Weekend Update – November 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks:  Sinclair Broadcasting 

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: KORS (11/10 PM)

 

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

 

 

 

 

Weekend Update – May 8, 2016

Depending upon how concrete you are in interpreting the meaning of the concept of “the circle of life,” the beginning and the end of that circle must be identical events as their points in space are coincident.

Various religions and philosophies believe that through a certain life path, another life awaits, but the rigorous requirements of geometry may be put aside in the process.

It’s also not clear that there had been any data dependency in the formulation of the philosophical concept.

Life, death and re-birth almost reads like a stock chart, except that the stock chart is plotted over time.

While new life generally brings joy, a geometric centric definition of “the circle of life” would both begin and end with that kind of joy.

On the other hand, a more philosophical interpretation of the concept has some diametrically different events, death and life, coinciding as the circle is closed.

Philosophy aside, markets have their own circle of life.

Start where you like in defining that circle, but among the components are low interest rates; increasing business investment for growth; increasing productivity; increasing corporate profits; increasing employment; increasing consumer spending; higher prices; higher interest rates; decreasing business investment; decreasing productivity;  decreasing employment; decreasing consumer spending and on and on.

That’s more or less a traditional look at the way things usually go, but at the moment it’s hard to know where in that circle we are or if we even have a circle.

If the top of the circle represents the highest point of an economy, I think that I would have to agree with Stanley Druckenmiller, who at this week’s Sohn Conference expressed the belief that the bull market was exhausted.

That would lead one to believe that perhaps revenues and more importantly corporate profits had now peaked and that the eventual tonic to return to a virtuous cycle of increases across the board would be to lower interest rates.

Lower? But the FOMC, claiming to be data dependent, has clearly been ready to increase them.

One has to question where the data was when rates were increased late in 2015, but Druckenmiller also quipped that “quite ironically, this is the least ‘data dependent’ Fed we have had in history.”

The circle of life tries to put a positive spin on what we all will inevitably face, but if late 2008 and early 2009 represented the inevitable bottoming out of the economy and stock markets, with the exception of stock prices since that time, it is still difficult to see real evidence of a re-birth having had taken place.

Increasing employment? Yes, but where is the spending? Where is the upward pressure on prices? Where are the corporate profits?

Where is the reason to increase interest rates?

This past week was an interesting one, with investors not really knowing what to believe or where on the circle we were standing.

With both the ADP Report and the Employment Situation Report coming with disappointingly low numbers, investors are left with wondering what to do about bad news.

You can’t blame them for being undecided as to whether bad news is good news for stocks or truly bad news for everyone.

With this earnings season having been fairly lackluster to date, we’re now faced with retail earnings and there is already reason to believe that they will be less than robust.

If that turns out to be the reality, it’s difficult to see the sunny side of the circle or how we can get there.

If we keep counting on the stock market following oil higher, there may be some real disappointment ahead, as the underside of the circle is more likely to reduce demand for energy.

Of course, simply following oil higher, as has been the case for the past two months in the absence of real demand increases, is also a sure path to disappointment when reality finally checks in.

On a positive note, if you’re the kind that prefers to live in the ascendancy of a civilization, there is some comfort in the belief that the bottom of the circle may be nearing.

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

With its earnings now out of the way, Icahn Enterprises (IEP), not to be confused with Icahn Capital Management, goes ex-dividend this week.

Given Icahn Enterprise’s share price trajectory, it wouldn’t be too surprising if its major share holder, Icahn Capital Management took on an activist role and perhaps tried to unseat management and board members, replacing them with their own, in a true circle of life exercise.

That scenario is pretty unlikely, but one does have to wonder whether Icahn Capital Management, now armed with lots of cash from its sale of its Apple (AAPL) position might not consider Icahn Enterprises to be bargain priced.

Given a nearly 11% dividend that may be reason enough for Icahn’s hedge fund to add shares and keep it far the single largest holding of Icahn Capital Management.

On the downside, if considering a purchase, I would look at this more of a long term commitment, particularly as only monthly options are available and there are $5 strike units instead of the $0.50 ones that I prefer in the weekly variety of expirations.

Following the much larger than expected loss reported by Icahn Enterprises, which included both shortfalls on the top and bottom lines, there’s probably some consternation going on, particularly as Icahn might like to have a cleaner balance sheet before being nominated as Treasury Secretary.

I’ve never visited a Shake Shack (SHAK), but have been tempted the few times I’ve been in the vicinity of one. Fortunately, my better half reminds me that I may be just one clot away from the dark side of the circle of life.

After a flurry of buying and more buying after its IPO, lasting for about 2 months, I’m finally ready to consider a position, as Shake Shack reports earnings this week.

I generally like to wait at least 6 months before considering a new position in a new public company and we are now into the early part of the second year of shares trading.

Since Shake Shack has no dividend to factor into the equation, any consideration of opening a position before or after earnings is fairly straightforward for me.

I would only consider the sale of puts.

With an implied price move of about 8.7%, a 1% ROI on the sale of a weekly out of the money put could be achieved at a strike price approximately 9.7% below Friday’s closing price.

ANything outside of the range predicted by the option market that returns 1% of more is fair game for consideration.

However, the trend for Shake Shack over the past few quarters has been to move lower after earnings have been announced and to surpass the levels predicted by the option market.

For that reason, if considering a position, I would be most inclined to do so after earnings. In the event that shares take a large drop lower, I would entertain the thought of selling puts, but might wait a bit to let some of the dust settle.

It was a tough week or two for some energy stocks, but I’m ready to re-visit a position that I had assigned just a few weeks ago.

I can’t necessarily say that there is anything inherently better about considering a position in Marathon Oil (MRO) over Exxon Mobil (XOM), but I have been burdened by a much more highly prices position in the former and I do like the idea of whittling down some of those paper losses with some high priced premiums from the purchase of new shares and sale of calls.

AS an example of the potential return, based on Friday’s $12.03 close, the sale of a weekly $12 call option at a premium of $0.44, would result in an ROI of 3.4% if assigned.

That could be a big “if,” however, there is sufficient liquidity in those options to likely be able to find a reasonable marginal ROI for subsequent weeks, if continuing to roll over that position, perhaps taking advantage of the availability of extended weekly options to buy some time if awaiting a price rebound.

Finally, in a week where my considerations are more toward taking on risk, there’s some comfort in a company like Pfizer (PFE), which is ex-dividend this week.

There is a general consensus that Pfizer is dead money unless it does something very substantive. There was a time when that meant coming up with a new blockbuster drug.

Now, that means buying some other company that can come up with or has a blockbuster drug, as if Pfizer has no ability to do that on their own. That’s despite having a good number of promising drugs in Phase 3 and that have decent sized target risk 

Pfizer is now trading near the level to which it climbed when rumors of a deal with Allergan (AGN) broke. Even as news of that deal breaking apart became known, Pfizer shares had already given up the market’s premium.

As the Allergan deal is now dead and not likely to be subject to re-birth, the sector is alive with activity and Pfizer isn’t likely to sit on the sidelines.

Unless it engages in a bidding war, the market is likely to look at any initiatives as being good for the company and I would expect share price to rise.

In the meantime, there’s the dividend and the option premium.

I wouldn’t mind if Pfizer just traded in a range for a while and would be happy to see a different virtuous cycle of life.

One that sees the opening of a short call position, then its expiration, only to be followed by the sale of yet another.

 

Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

Double-Dip Dividend: Icahn Enterprises (5/10 $1.50), Pfizer (5/11 $0.30)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Shake Shack (5/12 PM)

 

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

 

Weekend Update – March 13, 2016

While most see virtually no chance of an interest rate increase announcement at this week’s FOMC meeting, it is expected that a June or July rate hike has a 50% chance of occurrence.

Stock market investors may like certainty, but traders often like the volatility that arises from uncertainty.

In this case, however, as there may be increasing certainty of a rate hike, time may be running out for traders who have generally reveled in a low rate environment and lashed out when threatened with rate increases.

For one group time may be running out, but for another their time may be coming. That could make the next 3 months interesting as positioning one’s self for advantage in anticipation of events may be a reasonable idea.

That’s not to say, though, that the past 3 months haven’t been interesting and haven’t offered opportunities for re-positioning. So far, 2016 has been a tale of two markets, with a sharp dividing line at February 11th.

The week’s spike in the 10 Year Treasury Note still leaves market determined interest rates far from where they were as 2016 got started. The same is true for 30 Year Daily Mortgage Rates rates as such arcane issues as “supply and demand” can end up doing the FOMC’s work and by the time June rolls around we may all be wondering what they had been waiting for.

Of course, the same was appearing to be the case just a few months ago, but then the lack of strong evidence of an environment that might have warranted the FOMC’s interest rate increase decision may have given traders new life.

That may explain the nearly 10% market jump in the past month that has almost erased the 2016 loss up until that point.

Or for those technicians who may be agnostic as to events going on around them, they may point at Bollinger Bands and the 50 Day Moving Average. For them, February 11th and 29th may have been the key moments in defining the market’s next move, regardless of what headlines may have been appearing,

Either of those explanations for the market’s sudden rise is far easier to understand than it simply following the price of oil higher.

One has to wonder how much time is left for that association to continue to play out. While there had been some disagreement over what relative roles supply and demand may have played in oil’s price descent, there’s increasing agreement that decreasing demand was not the driver in the dynamic.

Yet markets have reacted as if the price of oil was being predicated purely by demand. While it made little sense for a broad stock market decline as supply driven oil price decreases were unfolding, it doesn’t get any better by stocks moving higher in tandem with oil.

Time may also be running out for the illogical response to the changes in the price of oil, particularly if its ascent  continues. At some point, maybe that surfeit of energy will cause a light bulb to get powered someplace and to finally go on in someone’s head long enough to ask an obvious question or two.

Why the demand for stocks should rise as the price of oil does the same, whether supply or demand driven, is curious as that price increase only serves to sap profits and the consumer’s discretionary cash pile.

I’ve been happy to see the stock market’s recovery in the past 30 days, but as supply and demand may be somewhat arcane, there is another general law that may have some application.

What goes up must come down.

Unless your own personal time is really running out, we’re all destined to see gravity return sooner or later, even as it has been suspended for the past few weeks.

If you have more time remaining than most then you’ll be chagrined to see the same over and over again only to come to the realization that from an investing point of view, time never really runs out.

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

As so much attention is placed on oil and interest rates, it was actually nice to see a stock like Pfizer (PFE), discussed last week, actually move up on pertinent news.

However, it wasn’t the specter of pertinent news that put some focus on Pfizer. Instead it was more of a case of looking at stocks and sectors that had been left behind in the market’s move higher.

Add Astra Zeneca (AZN) to that list.

Astra Zeneca isn’t a stranger to being left out of the limelight and its less than desirable liquidity in the options market is one reflection of that relative anonymity and one reason that I don’t consider its purchase very often.

However, it appears as if it is developing some reasonable support at the $29 level and with an equally reasonable premium it is a stock that I wouldn’t mind holding for a longer period of time, particularly if that came as a result of frequent rollovers of the weekly options.

Given the low volume of options trading in Astra Zeneca, it was noticeable that a relatively large out of the money position traded with a 4 month time frame, which would encompass next month’s earnings, but not that of the subsequent quarter.

