Weekend Update – November 8, 2015

For a very brief period of time before October’s release of the Employment Situation Report and for about 90 minutes afterward, the stock market had started doing something we hadn’t seen for quite a while.

Surprisingly, traders had been interpreting economic news in a rational sort of way. Normally, you wouldn’t have to use the word "surprisingly" to describe that kind of behavior, but for the preceding few years the market was focused on just how great the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy was for equity investors and expressed fear at anything that would take away their easy access to cheap money or would make alternative investments more competitive.

The greatest increment of growth in our stock market over the past few years occurred when bad news was considered good and good news was considered good.

To be more precise, however, that greatest increment of growth occurred when there was the absence of good economic news in the United States and the presence of good economic news in China.

What that meant was that good economic news in the United States was most often greeted as being a threat. Meanwhile back in the good old days when China was reporting one unbelievable quarter after another, their good economic news fueled the fortunes of many US companies doing business there.

Then the news from China began to falter and we were at a very odd intersection when the market was achieving new highs even as so many companies were in correction mode as a Chinese slowdown and supremacy of American currency conspired to offset the continuing gift from the FOMC.

At the time of the release of October’s Employment Situation Report the market initially took the stunningly low number and downward revisions to previous months as reflecting a sputtering economy and added to the losses that started some 6 weeks earlier and that had finally taken the market into a long overdue correction.

90 minutes later came an end to rational behavior and the market rallied in the belief that the bad news on employment could only mean a continuation of low interest rates.

In other words, stock market investors, particularly the institutions that drive the trends were of the belief that fewer people going back to work was something that was good for those in a position to put money to work in the stock market.

Of course, they would never come right out and say that. Instead, there was surely some proprietary algorithm at work that set up a cascading avalanche of buy orders or some technical factors that conveniently removed all human emotion and empathy from the equation.

As bad as the employment numbers seemed, the real surprise came a few weeks later as the FOMC emerged from its meeting and despite not raising rates indicated that employment gains at barely above the same level everyone had taken to be disappointing would actually be sufficient to justify an interest rate increase.

The same kind of reversal that had been seen earlier in the month after the Employment Situation Report was digested was also seen after the most recent FOMC Statement release had started settling into the minds of traders. However, instead of taking the market off in an inappropriate direction, there came the realization that an increase in interest rates can only mean that the economy is improving and that can only be a good thing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to this past week and with the uncertainty of the week ending release of the Employment Situation Report the market went nicely higher to open the first 2 days of trading.

There seemed to be a message being sent that the market was ready to once again accept an imminent interest rate increase, just as it had done a few months prior.

That seemed like a very adult-like sort of thing to do.

The real surprise came when the number of new jobs was reported to be nearly double that of the previous month and was coupled with reports of the lowest unemployment rate in almost 8 years and with a large increase in wages.

Most any other day over the past few years and that combination of news would have sent the market swooning enough to make even the fattest finger proud.

With all of those people now heading back to work and being in a position to begin spending their money in a long overdue return to conspicuous consumption, this coming week’s slew of national retailers reporting earnings may provide some real insight into the true health of the economy.

While the results of the past quarter may not yet fully reflect the improving fortunes of the workforce, I’m more inclined to listen closely to the forecasting abilities of Terry Lundgren, CEO of Macy’s (M) and his fellow retail chieftains than to most any nation’s official data set.

Hopefully, the good employment news of last week will be one of many more good pieces to come and will continue to be accepted for what they truly represent.

While the cycle of increasing workforce participation, rising wages and increased discretionary spending may stop being a virtuous one at some point, that point appears to be far off into the future and for now, I would trade off the high volatility that I usually crave for some sustained move higher that reflects some real heat in the economy.

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

What better paired trade could there be than Aetna (AET) and Altria (MO)?

I don’t mean that in terms of making the concurrent trades by taking a long position in one and a short position in the other, but rather on the basis of their respective businesses.

In the long term, Altria products will likely hasten your death while still making lots of money in the process and Aetna’s products will begrudgingly try to delay your death, being now forced to do so even when the costs of doing so will exceed the premiums being paid.

Either way, you lose, although there may be some room for a winner or two in either or both of these positions as they both had bad weeks even as the broader market finished higher for the 6th consecutive week.

Both have, in fact, badly trailed the S&P 500 since it started its rally after the October Employment Situation Report.

Aetna, although still sporting a low "beta," a measure of volatility, has been quite volatile of late and its option premium is reflecting that recent volatility even as overall volatility has returned to its historically low levels for the broader market.

With Aetna having recently reported earnings and doing what so many have done, that is beating on earnings, but missing on revenues, it had suffered a nearly 8% decline from its spike upon earnings.

