of ownership, but Cliffs has been demonstrating some price stability at this level.

I may as well add to the controversy with Phillip Morris (PM). Whatever your opinions are about ownership of a company that directly results in countless premature deaths, it’s hard to overlook their move to increase the dividend and the reasonably narrow range in which shares trade. Combine those attributes with an appealing option premium and you have a combination that’s hard to resist and doesn’t even require nicotine to keep you hooked.

They say that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, although JP Morgan (JPM) may disagree. However, if you want to see the poster child for resilience you don’t have to look much further than this company. After an avalanche of bad news, having inherited the burden from Goldman Sachs (GS), JP Morgan has somehow been able to keep its share price respectably positioned. This week it announced plans to commit nearly $6 Billion toward legal defenses and compliance. In addition to an option premium that provides some comfort, shares will be ex-dividend during the October 2013 option cycle so I may consider using a longer term option sale and would actually welcome early assignment.

Finally, while earnings season is set to begin again in just a few weeks, Oracle (ORCL) is a laggard and reports this week. With the upcoming report the company will have had six months to make some changes, whether substantive or purely optical, to create a more positively received report. Following two successive negative reports that were not well received by the market, I think that its inconceivable that Larry Ellison would allow his name to be badly tarnished again by anything other than his own words and actions. No doubt that he is unhappy with share performance since that first disappointment.

While I usually like to consider earnings related trades on the basis of selling deep out of the money puts, Oracle may work equally well as an outright purchase and sale of calls. In the event of another price meltdown I would not go out of my way to greet Ellison if you see him in Lanai, although I don’t believe the police department was included with the sale of the island.

Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan Chase, Phillip Morris

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Cliffs Natural Resources

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Oracle (9/11 PM)

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

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

Additional disclosure: I may initiate positions, add shares or sell puts in AAPL, CLF, JPM, ORCL and PM

Weekend Update – August 25, 2013

You’re only as good as your earnings. Having stopped making an honest living a little on the early side, I still need to make money, or otherwise my wife would insist that I do something other than watch a moving stock ticker all day.

Since there’s far too much competition on the highway exit near our home and my penmanship has deteriorated due to excessive keyboard use, I’ve come to realize that stock derived earnings, predominantly from the sale of options and accrual of dividends, are the only thing keeping me from joining those less fortunate.

I’m under no delusions. I am only as good as my earnings, just as Bob Greifeld, CEO of NASDAQ (NDAQ) should be under no delusions, as he is only as good as his response to the most recent NASDAQ failing.

On that count, I may have the advantage, although he may have better hygiene and a wardrobe that includes a clean hoodie.

There was a time that we thought of stocks in very much the same earnings centric way. If earnings were good the stock was good. There was a time that we didn’t dwell quite as much on the macro-economic data and we certainly didn’t spend time thinking about Europe or China.

However, after this most recent earnings season, which will come to an end a few days before the next season is kicked off on October 8, 2013, maybe it’s a good thing that it’s only during the otherwise slow summer months when other news is sparse, that we focus on earnings.

If you’ve been paying attention, this hasn’t been a particularly encouraging month, especially as far as retail sales go, which are about as good a reflection of discretionary spending as you can find. Beyond that, listening to guidance can make shivers run down one’s spine as less than rosy earnings pictures are being painted for the future. The very future that our markets are supposed to be discounting.

As it is the S&P 500 is now about 0.3% below the earlier all time high that was hit on May 21, 2013. That in turn gave way to a rapid 5.7% fall and equally rapid 8.6% recovery to new highs. By all historical measures that post-May 21st drop was small as compared to the gains since November 2012 and we are right back to that level.

Perhaps once summer is over and our elected officials return to Washington, DC, not only would they have an opportunity to see me at a highway exit, but they may also get back to doing the things that create the dysfunction that makes earnings less salient.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” selections this week (see details).

Most of the positions considered this week are themselves lower than they were at the low point following the May 21st peak and have underperformed the S&P 500 since that time. For the moment, as I contribute to cling to the idea that there will be some additional market weakness, my comfort level is increased by focusing on positions that don’t have as much to fall.

I’ve been anxious to buy either Cisco (CSCO) or Oracle (ORCL) ever since Cisco’s disappointing earnings report. During more vibrant markets a drop in the share price of an otherwise good company would stand out as a buying opportunity. However, recently there has been more competition among those companies suffering precipitous earnings related price drops. While striving to keep my cash reserves at sufficient levels to allow me to go on a wild spending spree, I’ve resisted opportunities in CIsco and Oracle. Both, however, are getting more and more appealing as their prices sink further.

Oracle will report its earnings right before the end of the September 2013 option cycle and I have a very hard time believing that it could be three disappointments in a row, especially after some high profile remarks by CEO Larry Ellison regarding leadership at Apple (AAPL) that could come back to haunt him, even if only in terms of comparative share performance.

A technology company that always intrigues me, if at the price point relative to its option contract strikes, is Cypress Semiconductor (CY). It’s products and technology are quietly everywhere. However, its CEO, T.J. Rodgers has become precisely the opposite, as he is increasingly appearing in the media and offering political and policy opinions that make you wonder whether he is getting detached from the business, as perhaps may be said of Ellison. In Cypress Semiconductor’s case I think the business is small and focused enough that it can withstand some diversions. It is one of the few positions that has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 21st.

Among companies reporting earnings this week is salesforce.com (CRM), which also has Larry Ellison connections. the most recent of which is a great example of how business and strategic needs may trump personal feelings. For those who would innocently suffer collateral damage otherwise, that is the way it should be, as two companies seek to have the sum of their parts create additional value. While I do own shares of salesforce.com, I would be inclined to consider the sale of puts as a means to add additional shares and achieve an earnings stream of 1% for the week while awaiting the market’s reaction to earnings. My only hesitancy is that the strike at which that return can be achieved as more close to the strike of the implied move downward than I would ordinarily like.

Having recently lost shares of Eli Lilly (LLY) to early assignment in order to capture its dividend, I’ve wanted to re-purchase shares. Along with Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that I have been wanting to add for a while, they both offer attractive option premiums and are both 5% below their May 21st prices, which I believe limits their short term risk, during a period that I prefer to be somewhat defensive. Additionally, Bristol Myers offers extended weekly options that can be used as part of a broader strategy to attempt and stagger option expiration dates and perhaps infusions of cash back into portfolios for new purchases.

