Weekend Update – March 17, 2013

Many stock charts look similar lately. For those old enough to remember Alan Greenspan’s first year as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, the upward slope was all that many new investors and stock brokers had known for 5 years.

You may or may not recall how that second year went for him. It was the year that the stock market re-discovered the concept of gravity and the more complex notion of negative numbers.

To hear the one time Federal Reserve Chairman intone yesterday that the market is greatly undervalued sends whatever message you would like to hear when you digest his words.

“Irrational exuberance is the last term I would use to characterize the performance at the moment.”

The key to escaping responsibility and a stain on your prognosticating ability is the phrase “at the moment.” I use that a lot myself, as any moment can end up being the inflection point. It’s just too bad that the television cameras aren’t rolling at that point.

There’s much speculation lately about the source of any new money coming into the markets. Whether it’s refugees from the bond market or those that have sat on the sidelines since being shaken out sometime in the past 5 years. I’m not certain why the answer seems so hard to ascertain, but with all of the smug talk about those investors who represent the “smart money,” you might believe that any new money at the margins would be somewhat less smart. After all, besides perhaps being late to the party, they were either in bonds or cash all of this time.

How smart is that? Well, it depends on what side of the inflection you’re on when the question is asked.

Regardless of where any new money may be coming, all such funds are faced with the same dilemma. Do you chase something that’s already left the station or do you wait for the next opportunity to come along?

In a way, if you sell calls on your positions, you’re regularly faced with those question upon assignment. If you sell lots of weekly call options the question is a frequent one.

If you believe in history repeating itself, images such as this may be of concern:

Unless of course you’re very concrete, in which case there’s still three months left to frolic in higher prices and invest with impunity.

Approaching my fourth week of negativity and seeing a decrease in option income as a result of re-investing less of the proceeds of assigned shares, something has to reach a breaking point. Since the theoretical number of consecutive days that the market could go higher is unlimited, it may make sense to temper the conviction that only negative things wait ahead, especially for those unprepared.

Granted, the “doomsday preppers” that are featured on basic cable these days may not be the best of role models, there has to be something in-between that offers a compromise.

I think that compromise is avoiding most anything that your grandfather never had to opportunity to purchase.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, or “PEE” (see details). Although my preference is to now look for high quality, dividend paying stocks as a defensive position, sadly, there are none such going ex-dividend this week.

I don’t recall the last time I considered so many stocks at any single time from the Dow Jones Index. In a month where the first 10 trading days took us higher, of the following Dow Index stocks only one outperformed the S&P 500.

Caterpillar (CAT) is approaching one of my favorite price points for its shares. Despite no negative news, other than what may be inferred though always questionable Chinese economic data, shares have been languishing and get more appealing daily. Those other heavy machinery companies without the potential Chinese exposure have been enjoying the market climb.

Home Depot (HD) has been a favorite stock ever since I dared to compare it to Apple (AAPL) in terms of performance, at a time that Apple was hitting on all cylinders. There’s nothing terribly exciting and there’s probably very little new information that can be added about Home Depot. It simply offers safety,a decent premium and continues to hit on all cylinders even as other more flashy companies have done otherwise. Let others debate whether increased housing sales are good or bad or whether it is a better buy than Lowes (LOW). It is simply a reliable portfolio partner.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) is no longer made of Teflon, although its share price continues to be fairly resistant. With Congressional hearings starting today and findings that JP Morgan was indifferent, at best, to the risks that it was assuming in what became known as the “London Whale Trades,” it will re-join its banking brethren who are, by and large, seeing their stocks enjoy the results of the stress tests. The increased dividend announced is a nice little touch, as well an inducement to add shares.

I rarely look at the Communication Services or Utilities sectors unless I want safety and dividends. That was a good formula early on in the process of recovering from 2007 plunge. But it may also be a good formula to protect against downwinds. Not necessarily a very exciting approach, but sleeping at night has its own merits. AT&T (T), although not going ex-dividend this week is expected to announce its ex-dividend date sometime in the April 2013 option cycle. It will be my Ambien.

Merck (MRK) was the lone Dow component company to have out-performed the S&P 500 through March 14, 2013, purely on the big bump when it received favorable news regarding its controversial Vytorin product. Recently its option premiums have started to become more compelling. I had hoped to purchase shares last week in order to capture the dividend, however, the Vytorin news disrupted that, as I chose not to chase.

Starbucks (SBUX) is a bit more expensive than I would like in order to pick up new shares, but I always prefer to get shares when it hovers near a strike price. Although your grandfather may not have been able to ever purchase shares of this company, it definitely has a business model of which he would approve. Basic and simple, while offering an addictive product worked well for tobacco companies and is equally and consistently successful at Starbucks.