That seems like a reasonable place to consider wading in, particularly with optimistic forward guidance projections and a very nice selection of option premiums.

Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is ex-dividend this week. Although its dividend is well below that of dividend paying stocks in the S&P 500 its recent proposal to buy competitor Rite Aid (RAD) has increased its volatility and made it more appealing of a dividend related trade.

With some displeasure already being expressed over the buyout, Walgreens Boots Alliance will surely do the expected and sell or close some existing stores of both brands and move on with things. But until then, the premiums will likely continue somewhat elevated as Walgreens seeks to further spread its footprint across the globe.

With about a 10% drop since reporting earnings at the end of October there isn’t too much reason to suspect that it will be single out from the broader market to go much lower, unless some very significant and loud opposition to its expansion plans surfaces. With the Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaching, I don’t think that those objections are going to be voiced in the next week or two.

International Paper (IP) is also ex-dividend this coming week and I think that I’m ready to finally add some shares to an existing lot. Like many other stocks in the past year, it’s road to recovery has been unusually slow and it is a stock that has been among those falling on hard times even as the market rallied to its highs.

While it has recovered quite a bit from its recent low, International Paper has given back some of that gain since reporting earnings last week.

Its price is now near, although still lower than the range at which I like to consider buying or adding shares. The impending dividend is often a catalyst for considering a purchase and that is definitely the case as it goes ex-dividend in a few days.

Its premium is not overly generous, as the option market isn’t perceiving too much uncertainty in the coming week, but the stock does offer a very nice dividend and I may consider using an extended option to try and make it easier to recoup the share price drop due to its dividend distribution. 

Macy’s reports earnings this week and it has had a rough ride after each of its last two earnings reports. When Macy’s is the one reporting store closures, you know that something is a miss in retail or at least some real sea change is occurring.

The fact that the sea change is now showing profits at Amazon (AMZN) for a second consecutive quarter may spell bad things for Macy’s.

The options market must see things precisely that way, because it is implying a 9.2% move in Macy’s next week, which is unusually large for it, although no doubt having taken those past two quarters into account.

Normally, I look for opportunities to sell puts on those companies reporting earnings when I can achieve a 1% ROI on that sale by selecting a strike price outside of the range implied by the option market.

In this case that’s possible, although utilizing a strike that’s 10% below Friday’s close doesn’t offer too large of a margin for error.

However, I think that CEO Lundgren is going to breathe some life into shares with his guidance. I think he understands the consumer as well as anyone, just as he had some keen insight long before anyone else, when explaining why the energy and gas price dividend being received by consumers wasn’t finding its way to retailers, nearly a year ago.

Finally, the most interesting trade of the week may be Target (TGT).

Actually, it may be a trade that takes 2 weeks to play out as the stock is ex-dividend on Monday of the following week and then reports earnings two days later.

Being ex-dividend on a Monday means that if assigned early it would have to occur by Friday of this coming week. However, due to earnings being released the following week the option premiums are significantly enhanced.

What that offers is the opportunity to consider buying shares and selling an extended weekly, deep in the money call with the aim of seeing the shares assigned early.

For example, at Friday’s close of $77.21, the sale of a November 20, 2015 $75.50 call would provide a premium of $2.60.

That would leave a net of $0.89 if shares were assigned early, or an ROI of 1.15% for the 5 day holding, with shares more likely to be assigned early the more Target closes above $76.06 by the close of Friday’s trading.

However, if not assigned early that ROI could climb to 1.9% for the 2 week holding period even if Target shares fall by as much as 2.2% upon earnings.

So maybe it’s not always a misplaced sense of logic to consider bad news as being a source for good things to come.

 

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Altria

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: International Paper (11/12 $0.44), Target (11/16 $0.56), Walgreens Boots Alliance (11/12 $0.36)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Macy’s (11/11 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 – October 18, 2015

You have to be impressed with the way the market has rallied back from the morning of the most recent Employment Situation Report just 2 weeks earlier.

At the low point of that morning when the market seemed appropriately disappointed by the very disappointing numbers and the lowered revisions the S&P 500 had sunk to a point more than 11% below its recent high.

At its peak point of return since that low the S&P 500 was only 4.9% below its summer time high.

The difficulty in sustaining a large move in a short period of time is no different from the limitations we see in ourselves after expending a burst of energy and even those who are finally tuned to deliver high levels of performance.

When you think about a sprinter who’s asked to run a longer distance or bringing in a baseball relief pitcher who’s considered to be a “closer” with more than an inning to go, you see how difficult it can be to reach deep down when there’s nothing left to reach for.

Sometimes you feel as if there’s no choice and hope for the best.

You also can see just how long the recovery period can be after you’ve been asked to deliver more than you’ve been capable of delivering in the past. It seems that reaching deep down to do your best borrows heavily from the future.