Sinclair Broadcasting Group (SBGI) is a local television broadcasting powerhouse that just purchased the important Washington, DC ABC affiliate. But it is far more than a local presence, as it has quietly become the nation’s largest operator of television stations, barely 4 years after fears of bankruptcy. Of course its recent buying spree may put pressures on the bottom line, but for now it is coming off a nearly 8% earnings related price decline and goes ex-dividend this week. Both of those work for me.

JP Morgan (JPM) which is increasingly becoming the poster child for everything wrong with big banks, at least from the point of view of regulators and the Department of Justice, finally showed a little bit of price stability by mid-week. Although I don’t know how any initiatives directed toward JP Morgan will work out, I’m reasonably sure that talk of looking at Jamie Dimon as a potential Treasury Secretary won’t be rekindled anytime soon. At current price levels, however, I think shares warrant another look.

While I’m not a terribly big fan of controversy, I think it may be time to publicly proclaim support for Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF). Having suffered through ownership beginning prior to the dividend cut, it has been an uncomfortable experience, ameliorated a bit by occasional purchase of additional shares and sacrificing them for their option premiums. Beginning with a report approximately 6 weeks ago that China had purchased a massive amount of nickel in the London commodity market, Cliffs has been slowly showing strength that may suggest demand for iron ore is increasing. Held hostage to our perceptions of the health of the Chinese economy, which can vary wildly from day to day, Cliffs’ share price can be equally volatile, but I believe will be rewarding for the strong of stomach.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) was widely criticized as no longer being “cool.” That suits me just fine, figuratively, but not literally, as I resist wearing anyone’s logo with compensation. However, after joining other teen retailers in receiving earnings related punishment, I sold puts on its shares and happily saw them expire. Long a favorite stock of mine on which to generate option premium income, I think it’s at a price level that may offer some stability even with a demographic customer base that may not offer the same stability. This has been a great company to practice serial covered call writing, as long as you have a parallel strategy during the week of earnings release. In this case, that leaves three months of evaluating opportunities and perhaps even receiving a dividend before the next quarterly challenge.

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, Cisco, Cypress Semiconductor, Eli Lilly, JP Morgan, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Cliffs Natural Resources

Double Dip Dividend: Abercrombie and Fitch (ex-div 8/29), Sinclair Broadcasting (ex-div 8/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: salesforce.com (8/29 PM)

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

 

Weekend Update – August 11, 2013

I like to end each week taking a look at the upcoming week’s economic calendar just to have an idea of what kind of curveballs may come along. It’s a fairly low value added activity as once you know what is in store for the coming week the best you can do is guess about data releases and then further guess about market reactions.

Just like the professionals.

That’s an even less productive endeavor in August and this summer we don’t even have much in the way of extrinsic factors, such as a European banking crisis to keep us occupied in our guessing. In all, there have been very few catalysts and distractions of late, hearkening back to more simple times when basic rules actually ruled.

In the vacuum that is August you might believe that markets would be inclined to respond to good old fundamentals as histrionics takes a vacation. Traditionally, that would mean that earnings take center stage and that the reverse psychology kind of thinking that attempts to interpret good news as bad and bad news as good also takes a break.

Based upon this most recent earnings season it’s hard to say that the market has fully embraced traditional drivers, however. While analysts are mixed in their overall assessment of earnings and their quality, what is clear is that earnings don’t appear to be reflective of an improving economy, despite official economic data that may be suggesting that is our direction.

That, of course, might lead you to believe that discordant earnings would put price pressure on a market that has seemingly been defying gravity.

Other than a brief and shallow three day drop this week and a very quickly corrected drop in May, the market has been incredibly resistant to broadly interpreting earnings related news negatively, although individual stocks may bear the burden of disappointing earnings, especially after steep runs higher.

But who knows, maybe Friday’s sell off, which itself is counter to the typical Friday pattern of late is a return to rational thought processes.

Despite mounting pessimism in the wake of what was being treated as an unprecedented three days lower, the market was able to find catalysts, albeit of questionable veracity, on Thursday.

First, news of better than expected economic growth in China was just the thing to reverse course on the fourth day. For me, whose 2013 thesis was predicated on better than expected Chinese growth resulting from new political leadership’s need to placate an increasingly restive and entitled society, that kind of news was long overdue, but nowhere near enough to erase some punishing declines in the likes of Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF).

That catalyst lasted for all of an hour.

The real surprising catalyst at 11:56 AM was news that JC Penney (JCP) was on the verge of bringing legendary retail maven Allen Questrom back home at the urging of a newly vocal Bill Ackman. The market, which had gone negative and was sinking lower turned around coincident with that news. Bill Ackman helped to raise share price by being Bill Ackman.

Strange catalyst, but it is August, after all. In a world where sharks can fall out of the sky why couldn’t JC Penney exert its influence, especially as we’re told how volatile markets can be in a light volume environment? Of course that bump only lasted about a day as shares went down because Bill Ackman acted like Bill Ackman.The ensuing dysfunction evident on Friday and price reversal in shares was, perhaps coincidentally mirrored in the overall market, as there really was no other news to account for any movement of stature.

With earnings season nearly done and most high profile companies having reported, there’s very little ahead, just more light volume days. As a covered option investor if I could script a market my preference would actually be for precisely the kind of market we have recently been seeing. The lack of commitment in either direction or the meandering around a narrow range is absolutely ideal, especially utilizing short term contracts. That kind of market present throughout 2011 and for a large part of 2012 has largely been missing this year and sorely missed. Beyond that, a drop on Fridays makes bargains potentially available on Mondays when cash from assigned positions is available.

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

For an extended period I’ve been attempting to select new positions that were soon to go ex-dividend as a means to increase income, offset lower option premiums and reduce risk, while waiting for a market decline that has never arrived.

This week, I’m more focused on the two selections that are going ex-dividend this coming week, but may have gotten away after large price rises on Thursday.

Both Cliffs Natural Resources and Microsoft (MSFT) were beneficiaries of Chinese related news. In Cliffs Natural’s case it was simply the perception that better economic news from China would translate into the need for iron ore. In Microsoft’s case is was the introduction of Microsoft Office 365 in China. Unfortunately, both stocks advanced mightily on the news, but any pullback prior to the ex-dividend dates would encourage me to add shares, even in highly volatile Cliffs, with which I have suffered since the dividend was slashed.

A bit more reliable in terms of dividend payments are Walgreens (WAG), Chevron (CVX) and Phillips 66 (PSX).