The expectation, given the expanded open interest of the $32.50 and $35 calls and in a volume far greater than those of July 2016 put contracts, is that some significant move higher awaits.

If Astra Zeneca can trade at the $29-$30 level for some time until July, I would be more than happy to serially collect the option premiums, even if to see shares ultimately assigned following the anticipated price surge.

GameStop (GME) is a company that has spent years fighting the conviction of so many, particularly those making it one of the most popular stocks to short, that it’s time was running out.

Somehow, GameStop has consistently been able to prove the long term thesis to be wrong, even as it has periodically gone through some downward paroxysms that may have regarded well time short sales of the stock.

The most recent strategic challenge came about 2 years ago when Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it  would start buying back used games for store credits.

In the “Where Are They Now?” department, Wal-Mart is still buying back games, but price sensitive gamers may still find that GameStop is the place to take their business.

GameStop is usually a company that I prefer to explore through the sale of puts. Its premium always reflects the chance that the bottom could fall out anytime soon and earnings will be reported on March 24th, with expectations of $2.25/share earnings on what I consider a staggering $3.6 Billion on the quarterly top line.

Not too bad for a dinosaur whose time has repeatedly run out.

Another whose time may be running out is Williams Companies (WMB) in its merger with Energy Transfer Equity LP (ETE). In what has already been a very rocky road, the pock marks became more clear as an SEC filing indicated that Energy Transfer Equity had carried out a private offering of convertible shares to a select group of investors, in order to finance the merger.

Williams Companies was reportedly not satisfied with the transaction which it believed was too costly wand would dilute shares.

The arbitrage community took note of the increasing divergence between Williams’ market price and that which was being offered in the merger, as an increasing likelihood of the deal not being consummated.

If you can bear some significant drama and maybe some significant trauma in a sector that already has plenty of its own, without the need for a side show, this is the place to be.

With a weekly ROI of approximately 5%  if an at the money call option is sold a few weeks of continued clashing between Williams and Energy Transfer Partners could result in significant accumulation of premium.

Interestingly, the options market seems to be more optimistic, at least for the coming week, at least not believing that a complete breakdown is in the near future.

With a beta of 3.5, there’s not too much doubt that establishing any kind of position in Williams Companies might just be the very definition of insanity.

Finally, there are actually various definitions of what may constitute insanity. 

After having owned shares of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) on many occasions over the past few years, I’m still sitting on two lots of shares at much higher prices and am looking forward to being extricated. At the same time, though, I’m thinking of adding shares.

Insane?

On the one hand, you might define insanity as having funded the Newt Gingrich effort for pre-eminence in the 2012 Republican primaries to the tune of $100 million or more.

On yet another hand, given the volatility in Macao and the ability of the Chinese government to create or destroy opportunity by simple edict, along with the ability to present economic reports to suit the needs of the moment, insanity may be the decision to purchase more shares of Las Vegas Sands.

Or perhaps insanity may be deciding to increase your dividend by 30% after your shares had fallen by almost 40%.

Still, no one has called Sheldon Adelson insane, as there is undoubtedly lots and lots of method behind his decisions, particularly the use of the dividend to support his own interests. That makes me suspect that the current 119% payout ration doesn’t require a red flag to be raised.

With a $0.72 dividend representing a 5.6% yield, I might be willing to cede that dividend and accept early assignment of shares if selling calls, simply to get the premium, which represents some reward for the insanity of purchasing shares.

At the age of 82, Adelson gives no suggestion of time running out, even as a man who knows the odds as well as anyone.

For now, I think that dividend is safe and even with a significant decline in price from here, perhaps to the $45 level, the premiums still offer enough opportunity to offset that risk, but in such an event, it may be nice to let someone pay you for the time it could take for the share price to recover.

Luckily, with options, time never really has to run out if you’re doing the selling.

Traditional Stocks: Astra Zeneca

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, Williams Companies

Double-Dip Dividend:  Las Vegas Sands (3/18 $0.72)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

 

Weekend Update – March 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why they’re called the same thing confuses me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

 

Weekend Update – January 31, 2016

 

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

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

And then it’s gone.

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

We may have forgotten how to do that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was bad news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Traditional Stocks: American Express

Momentum Stocks:  none

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Michael Kors (2/2 AM), Yahoo (2/2 PM)

 

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

Weekend Update – January 3, 3016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if energy prices move higher and sooner than expected?

What if the economy expands faster than we expected?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: MetLife. Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Best Buy, Under Armour

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – December 20, 2015

After an absolutely horrible week that came on the heels of an absolutely glorious reaction to the Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks ago, it looked as if some common sense finally had come to the market as the clock was ticking down on the year.

After that glorious reaction the DJIA found itself 0.1% higher on the year, only to see itself sink to 3.1% lower just a week later.

But this past Monday after adding another 100 points to that loss, it all turned around mid-day and kept going higher right up to and beyond the FOMC Statement release and beyond.

By the time the FOMC broke an almost 10 year hiatus on raising interest rates and Janet Yellen finished telling us all that the rate rise wasn’t likely to be the only one in the coming year, the market had embraced the news and taken the index to a point that it was almost 0.5% higher on the year.

That’s not much after nearly a year’s work, but it’s better than some of the alternatives.

Strong buying heading into the widely expected FOMC announcement looked as if it was an attempt to capitalize on what was expected to be a strong year end rally as the interest rate overhang was finally coming to its end.

There’s nothing more American than trying to foresee and then take advantage of an opportunity and to then create a “feel good” story, by using the final trading days of the year to bring some glory to a year that the net change had done little justice toward portraying the wild activity seen.

However, the kiss of death probably came as analyst after analyst started talking about a year end rally and some even began to dust off the old “we’re setting up for a rip your face off rally” cry.

With that kind of optimism it probably shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that as the week came to its end the DJIA was 3.9% lower for the year, with the S&P 500 faring better, being only 2.6% lower.

While society may appreciate the motives behind many non-profits, it’s different when that status is intentional.

With now less than 10 trading days left before 2015 becomes inscribed there’s still plenty of time to move away from the flat line, although many will hope that we don’t move too far, as the year following q flat performing year tends to be very good.

Just like in far too many basketball games, it all comes down to the final seconds when a single missed opportunity can make all of the difference in the outcome.

The upcoming Christmas holiday trade shortened week does have a GDP report release, but not much else, although it didn’t take much to set markets upside down this week.

That GDP data may make all of the difference for the year and it may be the true test of just how firm that recent embrace of the FOMC’s decision may be.

The key to 2016 may very well end up being the same thing that kept 2015 in shackles for most of the year.

The fear of an interest rate increase was the prevailing theme as the market generally recoiled at the very thought of those rates moving higher. Instead, traders should have done what it did on far too few occasions during the year when coming to a realization that a small rate increase would not hamper growth and that an increase was the recognition of an expanding economy.

Those realizations were infrequent and short lived, just as it was this past week.

In essence, all of 2015 has been a large missed opportunity where an irrational fear of a return of 1970s era interest rates held reign.

That’s where the GDP data comes in as it intersects with Janet Yellen’s suggestion that last week’s announcement wasn’t likely to be part of a “one and done” strategy.

A strong GDP, particularly if above consensus and coupled with good news on home sales, durable goods and jobless claims may serve to fuel the fear of more interest rate hikes.

It will take something really tangible to offset the fears of an image of unrestrained interest rate increases. If the FOMC is right, that should mean that corporate earnings will finally begin to reflect actual economic expansion rather than contraction of the number of shares floating around.

While the next earnings season begins in just a month, perhaps some retail sales data coming as Christmas shopping concludes may give us some hope that the consumer is really coming alive. It would be nice to see consumers helping to grow corporate earnings per share the old fashioned way, by increasing revenues.

It would then be especially nice to see traders taking that opportunity to take a stake in a growing economy.

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

In the past 2 weeks I’ve only opened a single new position.

In the week following the Employment Situation Report release I never got a feeling of comfort to move in and buy at what may have appeared to be developing bargain prices.

I had a little bit of regret last week as it didn’t take long for the market to develop a positive tone and move higher, yet even then I had a hard time justifying doing very much and really wanting to preserve cash.

Ultimately that feeling of regret gave way to some relief.

This week doesn’t have me in a very different state of mind and I expect to be reluctant to part with cash, particularly as the week’s option premiums will reflect a holiday shortened week.

In setting up a covered option portfolio I try to use a laddered approach to expiration dates in the hope that being somewhat diversified in those dates there can be some opportunity to not get caught with too many expiring positions at one time either getting stranded or assigned.

Even when not adding new positions as a means of generating weekly income, with some luck the expiring positions can become the sources of income for the week if they are able to be rolled over.

I had some decent fortune with that last week and have a number of positions up for expiration in the coming week that could potentially serve as income sources, although I would prefer that they become sources of replenishment for a low cash reserve.

This week, if spending down any of that reserve, I don’t expect to get very far flung in the positions under consideration.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any upcoming ex-divided positions this week to consider and my initial thought is to think about less risky kind of positions, but while it is a more speculative position, Seagate Technolgy (STX) has been behaving well at its current price.

Looking at 10 buy/writes or put sales of Seagate Technology over a period of 4 years has me wishing I had followed through on consideration of it more frequently. The shares are almost always volatile and they tend to defined trade in a range for a period of time following a volatile move, although the risk is always for another volatile move when otherwise unexpected.

My Seagate Technology positions have been evenly split between buy/writes and put sales, tending to favor the put sale when there is no near term ex-dividend date at hand. That has been the case with 3 put sales in the past 2 months.

Based on Friday’s closing price a put sale at a strike 1.8% below that closing price could still offer a 1.3% ROI for a week.

My most recent short put position was the longest of any of my previous positions and lasted 29 days, including the initial sale of puts and 3 rollovers in an attempt to defer assignment of shares, which I would be willing to take if the ex-dividend date was soon upcoming.

The finance sector performed better than the S&P 500 for the week, but they were even more harshly punished on the final 2 days of the week, even as some of the guessing about interest rates has been taken out of the equation.

I already own 2 lots of Bank of America (BAC) and after last week am ready to add a position in it or perhaps returning to Morgan Stanley (MS).

I had owned the latter on 17 occasions during a 19 month period in 2012 and 2013, but only 4 times since then. Those 4 times have all been in the past two months and I wouldn’t mind trying to re-create some of the experiences from 2012 and 2013.

On the other hand, I’ve owned Bank of America less frequently, but have already owned shares on 7 occasions in 2015. In my world, the more often you own shares in any given period of time the better it is performing for you, while hardly performing for anyone else just watching the shares go up and down.

In both cases the recent large moves up and down have created appealing opportunities to accumulate option premiums as well as thinking about trying to capture some gains on the shares themselves. For those a bit more cautious, some consideration could be given to foregoing the potential gain on shares by selling in the money calls or out of the money puts.

As long as their volatility remains elevated the risk is reduced as the premiums themselves become elevated as well. Additionally,as there’s little reason to believe that interest rates are heading lower any time soon, the financials may have some wind at their backs.

For investors, there is nothing special about Pfizer (PFE) at the moment, other than its quest to escape US corporate taxes. Unfortunately for Pfizer, there is nothing otherwise special about it at the moment.

Where the opportunity may be is in the amount of time that it could take for it to actually move forward with its plans. Shares are currently trading at about the level they had been when news came out of their plans so there may not be too much downside if there is an eventual roadblock placed in their path.