While humans can often take a break and recharge a little markets are now world wide, inter-connected and plugged into a 24/7 news cycle.

While it may be boring when the market takes a rest by simply not moving anywhere, it can actually expend a lot of energy if it moves nowhere, but does so by virtue of large movements in off-setting directions.

We need a market that can now take a real rest and give up some of the histrionics, even though I like the volatility that it creates so that I can get larger premiums for the sale of options.

The seminal Jackson Browne song puts a different spin on the concept of “running on empty,” but the stock market doesn’t have the problems of a soulless wanderer, even though, as much as it’s subject to anthropomorphism, it has no soul of its own.

Nor does it have a body, but both body and soul can get tired. This market is just tired and sometimes there’s no real rest for the weary.

After having moved up so much in such a short period of time, it’s only natural to wonder just what’s left.

The market may have been digging deep down but its fuel cells were beginning to hit the empty mark.

This week was one that was very hard to read, as the financial sector began delivering its earnings and the best news that could come from those reports was that significantly decreased legal costs resulted in improved earnings, while core business activities were less than robust.

If that’s going to be the basis for an ongoing strategy, that’s not a very good strategy. Somehow, though, the market consistently reversed early disappointment and drove those financials reporting lackluster top and bottom lines higher and higher.

You can’t help but wonder what’s left to give.

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

American Express (NYSE:AXP) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) may be on very different ends of the scale, but they’ve both known some very bad days this year.

For American Express it came with the news that it was no longer going to be accepted as the sole credit card at Costco (NASDAQ:COST) stores around the nation. While that was bad enough, the really bad news came with the realization of just how many American Express card holders were actually holders of the Costco co-branded card.

There was a great Bloomberg article this week on some of the back story behind the American Express and Costco relationship and looks at their respective cultures and the article does raise questions about American Express’ ability to continue commanding a premium transaction payment from retailers, as well as continuing to keep their current Costco cardholders without the lure of Costco.

What American Express has been of late is a steady performer and the expectation should be that the impact of its loss of business in 2016 has already been discounted.

American Express reports earnings this week, but it’s option premiums aren’t really significantly enhanced by uncertainty.

Normally, I look to the sale of puts to potentially take advantage of earnings, but with American Express I might also consider the purchase of shares and the concomitant sale of calls and then strapping on for what could be a bumpy ride.

Wal-Mart, on the other hand only recently starting accepting American Express cards and that relationship was seen as a cheapening of the elite American Express brand, but we can all agree that money is money and that may trump everything else.

Apparently, however, investors didn’t seem to realize that Wal-Mart’s well known plan to increase employee salaries was actually going to cost money and they were really taken by surprise this week when they learned just how much.

What’s really shocking is that some very simple math could have spelled it out with some very reasonable accuracy since the number of workers eligible to receive the raise and the size of the raise have been known for months.

It reminds me of the shock expressed by Captain Renault in the movie “Casablanca” as he says “I’m shocked to find gambling is going on in here,” as he swoops up his winnings.

Following the decline and with a month still to go until earnings are reported, this new bit of uncertainty has enhanced the option premiums and a reasonable premium can possibly be found even when also trying to secure some capital gains from shares by using an out of the money strike price.

The Wal-Mart news hit retail hard, although to be fair, Target’s (NYSE:TGT) decline started as a plunge the prior day, when it fell 5% in the aftermath of an unusually large purchase of short term put options.

While I would look at Target as a short term trade, selling a weekly call option on shares, in the hope that there would be some recovery in the coming week, there may also be some longer term opportunities. That’s because Target goes ex-dividend and then reports earnings 2 days later during the final week of the November 2015 option cycle.

DuPont (NYSE:DD), Seagate (NASDAQ:STX) and YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) don’t have very much in common, other than some really large share plunges lately, something they all share with American Express and Wal-Mart.

But that’s exactly the kind of market it has been. There have been lots of large plunges and very slow recoveries. It’s often been very difficult to reconcile an overall market that was hitting all time highs at the same time that so many stocks were in correction mode.

DuPont’s plunge came after defeating an activist in pursuit of Board seats, but the announcement of the upcoming resignation of its embattled CEO has put some life back into shares, even as they face the continuing marketplace challenges.

Dupont will report earnings the following week and will be ex-dividend sometime during the November 2015 option cycle.

While normally considering entering a new position with a short term option sale, I may consider the use of a monthly option in this case in an effort to get a premium reflecting its increased volatility and possibly also capturing its dividend, while hoping for some share appreciation, as well.

Seagate Technology is simply a mess at a time that hardware companies shouldn’t be and it may become attractive to others as its price plunges.