Although I do like Walgreens, I’ve only owned it infrequently. However, since beginning to offer weekly options I look more frequently to the possibility of adding shares. Despite being near its high, the prospect of a short term trade in a sector that has been middling over the past week, with a return amplified by a dividend payment, is appealing.

Despite being near the limit of the amount of exposure that I would ordinarily want in the Energy Sector, both Chevron and Phillips 66 offer good option premiums and dividends. The recent weakness in big oil makes me gravitate toward one of its members, Chevron, however, if forced to choose between just one to add to my portfolio, I prefer Phillips 66 due to its greater volatility and enhanced premiums. I currently own Phillips 66 shares but have them covered with September call contracts. In the event that I add shares I would likely elect weekly hedge contracts.

If there is some validity to the idea that the Chinese economy still has some life left in it, Joy Global (JOY), which is currently trading near the bottom of its range offers an opportunity to thrive along with the economy. Although the sector has been relatively battered compared to the overall market, option premiums and dividends have helped to close that gap and I believe that the sector is beginning to resemble a compressed spring. On a day when Deere (DE) received a downgrade and Caterpillar was unable to extend its gain from the previous day, Joy Global moved strongly higher on Friday in an otherwise weak market.

Oracle (ORCL) is one of the few remaining to have yet reported its earnings and there will be lots of anticipation and perhaps frayed nerves in advanced for next month’s report, which occurs the day prior to expiration of the September 2013 contract.

You probably don’t need the arrows in the graph above to know when those past two earnings reports occurred. Based Larry Ellison’s reaction and finger pointing the performance issues were unique to Oracle and one could reasonably expect that internal changes have been made and in place long enough to show their mark.

Fastenal (FAST) is just a great reflection of what is really going on in the economy, as it supplies all of those little things that go into big things. Without passing judgment on which direction the economy is heading, Fastenal has recently seemed to established a lower boundary on its trading range after having reported some disappointing earnings and guidance. Trading within a defined range makes it a very good candidate to consider for a covered option strategy

What’s a week without another concern about legal proceedings or an SEC investigation into the antics over at JP Morgan Chase (JPM)? While John Gotti may have been known as the “Teflon Don,” eventually after enough was thrown at him some things began to stick. I don’t know if the same fate will befall Jamie Dimon, but he has certainly had a well challenged Teflon shell. Certainly one never knows to what degree stock price will be adversely impacted, but I look at the most recent challenge as just an opportunity to purchase shares for short term ownership at a lower price than would have been available without any legal overhangs.

Morgan Stanley (MS), while trading near its multi-year high and said to have greater European exposure than other US banks, continues to move forward, periodically successfully testing its price support.

With any price weakness in JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley to open the week I would be inclined to add both, as I’ve been woefully under-invested in the Finance sector recently.

While retailers, especially teen retailers had a rough week last week, Footlocker (FL) has been a steady performer over the past year. A downgrade by Goldman Sachs (GS) on Friday was all the impetus I needed and actually purchased shares on Friday, jumping the gun a bit.

Using the lens of a covered option seller a narrow range can be far more rewarding than the typical swings seen among so many stocks that lead to evaporation of paper gains and too many instances of buying high and selling low. Some pricing pressure was placed on shares as its new CEO was rumored a potential candidate for the CEO at JC Penney. However, as that soap opera heats up, with the board re-affirming its support of their one time CEO and now interim CEO, I suspect that after still being in limbo over poaching Martha Stewart products, JC Penney will not likely further go where it’s unwelcome.

Finally, Mosaic (MOS) had a good week after having plunged the prior week, caught up in the news that the potash cartel was falling apart. Estimates that potash prices may fall by 25% caused an immediate price drop that offered opportunity as basically the fear generated was based on supposition and convenient disregard for existing contracts and the potential for more rationale explorations of self-interest that would best be found by keeping the cartel intact.

The price drop in Mosaic was reminiscent of that seen by McGraw Hill FInancial (MHFI) when it was announced that it was the target of government legal proceedings for its role in the housing crisis through its bond ratings. The drop was precipitous, but the climb back wonderfully steady.

I subsequently had Mosaic shares assigned in the past two weeks, but continue to hold far more expensively priced shares. I believe that the initial reaction was so over-blown that even with this past week’s move higher there is still more ahead, or at least some price stability, making covered options a good way to generate return and in my case help to whittle down paper losses on the older positions while awaiting some return to normalcy.

Traditional Stocks: Fastenal, Footlocker, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Chevron (ex-div 8/15), Phillips 66 (ex-div 8/14), Walgreen (ex-div 8/16)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

 

Weekend Update – July 7, 2013

Much has been made of the recent increase in volatility.

As someone who sells options I like volatility because it typically results in higher option premiums. Since selling an option provides a time defined period I don’t get particularly excited when seeing large movements in a share’s price. With volatility comes greater probability that “this too shall pass” and selling that option allows you to sit back a bit and watch to see the story unwind.

It also gives you an opportunity to watch “the smart money” at play and wonder “just how smart is that “smart money”?

But being a observer doesn’t stop me from wondering sometimes what is behind a sudden and large movement in a stock’s price, particularly since so often they seem to occur in the absence of news. They can’t all be “fat finger ” related. I also sit and marvel about entire market reversals and wildly alternating interpretations of data.

I’m certain that for a sub-set there is some sort of technical barrier that’s been breached and the computer algorithms go into high gear. but for others the cause may be less clear, but no doubt, it is “The Smart Money,” that’s behind the gyrations so often seen.

Certainly for a large cap stock and one trading with considerable volume, you can’t credit or blame the individual investor for price swings, especially in the absence of news. Since for those shares the majority are owned by institutions, which hopefully are managed by those that comprise the “smart money” community, the large movements certainly most result in detriment to at least some in that community.

But what especially intrigues me is how the smart money so often over-reacts to news, yet still can retain their moniker.

This week’s announcement that there would be a one year delay in implementing a specific component of the Affordable Care Act , the Employer mandate, resulted in a swift drop among health care stocks, including pharmaceutical companies.

Presumably, since the markets are said to discount events 6 months into the future, the timing may have been just right, as a July 3, 2013 announcement falls within that 6 month time frame, as the changes were due to begin January 1, 2014.

By some kind of logic the news of the delay, which reflects a piece of legislation that has regularly alternated between being considered good and bad for health care stocks, was now again considered bad.