In the meantime, trading in a defined range may make it a hospitable place to park some cash while also collecting option premiums and perhaps a dividend, as well.

Finally, for some reason I heard the classic Byrds song “Turn, Turn, Turn” many times this week and it made me think that in addition to a time for war and a time for peace, there is also a time for comfort foods and maybe monthly options, as well.

In this case, Dunkin Brands (DNKN) offers both that form of comfort and only offers monthly option contracts.

It is well off from its highs from 3 months ago and has recently traded higher from its low point 2 months ago.

I might be very interested in adding shares if there’s any additional discomfort in its share price this week and might consider even selling March 2016 calls in an effort to ride out any earnings risk in early February as well as to collect its dividend and some potential gain on the shares themselves.

That would be sweet.

Traditional Stocks: Bank of America, Dunkin Brands, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

Double-Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – December 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, MetLife, Morgan Stanley

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – December 6, 2015

 I don’t know if little kids still pick the petals off from daisies to the alternating refrain “She loves me, she loves me not.”

There was really no way to game that exercise, as there was with the other old refrain “Eenie meenie miney moe,” as you never knew whether there was an even or odd number of petals.

As much as one daisy looked like the next and as much as they shared the same pedigree, you really couldn’t stake much on what you saw.

Forget about trying to analyze the situation. If your romantic fortunes were tied to that daisy, that itself seemed to be a product of such intricate organization and detail, you could have arrived at your destination much more quickly by flipping a coin.

As much as you may have thought that the particular daisy you hadpicked out from among others in the field was talking directly to you, it was a mistake to believe that what you thought it was saying was really what was being said.

But most of us want to be optimistic and most of us want to believe in what we see on the surface.

Somewhat predictably, disappointment was as likely as elation as the last petal was about to hit the ground. That disappointment, though, was often preceded by a sense of hope as the petals were dwindling down to their final numbers. Everytime you heard “she loves me” and saw that you were getting closer to that very last petal, you felt a sense of confidence only to find that the odds of that confidence being rewarded were illusory.

On the other hand, it was easy to be on the winning side of “Eenie, meenie, miney, moe,” especially if the people you were with didn’t recognize the constancy of the refrain and didn’t understand the application of basic division or modular arithmetic. You also had to be adaptable and willing to subtly change your position, but the process was conquerable.

“Eenie meenie miney moe,” if played to your advantage, was a good example of a data driven action. You could stake it all on what you saw if you analyzed and then processed the changing information around you.

Most of all, you could believe the information.

For much of the past few months we’ve been lead to believe that action from the FOMC would be data driven. However, increasingly during that time, as data often seemed conflicting and not supportive of action, members of the Federal Reserve spoke in concrete terms that had to make reasonable people wonder whether data really was going to have a major role.

What we were hearing, particularly the shift toward more hawkish tones, wasn’t what we were seeing. If the data wasn’t there, why the change in tone? How do you prepare when those who are dispassionately analytical begin to sound less so?

What that has created over the past year has been an environment in which “Eenie meenies” have been replaced by daisies. What Federal Reserve Governors and FOMC members often said were at odds with what was observed and then subsequently with what they did.

Or in the case of interest rates, didn’t do.

The ability to reasonably assess and position oneself has been deteriorating as the disconnect between words and actions and words and intentions have become more commonplace.

Understandably, perhaps, this has also been a year in which the market has gone back and forth in paroxysms of buying and selling.

Those paroxysms have simply been efforts to get better positioning as the two faces of those charged with making the decision that we’ve been awaiting ever since Janet Yellen assumed the reigns of the Federal Reserve, have continually confounded everyone. 

Meanwhile, while traders may have believed that an “Eenie meenie” strategy was indicated, it really has been a case of a coin flip as may have been best demonstrated by this past week. Positioning yourself is worthless when the currency is a petal.

With lots of gyrations and lots of interesting comments this past week from Janet Yellen, numerous Federal Reserve Governors and Mario Draghi, of the ECB, the messages alternated between creating big disappointment and enormous hope.

With all of that, the market was virtually unchanged for the week, as has been the tale for all of 2015.

Friday’s strong Employment Situation Report may have finally put an end to the disconnect between words and actions. The market seemed to have embraced what it viewed as the last petal that could now lead to a period of more fundamental analysis ahead, rather than guessing what the FOMC will or won’t do. 

Hopefully, when the FOMC meets in about 10 days, words and actions will finally be aligned and two faces will become one.

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

It’s always difficult to look at a coming week with an eye on trying to identify bargains for a potential short term trade when the market closed the previous week with a large gain.

Friday’s nearly 400 DJIA point gain and that seen in the S&P 500 bringing that index within about 2% of its all time high, makes you wonder just what was wrong with those companies that lagged behind.

WIth the FOMC meeting still a week away there may still be some opportunity this coming week, as the buying on the rumor kind of activity seen this past Friday could still have some time to run, as the news is still a bit away.

Of course, I’m not certain if I would want to be around if the expected news doesn’t materialize, but it seems almost impossible to imagine that being the case. By the same token, I’m not certain that I want to be around when the expected news does materialize if that leads to the typical “sell on the news” kind of activity.

With that in mind, I don’t expect to be very active this week, as I will be reluctant to add positions after Friday’s surge that could then be at risk for a typical profit taking binge when expectations for an interest rate hike become realized.

Best Buy (BBY) was one of those companies that lagged on Friday and is well below its recent highs, which of course finds it in the company of so many others, despite the market being within easy striking distance of creating more new highs.

I thought about adding shares of Best Buy last week, but as it is ex-dividend this week, the rationale for finally relinquishing some cash in return for its option premium and dividend feels stronger as the potential return is very appealing, even if shares just tread water this week.

Historically, Best Buy has lagged during the final month of the year, even as other retailers have fared well. I don’t have much interest in adding to my existing Best Buy position with a longer term holding in mind, but I think a short term venture could be justified.

Macy’s (M) is another that lagged last week and had a 5 day performance similar to that of Best Buy. More importantly, it still hasn’t recovered from its earnings plunge last month and is an astonishing 46% lower in the past 5 months.

I purchased shares shortly after the earnings decline and am ready to add some more this week as those shares will also be ex-dividend. While my existing shares have calls written against them with a December 24th expiration, any additional shares purchased will most likely use a weekly expiration and may also be more likely to look at an out of the money strike, rather than the typical “Double Dip Dividend” approach that I prefer to use, in anticipation of some short term price appreciation.

Additionally, since the ex-dividend date is on a Friday, if the shares are likely to be assigned because their closing price on Thursday exceeds the strike price plus the amount of the dividend, I would consider rolling those shares over to the following week or beyond, in an effort to wring some additional premium out of the position in the event that there will then be an early assignment of the newly sold call options.

I was thinking about re-purchasing shares of Pfizer (PFE) last week in the hopes of an early week decline.

That decline came mid-week instead and I wasn’t very interested in adding any additional new positions for the week. Ultimately, Pfizer did as the market did for the week and ended unchanged.

My thinking hasn’t changed, though.

I would very strongly consider a re-purchase of recently assigned Pfizer shares on any weakness, particularly at the beginning of the week, as its premiums are still enhanced over the uncertainty surrounding the proposed tax inversion motivated merger with Ireland’s Allergan (AGN).

That process may be one that takes a while to play out and I don’t believe that there’s very much downside for Pfizer in the event that the deal can’t get done due to government rulings.

I wouldn’t mind collecting those premiums on a serial basis and would even consider rolling over positions that might otherwise be assigned if I was satisfied with my cash reserve position.

I’m not a huge fan of T-Mobile’s (TMUS) CEO, but you do have to admire someone who advocates for his company, even as he may be presiding over a company that he desperately wants to become part of a larger family, preferably one with very deep pockets or the right kind of assets.

Thanks to not paying a dividend, T-Mobile has been able to aggressively fund its activities to lure customers from others, while still leavingsufficent net earnings per share that are the envy of its competitors.

When your competitors have deeper pockets, though, that makes it hard to compete for very long, so I do wonder what additional surprises John Legere may have planned before those earnings begin to feel some pressure.

Shares have fallen about 17% in the past 10 weeks. While T-Mobile actually out-performed the market this past Friday, it did trail for the full week.

I’d be very interested in considering the sale of put options on shares if it gives up a meaningful portion of last Friday’s gain and actually wouldn’t mind the prospects of having to actively maintain that position by having to roll it over in sequential weeks in an effort to avoid assignment, while collecting premiums that are reflective of the risk.

Occasionally that can be a rewarding approach, although you sometimes have to be prepared for a longer term adverse price move.

Finally, that has exactly been the case with my favorite put sale of 2014, Twitter (TWTR), which has instead become a pariah in 2015.

With the experience of 2015 still needing to bring itself to a conclusion, I think that I am finally ready to add to the existing short put position.

At least with Twitter, the product, there isn’t enough space to speak out of both sides of your mouth, but there may be some hope that the companies executives, with a little more shell shocked experience under their belts may be better prepared to deal with investor expectations and won’t do so much to unnecessarily challenge those expectations as it gets prepared for earnings in January.

With those earnings being reported on January 26t, 2016, but the last extended weekly option expiration date on January 22, 2016, I would take an uncharacteristic position by going longer term and drawing a line in the sand at selling the $24 put. That premium is very attractive as many believe that the next stop for Twitter is $20.

With earnings the week after expiration of that contract, if selling that contract, you do have to be prepared to rollover before earnings and attempting to then take advantage of the earnings enhanced premiums in the hope that the brakes are finally applied and more carefully chosen words and messages are delivered during the ensuing conference call.

Hopefully, CEO Jack Dorsey will speak clearly and paint a vision that is more confident, but based on some kind of reality that we can all believe.



Traditional Stocks:  Pfizer

Momentum Stocks: T-Mobile, Twitter

Double-Dip Dividend:  Best Buy (12/8 $0.23), Macy’s (12/11 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: None

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

Weekend Update – November 29, 2015

We used to believe that the reason people so consistently commented about how tired they were after a big Thanksgiving meal was related to the turkey itself.

Within that turkey it was said that an abundance of the basic amino acid,”tryptophan,” which is a precursor of “serotonin”  played a role in its unique ability to induce sleep.

More reasoned people believe that there is nothing special about turkey itself, in that it has no more tryptophan than any other meat and that simply eating without abandon may really explain the drowsiness so commonly experienced. Others also realize that tryptophan, when part of a melange of other amino acids, really doesn’t stand out of the crowd and exert its presence.

Then there’s the issue of serotonin itself, a naturally produced neurotransmitter, which is still not fully understood and can both energize and exhaust, in what is sometimes referred to as “the paradox of serotonin.”

From what is known about serotonin, if dietary tryptophan could exert some pharmacological influence by simply eating turkey, we would actually expect to find reports of people who got wired from their Thanksgiving meals instead of sedated.

Based upon my Thanksgiving guests this year, many of whom found the energy to go out shopping on Thursday and Friday nights, they were better proof of the notion that Black Fridays matter, rather than of the somnolent properties of turkey.

In the case of the relationship between the tryptophan in turkey and ensuing sleep, it may just be a question of taking disparate bits of information, each of which may have some validity and then stringing them together in the belief that their individual validity can be additive in nature.

Truth doesn’t always follow logic.