Storage, memory and chips have been an active neighborhood, but Seagate’s recent performance shows you the risks involved when you think that a stock has become value priced.

I thought that any number of times about Seagate Technology over the course of the past 6 months, but clearly what goes low, can go much lower.

Seagate reports earnings on October 30th, so my initial approach would likely be to consider the sale of weekly, out of the money puts and hope for the best. If in jeopardy of being assigned due to a price decline, I would consider rolling the contract over. The choice of time frame for that possible rollover will depend upon Seagate’s announcement of their next ex-dividend date, which should be sometime in early November 2015.

With that dividend in mind, a very generous one and seemingly safe, thoughts could turn to taking assignment of shares and then selling calls in an effort to keep the dividend.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) hasn’t really taken the same kind of single day plunge of some of those other companies, but its slow decline is finally making Jim Chanos’ much publicized 2 year short position seem to be genius.

It’s share price connection to Chinese economic activity continues and lately that hasn’t been a good thing. Caterpillar is both ex-dividend this week and reports earnings. That’s generally not a condition that I like to consider, although there are a number of companies that do the same and when they are also attractively priced it may warrant some more attention.

In this case, Caterpillar is ex-dividend on October 22nd and reports earnings that same morning. That means that if someone were to attempt to exercise their option early in order to capture the dividend, they mist do so by October 21st.

Individual stocks have been brutalized for much of 2015 and they’ve been slow in recovering.

Among the more staid selections for consideration this week are Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) and Fastenal (NASDAQ:FAST), both of which are ex-dividend this week.

I’ve always liked Fastenal and have always considered it a company that quietly reflects United States economic activity, both commercial and personal. At a time when so much attention has been focused on currency exchange and weakness in China, you would have thought, or at least I would have thought, that it was a perfect time to pick up or add shares of a company that is essentially immune to both, perhaps benefiting from a strong US Dollar.

Well, if you weren’t wrong, I have been and am already sitting on an expensive lot of uncovered shares.

With only monthly option contracts and earnings already having been reported, I would select a slightly out of the money option strike or when the December 2015 contracts are released possibly consider the slightly longer term and at a higher strike price, in the belief that Fastenal has been resting long enough at its current level and is ready for another run.

Colgate-Palmolive is a company that I very infrequently own, but always consider doing so when its ex-dividend date looms.

I should probably own it on a regular basis just to show solidarity with its oral health care products, but that’s never crossed my mind.

Not too surprisingly, given its business and sector, even from peak to trough, Colgate-Palmolive has fared far better than many and will likely continue to do so in the event of market weakness. While it may not keep up with an advancing market, that’s something that I long ago reconciled myself to, when deciding to pursue a covered option strategy.

As a result of it being perceived as having less uncertainty it’s combined option premium and dividend, if captured, isn’t as exciting as for some others, but there’s also a certain personal premium to be paid for the lack of excitement.

The excitement may creep back in the following week as Colgate reports earnings and in the event that a weekly contract has to be rolled over I would considered rolling over to a date that would allow some time for price recovery in the event of an adverse price move.

Reporting earnings this week are Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Under Armour (NYSE:UA).

Other than the controversy surrounding its high technology swim suits at the last summer Olympics, Under Armour hasn’t faced much in the way of bad news. Even then, it proved to have skin every bit as repellent as its swim suits.

The news of the resignation of its COO, who also happened to serve as CFO, sent shares lower ahead of earnings.

The departure of such an important person is always consequential, although perhaps somewhat less so when the founder and CEO is still an active and positive influence in the company, as is most definitely the case with under Armour.

However, the cynic sees the timing of such a departure before earnings are released, as foretelling something awry.

The option market is implying a price move of about 7.5%, while a 1% ROI may possibly be obtained through the sale of puts 9% below Friday’s closing price.

For me, the cynic wins out, however. Under Armour then becomes another situation that I would consider the sale of puts contracts after earnings if shares drop strongly after the report, or possible before earnings if there is a sharp decline in its advance.

I’m of the belief that Google’s new corporate name, “Alphabet” will be no different from so many other projects in beta that were quietly or not so quietly dropped.

There was a time that I very actively traded Google and sold calls on the positions.

That seems like an eternity ago, as Google has settled into a fairly stodgy kind of stock for much of the past few years. Even its reaction to earnings reports have become relatively muted, whereas they once were things to behold.

That is if you ignore its most recent earnings report which resulted in the largest market capitalization gain in a single day in the history of the world.

Now, Alphabet is sitting near its all time highs and has become a target in a way that it hasn’t faced before. While it has repeatedly faced down challenges to its supremacy in the world of search, the new challenge that it is facing comes from Cupertino and other places, as ad blockers may begin to show some impact on Alphabet’s bread and butter product, Google.