But only for a short time.

As so often is seen, such as when major economic data is released, there is an immediate reaction that is frequently reversed. Why in the world would smart people have knee jerk reactions? That doesn’t seem so smart. This morning’s reaction to the Employment Situation report is yet another example of an outsized initial reaction in the futures market that saw its follow through in the stock market severely eroded. Of course, the reaction to the over-reaction was itself then eroded as the market was entering into its final hour, as if involved in a game of volleyball piting two team of smart money against one another.

Some smart money must have lost some money during that brief period of time as they mis-read the market’s assessment of the meaning of a nearly 200,000 monthly increase in employment.

After having gone to my high school’s 25th Reunion a number of years ago, it seemed that the ones who thought they were the most cool turned out to be the least. Maybe smart money isn’t much different. Definitely be wary of anyone that refers to themselves as being part of the smart money crowd.

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

As a caveat, with Earnings Season beginning this week some of the selections may also be reporting their own earnings shortly, perhaps even during the July 2013 option cycle. That knowledge should be factored into any decision process, particularly since if you select a shorter term option sale that doesn’t get assigned, since yo may be left with a position that is subject to earnings related risk. By the same token, some of those positions will have their premiums enhanced by the uncertainty associated with earnings.

Both Eli Lilly (LLY) and Abbott Labs (ABT) were on my list of prospective purchases last week. Besides being a trading shortened week in celebration of the FOurth of July, it was also a trade shortened week, as I initiated the fewest new weekly positions in a few years. Both shares were among those that took swift hits from fears that a delay in the ACA would adversely impact companies in the sector. In hindsight, that was a good opportunity to buy shares, particularly as they recovered significantly later in the day. Lilly is well off of its recent highs and Abbott Labs goes ex-dividend this week. However, it does report earnings during the final week of the July 2013 option cycle. I think that healthcare stocks have further to run.

AIG (AIG) is probably the stock that I’ve most often thought of buying over the past two years but have too infrequently gone that path. While at one time I thought of it only as a speculative position it is about as mainstream as they come, these days. Under the leadership of Robert Ben Mosche it has accomplished what no one believe was possible with regard to paying back the Treasury. While its option premiums aren’t as exciting as they once were it still offers a good risk-reward proposition.

Despite having given up on “buy and hold,” I’ve almost always had shares of Dow Chemical (DOW) over the past 5 years. They just haven’t been the same shares for very long. It’s CEO, Andrew Liveris was once the darling of cable finance news and then fell out of favor, while being roundly criticized as Dow shares plummeted in 2008. His star is pretty shiny once again and he has been a consistent force in leading the company to maintain shares trading in a fairly defined channel. That is an ideal kind of stock for a covered call strategy.

The recent rise in oil prices and the worries regarding oil transport through the Suez Canal, hasn’t pushed British Petroleum (BP) shares higher, perhaps due to some soon to be completed North Sea pipeline maintenance. British Petroleum is also a company that I almost always own, currently owning two higher priced lots. Generally, three lots is my maximum for any single stock, but at this level I think that shares are a worthy purchase. With a dividend yield currently in excess of 5% it does make it easier to make the purchase or to add shares to existing lots.

General Electric (GE) is one of those stocks that I only like to purchase right after a large price drop or right before its ex-dividend date. Even if either of those are present, I also like to see it trading right near its strike price. Its big price drop actually came 3 weeks ago, as did its ex-dividend date. Although it is currently trading near a strike price, that may be sufficient for me to consider making the purchase, hopeful of very quick assignment, as earnings are reported July 19, 2013.

Oracle (ORCL) has had its share of disappointments since the past two earnings releases. Its problems appear to have been company specific as competitors didn’t share in sales woes. The recent announcement of collaborations with Microsoft (MSFT and Salesforce.com (CRM) says that a fiercely competitive Larry Ellison puts performance and profits ahead of personal feelings. That’s probably a good thing if you believe that emotion can sometimes not be very helpful. It too was a recent selection that went unrequited. Going ex-dividend this week helps to make a purchase decision easier.

This coming week and next have lots of earnings coming from the financial sector. Having recently owned JP Morgan Chase (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) I think I will stay away from those this week. While I’ve been looking for new entry points for Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), I think that they’re may be a bit too volatile at the moment. One that has gotten my attention is Bank of New York Mellon (BK). While it does report earnings on July 17, 2013 it isn’t quite as volatile as the latter two banks and hasn’t risen as much as Wells Fargo (WFC), another position that I would like to re-establish.

YUM Brands (YUM) reports earnings this week and as an added enticement also goes ex-dividend on the same day. People have been talking about the risk in its shares for the past year, as it’s said to be closely tied to the Chinese economy and then also subject to health scare rumors and realities. Shares do often move significantly, especially when they are stoked by fears, but YUM has shown incredible resilience, as perhaps some of the 80% institutional ownership second guess their initial urge to head for the exits, while the “not so smart money” just keeps the faith.

Finally, one place that the “smart money” has me intrigued is JC Penney (JCP). With a large vote of confidence from George Soros, a fellow Hungarian, it’s hard to not wonder what it is that he sees in the company, after all, he was smart enough to have fled Hungary. The fact that I already own shares, but at a higher price, is conveniently irrelevant in thinking that Soros is smart to like JC Penney. In hindsight it may turn out that ex-CEO Ron Johnson’s strategy was well conceived and under the guidance of a CEO with operational experience will blossom. I think that by the time earnings are reported just prior to the end of the August 2013 option cycle, there will be some upward surprises.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of New York, British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, General Electric,

Momentum Stocks: AIG, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 7/11), Oracle (ex-div)7/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (7/10 PM)

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

   

Weekend Update – May 12, 2013

There’s certainly no way to deny the fact that this has been an impressive first 4 months of the year. The recently touted statistic was that after 4 months and one week the market had gone up 13%.

To put that into the perspective the statistic wanted you to have, the statistical factoid added that for all of 2012 the market was up only 7.2%. That certainly tells you not only how impressive this gain has been but how 2013 will undoubtedly leave 2012 in the dust.

What is left unmentioned is that in 2012, in a period of only 3 months and 1 week the market was up 12.9%.

What happened? Could that happen again? Those are questions asked by someone who turned cautious when the market was up less than 8% in 2013 and wasn’t adequately cautious in 2012.