Another semi-myth is that when traders are off dozing or lounging in their recliners instead of trading, the likelihood of large market moves is enhanced in a volume depleted environment.

You definitely wouldn’t have known it by the market’s performance during this past week, as Friday’s trading session began the day with the S&P 500 exactly unchanged for the week and didn’t succeed in moving the needle as the week came to its end.

Other than the dueling stories of NATO ally Turkey and stuffing ally turkey, there wasn’t much this week to keep traders awake. The former could have sent the market reeling, but anticipation of the latter may have created a calming influence.

You couldn’t be blamed for buying into the tryptophan myth and wondering if everyone had started their turkey celebration days before the calendar warranted doing so.

Or maybe traders are just getting tired of the aimless back and forth that has us virtually unchanged on the DJIA for 2015 and up only 1.5% on the S&P 500 for the year.

Tryptophan or no tryptophan, treading water for a year can also tire you out.

The week started off with the news of China doubling its margin requirements and an agreement on a $160 Billion tax inversion motivated merger, yet the reaction to those news items was muted.

The same held for Friday’s 5.5% loss in Shanghai that barely raised an eyebrow once trading got underway in the United States, as drowsiness may have given way to hibernation.

Even the revised GDP, which indicated a stronger than expected growth rate, failed to really inflate or deflate. There was, however, a short lived initial reaction which was a repudiation of the recent seeming acceptance of an impending interest rate hike. For about an hour markets actually moved outside of their very tight range for the week until coming to its senses about the meaning of economic growth.

Next week there could be an awakening as the Employment Situation Report is released just days before the FOMC begins their December meeting which culminates with a Janet Yellen press conference.

Other than the blip in October’s Employment Situation Report, the predominance of data since seems to support the notion of an improving economy and perhaps one that the FOMC believes warrants the first interest rate hike in almost 10 years.

With traders again appearing to be ready to accept such an increase it’s not too likely that a strong showing will scare anyone away and may instead be cause for a renewed round of optimism.

On the other hand, a disappointing number could send most into a tizzy, as uncertainty is rarely the friend of traders and any action by the FOMC in the face of non-corroborating data wouldn’t do much to inspire confidence in anything or any institution.

For my part, I wouldn’t mind giving the tryptophan the benefit of the doubt and diving deeply into those turkey leftovers with express instructions to be woken up only once 2016 finally arrives.

Knowing that flat years, such as this one has been to date, are generally followed by reasonably robust years, overloading on the tryptophan now may be a good strategy to avoid more market indecision and avoid the wasteful use of energy that could be so much better spent in 2016.

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

A number of potential selections this week fall into the “repeat” category.

Unlike a bad case of post-Thanksgiving indigestion, the kind of repeating that occasionally takes place when selling covered calls, is actually an enjoyable condition and is more likely to result in a look of happiness instead of one of gastric distress.

This week I’m again thinking of buying Bank of America (BAC), Best Buy (BBY), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Pfizer (PFE), all of which I’ve recently owned and lost to assignment.

Sometimes that has been the case on multiple occasions over the course of just a few weeks. Where the real happiness creeps in is when you can buy those shares back and do so at a lower price than at which they were assigned.

With the S&P 500 only about 2% below its all time high, I would welcome some weakness to start the week in hopes of being able to pick up any of those 4 stocks at lower prices. My anticipation is that Friday’s Employment Situation Report will set off some buying to end the week, so I’d especially like to get the opportunity to make trades early in the week.

Bank of America and Morgan Stanley, of course, stand to benefit from increasing interest rates, although I suppose that some can make the case that when the news of an interest rate increase finally arrives, it will signal a time to sell.

If you believe in the axiom of “buying on the rumor and selling on the news,” it’s hard to argue with that notion, but I believe that the financials have so well tracked interest rates, that they will continue doing so even as the rumor becomes stale news.

As an added bonus, Bank of America is ex-dividend this week, although it’s dividend is modest by any standard and isn’t the sort that I would chase after.

Both, however, may have some short upside potential and have option premiums that are somewhat higher than they have been through much of 2015.

While both are attractive possibilities in the coming week or weeks, if forced to consider only one of the two, I would forgo Bank of America’s added bonus and focus on Morgan Stanley, as it has recovered from its recent earnings related drop, but now may be getting ready to confront its even larger August decline.

Bank of America, on the other hand, is not too far from its 2015 high point, but still can be a good short term play, perhaps even being a recurrent one over the next few weeks.

Also ex-dividend this week are two retailers, Wal-Mart (WMT) and Coach (COH) and together with Best Buy (BBY) and Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY) are my retail focus, as I expect this year to be like most others, as the holiday season begins and ends.

While Coach may have lost some of its cachet, it’s still no Wal-Mart in that regard.

Coach has struggled to return to its April 2015 levels, although it may finally be stabilizing and recent earnings have suggested that its uncharacteristically poor execution on strategy may be coming to an end.

With a very attractive dividend and an option premium that continues to reflect some uncertainty, I wouldn’t mind finding some company for a much more expensive lot of shares that I’ve been holding for quite some time. With the ex-dividend date this week, the stars may be aligned to do so now.

I bought some Wal-Mart shares a few weeks ago after a disastrous day in which it sustained its largest daily loss ever, following the shocking revelation that increasing employee wages was going to cost the company some money.

The only real surprise on that day was that apparently no one bothered doing the very simple math when Wal-Mart first announced that it was raising wages for US employees. They provided a fixed amount for that raise and the number of employees eligible for that increase was widely known, but basic mathematical operations were out of reach to analysts, leading to their subsequent shock some months later.

Wal-Mart shares will be getting ready to begin the week slightly higher than where I purchased my most recent shares. I don’t very often add additional lots at higher prices, but the continuing gap between the current price and where it had unexpectedly plunged from offers some continued opportunity.

As with Coach, in advance of an ex-dividend date may be a fortuitous time to open a position, particularly as the option premium and dividend are both attractive, as are the shares themselves.

Neither Best Buy nor Bed Bath and Beyond are ex-dividend this week, although Best Buy will be so the following week.

That may give reason to consider selling an extended option if purchasing Best Buy shares, but it could also give some reason to sell weekly options, but to consider rolling those over if assignment is likely.

In doing so, one strategy might be to select a rollover date perhaps two weeks away and still in the money. In that manner, there may still be reason for the holder of the option contract to exercise early in order to capture the dividend, but as the seller you would receive a relatively larger premium that could offset the loss of the dividend while at the same time freeing up the cash tied up in shares of Best Buy in order to be able to put it to use in some other income producing position.

Bed Bath and Beyond is a company that I frequently consider buying and would probably have done much more frequently, if only it had offered a dividend or consistently offered weekly options for sale and purchase.

It still doesn’t offer a dividend, but sitting near a 2 year low and never being in one of their stores without lots of company at the cash register, the shares really have their appeal during the holiday season.

Finally, even with an emphasis on financials and retail, Pfizer (PFE) continues to warrant a look.

Having purchased shares last week and having seen them assigned, there’s not too much reason to believe that their planned merger with Ireland based Allergan (AGN), is going to be resolved any time soon.

While we wait for that process to play itself out, there may be fits and starts. There will clearly be opposition to the merger, as attention will focus on many issues, but none as controversial as the tax avoidance that may be a primary motivator for the transaction.

If the news for Pfizer eventually turns out to be negative and an immovable roadblock is placed, I don’t think that very much of Pfizer’s current price reflects the deal going to its anticipated completion.

With that in mind, the upside potential may be greater than the downside potential. As long as the option premiums are reflected any increased risk, this can be an especially lucrative trade the longer the process gets stretched out, particularly if Pfizer trades in a defined range and the position can be serially rolled over or purchased anew.

Traditional Stocks:  Bed Bath and Beyond, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer

Momentum Stocks:  Best Buy

Double-Dip Dividend: Bank of America (12/2 $0.05), Coach (12/2 $0.34), Wal-Mart (12/2 $0.49)

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 – September 6, 2015

Stop and take a break.

I’ve been doing just that, taking a break, for about the past 5 years, but sometimes I think that I’m working harder than ever.

Lately, however, I don’t feel as if I’m on a forward path so it may be time to do exactly what the Chinese stock markets did last week and what the US stock markets are doing this coming week.

They both took some time off and perhaps it was timed to perfection. After a 42% decline in Shanghai in less than 10 weeks and a 10% drop in the S&P 500 in 6 weeks, it was definitely time to take a breather and smell the dying flowers.

China took a couple of days off for celebrations ostensibly commemorating the end of World War II. While doing so they may also have wanted to show the nation and the world just how together they have things and just how much in control they really are at a time when the image is becoming otherwise.

After all, if the Faustian Bargain in place can no longer deliver on the promise of a higher standard of living, the message of an all powerful government has to be reinforced, lest people think they can opt out of the deal and choose democracy instead.

Equally ostensibly, guided by environmental concerns and the health of its citizens, the Chinese government decided to have factories in and around Beijing closed for the days preceding the festivities in order to help clear the air a bit, but only in a non-metaphorical kind of way. The literal and figurative haze is far too thick for cosmetic actions to change anything.

Unfortunately, what we may be coming to realize is that the Chinese economic miracle we’ve come to admire may be the actual culprit for all of that pollution, through its extensive use of smoke and mirrors.

While taking some time off it’s not entirely clear whether any other “malicious short sellers” are disappearing from view and being prevented from polluting trading markets or whether arrests and detentions are also taking a much needed holiday.

Here in the United States we celebrate Labor Day by not working, rather than working extra hard and we rarely send anyone to prison for accelerating the process that leads to a financial slide.

As long as people are beginning to make comparisons between the current market correction that seems to be related to China’s market meltdown and our own financial meltdown of the past decade, it only seems appropriate to note that the key difference between our nations in that regard is that Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo could never have gotten a natural suntan in Beijing.

He also wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day, even it such a thing was possible through all of that haze, again after suddenly disappearing on a less than voluntary basis.

In the United States Labor Day comes every year, but a 70th anniversary celebration of the end of World War II comes but once and it may not have come as a better time, as the world is wondering just what is going on in China.

Putting the brakes on the ever-present haze and lung clogging air for a couple of days won’t make much difference and so far, neither have efforts to control market forces. Both have lots of momentum behind them and are likely to remain recalcitrant in the near term, even to the most totalitarian of governments.

When it comes to managing the economy we may be at the tip of the iceberg in terms of realizing that no one really knows what’s going on and just how accurately the modern miracle has been portrayed. But that’s the usual situation when smoke and mirrors are in place and the stakes so high.

While the Chinese markets were closed a little bit of calm overtook US markets, as there was some evidence with the release of the ADP Employment Report that bad news was again being interpreted as being good, insofar as it could delay interest rate hikes from the FOMC.

The subsequent fading of any meaningful rally to offset large losses earlier in the week was disappointing, but it was the good news and bad news nature of the Employment Situation Report that sent markets tumbling without any help from China.

The good news that was interpreted as being bad and, therefore, making a rate hike more likely at the next FOMC meeting was that the unemployment rate fell to 5.1% even in the face of mildly disappointing growth in employment and wage stagnation.

Even dusting off twice removed Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to appropriately comment that there’s no logical reason to fear a small rate increase did nothing to re-introduce rational thought into those engaged in indiscriminate selling.

