Weekend Update – October 11, 2015

If you’re a fan of “American Exceptionalism” and can put aside the fact that the Shanghai stock market has made daily moves of 6% higher in the past few months on more than one occasion, you have to believe that the past week has truly been a sign of the United States’ supremacy extending to its stock markets.

We are, of optiocourse, the only nation to have successfully convinced much of the world for the past 46 years that we put a man on the moon.

So you tell me. What can’t we do?

What we can do very well is turn bad news into good news and that appears to be the path that we’ve returned to, as the market’s climb may be related to a growing belief that interest rate hikes may now be delayed and the party can continue unabated.

While it was refreshing for that short period of time when news was taken at face value, we now are faced with the prospect of markets again exhibiting their disappointment when those interest rate hikes truly do finally become reality.

Once the market came to its old realizations it moved from its intra-day lows hit after the most recent Employment Situation Report and the S&P 500 rocketed higher by 6% as a very good week came to its end on a quiet note.

While much of the gain was actually achieved when the Shanghai markets were closed for the 7 day National Day holiday celebration, it may be useful to review just what rockets are capable of doing and perhaps looking to China as an example of what soaring into orbit can lead to.

Rockets come in all sizes and shapes, but are really nothing more than a vehicle launched by a high thrust engine. Those high thrust rocket engines create the opportunities for the vehicle. Some of those vehicles are designed to orbit and others to achieve escape velocity and soar to great heights.

And some crash or explode violently, although not by design.

As someone who likes to sell options the idea of a stock just going into orbit and staying there for a while is actually really appealing, but with stocks its much better if the orbit established is one that has come down from greater heights.

That’s not how rockets usually work, though.

But for any kind of orbiting to really be worthwhile, those premiums have to be enriched by occasional bumps along the path that don’t quite make it to the level of violent explosions.

It’s just that you never really know when those violent explosions are going to come and how often. Certainly Elon Musk didn’t expect his last two rocket launches to come to sudden ends.

In China’s case those 6% increases have been followed by some epic declines, but that’s not unusual whenever seeing large moves in either direction.

As we get ready to start earnings season for real this week we may quickly learn whether our own 6% move higher was just the first leg of a multi-stage rocket launch or whether it will soon discover that there is precious little below to offer much in the way of support.

Prior to that 6% climb it was that lack of much below that created a situation where many stocks had gone into orbit, taking a rest to regain strength for a bounce higher. That temporary orbit was a great opportunity to generate some option premium income, as some of the risk of a crash was reduced as those stocks had already migrated closer to the ground.

While I don’t begrudge the recent rapid rise it would be nice to go back into orbit for a while and refuel for a slower, but more sustainable ride higher.

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

There aren’t too many data points to go on since that turnaround last week, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been uncharacteristically missing from the party.

It seems as if it’s suddenly becoming fashionable to disparage Apple, although I don’t recall Tim Cook having given Elon Musk a hard time recently. With the opening of the movie, Steve Jobs, this week may or may not further diminish the luster.

Ever since Apple joined the DJIA on March 19, 2015 it has dragged the index 109 points lower, accounting for about 11% of the index’s decline, as it has badly lagged both the DJIA and S&P 500 during that period. The truth, however, is that upon closer look, Apple has actually under-performed both for most of the past 3 year period, even when selecting numerous sub-periods for study. The past 6 months have only made the under-performance more obvious.

With both earnings and an ex-dividend date coming in the next month, I would be inclined to consider an Apple investment from the sale of out of the money puts. If facing assignment, it should be reasonably easy to rollover those puts and continuing to do so as earnings approach. If, however, faced with the need to rollover into the week of earnings, I would do so using an extended weekly option, but one expiring in the week prior to the week of the ex-dividend date. Then, if faced with assignment, I would plan to take the assignment and capture the dividend, rather than continuing to attempt to escape share ownership.

In contrast to Apple, Visa (NYSE:V) which joined the DJIA some 2 years earlier, coincidentally having split its shares on the same day that Apple joined the index, actually added 49 points to the DJIA.

For Visa and other credit card companies there may be a perfect storm of the good kind on the horizon. With chip secured credit cards just beginning their transition into use in the United States and serving to limit losses accruing to the credit card companies, Visa is also a likely beneficiary of increasing consumer activity as there is finally some evidence that the long awaited oil dividend is finding its way into retail.

When it comes to bad news, it’s hard to find too many that have taken more lumps than YUM Brands (NYSE:YUM) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS).

Despite a small rebound in YUM shares on Friday, that came nowhere close toward erasing the 19% decline after disappointing earnings from its China operations.

YUM Brands was a potential earnings related trade last week, but it came with a condition. That condition being that there had to be significant give back of the previous week’s gains.

Instead, for the 2 trading days prior to earnings, YUM shares went higher, removing any interest in taking the risk of selling puts as the option market was still anticipating a relatively mild earnings related move and the reward was really insufficient.

Now, even after the week ending bounce, YUM’s weekly option premium is quite high, especially factoring in its ex-dividend state. As discussed last week, the premium enhancement may be sufficient to look into the possibility of selling a deep in the money weekly call option and ceding the dividend in order to accrue the premium and exit the position after just 2 days, if assigned early.