SInce 1970, the S&P 500 has finished the year with gains of greater than 14% on a total of 16 occasions, so there could easily be more to come. That can easily be a justifiable perspective to hold unless you also look at the margins by which 14% was exceeded. In that event, the perspective becomes less compelling. It’s still possible to end the year substantially higher than 14%, just not as likely as such a great start might suggest.

But remember, statistics don’t mislead people. People mislead people.

There was little to no substantive news this past week as the market just continued on auto-pilot. If you owned shares of any of the stocks that had super-sized moves after earnings, such as Tesla (TSLA) or Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), that was news enough. But for the rest of us it was quiet.

What was interesting, however, was the behavior of the market during the final hour of Thursday’s trading.

That period marked a turnaround sending the market quite a bit lower, at least based on recent standards when only higher seems to be the order of the day. Initially, the drop was ascribed to a strengthening of the dollar and further drop in gold. Those, however, had been going on for a while, having started earlier in the trading session.

What came to light and whose timing was curiously coincident with the market change in direction was a rumor of a rumor that someone from within JP Morgan (JPM) was suggesting that the Federal Reserve was ready to begin tapering its Treasury purchases, those signaling the beginning of an end to Quantitative Easing.

For the growing throng that believe that QE has been responsible for the market’s climb higher, life after QE couldn’t possibly be rosy.

First comes an errant AP Tweet, then an unconfirmed rumor of a rumor. Those incidents would seem to indicate vulnerability or at least an Achilles heel that could stand in the way of this year becoming the 17th in the list.

Easily said, but otherwise, there’s really not much else on the radar screen that appears poised to interfere with the market’s manifest destiny. Unless of course, Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve has indeed mapped out a strategy for winding down QE, transforms rumor into potential reality.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details). Additionally, as the week unwinds, I may place relatively greater emphasis on dividend paying stocks and give greater consideration to monthly contracts, in order to lock into option premiums for a longer period in the event that 2012 is the order of the day.

This week’s selections seem to have more healthcare stocks than usual. I know that healthcare may have already run its course as it was a market leader through the first 4 months of 2012, but some individual names haven’t been to the party or have recently fallen on hard times.

Amgen (AMGN) didn’t react terribly well following its recent earnings report, having fallen 6%. That’s not to say that it hadn’t enjoyed a nice gain in 2013. However, it does offer an attractive short term option premium, despite also being ex-dividend this week. That’s a combination that I like, especially when I still remain somewhat defensive in considering opening new positions.

Eli Lilly (LLY) is also trading ex-dividend this coming week. It has under-performed the S&P 500 this year, but still, a 10% gain YTD isn’t a bad four months of work. It has fallen about 7% since reporting its most recent quarter’s earnings.

Merck (MRK) isn’t joining the ex-dividend parade this week, but will do so during the June 2013 option cycle for those a little more long term oriented than I typically tend to be. However, during a period of having repositioned myself defensively, the longer term options have utility and can provide a better price cushion in the event of adverse market moves.

I’ve owned shares of Conoco Phillips (COP) only once since the spin-off of its refinery arm, Phillips 66 (PSX). It used to be a very regular part of my portfolio prior to that occasion. The parent certainly hasn’t fared as well as the child in the 15 months since Phillips 66 has traded as a public company. The 80% difference in return is glaring. But like so many stocks, I think Phillips 66 isn’t priced for a new purchase, while Conoco Phillips represents some opportunity. Additionally, though not yet announced, there should be a dividend forthcoming in the next week or two.

I don’t recall why I didn’t purchase shares of Marathon Oil (MRO) last week after a discussion of its merits, but it probably had to do with the limited buying I was doing across the board. It reported earnings last week, perhaps that was a risk factor that didn’t have commensurate reward in the option premiums offered. But this week, with that risk removed, it goes ex-dividend and the consideration begins anew.

Although I already own shares of JP Morgan, I would consider adding to that position. Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue of separating the roles of Chairman and CEO, there’s not too much disagreement that Jamie Dimon will forever be remembered as one of the supporting pillars during and in the immediate aftermath of our financial meltdown. The recent spate of diversions has kept JP Morgan from keeping pace with the S&P 500 during 2013, but I believe it is capable of cutting that gap.

Autodesk (ADSK) reports earnings this week and is down about 4% from its recent high. I often like to consider earnings trades on shares that are already down somewhat, however, shares are up quite a bit in the past 3 weeks. While the options market was implying about a 6% move upon earnings, anything less than a 7% move downward could offer a 1.1% option premium for the week’s exposure to risk.

Salesforce.com (CRM) is another of those rare companies that haven’t kept up with market lately. That’s been especially true since its recent stock split. Although it does offer a an attractive weekly premium, the challenge may lie the possibility that shares are not assigned as the May 2013 option cycle ends, because earnings are reported during the first week of the June 2013 cycle. Barring a large downward move prior to earnings, there would certainly be ample time to re-position with another weekly or even monthly option contract prior to earning’s release.

To round off my over-exposure to the technology sector, I may consider either adding more shares of Cisco (CSCO) or selling puts in advance of this week’s earning’s report. I’ve added shares in each of three successive weeks and don’t believe that Cisco’s earnings will reflect some of the woes expressed by Oracle (ORCL). My only personal concern is related to the issue of diversification, but for the moment, technology may be the sector in which to throw caution to the wind.

US Steel (X) has been one of those stocks that I’m not terribly happy about, although that really only pertains to the current lot that I hold. Along with pretty much everything in the metals complex, US Steel hasn’t fared very well the past few months. However, I think that I am ready for a resurgence in the sector and am hoping that the sector agrees with me, or at least continues to show some strength as it has this past week.

Finally, despite having owned Facebook (FB) since the IPO and currently owning two individual lots, priced at $29 and $27.17, it remains one of my favorite new stocks. Not because I can count on it going to $30, but because I can count on it staying in a reasonable pricing neighborhood and becoming a recurrent stream of option income.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Conoco Phillips, Merck, Salesforce.com

Momentum Stocks: Facebook, US Steel

Double Dip Dividend: Amgen (ex-div 5/14), Eli Lilly (ex-div 5/14), Marathon Oil (ex-div 5/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Autodesk (5/16 PM)

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

 

Weekend Update – April 28, 2013

Schadenfreude suits me just fine.

Is it really “schadefreude” when you don’t really know or see the people upon whom misfortune has been heaped?

For those that aren’t familiar with the word, “schadenfreude” is the strangely good feeling that some people derive when others fail or are subject to misfortune.