Ending the week with a large loss was bad enough. But doing so and being left behind the eight ball more than usual this week as the Shanghai market re-opens for business on Sunday makes this weekend more uncertain than usual. With Labor Day serving as an additional day to be handcuffed as passive observers we stand to have China once again put us in a position of reaction, rather than leading the world with its most vibrant and sustainable economy.

So, while I really welcome, want and need the day off on Monday for more reasons than usual, I can’t wait for Tuesday.

That makes about as much sense as everything else these days.

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

“Buying on the dip” hasn’t been as prevalent as in the past during what turned out to be a series of mini-corrections, as we’ve watched the market head into correction, then out of correction, back in and out again. For some reason, though, I’ve been a little more active in adding new positions than I would have expected at the beginning of each of the past few weeks, in the belief some price levels truly represented opportunities.

Most of that interest in buying has been dividend driven and this week is definitely one that is likely to continue that trend if I can justify the faith necessary to add any new positions.

With the exception of Best Buy (BBY) which had a very nice week as the S&P 500 fell by over 3% and Altria (MO), which matched the index for its poor performance, the remaining selections going ex-dividend this week all badly trailed the S&P 500 last week.

That’s not exactly the basis for a strong recommendation, but with the exception of BHP Billiton (BHP), it may be difficult to find a really good reason for such under-performance.

Not that it’s much consolation, however, all but BHP Billiton have actually out-performed the S&P 500 since its top, although Best Buy is the only one to have actually appreciated in share value.

Some of the potential selections, such as Altria (MO) and Merck (MRK) haven’t been very attractive “Double Dip Dividend” selections for quite a while. In a low volatility environment in the context of a relatively large premium essentially spanning the distance from one $0.50 strike level to the next, there has been very little subsidy of the dividend by the option premium and those stocks were much more likely to be assigned early if in the money.

However, the volatility induced increase in premiums is beginning to make even these high yielders that also have large dividends in absolute terms more and more worthy of consideration.

In a week that pharmaceutical companies struggled to keep up with the S&P 500 I do like the potential trades, specifically to attempt to capture dividends and option premiums in Merck and Gilead (GILD). In both cases, that’s being considered without regard to issues of pipeline.

Due to the increased market volatility their premiums make them both especially attractive considerations this week. in addition as they have also lagged the S&P 500 over the past week and month.

Merck is ex-dividend on Friday and I would consider selling a weekly in the money strike, but being prepared to roll the position over to the following week if assignment seems likely. With a dividend of $0.45, that generally means that the closing price on Thursday would have to be at least $0.45 in the money for a logical investor to exercise their options, although Merck is frequently subject to dividend arbitrage and is more likely than most to be exercised even if there is just a very small margin above that threshold price, especially if there is very little time remaining on the contract.

Gilead, on the other hand is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week. For that reason I would consider selling an in the money option contract expiring at the end of the September 2015 option cycle and wouldn’t be disappointed if the contract was exercised early. In essence the additional premium received for the week of time value atones for the early assignment.

Pfizer (PFE), on the other hand, is not ex-dividend this week, but has finally returned to a price level that I wouldn’t mind once again owning shares.

During the period of its share price climb, as is so often the case, the option premiums became less and less enticing. However, now that it has had a 13% decline in the past month, that premium is finally at a point that it offers adequate reward for the risk of further decline.

As with Merck and Gilead, the consideration of Pfizer isn’t based on pipeline nor on fundamental considerations, but purely on price and premium.

While healthcare stocks generally out-performed the S&P 500 over the past week, one notable exception was UnitedHealth Group (UNH), which is also ex-dividend this week.

In my home state of Maryland the regulatory agency approved a 26% increase in rates for Anthem (ANTM), but small premium declines for UnitedHealth policies on Friday. The relative weakness in UnitedHealth shares, however, was week long and not likely influenced by that news, as Anthem is by far the major insurance carrier in that state.

However, as is so increasingly the case, the combination of an uncertainty induced higher option premium, a dividend and the potential for some bounce back in short term share price is very appealing.

Especially when logic would dictate that China poses no threat to UnitedHealth Group’s performance, as long as logic is permitted free expression for a change.

American International Group (AIG) also goes ex-dividend this week.

I haven’t owned shares in a while and certainly haven’t done so since the passing of Robert Ben Mosche, who I considered an essentially unsung hero. His calm and steady guidance of AIG, having returned from retirement on the beaches of Croatia, was an antithesis to the reckless actions of Angelo Mozilo.

However, with its return to respectability as a company and as a stock came a decrease in option premiums and even with the re-institution of a dividend, it wasn’t a magnet for investment.

This week, the situation is different.

With a significantly increased dividend, a nearly 10% decline in the past month, an enhanced option premium and the likelihood of interest rates moving higher, AIG may be ready to hit on all cylinders.

After so much discussion about healthcare and insurance related stocks, it only seems fair to give Altria some attention. Prior to spinning off Philip Morris (PM), which was the real engine of its growth from its international activities, this was a true triple threat stock. It had great option premiums, a generous dividend and room for share appreciation, as long as you were willing to let other people participate in their own Faustian deal.

However, with the loss of Philip Morris’ growth and with declining option premiums, it has lost its luster for me, just as it has the ability to take the sheen off from health pulmonary tissue.

However, a recent 6% decline, a growing option premium and a great dividend are reasons to consider welcoming it back into the fold, even if not permitting its use in your home.

I already own two lots of Best Buy shares and rolled both over early in order to have a better chance of capturing the dividend. As with Merck, those shares go ex-dividend on Friday.

However, as opposed to Merck and so many others that are near some near term price lows, Best Buy gained in price the past week and has been doing so since reporting its earnings recently.

I would consider purchasing another lot of Best Buy shares but would be willing to cede the dividend to early assignment, based on the generous option premiums. To do so, that might be accomplished by purchasing shares and selling in the money weekly calls or even deeper in the money calls expiring the following week.

Palo Alto Networks (PANW) reports earnings this week and as with even relatively “safe” stocks of late, it may not be for the faint hearted, as it can and has made some fairly significant price moves in the past when earnings have been released.

As it is, shares of this enterprise security company are already 14% lower in the past month and meaningful price support is still about another 10% lower.

The option market is implying a 7.8% price move next week. However, a 1% weekly ROI may be potentially obtained through the sale of a weekly put contract at a strike price 10.2% below Friday’s closing price.

While the options market is beginning to do a better job of estimating price performance after a period of under-estimating downside risk, I think that there may still be some additional risk, so I would probably defer those put sales until after earnings and only in the event that there is a sharp decline in shares that could bring it closer to that support level.

For those willing to play in the land of risk, BHP Billiton is ex-dividend this week and offers a semi-annual dividend that appears to be safe, despite a nearly 8% yield. While it has decreased its dividend minimally in the past, nearly 14 years ago, it has never suspended it, despite some significant decreases in commodity prices over the years and in contrast to others, such as Freeport-McMoRan (FCX).

BHP Billiton offers only monthly option contracts and doesn’t have strike levels gradated in single or half dollar units. With its current price almost perfectly between the $32.50 and $35 strike levels and its ex-dividend date occurring early in the week, the potential short term strategies are to either sell an in the money option with a high likelihood of early assignment, or an out of the money option in the hopes of getting it all.

Finally, I missed the last strong move higher by LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) and had shares assigned after that climb that left me in the dust. I was still happy to be out of those shares after a 13 month holding period. While it had an ROI of 10.3% that was only 0.6% better than the S&P 500 for the same period of time, so not a very worthwhile way to park money, all in all.

LuLuLemon reports earnings this week and it’s no stranger to large price moves.

Prior to this very recent increase in market volatility the options market has been under-estimating the price range that a number of stocks might move upon earnings release and I was more inclined to consider a trade, such as the sale of puts, only after earnings were released and shares plummeted beyond the lower boundary implied by the options market.

However, as volatility has made a return, the price ranges implied by the options market is beginning to increase and it is getting easier to find strike levels outside of the range that can return my threshold 1% ROI on the sale of a weekly put contract. 

The option market has implied a price move of 9.6% and a 1% ROI could potentially be achieved through the sale of a put option if shares fall less than 11.5% following earnings.

Unlike Palo Alto Networks and unlike so many other stocks in the investor’s universe, LuLuLemon is within reach of its 52 week high, which certainly makes it stand out in a crowd, even if not bent over sufficiently to bring any defectively sheer garments to their limits.

While on a different recent path from Palo Alto Networks, LuLuLemon is also a trade that I would consider only in the event of a sharp price decline and would seek to take advantage of any selling done in panic mode.

Unless of course that turns out to be the theme for the week, in which case I would rather wait for some calmer heads to prevail before loosening the grip on cash.

Traditional Stock: Pfizer

Momentum Stock: none

Double-Dip Dividend:  Altria (9/11), American International Group (9/10), Best Buy (9/11), BHP Billiton (9/9), Gilead (9/14), Merck (9/11), UnitedHealth Group (9/9)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: LuLuLemon Athletica (9/10 AM), Palo Alto Networks (9/9 PM)

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

Weekend Update – February 1, 2015

At first glance there’s not too much to celebrate so far, as the first month of 2015 is now sealed and inscribed in the annals of history.

It was another January that disappointed those who still believe in or talk about the magical “January Effect.”

I can’t deny it, but I was one of those who was hoping for a return to that predictable seasonal advance to start the new year. To come to a realization that it may not be true isn’t very different from other terribly sad rites of passage usually encountered in childhood, but you never want to give up hoping and wishing.

It was certainly a disappointment for all of those thinking that the market highs set at the end of December 2014 would keep moving higher, buoyed by a consumer led spending spree fueled by all of that money not being spent on oil and gas.

At least that was the theory that seemed to be perfectly logical at the time and still does, but so far is neither being borne out in reality nor in company guidance being offered in what is, thus far, a disappointing earnings season.

Who in their right mind would have predicted that people are actually saving some of that money and using it to pay down debt?

That’s not the sort of thing that sustains a party.

What started a little more than a month ago with a strongly revised upward projection for 2015 GDP came to an end with Friday’s release of fourth quarter 2014 GDP that was lower than expected and, at least in part validated the less than stellar Retail Sales statistics from a few weeks ago that many very quick to impugn at the time.

When the week was all said and done neither an FOMC Statement release nor the latest GDP data could rescue this January. Despite a 200 point gain heading into the end of the week in advance of the GDP data, and despite a momentary recovery from another 200 point loss heading into the close of trading for the week fueled by an inexplicable surge in oil prices, the market fell 2.7% for the week. In doing so it just added to the theme of a January that breaks the hearts of little children and investors alike and now leaves markets about 5% below the highs from just a month ago.

Like many, I thought that the January party would get started in earnest along with the start of the earnings season. While not expecting to see much tangible benefit from reduced energy costs reflected in the past quarter, my expectation was that the good news would be contained in forward guidance or in upward revisions.

Silly, right? But if you used common sense and caution think of all of the great things you would have missed out on.

While waiting for earnings to bring the party back to life the big surprise was something that shouldn’t have been a surprise at all for all those who take an expansive view of things. I don’t get paid to be that broad minded, but there are many who do and somehow no one seemed to have taken into consideration what we all refer to as “currency crosswinds.”

Hearing earnings report after earnings report mention the downside to the strong dollar reminded me that it would have been good to have been warned about that sort of thing earlier, although did we really need to be told?

