Weekend Update – June 12, 2016

Sometimes you just have nowhere to go.

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

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

There is no place to go but up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like Janet Yellen, he was from Brooklyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Traditional Stocks: none

Momentum Stocks: Marathon Oil

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

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

 

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

Weekend Update – 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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