In Talmudic teaching the highest form of charity is when neither the donor nor the recipient are aware of one another’s identity. Complete ignorance raises the act of charity to a higher level.

Of course, we will never be able to answer the question of whether there is really a sound produced when a tree falls in the forest and there is no one present to lay witness. A single degree of separation can completely call into question that which seems patently obvious. Ignorance of an event can be is as if it doesn’t even exist.

Being a covered option seller, I do take some perverse pleasure and satisfaction when the market goes lower, even though I know that the vast majority of investors, especially the individual investor, fares well only when the markets are moving higher.

When I sell longer term call options, such as the monthly variety, I just love seeing the share price exceed my strike level early during the term of the contract, only to watch those gains dissipate as the term nears its end, especially if the end returns right to the strike price.

Somewhere, I just know that someone is asking themselves why they didn’t take their profits when they had the chance.

That’s pretty bad, right? But I never see that person. I’m not really certain that they even exist, except for the fact that I was once that person. To a large degree I believe that I was deeply ignorant back in those days with regard to the discipline of securing profits. These days I’ve simply added ignorance to the fortunes of those on the other end of trades to the list of things unknowable. Additionally, not knowing who they are is the highest form of ignorance.

As this past week was one that I immensely enjoyed and briefly put away my short term pessimism in order to trade at levels that reflect a more bullish tone, I’m now on the fence as to whether the bullish feeling can be sustained given what the past may be revealing.

After hitting market peaks 2 weeks ago and then alternatively going from the worst week of 2013 to one of the best weeks of 2013, I continue to believe that we are replicating the first 5 months of 2012.

So while I’m very happy with the higher tract that stocks took this past week, I’m especially happy to see assignments take place and have the cash settle in my account, to hold or to invest, as the market reveals itself.

Although I would much rather be fully invested, I really do want to see give backs of many gains at this point. Having a sizeable portion in cash and evolving from the use of weekly contracts to monthly ones, or even the occasional June 2013 cycle, makes it easy to make that wish.

If history is a guide, the last correction we experienced lasted just one month and then was completely recovered 2 months after it ended.

I can live with that, at least while cash is on the sidelines. If it happens, and assuming that it’s within tolerable levels, such as 10%, I’ll be reasonably happy, but not in a schadenfreude kind of way, although that kind of admission would certainly get me much more attention. Everyone notices the misanthropic guy and wishing that stock prices retreat may be the highest form of misanthrope, especially if it disproportionately impacts widows and orphans.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or the “PEE” category (see details). Additionally, as in previous weeks there is a greater emphasis on stocks that offer monthly contracts only, eschewing the usual preference for the relatively higher ROI of weekly options for the guarantee of premiums for a longer period in order to ride out any turbulence. Additionally, as with the previous week, we are at the height of earnings season and thus far there have been some surprises, perhaps offering more opportunity to sell well out of the money puts prior to earnings.

I really can’t recall the last time I owned shares of ExxonMobil (XOM). Although it is one of the shares that I consistently follow, it rarely has piqued my short term interest. That may be changing a bit as I look at its upcoming and increased dividend. At a time that I’m expecting to be on the precipice of a market decline that is technically driven, rather than fundamentally, I would be more inclined to limit new investments to more defensive stocks that are likely to outperform a falling market during a period of economic stability or growth.

Although Apple (AAPL) was a potential earnings related trade last week, I ultimately waited for earnings and instead purchased shares the next day. Those were assigned, but if shares open the week near the $410 level, I am interested in establishing a new position and using an out of the money monthly contract in order to have an opportunity to also secure the newly increased dividend. I believe that Apple will out-perform the market in the near term and will offer trading opportunities in addition to appealing option premiums.

With last week’s selection Cisco (CSCO) among those assigned, Oracle (ORCL) also one of last week’s potential picks went unrequited. It also under-performed Cisco as some of the networking companies were depressed following Broadcom’s (BRCM) earnings. I’ll be looking to Oracle as a potential purchase this week as well, as the technology sector may be showing some signs of catching up to the overall market with Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) showing strength.

As news related to the Chinese economy seems to wag our own stock market, the heavy machinery titans have been slammed back and forth as what is called “news” is so often re-interpreted or presented in different lights that create an alternation between good economic news and bad economic news on a near daily basis. Very often the sector moves in unison even when the exposure to China is limited. While Joy Global (JOY) has significant exposure, PACCAR (PCAR)certainly has less so. Both have recovered a bit this past week as have Caterpillar (CAT) and Deere (DE). ALl, however, continue to trail the S&P 500 in 2013.

Petrobras (PBR) suspended its regular dividend payment in 2012. I’m somewhat embarrassed to still be holding shares priced in the $19-20 range, purchased just before a slew of bad news. Having held onto shares even as they sank as much as almost 25%, it has been clawing its way back. Among the positive signs are the recent announcement of two special dividends. With the hope for some stability in its share price after bad news regarding pricing and production issues have now been digested, it may be time to restart accumulating shares.

Last week playing earnings related trades was a very timely strategy. I don’t know if the pleasant surprises will continue, but I think there may again be some very reasonable risk-reward propositions available, as long as you don’t mind the possibility of owning shares after it’s all said and done.

Among those reporting is Facebook (FB), which despite having received an IPO allocation and currently owning shares at various price points, has become one of my favorite stocks. The existence of extended weekly options opens up many more opportunities to generate option premiums and mitigate the potential impact of sudden adverse moves in share price. At Friday’s closing price, a weekly put sale at a strike price 12.5% below the close could return a 0.7% ROI. For those more adventurous, a strike price only 9% lower could yield a 1.4% return.

Pfizer (PFE) reports earnings this week and fits into the profile that appeals to me the most when considering an earnings related trade. This past week it sustained a large price drop, which is usually the signal that clears me to sell puts on shares. However, in this case, I more likely to consider an outright purchase on shares, not only for some capital appreciation and option premium income, but also in order to capture the May 8, 2013 dividend payment.

Humana (HUM) has been on a true rollercoaster ride. As often happens with health care stocks the various interpretations of how changing legislation or pricing structure may impact share price sends the shares in irrational and alternating directions. With earnings approaching and shares down almost 10% from its 2 week ago high, it represents a potentially acceptable risk-reward offer. If it falls less than another7% the ROI is approximately 1%. That, however, is for the time remaining on a monthly contract, which makes it a little less appealing to me, but still under consideration.