Here too, the reward offered for the risk of selling puts isn’t very great, as the option market is implying a 6% move. That $40 move in either direction could bring shares down to the $620 level, at which a barely acceptable 1% ROI for a weekly put sale may be achieved.

With no cushion between what the market is implying and where a 1% ROI can be had, I would continue to consider the sale of puts if a large decline precedes the report or occurs after the report, but I don’t think that I would otherwise proactively trade prior to earnings.

Finally, VMWare (NYSE:VMW) also reports earnings this week.

If you’re looking for another stock that has plunged in the past week or so, you don’t have to go much further than VMWare, unless your definition requires a drop of more than 15%.

While it has always been a volatile name, VMWare is now at the center of the disputed valuation of the proposed buyout of EMC Corp (NYSE:EMC), which itself has continued to be the major owner of VMWare.

I generally like stocks about to report earnings when they have already suffered a large loss and this one seems right.

The option market is implying about a 5.2% move next week, yet there’s no real enhancement of the put premium, in that a 1% ROI could be obtained, but only at the lower border of the implied move.

The structure of the current buyout proposal may be a factor in limiting the price move that option buyers and sellers are expecting and may be responsible for the anticipated sedate response to any news.

While that may be the case, I think that the downside may be under-stated, as has been the case for many stocks over the past few months, so the return is not enough to get me to take the risk. But, as also has been the case for the past few months, it may be worthy considering to pile on if VMWare disappoints further and shares continue their drop after earnings are released.

That should plump up the put premium as there might be concern regarding the buyout offer on the table, which is already suspect.

Traditional Stocks: American Express, DuPont, Target, Wal-Mart

Momentum Stocks: Seagate Technology, YUM Brands

Double-Dip Dividend: Caterpillar (10/22 $0.71), Colgate-Palmolive (10/21 $0.38), Fastenal (10/23 $0.28),

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alphabet (10/22 PM), Under Armour (10/22 AM), VMWare (10/20 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 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 – February 23, 2014

When this past week was all said and done, it was hard to discern that anything had actually happened.

Sure, there was an Olympics being staged and fomenting revolution in Ukraine, but it was a week when even the release of FOMC minutes failed to be news. Earnings season was winding down, the weather was in abeyance and the legislative docket was reasonably non-partisan.

I could have spent last week watching the grass grow if it hadn’t been covered in a foot of snow.

In its own way, despite the intermediate and alternating moves approaching triple digits, the past week was a perfect example of reversion to the mean. For those that remember 2011, it was that year in a microcosm.

The coming week promises to be no different, although eight members of the Federal Reserve are scheduled to speak. While they can move markets with intemperate or unfiltered remarks, which may become more meaningful as “hawks” assume more voting positions, most people will likely get their excitement from simply reading the just released 2008 transcripts of the Federal Reserve’s meetings as the crisis was beginning to unfold. While you can learn a lot about people in times of crisis, other than potential entertainment value the transcripts will do nothing to add air to the vacuum of the past week. What they may contain about our new Chairman, Janet Yellen, will only confirm her prescience and humor, and should be a calming influence on investors.

As a covered option investor last week was the way I would always script things if anyone would bother opening the envelope to read what was inside. While I have no complaints about 2012 or 2013, as most everyone loves a rising market, 2011 was an ideal market as the year ended with no change. Plenty of intermediate movement, but in the end, signifying nothing other than the opportunity to seemingly and endlessly milk stocks for their option premiums that were nicely enhanced by volatility.

Although I’ve spent much of the past year expecting, sometimes even waiting at the doorstep for the correction to come, the past few weeks have been potentially dangerous ones as I’ve had optimism and money to spend. That can be a bad combination, but the past 18 months have demonstrated a pattern of failed corrections, at least by the standard definition, and rebounds to new and higher highs.

While there may be nothing to see here, there may be something to see there as the market may again be headed to new neighborhoods.

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). A companion article this week explores some additional earnings related trades.

In a week that Wal-Mart (WMT) again disappointed with its earnings report, once again the market failed to follow its lead. In the past year Wal-Mart has repeatedly disappointed, yet the market has disconnected form its leadership, other than for a brief two hours of panic a few months ago when Wal-Mart announced some increasing inventory levels. That panic quickly resolved once Wal-Mart explained their interpretation of inventory levels.

However, one does have to wonder under what economic circumstances does Wal-Mart not meet expectations? Is the economy thriving and people are moving to other retailers, such as Target (TGT) or even Sears (SHLD) or are they moving to Family Dollar Store (FDO)? WHile it is possible that Wal-Mart may simply be suffering from its own bad economic and internal forecasting, there isn’t much reason to be sanguine about retailing. My money is on Family Dollar.