Every asset class is currently in flux. It’s not just stocks going through a period of heightened volatility. Witness the moves seen in Treasury rates, currencies, precious metals and oil and it’s pretty clear that at the moment there is no real safe haven, but there is lots of uncertainty.

A quick glance at the S&P 500’s behavior over the past month certainly shows that uncertainty as reflected in the number of days with gap openings higher and lower, as well as the significant intra-day reversals seen throughout the month.

 I happen to like volatility, but it was really a party back in 2011 when there was tremendous volatility but at the end of the day there was virtually no net change in markets. In fact, for the year the S&P 500 was unchanged.

If you’re selling options in doesn’t get much better than that, but 2015 is letting the party slip away as it’s having difficulty maintaining prices as volatility seeks to assert itself as we have repeatedly found the market testing itself with repeated 3-5% declines over the past 6 weeks.

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

If you were watching markets this past Friday afternoon what was turning out to really be a terrible day was mitigated by the performance of the highest priced stock in the DJIA which added nearly 60 points to the index. That notwithstanding, the losses were temporarily reversed, as has been the case so often in the past month, by an unexplained surge in oil prices late in the trading session.

When it appeared as if that surge in oil prices was not related to a fundamental change in the supply and demand dynamic the market reversed once again and compounded its losses, leaving only that single DJIA component to buck the day’s trend.

So far, however, as this earnings season has progressed, the energy sector has not fared poorly as a result of earnings releases, even as they may have floundered as oil prices themselves fell.

Sometimes lowered expectations can have merit and may be acting as a cushion for the kind of further share drops that could reasonably be expected as revenues begin to see the impact of lower prices.

That may change this coming week as Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM) reports its earnings before the week begins its trading. By virtue of its sheer size it can create ripples for Anadarko (NYSE:APC) which reports earnings that same day, but after the close of trading.

Anadarko is already well off of the lows it experienced a month ago. While I generally don’t like establishing any kind of position ahead of earnings if the price trajectory has been higher, I would consider doing so if Exxon Mobil sets the tone with disappointing numbers and Anadarko follows in the weakness before announcing its own earnings.

While the put premiums aren’t compelling given the implied move of about 5%, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares if in risk of assignment due to having sold puts within the strike range defined by the option market. As with some other recent purchases in the energy sector, if taking ownership of shares and selling calls, I would consider using strike prices that would also stand to benefit from some share appreciation.

Although I may not be able to tell in a blinded taste test which was an Anadarko product and which was a Keurig Green Mountain Coffee (NASDAQ:GMCR) product, the latter does offer a more compelling reason to sell puts in advance of its earnings report this week.

Frequently a big mover after the event, there’s no doubt that under its new CEO significant credibility has been restored to the company. Its relationship with Coca Cola (NYSE:KO) has certainly been a big part of that credibility, just as a few years earlier its less substantive agreement with Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) helped shares regain lost luster.

The option market is predicting a 9.3% price move next week and a 1.5% ROI can be attained at a strike price outside of that range, but if selling puts, it would be helpful to be prepared for a move much greater than the option market is predicting, as that has occurred many times over the past few years. That would mean being prepared to either rollover the put contracts or take assignment of shares in the event of a larger than expected adverse move.

While crowd sourcing may be a great thing, I’m always amused when reading some reviews found on Yelp (NYSE:YELP) for places that I know well, especially when I’m left wondering what I could have possibly repeatedly kept missing over the years. Perhaps my mistake was not maintaining my anonymity during repeated visits making it more difficult to truly enjoy a hideous experience.

Yet somehow the product and the service endures as it seeks to remove the unknown from experiences with local businesses. But it’s precisely that kind of unknown that makes Yelp a potentially interesting trade when earnings are ready to be announced.

The option market has implied a 12% price move in either direction and past earnings seasons have shown that those shares can easily move that much and more. For those willing to take the risk, which apparently is what is done whenever going to a new restaurant without availing yourself of Yelp reviews, a 1% ROI can be attained by selling weekly put contracts at a strike level 16% below Friday’s closing price.

While the market didn’t perform terribly well last week, technology was even worse, which has to bring International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) to mind. As the worst performer in the DJIA over the past 2 years it already knows what it’s like to under-perform and it hasn’t flown beneath anyone’s critical radar in that time.

However, among big and old technology it actually out-performed them all last week and even beat the S&P 500. With more controversy certain for next week as details of the new compensation package of its beleaguered CEO were released after Friday’s close, in an attempt to fly beneath the radar, shares go ex-dividend.

While there may continue being questions regarding the relevance of IBM and how much of the company’s performance is now the result of financial engineering, that uncertainty is finally beginning to creep into the option premiums that can be commanded if seeking to sell calls or puts.

With shares trading at a 4 year low the combination of option premium, dividend and capital appreciation of shares is recapturing my attention after years of neglect. If CEO Ginny Rometty can return IBM shares to where they were just a year ago she will be deserving of every one of the very many additional pennies of compensation she will receive, but she had better do so quickly because lots of people will learn about the new compensation package as trading resumes on Monday.

Also going ex-dividend this week are 2 very different companies, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Seagate Technology (NASDAQ:STX), that have little reason to be grouped together, otherwise.

After a recent 6% decline, Pfizer shares are now 6% below their 4 year high, but still above the level where I have purchased shares in the past.

The drug industry has heated up over the past few months with increasing consideration of mergers and buyouts, even as tax inversions are less likely to occur. Even those companies whose bottom lines can now only be driven by truly blockbuster drugs have heightened interest and heightened option premiums associated with their shares which are only likely to increase if overall volatility is able to maintain at increased levels, as well.

Following its recent price retreat, its upcoming dividend and improving option premiums, I’m willing to consider re-opening a position is Pfizer shares, even at its current level.

Seagate Technology, after a nearly 18% decline in the past month was one of those companies that reported a significant impact of currency in offering its guidance for the next quarter, while meeting expectations for the current quarter.

While I often like to sell puts in establishing a Seagate Technology position, with this week’s ex-dividend event, there is reason to consider doing so with the purchase of shares and the sale of calls, as the premium is rich and lots of bad news has already been digested.

I missed an opportunity to add eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) shares a few weeks ago in advance of earnings, as eBay was one of the first to show some currency headwinds. However, as has been the case for nearly a year, the story hasn’t been the business it has been all about activists and the saga of its profitable PayPal unit.

After an initial move higher on announcement of a standstill agreement with Carl Icahn, the activist who pushed for the spin-off of PayPal, shares dropped over the succeeding days back to a level just below from where they had started the process and again in the price range that I like to consider adding shares.

From now until that time that the PayPal spin-off occurs or is purchased by another entity, that’s where the opportunity exists if using eBay as part of a covered call strategy, rather than on the prospects of the underlying business. However, after more than a month of not owning any shares of a company that has been an almost consistent presence in my portfolio, it’s time to bring it back in and hopefully continue serially trading it for as long as possible until the fate of PayPal is determined.

Finally, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) reported earnings this past week, but took a page out of eBay’s playbook from earlier in the year and used the occasion to announce significant news unrelated to earnings that served to move shares higher and more importantly deflected attention from the actual business.

With a proposed tax free spin off of its remaining shares of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) many were happy enough to ignore the basic business or wonder what of value would be left in Yahoo after such a spin-off.

The continuing Yahoo – Alibaba umbilical cord works in reverse in this case as the child pumps life into the parent, although this past week as Alibaba reported earnings and was admonished by its real parent, the Chinese government, Yahoo suffered and saw its shares slide on the week.

The good news is that the downward pressure from Alibaba may go on hiatus, at least until the next lock-up expiration when more shares will hit the market than were sold at the IPO. However, until then, Yahoo option premiums are reflecting the uncertainty and offer enough liquidity for a nimble trader to respond to short term adverse movements, whether through a covered call position or through the sale of put options.

Traditional Stocks: eBay

Momentum Stocks: Yahoo

Double Dip Dividend: International Business Machines (2/5), Pfizer (2/4), Seagate Technology (2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Anadarko (APC 2/2 PM), Keurig Green Mountain (2/4 PM), Yelp (2/5 PM)

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

Weekend Update – October 5, 2014

This week’s markets didn’t respond so positively when Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank failed to deliver on what many had been expecting for quite some time.

The financial markets wanted to hear Draghi follow through on his previous market moving rhetoric with an ECB version of Quantitative Easing, but it didn’t happen. After two years of waiting for some meaningful follow through to his assertion that “we will do whatever it takes” Draghi’s appearance as simply an empty suit becomes increasingly apparent and increasingly worrisome.

On a positive note, as befitting European styling, that suit is exquisitely tailored, but still hasn’t shown that it can stand up to pressure.

It also wasn’t the first time our expectations were dashed and no one was particularly pleased to hear Draghi place blame for the state of the various economies in the European Union at the feet of its politicians as John Chambers, the head of Standard and Poor’s Sovereign Debt Committee did some years earlier when lowering the debt rating of the United States.

Placing the blame on politicians also sends a message that the remedy must also come from politicians and that is something that tends to only occur at the precipice.

While the Biblical text referring to a young child leading a pack of wild animals is a forward looking assessment of an optimistic future, believing that an empty suit can lead a pack of self-interested politicians is an optimism perhaps less realistic than the original passage.

At least that’s what the markets believed.

Befitting the previous week’s volatility that was marked by triple digit moves in alternating fashion, Draghi’s induced 238 point decline was offset by Friday’s 208 point gain following the encouraging Employment Situation Report. Whereas the previous week’s DJIA saw a net decline of only 166 points on absolute daily moves of 810 points, this past week was more subdued. The DJIA lost only 103 points while the absolute daily changes were 519 points.

The end result of Friday’s advance was to return volatility to where it had ended last week, which was a disappointment, as you would like to see volatility rise if there has been a net decline in the broader market. Still, if you’re selling options, that level is better than it was two weeks ago.

While Friday’s gain was encouraging it is a little less so when realizing that such memorable gains are very often found during market downtrends. There is at least very little doubt that the market behavior during the past two weeks represents some qualitative difference in its behavior and an isolated move higher may not be very reflective of any developing trend, but rather reactive to a different developing trend.

As with Draghi, falling for the rhetoric of such a positive response to the Employment Situation Report, may lead to some disappointment.

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

Many of the positions being considered this week are recently highlighted positions made more appealing following recent price pullbacks rather than on any company specific factors. Of course, when looking at stocks whose price has recently fallen at some point the question regarding value versus “value trap” has to be entertained.

With some increase in volatility, despite the rollback this week, I’ve taken opportunity to rollover existing positions to forward weeks when expanded option contracts have been available. As those premiums have increased a bit being able to do so helps to reduce the risk of having so many positions expire concurrently and being all exposed to a short term and sudden price decline.

Just imagine how different the outcome for the week may have been if Thursday’s and Friday’s results were reversed if you were relying on the ability to rollover positions or have them assigned.

However, with the start of earnings season this week there’s reason to be a little more attentive when selecting positions and their contract expiration dates as earnings may play a role in the premiums. While certainly making those premiums more enticing it also increases the risk of ownership at a time when the relative market risk may outweigh the reward.