You needn’t look to China to explain The Gap’s problems. Slumping sales under its new CEO and the departure of a key executive from a rare division that was performing have sent shares lower and lower.

The troubles were compounded late this past week when The Gap did, as fewer and fewer in retail are doing, and released its same store sales figures and they continued to disappoint everyone.

Having gone ex-dividend in the past week that lure is now gone for a few months. The good news about The Gap is that it isn’t scheduled to report news of any kind of news for another month, when it releases same store sales once again, followed by quarterly results 10 days later.

The lack of any more impending bad news isn’t the best of compliments. However, unlike a rocket headed for a crash the floors for a stock can be more forgiving and The Gap is approaching a multi-year support level that may provide some justification for a position with an intended short term time frame as its option premiums are increasingly reflecting its increased volatility.

Coach (NYSE:COH) has earnings due to be reported at the end of this month. It is very often a big mover at earnings and despite some large declines had generally had a history of price recovery. That, however, hasn’t been the case in nearly 2 years.

Over the past 3 years I’ve owned Coach shares 21 times, but am currently weighed down by a single lot that is nearly 18 months old. During that time period I’ve only seen fit to add shares on a single occasion, but am again considering doing so as it seems to be building upon some support and may be one of those beneficiaries of increased consumer spending, even as its demographic may be less sensitive to energy pricing.

With the risk comes a decent weekly option premium, but I might consider sacrificing some of that premium and attempting to use a higher priced strike and perhaps an extended weekly option, but being wary of earnings, even though I expect an upward surprise.

The drug sector has seen its share of bad news lately, as well and has certainly been the target of political opportunism and over the top greed that makes almost everyone cringe.

AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) is ex-dividend this week and is nearly 20% lower from the date that the S&P 500 began its descent toward correction territory. Since its spin-off from Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT), which is also ex-dividend this week, AbbVie has had more than its share of controversy, including a proposed inversion and the pricing of its Hepatitis C drug regimen.

Shares seem to have respected some price support and have returned to a level well below where I last owned them. With its equally respectable option premium and generous dividend, this looks like an opportune time to consider a position, but I would like it as a short term holding in an attempt to avoid being faced with its upcoming earnings report at the end of the month.

Finally, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) reports earnings this week and had been on a tear until mid-August, when a broad brush took nearly every company down 10% or more.

Of course, even with that 10% decline, Icahn Enterprises (NASDAQ:IEP), would have been far better off not having sold its shares and incurring its own 13% loss in 2015.

With earnings coming this week I found it interesting that Netflix would announce a price increase for new customers in advance of earnings. In having done so, shares spiked nearly 10%.

The option market is implying a 14% price move, however, a 1% ROI could possibly be achieved by selling a weekly put at a strike level 19% below Friday’s closing price.

That’s an unusually large cushion even as the option market has been starting to recover from a period of under-estimating earnings related moves in the past quarter.

While the safety net does appear wide, my cynical side has me believing that the subscription increase was timed to offer its own cushion for what may be some disappointing numbers. Given the emphasis on new subscriber acquisitions, I would believe that metric will come in strong, otherwise this wouldn’t be an opportune time for a price increase. However, there may be something lurking elsewhere.

With that in mind, I would consider the same approach as with YUM Brands last week and would only consider the sale of puts if preceded by some significant price pullback. Otherwise, I would hold off, but might become interested again in the event of a large downward move after earnings are released.

Traditional Stocks: Apple, The Gap, Visa

Momentum Stocks: Coach

Double-Dip Dividend: AbbVie (10/13), YUM Brands (10/14)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Netflix (10/14 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 – November 2, 2014

 It’s really hard to know what to make of the past few weeks, much less this very past one.

On an intra-day basis having the S&P 500 down 9% from its high point seemed to be the stop right before that traditional 10% level needed to qualify as a bona fide “correction.”

But something happened.

What happened isn’t really clear, but if you were among those that credited the words of Federal Reserve Governor James Bullard, who suggested that the exit from Quantitative Easing should be delayed, the recovery that ensued now appears more of a coincidence than a result.

That’s because a rational person would have believed that if the upcoming FOMC Statement failed to confirm Bullard’s opinion there would be a rush to the doors to undo the rampant buying of the preceding 10 days that was fueled under false pretenses.

But that wasn’t the case.

In fact, not only did the FOMC announce what they had telegraphed for almost a year, but the previously dissenting hawks were no longer dissenters and a well known dove was instead the one doing the dissenting.

I don’t know about you, but the gains that ensued on Thursday, had me confused, just as the markets seemed confused in the two final trading hours after the FOMC Statement release. You don’t have to be a “perma-bear” to wonder what it’s going to take to get some of your prophesies to be fulfilled.

Even though Thursday’s gains were initially illusory owing to Visa’s (V) dominance of the DJIA, they became real and broadly applied as the afternoon wore on. “How did that make any sense?” is a question that a rationally objective investor and a perma-bear might both find themselves asking as both are left behind in the dust.

I include myself in that camp, as I didn’t take advantage of what turned out to be the market lows as now new closing highs have been set.