One source that I use for information lists Family Dollar as going ex-dividend this week, however, I haven’t found that to be corroborated anywhere else and historically the first quarter ex-dividend date is in the second week of March. If shares do go ex-dividend this week I would have significant enthusiasm for adding shares, but even in the absence of that event I’m inclined to make that purchase.

Coming off two successive weeks of garnering more than the usual number of dividends, this week is relatively slim pickings. Weyerhauser (WY) and Molson Coors (TAP) both go ex-dividend this week, but both are near the bottom of my list for new purchases this week.

While I like Molson Coors, at the moment the product holds some more appeal than the stock, which is trading near its yearly high point. However, with earnings now out of the way and Canadians around the world celebrating Olympic victories, what better way to show solidarity than to own shares, even if just for a week? Other than potential technical indicators which may suggest an overbought condition, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that in a flat or higher moving market during the coming week, Molson Coors shares will decline mightily. With shares as the body and a head composed of a nice premium and dividend, it just may be time to indulge.

Weyerhauser is a perfectly boring stock. Often, i mean that in a positive sense, but in this case I’m not so certain. I’ve owned shares since May 2013 and would be happy to see them assigned. Despite Weyerhauser offering a dividend this week, my interests are more aligned with re-establishing a position in International Paper (IP). In addition to offering a weekly option, which Weyerhauser does not, its options liquidity and pricing is superior. While it is trading near its yearly high, it has repeatedly met resistance at that level. As a result, while eager to once again own shares, I would be much more willing to do so even with just a slight drop in price.

While offering only a monthly option is a detriment as far as Weyerhauser is concerned, it may be a selling point as far as Cypress Semiconductor (CY) goes. I like to consider adding shares when it is near a strike price as it was after Friday’s close. Shares can be volatile, but it tends to find its way back, especially when home is $10. WHile earnings aren’t due until April 17, 2014, that is just one day before the end of the monthly cycle. Therefore, if purchasing shares of Cypress at this time, I would be prepared to set up for ownership through the May 2014 cycle in the event that shares aren’t assigned when the March cycle comes to an end, in order to avoid being caught in a vortex if a disappointment is at hand. The dividend and the premiums will provide some solace, however.

Although I had shares of Fastenal (FAST) assigned this past week and still own some more expensive shares, this company, which I believe is a proxy for economic activity, has been a spectacular covered call trade and has lent itself to serial ownership as it has reliably traded in a defined range. It doesn’t report earnings until April 10, 2014, but it does have a habit of announcing altered guidance a few weeks earlier. That can be annoying if it comes at the end of an option cycle and potentially removes the chance of assignment or even anticipated rollover, but it’s an annoyance I can live with. After two successive quarters of reduced guidance my expectation is for an improved outlook.

I haven’t owned shares of Deere (DE) for a few months as it had gone on a ride higher, just as Caterpillar (CAT), another frequent holding, is now doing. Deere is now trading at the upper range of where I typically am interested in establishing a position, but after a 7% decline, it may be time to add shares once again. It consistently offers an option premium that has appeal and in the event of longer than anticipated ownership its dividend eases the wait for assignment.

While I would certainly be more interested in Starbucks (SBUX) if its shares were trading at a lower level, sometimes you have to accept what may be a new normal. I had nearly a year elapse before coming to that realization and missed many opportunities in that time with these shares. It does, however, appear that the unbridled move higher has come to an end and perhaps shares are now more likely to be range bound. As with the market in general it’s that range that others may view as mediocrity of performance that instead may be alternatively viewed as the basis for creating an annuity through the collection of option premiums and dividends.

I’ve never been accused of having fashion sense, so it’s unlikely that I would ever own any Deckers (DECK) products at the right time. One minute they sell cool stuff, the next minute they don’t and then back again. Just like the story of most stocks themselves.

What is clear is that they have become cool retailers again and impressively, shares have recovered from a recent large decline. With earnings due to be announced this week the option market is implying a 12.3% potential movement in shares. In the meantime, if you can set your sights on a lowly 1% ROI for the week’s worth of risk a 16.3% drop can still leave you without the obligation to purchase the shares if having sold puts.

Less exciting, at least in terms of implied moves, is T-Mobile (TMUS). It also reports earnings this week and there has to be some thought to what price T-Mobile is paying and will be paying for its very aggressive competitive stance. While its CEO John Legere, may be a hero to some for taking on the competition, that may very quickly fade with some disappointing earnings and cautionary guidance. the option market is pricing a relatively small move of 8.7%, while current option pricing can return a 1% ROI on a strike level 9.5% lower than Friday’s close. Although that’s not much of a margin of difference, I may be more inclined to consider the sale of puts if shares drop substantively on Monday in advance of Tuesday morning’s announcement. Alternatively, if not selling puts in advance of earnings and shares do significantly fall following earnings, there may be potential to do the put sale at that time.

