Weekend Update – August 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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power of Murdoch, it was ominous that he would have proposed a buy out of Time Warner (TWX), but this week that offer was revoked, perhaps offering a respite to investors fearing another plunge from what may be destined to be a market top.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum: T-Mobile

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Cree (8/12 PM)

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

Weekend Update – March 16, 2014

Most of us have, at one time or another believed that we were carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. The reality will always be that unless we are the President of the United States with a decision to be made regarding pressing that red button, those feelings are somewhat exaggerated and unlikely to be borne out in fact.

It’s probably not an exaggeration, however, to suggest that in the past week the burden of the world weighed down heavily on the U.S. stock markets.

Slowing growth and questionable economic statistics from China and an unfolding crisis in Crimea were the culprits identified this week that sapped the momentum out of our markets. The complete list of “reasons” for last week’s performance was compiled by Josh Brown, but ultimately it all came down to our shoulders. Perhaps like a regressive tax the individual investor may feel an exaggerated impact as well when the market behaves badly and may also take longer to recover from the heavy load of losses.

In addition to the global issues then there were also issues of regulation, seeing the SEC and FTC weigh in on Herbalife (HLF), dueling words of umbrage from billionaires over eBay (EBAY) and litigation from the New York State Attorney General’s Office over General Motor’s (GM) role in potentially avoidable vehicular deaths.

What there wasn’t was anything positive or optimistic to be said during the week, other than sooner or later Spring will arrive. For the first time since the last real attempt at a correction nearly two years ago the market closed lower in each trading session of the past week.

While the weekend may change my opinion, as additional news may be forthcoming as Russian war games on Ukraine’s borders play themselves out and a Crimean referendum is held, I find myself optimistic for the coming week.

I usually try to find ten potential trades for each coming week. Last week I struggled to find just nine. This week my preliminary list was nearly twenty and I had a difficult time narrowing down to ten stocks.

That hasn’t happened in a while.

Certainly, as has been discussed in previous weeks following a downward moving market, the challenge is discerning between value and value traps. In that regard this past week is no different, but for inspiration, I look to the option seller’s best friend.

That would be volatility. It creates the kind of premiums that can make me salivate and it is the lack of volatility that makes me wonder whether anyone really cares anymore about the need for stock markets to react appropriately to fundamental factors, as opposed to simply moving higher under all circumstances.  

Since late 2011 we’ve been used to seeing historically low levels of volatility with occasional spikes representing market downturns. For those following along you know that there haven’t been many of those downturns in the past 20 months, although we did just recently quickly recover from an equally quick 7% loss. Those downturns saw spikes in volatility.

Suddenly there has been a lot of discussion about increasing volatility and for those that get excited about technical analysis, much is made of the significance of Volatility Index breaking above the 200 Day Moving Average.

What you don’t hear, however, are the video playbacks of all of the times the Volatility Index has surpassed that 200 Day Moving Average and it did not lead to a market breakdown, as suggested by many.

Instead, a quick look at the past year seems to indicate an alternating current of spikes in volatility between larger spikes and smaller ones. Simply put, I think we’re experiencing a regularly scheduled smaller spike in volatility.

I could be wrong, but that’s what hedging is all about.

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

As with last week, despite the uncertainty that may usher in the coming week I see some possibilities even with some higher beta positions, on a selective basis.

While I’ve been trying to emphasize dividend paying positions for the past three months, the only potential such trades that had any appeal for me this week fell into the higher beta category.

While Best Buy (BBY) is probably immune to any direct impact from an overseas crisis, it has had no difficulty in creating its own and has certainly created a crisis of faith before regaining some respectability under new leadership. But for those that have held shares that all seems so long ago after some disappointing earnings reports. Hit especially hard this most recent earnings season, Best Buy has two months left to acquit itself and another two weeks to have their cash registers ring loudly to offset any weather related disappointments. In the meantime shares do go ex-dividend this week and have been trading in a narrow range of late. In the absence of any news it may be expected to keep doing so long enough to capture a dividend and perhaps a premium or two.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) also goes ex-dividend this week and is also a higher beta stock. While I have traded this stock with some frequency, it’s been a while since doing so as it resists going much lower. While it is at a relative low to its recent high after a 7% decline, it has still had a fairly uninterrupted trajectory. Like Best Buy, there’s not too much reason to suspect that events in Crimea will serve as a direct contagion, the higher beta may be its own heavy weight in the event of a market decline, but like cockroaches, gambling will survive even nuclear holocaust, as may Sheldon Adelson, the Chairman. It may also survive some weakness in China, as there’s no better place to bury your misery than in their Maxao casinos.