One stock not reporting earnings this week, but still having an enriched option premium is The Gap (GPS). It opens the week for trading on its ex-dividend date and later in the week is expected to announce its monthly same store sales, being one of the few remaining companies to do so. Those results are inexplicably confusing month to month and shares tend to make strong price movements, frequently in alternating directions from month to month. For that uncertainty comes a very attractive option premium for shares that despite that event driven volatility tend to trade in a fairly well defined range over the longer term.

When it comes to their fashion offerings you may be ambivalent, but when it comes to that kind of price movement and predictability, what’s not to like?

If you’re waiting for a traditional correction, one that requires a 10% pullback, look no farther than Mosaic (MOS). While it had been valiantly struggling to surpass the $50 level on its long road to recovery from the shock of the break-up of the potash cartel, it has now fallen about 13% in 5 weeks. Most recently Mosaic announced a cutback in phosphate production and lowered its guidance and when a market is already on edge it doesn’t need successive blows like those offered by Mosaic as it approaches its 52 week low.

Can shares offer further disappointment when it reports earnings at the end of this month? Perhaps, but for those with a longer term outlook, at this level shares may be repeating the opportunity they offered upon hitting their lows on the cartel’s dissolution for serial purchase and assignment, while offering a premium enhanced by uncertainty.

Seagate Technology (STX) is also officially in that correction camp, having dropped 10% in that same 5 week period. It has done so in the absence of any meaningful news other than perhaps the weight of its own share price, with its decline having come directly from its 52 week high point.

For a company that has become fairly staid, Pfizer (PFE) has been moving about quite a bit lately. Whether in the news for having sought a tax inversion opportunity or other acquisitions, it is clearly a company that is in need of some sort of catalyst. That continuing kind of movement back and forth has been pronounced very recently and should begin making its option premium increasingly enticing. With shares seemingly seeking a $30 home, regardless of which side it is currently on and an always attractive dividend, Pfizer may start getting more and more interesting, particularly in an otherwise labile market.

Dow Chemical (DOW) is one of those stocks that used to be a main stay of my investing. It’s price climb from the $40 to $50 range made it less so, but with the realization that the $50 level may be the new normal, especially with activist investor pressure, it is again on the radar screen, That’s especially true after this week’s price drop. I had been targeting the $52.50 level having been most recently assigned at $53.50, but now it appears to be gift priced. Unfortunately, it may be a perfect example of that age old dilemma regarding value, having already greatly under-performed the market since its recent high the “value trap” part may have already been played out.

While MasterCard (MA) is ex-dividend this week, it is certainly not one to chase in order to capture its dividend. With a payout ratio far below its competitors it would seem that an increase might be warranted. However, what makes MasterCard attractive is that it has seemingly found a trading range and is now situated at about the mid-point of that range. While there is some recent tumult in the world of payments and with some continuing uncertainty regarding its presence in Russia, MasterCard continues to be worth consideration, particularly as it too has significantly under-performed the S&P 500 in the past two weeks.

Equal in its under-performance to MasterCard during that period has been Texas Instruments (TXN). I’ve been eager to add some technology sector positions for a while and haven’t done so as often as necessary to develop some better diversification. Along with Intel (INTC) which I considered last week, as well, Texas Instruments is back to a price level that has my attention. Like Intel, it reports earnings soon and also goes ex-dividend during the October 2014 option cycle. Unlike Intel, however, Texas Instruments doesn’t have a couple of gap ups in price over the past three months that may represent some additional earnings related risk.

When it comes to under-performance it is possible that Coach (COH) may soon qualify as being synonymous with that designation. Not too surprisingly its past performance in the past two weeks, while below that of the S&P 500 may be more directly tied to an improved price performance seen in its competitor for investor interest, Michael Kors (KORS). However, Coach seems to have established support at its current level and may offer a similar opportunity for serial purchase and assignment as had been previously offered by Mosaic shares.

Finally, with the exception of YUM Brands (YUM) all of the other stocks highlighted this week have under-performed the S&P 500 since hitting its recent high on September 18, 2014. YUM Brands reports earnings this week and is often very volatile when it does so. This time, hover, the options market doesn’t seem to be expecting a very large move, only about 4.5%. Neither is there an opportunity to achieve a 1% ROI through the sale of a put option at a strike outside of the range implied. However, YUM Brands is one of those stocks, that if I had sold puts upon, I wouldn’t mind owning if there was a likelihood of assignment.

So often YUM Brands share price is held hostage to food safety issues in China and so often it successfully is able to  see its share price regain sudden losses. That, however, hasn’t been the case thus far since it’s summertime loss. There are probably little expectations for an upside surprise upon release of earnings and as such there may be some limited downside, perhaps explaining the option market’s subdued pricing.

If facing assignment of puts being sold with an upcoming ex-dividend date the following week, I would be inclined to accept assignment and proceed from the point of ownership rather than trying to continue avoiding ownership of shares. However, with the slightest indication of political unrest spreading from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland that may be a decision destined for regret, just like the purchase of an ill-fitting and overly priced suit.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Pfizer, Texas Instruments, The Gap

Momentum: Coach, Mosaic, Seagate Technology

Double Dip Dividend:  MasterCard (10/7)

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

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

Weekend Update – August 24, 2014

For two consecutive summers back in 1981 and 1982 I found myself in Jackson Hole.

Although both times were in August, I don’t recall having run across any Federal Reserve types at the time. However, if they were there, they certainly weren’t staying in the same campground, but I’m guessing that their table was set much the same as mine, when big decisions in an era of 15% Fed Funds rates and the burgeoning money supply were being made.

Or maybe they were simply unwinding after a long day of exchanging white papers.

And not the type that are rolled, as good old fashioned Jackson Hole cowboys were reported to do. Too much exchanging of those rolled papers could definitely lead you into some kind of complacency. I know that I really didn’t care too much about what was going to happen next and was content to just let it all keep happening without my input.

This past week was one when neither decisions nor inputs were really required from investors as the market had its best week in about four months. With the exception of a totally inconsequential FOMC statement release, there was absolutely no economic news, or really no news of any kind at all. In fact, awaiting the scheduled remarks from Mario Draghi was elevated to the status of “breaking news” as most people were tiring of seeing celebrities getting doused with a bucket of ice, under the guise of being news.

In an environment like that how could you not exercise complacency? Going along for the ride has been a good strategy, just ask most hedge fund managers. While they, and I, were elated with the sudden spike in volatility just two weeks ago, talk of a 30% surge in volatility have been replaced by silence and sulking for them and justifiable complacency for most other investors.

Even though it was another in a series of Fridays with potentially unsettling news coming from Ukraine, this time regarding violation of their border by a Russian convoy, the market completely ignored the news, as it did the encounter of a US military jet with a Chinese fighter plane at a distance reported to be 20 feet.

That seemed odd.

Instead, all eyes were focused on the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual soiree in Jackson Hole, awaiting the keynote speech by Janet Yellen and then some words from her European counterpart, Mario Draghi.

For her part, Janet Yellen’s prepared remarks had no impact on markets, which were largely unchanged for the day.

The speculation that the real market propelling catalyst would come from Draghi, who was said to be ready to announce a large round of European quantitative easing turned out to be unfounded and so the week ended on a whimper, with many traders exercising their complacency by having embarked on an early start to the last of summer’s weekends.

While not going out in a blaze of glory markets again thrived on the lack of any news. In that kind of environment you can easily get used to the good times. With many believing that the Federal Reserve’s policies were responsible for those good times and having a “dove” at its helm, even with telegraphed interest rate hikes and an end to quantitative easing, auto-pilot seems so right.

Until it doesn’t.

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

This week I’m drawn to summer under-performers and there appear to be quite a few among companies that can have a place even in very traditional portfolios.

^SPX ChartIn a world that increasingly seems dominated by technology and bio-technology, my initial thoughts this week are focused on heavy metal, although that may be a consequence of some neuron debilitating nights in Jackson Hole.

Deere (DE) announced further layoffs this past week and has been mired at $85 level. Despite record crop yields Deere has gone fallow of late. While I may still like to see it trading a little lower, it is definitely in the range that I like to own shares, not having done so since August 2013, despite it being a portfolio mainstay, at one point. While its premiums are somewhat depressed along with most everything else, at the moment stocks that have under-performed the S&P 500 for the summer have some enhanced appeal at the market’s current dizzying heights.

Although the question “how much further could it possibly fall?” is not one whose answer most people would want to hear, I like considering high quality companies that have under-performed, as the market adds to its own risk for reversal.

Also in the heavy metal business, General Motors (GM) has been subject to more scrutiny than most companies could ever withstand and I think its CEO, Mary Barra, has reacted and performed admirably, trying to get ahead of the news. In that process General Motors has also found itself mired, but trading in a fairly predictable range, having a nice option premium and an upcoming dividend offer reasons for consideration. However, in order to capture the dividend I may consider the use of a monthly contract, although expanded weekly options are available. With a Monday ex-dividend date, one can even consider the sale of a September 12, 2014 contract and trade off an extra week of option premium for the dividend, if assigned early.

International Paper (IP) may not be the stuff of heavy metal, but there is a chance that some of those white papers controlling our economic and banking policies were presented on their products. It’s also possible that some of those erstwhile cowboys passed an International Paper product along to their friends around the campfire, years ago.

At its current trading level, International Paper has my attention, although I do already own some more expensive and uncovered shares. Management has sequentially created value for investors through strategic spin-offs, which may continue and a healthy dividend. It, too, has under-performed the S&P 500 of late and should have limited geo-political risk, although it does have manufacturing facilities in Russia and “International” in its name.

It’s not too often that I think about adding shares of a Dow component or a really staid “blue chip.” However, despite some low option premiums that usually accompany such names, this week it just feels right, perhaps as somewhat of an antidote to geo-political risk.

Both McDonalds (MCD) and Kellogg (K) also happen to be ex-dividend this week and are generous in their distributions. Both have also taken their lumps recently, badly trailing the already mediocre S&P 500 through the first two months of summer.

While McDonalds isn’t entirely immune to geo-political risk, witness the sudden closure of its flagship Russian restaurant and others throughout the country, following the pattern initially seen in Crimea months ago, the risk seems to be limited, as the real issues are with declining American tastes for its products.

Kellogg quietly manufactures its products in 18 countries and markets them nearly everywhere in the world, yet it’s not too likely that anyone or any government will make Kellogg the scapegoat for its geo-political shenanigans. Although I’ve never purchased shares, it’s a company that I consistently look at in order to capture its dividend, but have always gone elsewhere to be requited.

This time may be different, though. The combination of under-performance, option premium and dividend, coupled with a little bit of a time buffer through the use of a monthly option contract provides some comfort at a time when the world may be a tinderbox.

Halliburton (HAL) also goes ex-dividend this week, but its puny dividend isn’t the sort of thing that beckons anyone to begin a chase. However, shares have recently been under attack. Although only mildly trailing the S&P 500 for the summer its decline in the past month has been 8%. That’s enough to get my attention in return for receiving an option premium and perhaps a dividend payment, as well.

Pfizer (PFE) is somewhat of a mystery to me. It is thought to have a relatively shallow pipeline of new drugs, has been rebuffed in its attempt to swallow up some competition and perhaps gain a tax inversion opportunity. The mystery, though, is why shares had fallen as they have done over the summer. Whatever disappointment existed due to the failed buyout was in excess of any premium that the market attached to that buyout and the favorable tax situation.