Finally, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) reports earnings this week. It is one of the most frustrating and exhilirating of stocks and I currently own two lots. My personal rule is to never own more than three, so I still have some room to add shares, or more likely sell puts in advance of its earnings. Abercrombie and FItch is a nice example of how dysfunction and lowered expectations can create a stock that is so perfectly suited for a covered option strategy. Its constant gyrations create enhanced option premiums that are also significantly impacted by its history of very large earnings related price changes.

For those that have long invested in shares the prospect of a sharp decline upon earnings can’t come as a surprise. However, with a 10.7% implied price move this coming week, one can still achieve a 1% ROI if shares fall less than 15.3%, based on Friday’s closing price.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Family Dollar Store, Fastenal, International Paper, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor

Double Dip Dividend: Molson Coors (ex-div 2/26)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/26 AM), Deckers (2/27 PM), T-Mobile (2/25 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 – January 12, 2014

Confusion Reigns.

January is supposed to be a very straightforward month. Everyone knows how it’s all supposed to go.

The market moves higher and the rest of the year simply follows. Some even believe it’s as simple as the first five trading days of the year setting the tone for the remainder still to come.

Since the market loves certainty, the antithesis of confusion, the idea of a few days or even a month ordaining the outcome of an entire year is the kind of certainty that has broad appeal.

But with the fifth trading day having come to its end on January 8th, the S&P 500 had gone down 11 points. Now what? Where do we turn for certainty?

To our institutions, of course, especially our central banking system which has steadfastly guided us through the challenges of the past 6 years. The year started with some certainty as Federal Reserve Chairman nominee Janet Yellen was approved by a vote that saw fewer negative votes cast than when her predecessor Ben Bernanke last stood for Senate approval, although there were far fewer total votes, too. On a positive note, while there was voting confusion among political lines, there was only certainty among gender lines.

While Dr. Yellen’s confirmation was a sign to many that a relatively dovish voice would predominate the FOMC, even as some more hawkish governors become voting members this year, the announcement that Dr. Stanley Fischer was being nominated as Vice-Chair sends a somewhat different message and may embolden the more hawkish elements of the committee.

That seems confusing. Why would you want to do that? But then again, why would you have pulled the welcome mat out from under Ben Bernanke?

Then on Friday morning came the first Employment Situation Report of the new year and no one was remotely close in their guesses. Nobody was so pessimistic as to believe that the fewest new jobs created in 14 months would be the result.

But the real confusion was whether that was good news or bad news. Did we want disappointing employment statistics? How would the “new” Federal Reserve react? Would they step way from the taper or embrace it as hawks exert their philosophical position?

More importantly, how is a January Rally supposed to take root in the remaining 14 trading days in this kind of muddled environment?

Personally, I like the way the year has begun, there’s not too much confusion about that being the case, despite my first week having been mediocre. While the evidence is scant that the first five days has great predictive value, there is evidence to suggest that there is no great predictive value for the remainder of the year if January ends the month lower. I like that because my preference is alternating periods of certainty and confusion, as long as the net result remains near the baseline. That is a perfect scenario for a covered option strategy and also tends to increase premiums as volatility is enhanced.

I prefer to think of it as counter-intuitive rather than confusing.

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).

There’s not much confusion when it comes to designating the best in large retail of late. Most everyone agrees that Macys (M) has been the best among a sorry bunch, yet even the best of breed needed to announce large layoffs in order to get a share price boost after being range bound. However, this week the embattled retail sector seems very inviting despite earnings disappointments and the specter of lower employment statistics and spending power.

Finding disappointments among retailers isn’t terribly difficult, as even Bed Bath and Beyond (BBBY), which could essentially do nothing wrong in 2013 more than made up for that by reporting its earnings report. While earnings themselves were improved, it was the reduced guidance that seems to have sent the buyers fleeing. There was no confusion regarding how to respond to the disappointment, yet its plummet brings it back toward levels where it can once again be considered as a source of option premium income, in addition to some opportunity for share appreciation.

L Brands (LB) shares are now down approximately 12% in the past 6 weeks. It is one of those stocks that I’ve owned, but have been waiting far too long to re-own while waiting for its price to return to reasonable levels. Like Bed Bath and Beyond it offered lower guidance for the coming quarter after heavy promotions that are likely to reduce margins.

Target (TGT) has had enough bad news to last it for the rest of the year. While it recently reported that it sales had been better than expected prior to the computer card data hack, it also acknowledged that there was a tangible decline in shopping activity in its aftermath. Its divulging that as many as 70 million accounts may have been compromised, it seemed to throw all bad news into the mix, as often incoming CEOs do with write-downs, so as to make the following quarter look good in comparison. For its part, Target, recovered nicely on Friday from its initial price decline and has been defending the $62.50 line that I believe will be a staging point higher.