Finally, I’m not certain how much longer the world needs an independent Open Table (OPEN) but it has the kind of pricing volatility at the time of earnings release to make it worth considering a purchase of shares and the sale of deep in the money calls or simply a sale of deep out of the money puts.

Traditional Stocks: ExxonMobil, Oracle, Paccar, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Joy Global

Double Dip Dividend: Petrobras (ex-div 4/30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Facebook (5/1 PM), Humana (5/1 AM), Open Table (5/2 PM)

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

 

Weekend Update – April 21, 2013

I’m finally feeling bullish. Sort of.

Two months ago I started getting a very uneasy feeling.

Normally, money burns a hole in my pocket. Sadly for the economy, that’s not the case when it comes to consumer goods, but it’s definitely the case when it comes to stocks.

Selling options, and predominantly of the weekly variety, I often have had the pleasure of awaking Monday morning to see freshly deposited cash in my account as shares upon which I had written weekly call contracts were assigned.

But that has changed recently, ever since that uneasy feeling hit.

The principal change was not immediately going out on shopping sprees on Monday mornings and instead building up cash caches. Among the changes were also the use of longer option contract periods because of the realization that so often market downturns happen suddenly and I would prefer not to be caught flat-footed or in-between contracts when and if it does occur.

But now, after what is the worst week of 2013, it may be time for yet another transition, of sorts.

As the April 2013 cycle has come to an end and many of those contracts have been assigned or rolled over to May 2013, being flush with cash at a time that some stocks have had some meaningful declines introduces temptation.

Jim Cramer used to say “there’s always a bull market somewhere.” I may still harbor the belief that the market is poised to mime the same period of 2012, but within that bearish sentiment I do see some glimmers of hope and opportunity as there is a universe of beaten down stocks that may have deserved better.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference, during this period of pessimism is to continue seeking high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, there aren’t many of those to consider this week. Instead, earnings and injured shares predominate.

Anadarko (APC) is one of those stocks that has seen a relatively large drop recently, but has been showing some strength at $79. It does report earnings on May 6, 2013, but the weekly option premium is unusually high for the period two weeks before earnings. While the monthly premiums are also attractive, this may be one of the situations where I would still consider the use of a weekly contract.

eBay (EBAY) also had a rough week. it is among those stocks that have had some significant drops that may have been overdone. Down about 7% following earnings its share price is approaching the $52.50 level where it has had some reasonable strength. It too may warrant a look at the weekly option contracts, especially if it appears as if there may be some market stability early next week.

In a similar situation, General Electric (GE) suffered a 4% earnings related loss on Friday and is down about 8% over the past 2 months. It too is approaching a price level where it has been pretty comfortable and when GE is comfortable, so am I. Flush with cash itself, GE may continue its own spending spree which is sometimes a short term share price depressant. If its current share price is maintained or goes a bit lower on Monday, it may be one of those few positions that I do not immediately cover by selling call options, but rather await some price rebound and then sell options.

I was disappointed when it was decided that Texas Instruments (TXN) would no longer have weekly options offered. However, the concern is now on hold as the monthly contracts look better and better every day, especially as volatility and premiums are increasing. Texas Instruments goes ex-dividend this week and that is a significant repository of its appeal to me. However, before it does so, it reports earnings. I don’t particularly see a compelling trade based on that event on Monday afternoon, so I would likely wait until after that occurs to decide whether the premium offered is still appealing enough to purchase shares.

Although I’m overweight in the Technology Sector, and despite the fact that its performance hasn’t been spectacular, sometimes I do find it hard to resist after price pullbacks. That was certainly the case after re-purchasing shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) after its deep fall upon earnings and disappointing guidance. Although IBM’s (IBM) earnings report on Friday cast a little bit of a pall over the sector some values appear to available. For the coming week, both Cisco (CSCO) and Oracle (ORCL), which I owned just a week ago prior to its assignment are again in a price range that works for me, Even as I hold uncovered shares of sector mate Riverbed Technology (RVBD) which reports earnings this week and often follows Oracle’s pattern, I believe that there are opportunities at these levels even in a weak overall market.

I always like MetLife (MET). So often, however, it seems just as I want to purchase shares the rest of the world has had the same idea and I’m reluctant to chase the stock. This past week, it along with the market settled down a bit. It always offers a fair option premium and it is a resilient performer even in the face of overall market adversity.

Although I also always like YUM Brands (YUM) that, unfortunately, doesn’t give me freedom to extend that to its products, as I’m now sworn to keeping my cholesterol within survivable levels. However, perhaps increasing my use of MetLife products might offset the use of YUM’s goods. After a fairly significant price fall, YUM Brands is back to the range that offers me as much comfort as their foods. I think that it is immune from near term Chinese economic concerns, the market having digested that along with its drumsticks.

With Apple (AAPL) sinking below $400/share and earnings set to be announced this week it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to believe that there may be significant price movement upon their release. Always a volatile holding upon earnings and guidance, there isn’t much pent up frustration any longer. Following more than a 40% drop in share price most shareholders and long time advocates have had ample opportunity to vent. Although Steve Jobs was notorious for his strategy of under-promising and over-delivering, it’s hard to imagine that expectations could get any lower. I think Apple is a good earnings play, factoring in a 10% price drop in return for nearly a 1% ROI. Relative to the market, i expect Apple to trade higher in the aftermath of its eagerly awaited news, which makes the sale of out of the money put options particularly appealing.

Netflix (NFLX) certainly would qualify as a finalist in any “comeback stock of the year” competition. I haven’t owned shares in almost 90 points. Like the other earnings related selections this week, it is certainly capable of a dramatic move when earnings and guidance are released. In this case, there may be opportunity to still derive a 1% ROI even if share price falls by as much as 25%. Risky? Yes, but Green Mountain (GMCR) has shown that momentum stocks can come back more than once. Even a significant price drop can no longer be counted upon as being a conclusion to the Netflix story. What was once considered the end of its run, Netflix has successfully gone on to its second life and could easily have a third.