The lone Momentum stock this week is Coach (COH). Having just had shares assigned at $49 and still owning some higher priced shares at $51, I rarely like to chase stocks as their prices have gone higher than their assigned price. However, I think that the worst is over for Coach and it still carries cache, despite some equivocation regarding its status in the luxury sector of retail.

I’ve had shares of Coach come in and out of my portfolio on a consistent basis ever since the first assault on its future and subsequent 10% drop in share price. It’s sometimes a little maddening how out-sized its moves are, but it does tend to gravitate back toward its pre-assault home.

Although I do want to eschew risk, there may be some earnings related trades this week that may still offer a reasonable risk-reward scenario.

With the exception of LuLu Lemon (LULU), all of the potential earnings related stocks are ones that I’ve happily owned in the past year and would be comfortable owning again. LuLu Lemon, however, is the only one of those potential plays that would fall into the Momentum category, although all are retailers or consumer discretionary companies.

Retailing based on what may turn out to be a fad is always a risky proposition and LuLu Lemon has certainly shown that it’s capable of exhibiting large price moves, both earnings related and otherwise. Someday, it may be on the wrong side of being a fad, but there’s currently no indication of that happening and impacting this current upcoming earnings release. Although it is capable of a 15% move in either direction, those a bit more daring may find the premiums associated with a 10% move appealing.

My shares of Tiffany were assigned this Friday, having been held for 181 days, as compared to just 26 days for positions opened in 2012. It’s was an interesting run, with lots of ups and downs, but its performance beat the S&P 500 for its holding period by 4.9%. Now offering weekly options, it is even more appealing to me as a casual purchase. With earnings this week and a significant recent run-up in price, put options are aggressively priced and attractive, if you don’t mind the possibility of owning shares.

Williams Sonoma (WSM) is one of those stocks for which I wished weekly options existed, especially as it offers earning related opportunities at the very beginning of a monthly cycle. It too, is very capable of 10% moves in either direction upon earnings, but as Coach, does have a tendency to return if the market reacts negatively.

The final earnings related trade is Nike (NKE). Although it is also capable of 10% moves, it doesn’t offer premiums quite as enhanced as some of the other names. However, it certainly doesn’t carry the risk of being a fad and so, even with a precipitous drop there can be reasonable expectations for a return to health. Even in the event of assignments of puts sold to capitalize on earnings, there are worse things in the world than owning shares of Nike.

Traditional Stocks: AT&T, Caterpillar, DuPont, Home Depot, JP Morgan, Merck, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: COH

Double Dip Dividend: none

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: LuLu Lemon (3/21 AM), Nike (3/21 PM), Tiffany (3/22 AM), Williams Sonoma (3/19 PM)

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

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

 

Weekend Update – February 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traditional Stocks: Murphy Oil, The Gap, Southwestern Energy

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

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

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

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

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

 

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Weekend Update – January 13, 2013

Your portfolio is your Preidential Cabinet.

In a week when the biggest story was the signature of the man selected by President Obama to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary it’s not too surprising that not much happened in the markets.

After more than a 4% gain the prior week a breather was welcome., as shares assigned from my portfolio must have felt as if they had outstayed their welcome.

They hadn’t, but sometimes it’s just time to leave.

The week was a busy one in Executive Office politics as it was the time honored tradition of appointed cabinet officials knowing that it was time to leave . The week demonstrated a strategy to fill cabinet positions that many are finding to be uncomfortable. Some people like the security that comes with known names and entities, while others relish in the unknown and “out of the box” thinkers..

Professional sports is like the former. How else can you explain the consistent recycling of proven losers, while promising new leaders go languishing as they await an opportunity to strut their stuff and lead their teams to victory?

As opposed to the process of assembling a Presidential cabinet under George W. Bush when every face was a very hackneyed and familiar one, this week’s events were quite the opposite, as the choices ranged from the unknown to the disliked. Norv Turner may have qualified for an appointment in the Bush Administration, but not here and not now.

What could confidently be said about Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary designee, is that his signature suggests that he would be comfortable working together with Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and add a few extra “zeroes” to the money supply. After all, why stop at just a Trillion Dollar Coin? It’s like 5 minute Abs.

President Obama’s cabinet during his first term was noted for its infrequent turnover and familiar names. That’s how my portfolios used to be and I can’t necessarily complain about its performance. The portfolio was always comprised of well known names, never any speculative issues and they all stayed a long time, through good and bad performance, then good performance and then bad performance, again and again.

As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced her departure, ostensibly lured by an irresistible Herbalife (HLF) ethnocentric marketing campaign, Raymond LaHood is one of the few leftovers and he should stay just for the humorous name.