Sears Holdings (SHLD) on the other hand doesn’t even pretend to be a retailer. The promise of great riches in its real estate holdings is falling on deaf ears and its biggest proponent and share holder, Eddie Lampert, has seen his personal stake reduced amid hedge fund redemptions. Shares plummeted after reporting disappointing holiday sales. What’s confusing about Sears Holding is how there is even room for disappointment and how the Sears retail business continues, as it has recently been referred to as a “national tragedy.”

But I have a soft spot in my heart for companies that suffer large event driven price drops. Not that I believe there is sustainable life after such events, but rather that there are opportunities to profit from other people like me who smell an opportunity and add support to the share price. However, my time frame is short and I don’t necessarily expect investor largesse to continue.

I did sell puts on Sears Holding on Friday, but would not have done so if the event and subsequent share plunge had been earlier in the option cycle. Sears Holdings, only offers monthly options and in this case there is just one week left in that cycle. If faced with the possibility of assignment I would hope to be able to roll the puts options forward, but do have some concerns about a month long exposure, despite what would likely be an attractive premium.

While there’s no confusion about the nature of its products, Lorillard’s (LO) recent share decline, while not offering certainty of its end, does offer a more reasonable entry point for a company that offers attractive option premiums even when its very healthy dividend is coming due. Like Sears Holdings, Lorillard only offers monthly option contracts, but in this case I have no reservations about holding shares for a longer time period if not assigned.

Conoco Phillips (COP) has been eclipsed in my investing attention by the enormous success of its spin-off Phillips 66 (PSX), but had never fallen off my radar screen. While waiting for evidence that the same will occur to Phillips 66 through its own subsequent spin-off of Phillips 66 Partners (PSXP), my focus has returned to the proud parent, whose shares appear to be ready for some recovery. However, with a dividend likely during the February 2014 option cycle, I don’t mind the idea of shares continuing to run in place and generate option income in a serial manner.

Perhaps not all retailers are in the same abysmal category. Lowes (LOW), while not selling much in the way of fashions or accessories and perennially being considered an also ran to Home Depot, goes ex-dividend this week and has traded reliably at its current level, making it a continuing target for a covered option strategy. I’ve owned in 5 times in 2013, usually for a week or two, and wonder why I hadn’t owned it more often. Following its strong close to end the week I would like to see a little giveback before making a purchase. Additionally, since the ex-dividend date is on a Friday, I’m more likely to consider selling an option expiring the following week or even February, so as to have a greater chance of avoiding early assignment of having sold an in the money option.

Whole Foods (WFM) also goes ex-dividend this week, but its paltry dividend alone is a poor reason to consider share ownership. However, its inexplicable price drop after having already suffered an earnings related drop makes it especially worthy of consideration. While I already own more expensively priced shares and often use lesser priced additional lots in a sacrificial manner to garner option premiums to offset paper losses, I’m inclined to shift the emphasis on share gain over premium at this price level. Reportedly Whole Foods sales suffered during the nation wide cold snap and that may be something to keep in mind at the next earnings report when guidance for the next quarter is offered.

Although earnings season will be in focus this week, especially with big money center banks all reporting, I have no earnings selections this week. Instead, I’m thinking of adding shares of Alcoa (AA) which had fared very nicely after being dis-invited from membership in the DJIA and not so well after leading off earnings season on Thursday.

While I typically am niot overly interested in longer term oiutlooks, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld’s suggestion that demand is expected to increase strongly in 2014 could help to raise Alcoa’s margins. Even a small increase would be large on a percentage basis and could easily be the fuel for shares to continue their post DJIA-explusion climb.

Finally, I was a bit confused as Verizon’s (VZ) shares took off mid-day last week and took it beyond the range that I thought my shares wouldn’t be assigned early in order to capture the dividend. In the absence of news the same didn’t occur with shares of AT&T which was also going ex-dividend the next day and other cell carriers saw their shares drop. In hindsight, the drop in shares the next day, well beyond the impact of dividends, was just as confusing. Where there is certainty, however, is that shares are now more reasonably priced and despite their recent two day gyrations trade with low volatility compared to the market, making them a good place to park money for the defensive portion of a portfolio.

Traditional Stocks: Bed Bath and Beyond, Conoco Phillips, L Brands, Lorillard, Target, Verizon

Momentum Stocks: Alcoa, Sears Holdings

Double Dip Dividend: Lowes (ex-div 1/17), Whole Foods (ex-div 1/14)

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.