Finally, Amazon (AMZN) is actually my least compelling earnings related trade in that the price drop cushion in order to achieve a 1% ROI is only about 8%. With a universal chorus deriding the razor thin margins and the P/E one has to wonder when that point will arrive that the market decides to treat Amazon as it does many other companies that spend time in rarefied environments. Still, if the cash in my pocket gets too hot this may be its final resting place.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Cisco, eBay, General Electric, MetLife, Oracle

Momentum Stocks: YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (4/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Amazon (4/25 PM), Apple (4/23 PM), Netflix (4/22 PM)

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

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

 

Weekend Update – April 7, 2013

I’m was beginning to feel like one of those Pacific Island soldiers that never found out World War II had ended and remained ever-presently vigilant for an impending attack that never came.

Amazingly, some held up their vow to defend for decades while I’m having difficulty after a bit more than a month waiting for a correction. Nothing big, just in line with this same time period in 2012, as I see lots of similarities to that time, not only in the parallel nature of the charts, but also in my own less than stellar performances, having been selling covered options as religiously as a sentinel keeps an eye on the horizon.

Having weathered the acute shock value of Cyprus, decreasing economic growth in China, currency manipulation in Japan and digested the initial uncertainty of the Korean Peninsula, it looked as if any sentinel for a sell-off would be a lonely soldier.

Now faced with a disappointing employment situation there’s opportunity to wonder over the weekend whether the pole has been sufficiently greased or whether this is simply the very quick mini sell-off of April 2012 that occurred just as Apple (AAPL) hit its high, then quickly recovered, just in time to lead to a 9% sell-off.

Apple had came off its April high by 5% at that point that the greater market downturn began, which is that same point that Google (GOOG) was down from its recent high point, at the close of Thursday’s trading (April 4, 2013). Coincidentally, that was the day before today’s sell-off. For those that have believed that Google has rotated into market leadership, having wrestled the position away from Apple, that may be a cause for concern. as does the fact that Google has traded below that dreaded 50 Day Moving Average.

I don’t know much about those kind of technical factors, but I do recognize that sometimes there is a basis for deja vu being more than just a feeling. What actually exists over the horizon is still anyone’s guess, but unlike those lonely soldiers you can feel relatively assured that at some point an unwelcome visitor will appear and wreak some havoc on the market. From my perspective that comes along every 52 months, so I’m not quite ready to accept that the time has come to drop defenses, but there may be room to let the guard down a bit.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories, as earnings season begins anew on April 8, 2013 (see details). Additionally, for the first time in a few weeks there is a somewhat greater emphasis on Momentum stocks, as a coming downslide might reasonably be expected to unduly impact upon issues that have thrived recently, particularly the more defensive stocks. However, I am still inclined to consider monthly contracts over weekly ones, simply for a little extra breathing room while continuing to await a market heading in a southerly direction.

One Momentum stock that has also thrived up until very recently is YUM Brands (YUM). It also happens to go ex-dividend this week and has already given back much of its gains in the absence of any news. In the past it has demonstrated itself very capable of bouncing back from both real news and speculation regarding its forward prospects. Simultaneously being held hostage to the Chinese economy and also proving to be independent of swirling winds, YUM Brands serves as a model of what can be achieved in a marketplace where the playing field is anything but level.

A real signal that something is evolving, at least from my perspective, is that I no longer classify AIG (AIG) as a Momentum stock. Over the past year, had I followed by frequent suggestions that AIG might be an appropriate covered call position, I think I could have limited my portfolio to a single stock. Robert Ben Mosche, it’s CEO is the poster child for leadership and focus. With some recent share weakness, I think it may be time to add it back to a portfolio in need of income and reasonable price stability.

A couple of months ago I made an earnings related trade in F5 Networks (FFIV) that worked out nicely. Having sold puts just prior to earnings, F5 surpassed expectations and the trade was closed in 4 days. Thursday evening after the closing bell, F5 release disappointing guidance that saw its shares fall more than 15%.

I hate guidance that comes out weeks before earnings and catches me off-guard. In the past I’ve seen Cummins Engine (CMI) and Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) seem to regularly upset happy shareholders with that kind of timed guidance. Despite the fact that analysts seem to be in agreement that this is solely an F5 issue, it indiscriminately drags down the sector, perhaps offering opportunities.

In this case, I think the opportunities are now in both Cisco (CSCO) and Riverbed Technology (RVBD), both unduly hit in the aftermath of F5 and just a couple of weeks ago by Oracle’s (ORCL) disappointing earnings, which were also agreed to be an Oracle specific shortcoming. I currently own shares of Riverbed and would even consider adding to the position ahead of earnings later in the month.

Western Refining (WNR) returns to the list from last week, as an unrequited purchase. It is, possibly another example of how the market acts indiscriminately and emotionally. Following Valero’s (VLO) moaning about the costs of upcoming EPA initiatives for cleaner gas the market punished the entire sector, despite the fact that the EPA suggested that the costs of compliance were minimal for most refiners. The market made no distinction and assumed that all refiners would be subject to additional costs similar to the $300-400 million suggested by Valero. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the fortitude to pick up shares of Western Refining as it briefly dipped below $30 or Phillips 66 (PSX) as it fell about 10%. It didn’t stay there very long and certainly never confirmed the worst case scenario that Valero so openly shouted.

MetLife (MET) also returns from last week, which was another week of hesitancy to commit cash in favor of building reserves. There were, however, a number of times that I was ready to part with some of the cash, but ultimately resisted. As opposed to Western Refining, MetLife’s shares went down even further, so those decisions to embrace inaction may have balanced one another out. I continue to believe that shares will benefit from an increasingly healthy housing market, although that is far from MetLife’s core and highest profile business.

The financial sector was hit quite hard this past week. Since I owned shares of both Morgan Stanley (MS) and JP Morgan (JPM), I was acutely aware of their duress. However, in addition to JP Morgan and Wells Fargo (WFC) releasing earnings this Friday and perhaps representing some opportunity, Bank of America (BAC), whose shares I had assigned just a week ago has given up much of its recent run-up higher and is becoming attractive again.

Finally, Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) s one of my favorite stores, but not one of my favorite stocks. It has had a bit of a price rise on some buy-out speculation and it has demonstrated past ability to disappoint on earnings. Already down about 4% from its very recent high, I would be comfortable owning shares at $60 and would consider a 1.5% ROI for a 2 week holding period to be a decent reward while anticipating less than a 5% decline in share price in the after-math of earnings.

Traditional Stocks: AIG, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: Bank of America, Riverbed Technology, Western Refining,

Double Dip Dividend: YUM Brands (ex-div 4/10)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: JP Morgan (4/12 AM), Pier 1 (4/11 AM), Wells Fargo (4/12 AM)

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

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