It’s usually a fallacy in the making when you use logic to convince yourself of the rationale to buy a stock. That includes the belief that if you liked a stock at one price it must certainly be even more likeable at a lower price. Yet that’s where I find myself with General Electric (GE), whose shares were just assigned from me a week ago and now find themselves priced below that earlier strike price. However, in the case of General Electric, unless there are some horrific surprises around the corner or a complete market meltdown, it’s hard to imagine that it could be classified as being a value trap at this new lower price. Down 4% in the past week and 10% YTD, if the market is heading lower, GE will have been ahead of the curve. While it’s option premium doesn’t reflect much in the way of volatility it does represent a reasonable means to surpass the performance of a flat market.

While retail has been a place that money has gone to die of late, you get a feeling that things may be reversing, at least in the minds of analysts when even Coach (COH), a literal punching leather bag for all, receives an upgrade. While my shares of Coach were assigned this week, as were my shares of Kohls (KSS), I’m ready to repurchase both in their current range, as the long fall down deserves at least a short climb higher.

Coach has shown itself to be able to faithfully defend the $46 level despite so many assaults over the past two years. That ability to consistently bounce back has made it a great covered option position, whether through outright purchase or the sale of puts.

Kohls represents exactly what I like in my stocks. That is a non-descript existence and just happily going along its way without making too much fuss, other than an occasional earnings related outburst. Dependable is far more important than being flashy and as a stock and as a company, Kohls hugs that middle lane reliably, but still provides a competitive premium thanks to those occasional outbursts.

If the thesis that retail is ready for a comeback has more of a basis than just as reflected in share price, but also reflects pent up spending from a harsh winter, MasterCard (MA) is a prime beneficiary. While already somewhat protected from the ravages of weather by virtue of being able to spend your money with just a simple mouse click, there are just some things that need to be done in the real world. Trading well below its pre-split price until recently I had not owned shares in years. Now more readily purchased in scale, I look forward to the opportunity to purchase and re-purchase these shares with some degree of regularity, WHile its dividend is paltry, there is certainly room for growth to rise to the levels of Visa (V) and Discover Financial Services (DFS). However, notwithstanding any potential bump in share price along with a dividend hike, the option premiums can make the wait worthwhile.

In a week of no industry specific news, following a flurry of changes in industry dynamics initiated by T-Mobile (TMUS), Verizon (VZ) fell 3% bringing it down to a level from which it has found significant strength. While General Electric may face some potential liability with events in Crimea or a deteriorating economy in China, I don’t see quite the same liability for Verizon. Instead, whatever burdens it has to carry will come from an increasingly competitive landscape as it and AT&T (T) are continually pushed by T-Mobile and perhaps Sprint (S). In the meantime, while trading in a range and finding support at $46, there’s always the additional lure of a 4.5% dividend.

While Verizon isn’t terribly exciting it meets its match in Intel (INTC). However, the excitement that comes from growth isn’t absolutely necessary to generate predictable profits. Intel is especially well suited when it’s share price is very close to a strike level. If volatility continues to rise the opportunity to purchase Intel expands as the price range at which it may be purchased increases, while still offering an attractive option premium which can be further enhanced by an attractive dividend.

While it was only a matter of time until retail would begin to dig its way out from under the piles of snow, no sector has brutalized me more this past year than the one that requires digging. Freeport McMoRan (FCX) is among that group that hasn’t been terribly kind to me, despite my belief that it would be the “stock of the year” for 2013.

With copper itself being brutalized this past week, despite gold’s relative strength, Freeport McMoRan has itself had the weight of the market’s response to the less than robust Chinese economy to shoulder. But the one thing that you can always count on is that data from China can easily correct reality and that explains the seemingly recurrent see-saw ride that we have been on in those sectors that are tied to their data. The true plunge in copper prices, if sustained, will not be good news for Freeport McMoRan, whose generous dividend payout could conceivably be jeopardized.

On the other hand, shares are now at a level that has repeatedly created substantial returns for those willing to test the waters.

Finally, not many companies, especially those with a newly appointed CEO had as bad a week as General Motors. You might think that having paid its first dividend in years this past Friday there would be reasons to rejoice, but finding yourself at the top of the headlines related to customer deaths isn’t an enviable place, nor one conducive to a thriving share price. When the Attorney General of any state piles on that doesn’t help.

However, with a chorus of those clamoring for General Motors to re-test the $30 level purely on a technical basis there may be reason enough to believe that won’t be the case. Having timed a purchase of shares as inopportunely as possible, I’d like nothing more than to see that position restored to some respect.

As with the recent news that the FTC will be investigating allegations that Herbalife was engaged in a Ponzi scheme, the bad news for General Motors, while coming as an acute event, will take a long while to play out, regardless of the merits of the cases or the human tragedies caught up in what is now a story of fines, punishment andperhaps even acquittal.

Traditional Stocks: Coach, General Electric, General Motors, Intel, Kohls, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Best Buy (ex-div 3/18), Las Vegas Sands (ex-div 3/18)

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.