That’s not a good enough criterion for stocks, though. These days, I like rapid turnover, but still only have comfort with familiar names. I too may have chosen Donald Rumsfeld, but likely would have been a little distressed if he had not departed within 40 days, or so. I like a portfolio that is more of a sleep-over than a relationship.

After veering significantly from last week’s script in an effort to find lots of replacements for assigned shares, I’m again faced with needing lots of replacements, but at least this past week the overall market wasn’t terribly difficult to top. Think of it as having to find a replacement for Treasury Secretary John Snow. Henry Paulson was pretty good in his own right, but by comparison he really shined.

Still, the challenge of finding potential candidates that aren’t at or near 52 week highs is difficult. Normally, my list is comprised of the same old and reliable names, but this week there are some newcomers that hopefully will get a chance to strut their stuff and then be gone before outwearing their welcome. That’s especially on my mind this week as a number offer only monthly option contracts. I tend to be more willing to consider those stocks in the final week of a monthly cycle, but if they’re not assigned that starts preparing the way to push the 40 day envelope.

As usual, stocks are categorized as either being Traditional, Momentum, Double, Dip Dividend or PEE (see details). As earnings season goes into full gear this week there were actually a large number of candidates to consider for earnings related trades, but often the best opportunities come with some of the lesser known or higher flying names than with the button down early reporters.

I’m not certain that I know anyone that would admit to having, much less using a Discover credit card. I still spend a good portion of my time trying to find a place that will allow me to decide between my Diners Club or Discover. Yet Discover FInancial (DFS) is a reasonable alternative to Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA). Although Discover has outperformed its more respected cousins in the past year, it has greatly under-performed in the past month.

DuPont (DD) used to be one of my favorites. That was back in the days when there were no weekly options, it had an artificially high dividend and great option premiums. These days, I’m not quite as enthused, as the years have taken their toll. But during the last week of an option cycle? Why not? Besides, with all of the portfolio new comers, it’s good to have a familiar face or two to keep things grounded.

Speaking of grounds, Starbucks (SBUX), although higher than the last time I owned it, just a few months ago, appears to be running on all cylinders. I’m not certain that anyone knows and understands his company as well as Howard Schultz understands Starbucks. Even in the face of a negative earnings report two quarters ago, Schultz effused so much confidence in responding to the market’s reflexive response to “bad” news, that you had to be inspired about the company’s prospects.

These days, I’m not certain that I should still categorize AIG (AIG) along with my other “Momentum” stocks. Its option premiums are less and less like those of others in that category. AIG is a stock that I often wish I had read my own weekly words and bought much more frequently than I had done. Along the lines of inspiration, every time I see its CEO, Robert BenMosche on air, I think that he is truly a hero of American business and finance. Instead of remembering the villains, we should laud the heroes.

US Steel (X) could be one of my newcomer stocks this week. I don’t have any particular thesis. I simply like the premium, but am respectful of the risk. US Steel does report earnings on January 29, 201 and am not certain that I would want to be holding shares going into earnings. Since it does trade a weekly option, there would be at least two escape opportunities prior to earnings.

Yahoo! (YHOO) is another stock that I haven’t owned in a while, having waited for its return to $16. Following its drop this past week I feel a bit more comfortable considering a purchase after its resurrection.

Footlocker (FL) is another one of the new comers that doesn’t necessarily inspire me on the basis of any underlying theme. Like Us Steel it has a nice option premium, but only trades a monthly option. The upcoming dividend may tip the scales for me as the stock hasn’t had the same kind of run-up that its products should equip the owner for.

Lowes (LOW), for all of its commendable performance, is a stock that I only look toward as it approaches its ex-dividend date. It too offers only a monthly option, but like Foot Locker, going ex-dividend in the final week of the monthly option cycle makes ownership more palatable.

eBay (EBAY) is another stock that I own too infrequently. That may change as it’s come over to the weekly options family. It reports earnings this week and will likely be as good as its PayPal division allows it to be. It’s no longer the highly volatile stock of yesterday, but still offers a reasonable risk-reward ratio in the same 5% range on strike price.

Having missed the entire move in the entire housing sector doesn’t preclude entry, it just includes risk. Lennar (LEN) will report earnings this coming week and I expect a break in its upward trajectory. In the past its shares have not over-responded to earnings news, so the risk reward may be present at the 5% level, rather than the 10% level that I often find comfort in. If prices hold up prior to earnings release and I can obtain a 1% premium for selling a put at a strike 5% below the current price or selling an in the money call at a similar strike, this may be a good candidate for a short term dalliance.

Traditional Stocks: Discover Financial, DuPont, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: AIG, US Steel, Yahoo!

Double Dip Dividend: Foot Locker (ex-div 1/16), Lowes (ex-div 1/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (1/16 PM), Lennar (1/15 AM)

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