As with International Paper, I already own uncovered shares, but am willing to now add shares as it has shown the ability to bounce back from its recent lows. While its premium isn’t necessarily the most provocative, in the past it has been the ability to repeatedly rollover shares that has been the real reward.

You can add Blackstone (BX) to the list of uncovered positions that I hold, with the most recent contract expiring this past Friday. Undoubtedly, Blackstone’s prospects are tied to a healthy stock market and an overall healthy economy, as its varied business interests and investments are the real product and they live and die through the whims of both masters.

That’s the kind of risk that’s represented in its high beta and reflected in its option premiums. However, in this period of extraordinarily low volatility, even Blackstone is having a hard time generating premiums of old. Still, its recent decline, in the absence of any real news and during a market rise makes me believe that despite the warning signs, it may offer some safety, particularly if there is further strength in the financial sector, as in the past week.

I had been hoping to have my shares of Best Buy (BBY) assigned this past week, in order to have a free and clear mind when considering the upcoming earnings report this week. That wish was granted and its again time to consider a trade in shares.

Best Buy frequently offers a good earnings related trade due to its enhanced premiums, that in turn are due to its propensity for explosive earnings related moves. While the option market is currently assigning an implied move of 8% next week, an ROI of 1% can currently be achieved by selling puts at a strike level 8.7% below Friday’s closing price.

I generally like to see a larger gap between the implied volatility and the strike price returning the threshold premium before considering the sale of puts in advance of earnings. In this case, I may be more inclined to wait after earnings and willing to pile on if shares disappoint. However, with an ex-dividend date just two weeks later, rather than selling puts in the aftermath of a large share drop I might consider the purchase of shares and sale of call options.

Finally, what a roller coaster Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) has found itself riding. After garnering the honor being named the “Worst CEO of 2013” shares have made an impressive turnaround.

I have no clue how suddenly its products could have become “cool” again, or why teens may now be flocking to its stores or what aggressive strategic changes CEO Jeffries may have implemented, but the sudden favor it has found among investors is undeniable, as shares have left the S&P 500 behind in the dust over the past month.

For me, that kind of share acceleration is a perfect message to consider the sale of puts as earnings are to be released.

The option market is implying a price move of 8.6%, however, a 1% ROI may be achieved at a strike level 13.8% below Friday’s close. That’s the kind of gap that I like seeing. However, as with Best Buy, there is the matter of an ex-dividend date, which happens to be on the same date as earnings are released.

If wanting to take part in this trade, that essentially leaves three different scenarios, including the commonly executed sale of puts before or after earnings. In the case of doing so before earnings the sale of puts in the face of an impending ex-dividend date frequently works to the disadvantage of the seller, much in the same way as selling calls into an ex-dividend date serves as a seller’s advantage.

That disadvantage is eliminated in selling puts after earnings, in the event of the share’s decline. However, another possibility, and one that would very likely include retention of the dividend, is the sale of deep in the money calls, particularly if using a monthly expiration. Additionally, if shares move higher after earnings, once the added volatility is removed the deeper in the money position may likely be closed at a small net price following concurrent share sales, allowing funds to be re-deployed.

Take that, complacency.

Traditional Stocks: Blackstone, Deere, General Motors, International Paper, Pfizer

Momentum:

Double Dip Dividend: Halliburton (8/29), Kellog (8/28), McDonalds (8/28)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (8/28 AM), Best Buy (8/26 AM)

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

Weekend Update – February 9, 2014

Everything is crystal clear now.

After three straight weeks of losses to end the trading week, including deep losses the past two weeks everyone was scratching their heads to recall the last time a single month had fared so poorly.

What those mounting losses accomplished was to create a clear vision of what awaited investors as the past week was to begin.

Instead, it was nice to finish on an up note to everyone’s confusion.

When you think you are seeing things most clearly is when you should begin having doubts.

Who saw a two day 350 point gain coming, unless they had bothered to realize that this week was featuring an Employment Situation Report? The one saving grace we have is that for the past 18 months you could count on a market rally to greet the employment news, regardless of whether the news met, exceeded or fell short of expectations.

That’s clarity. It’s confusing, but it’s a rare sense of clarity that comes from being so successful in its ability to predict an outcome that itself is based upon human behavior.

As the week began with a 325 point loss in the DJIA voices started bypassing talk of a 10% correction and starting uttering thoughts of a 15-20% correction. 10% was a bygone conclusion. At that point most everyone agreed that it was very clear that we were finally being faced with the “healthy” correction that had been so long overdue.

When in the middle of that correction nothing really feels very healthy about it, but when people have such certainty about things it’s hard to imagine that they might be wrong. With further downside seen by the best and brightest we were about to get healthier than our portfolios might be able to withstand.

It was absolutely amazing how clearly everyone was able to see the future. What made things even more ominous and sustaining their view was the impending Employment Situation Report due at the end of the week. Following last month’s abysmal numbers, ostensibly related to horrid weather across the country, there wasn’t too much reason to expect much in the way of an improvement this time around. Besides, the Nikkei and Russian stock markets had just dipped below the 10% threshold that many define as a market correction and as we’re continually reminded, it’s an inter-connected world these days. It wasn’t really a question of “whether,” it was a matter of “when?”

Then there was all that talk of how high the volatility was getting, even though it had a hard time even getting to October 2013 levels, much less matching historical heights. As everyone knows, volatility comes along with declining markets so the cycle was being put in place for the only outcome possible.

After Monday’s close the future was clear. Crystal clear.

Instead, the week ended with an 0.8% gain in the S&P 500 despite that plunge on Monday and a highly significant drop in volatility. The market responded to a disappointing Employment Situation Report with what logically or even using the “good news is bad news” kind of logic should not have been the case.

Now, with a week that started by confirming the road to correction we were left with a week that supported the idea that the market is resistant to a classic correction. Instead of the near term future of the markets being crystal clear we are left beginning this coming week with more confusion than is normally the case.

If it’s true that the market needs clarity in order to propel forward this shouldn’t be the week to commit yourself. However, the only thing that’s really clear about our notions is that they’re often without basis so the only reasonable advice is to do as in all weeks – look for situational opportunities that can be exploited without regard to what is going on in the rest of the world.

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

If you’re looking for certainty, or at least a company that has taken steps to diminish uncertainty, Microsoft (MSFT) is the one. With the announcement of the appointment of Satya Nadella, an insider, to be its new CEO, shares did exactly what the experts said it wouldn’t do. Not too long ago the overwhelming consensus was that the appointment of an outsider, such as Alan Mullaly would drive shares forward, while an insider would send shares tumbling into the 20s.

Microsoft simply stayed on its path with the news of an inside candidate taking the reigns. Regardless of its critics, Microsoft’s strategy is more coherent than it gets credit for and this leadership decision was a quantum leap forward, certainly far more important than discussions of screen size. With this level of certainty also comes the certainty of a dividend and attractive option premiums, making Microsoft a perennial favorite in a covered option strategy.

The antithesis of certainty may be found in the smallest of the sectors. With the tumult in pricing and contracts being promulgated by T-Mobile (TMUS) and its rebel CEO John Legere, there’s no doubt that the margins of all wireless providers is being threatened. Verizon (VZ) has already seen its share price make an initial response to those threats and has shown resilience even in the face of a declining market, as well. Although the next ex-dividend date is still relatively far away, there is a reason this is a favorite among buy and hold investors. As long as it continues to trade in a defined range, this is a position that I wouldn’t mind holding for a while and collecting option premiums and the occasional dividend.

Lowes (LOW) is always considered an also ran in the home improvement business and some recent disappointing home sales news has trickled down to Lowes’ shares. While it does report earnings during the first week of the March 2014 option cycle, I think there is some near term opportunity at it’s current lower price to see some share appreciation in addition to collecting premiums. However, I wouldn’t mind being out of my current shares prior to its scheduled earnings report.

Among those going ex-dividend this week are Conoco Phillips (COP), International Paper (IP) and Eli Lilly (LLY). In the past month I’ve owned all three concurrently and would be willing to do so again. While International Paper has outperformed the S&P 500 since the most recent market decline two weeks ago, it has also traded fairly rangebound over the past year and is now at the mid-point of that range. That makes it at a reasonable entry point.

Conoco Phillips appears to be at a good entry point simply by virtue of a nearly 12% decline from its recent high point which includes a 5% drop since the market’s own decline. With earnings out of the way, particularly as they have been somewhat disappointing for big oil and with an end in sight for the weather that has interfered with operations, shares are poised for recovery. The premiums and dividend make it easier to wait.

Eli Lilly is down about 5% from its recent high and I believe is the next due for its turn at a little run higher as the major pharmaceutical companies often alternate with one another. With Pfizer (PFE) and Merck (MRK) having recently taken those honors, it’s time for Eli Lilly to get back in the short term lead, as it is for recent also ran Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) that was lost to assignment this past week and needs a replacement, preferably one offering a dividend.

Zillow (Z) reports earnings this week. In its short history as a publicly traded company it has had the ability to consistently beat analyst’s estimates and then usually see shares fall as earnings were released. That kind of doubled barrel consistency warrants some consideration this week as the option market is implying an 11% move this week. While that is possible, there is still an opportunity to generate a 1% ROI for the week if the share price falls by anything less than 16%.

While I’m not entirely comfortable looking for volatility among potential new positions two that do have some appeal are Coach (COH) and Morgan Stanley (MS).

Coach is a frequent candidate for consideration and I generally like it more when it’s being maligned. After last week’s blow-out earnings report by Michael Kors (KORS) the obvious next thought becomes how their earnings are coming at the expense of Coach. While there may be truth to that and has been the conventional wisdom for nearly 2 years, Coach has been able to find a very comfortable trading range and has been able to significantly increase its dividend in each of the past 4 years in time for the second quarter distribution. It’s combination of premiums, dividends and price stability, despite occasional swings, makes it worthy of consistent consideration.

I’ve been waiting for a while for another opportunity to add shares of Morgan Stanley. Down nearly 12% in the past 3 weeks may be the right opportunity, particularly as some European stability may be at hand following the European Central Bank’s decision to continue accommodation and provide some stimulus to the continent, where Morgan Stanley has interests, particularly being subject to “net counterparty exposure.” It’s ride higher has been sustained and for those looking at such things, it’s lows have been consistently higher and higher, making it a technician’s delight. I don’t really know about such things and charts certainly aren’t known for their clarity being validated, but its option premiums do compel me as do thoughts of a dividend increase that it i increasingly in position to institute.

Finally, if you’re looking for certainty you don’t have to look any further than at Chesapeake Energy (CHK) which announced a significant decrease in upcoming capital expenditures, which sent shares tumbling on the announcement. Presumably, it takes money to make money in the gas drilling business so the news wasn’t taken very well by investors. A very significant increase in option premiums early in the week suggested that some significant news was expected and it certainly came, with some residual uncertainty remaining in this week’s premiums. For those with some daring this may represent the first challenge since the days of Aubrey McClendon and may also represent an opportunity for shareholder Carl Icahn to enter the equation in a more activist manner.

Traditional Stocks: Lowes, Microsoft, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy, Coach, Morgan Stanley,

Double Dip Dividend: Conoco Phillips (ex-div 2/13), International Paper (ex-div 2/12), Eli Lilly (ex-div 2/12)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Zillow (2/12 PM)

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