Those new highs came courtesy of the Bank of Japan on Friday as it announced the kind of massive stimulus program that we had been expecting to first come from the European Central Bank.

While the initial reaction was elation and set the bears further into despair it also may have left them wondering what, if any role rational thought has left in the processes driving stocks and their markets.

Many, if not most, agree that the Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing was the primary fuel boosting U.S. stock markets for years, having drawn foreign investor demand to our shores. Now, with Japan getting ready to follow the same path and perhaps the ECB next in line, we are poised to become the foreigners helping to boost markets on distant shores.

At least that what a confused, beaten and relatively poorer bear thinks as the new week gets underway.

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

I love listening to Howard Schultz defending shares of Starbucks (SBUX) after the market takes the stock lower after earnings. No one defends his company, its performance and its outlook better than Howard Schultz.

But more importantly, he has always followed up his assertions with results.

As with many stocks over the past two weeks, Starbucks is one, that in hindsight I should have purchased two weeks ago, while exercising rational thought processes that got in the way of recognizing bargain prices. Friday’s drop still makes it too late to get shares at their lows of 2 weeks ago, but I expect Schultz to be on the correct side of the analysis once again.

There’s not much disagreement that it has been a rough month for the energy sector. While it did improve last week, it still lagged most everything else, but I think that the Goldman Sachs (GS) call for $75 oil is the turning point. Unfortunately, I have more energy stocks than I would have liked, but expect their recovery and am, hesitatingly looking to add to the position, starting with British Petroleum (BP) as it is ex-dividend this week. That’s always a good place to start, especially with earnings already out of the way.

While I continue to incorrectly refer to BP as “British Petroleum” that is part of my legacy, just as its Russian exposure and legal liabilities are part of its legacy. However, I think that all of those factors are fully  priced in. Where I believe the opportunity exists is that since the September 2014 highs up to the Friday’s highs, BP hasn’t performed as well as some of its cohorts and may be due for some catch-up.

I purchased shares of Intel (INTC) the previous week and was hoping to capture its dividend, as its ex-dividend date is this week. 

Last week Intel had quite a ride as it alternated 4% moves lower and then higher on Thursday and Friday. 

Thursday’s move, which caught most everyone by surprise was accompanied by very large put option trading, including large blocks of aggressive in the money puts with less than 2 days until expiration and even larger out of the money puts expiring in 2 weeks.

Most of the weekly puts expired worthless, as there was fairly low activity on Friday, with no evidence of those contracts getting rolled forward, as shares soared.

While initially happy to see shares take a drop, since it would have meant keeping the dividend for myself, rather than being subject to early assignment, I now face that assignment as shares are again well above the strike. 

However, while entertaining thoughts of rolling those shares over to a higher strike at the same expiration date or the same strike at next week’s expiration, I may also consider adding additional shares of Intel,  for its dividend, premiums and share appreciation, as well. Given some of the confusion recently about prospects for the semi-conductor industry, I think Intel’s vision of what the future holds is as good as the industry can offer if looking for a crystal ball.

What can possibly be said about Herbalife (HLF) at this point that hasn’t already been said, ad nauseum. I’m still somewhat stunned that a single author can write 86 or so articles on Herbalife in a 365 day period and find anything new to say, although there is always the chance that singular opinion expressed may be vindicated.

The reality is that we all need to await some kind of regulatory and/or legal decisions regarding the fate of this company and its business practices.

So, like any other publicly traded company, whether under an additional microscope or not, Herbalife reports earnings this week, having announced it also reached an agreement on Friday regarding a class action suit launched by a past distributor of its products.

The options market is predicting a 16% movement in shares upon earnings release. At its Friday closing price, the lower end of that range would find shares at approximately $44. However, a weekly 1% ROI could still be obtained if selling a put option 35% below Friday’s close.

That is an extraordinary margin, but it may be borne out of extraordinary circumstances, as Monday’s earnings release may include other information regarding pending lawsuits, regulatory or legal actions that could conceivably send shares plummeting.

Or soaring.

On a more sedate, and maybe less controversial note, Whole Foods (WFM) reports earnings this week. I’m still saddled with an expensive lot of shares, that has been offset a bit by the assignment of 4 other lots this year, including this past week.

After a series of bad earnings results and share declines I think the company will soon be reporting positive results from its significant national expansion efforts.

While I generally use the sale of puts when considering an earnings related trade, usually because I would prefer not owning shares, Whole Foods is one that I would approach from either direction. While its payout ratio is higher than its peers, I think there may also be a chance that there will be a dividend increase, particularly as some of the capital expenditures will be decreasing.

While not reporting earnings this week, The Gap (GPS) is expected to provide monthly same store sales. It continues to do so, going against the retail tide, and it often sees its shares move wildly. Those moves are frequently on a monthly alternating basis, which certainly taxes rational thought.

Last month, it reported decreased same store sales, but also coupled that news with the very unexpected announcement that its CEO was leaving. Shares subsequently plummeted and have been very slow to recover.

As expected, the premium this week is significantly elevated as it reflects the risk associated with the monthly report. As with Whole Foods, this trade can also justifiably be approached wither from the direction of a traditional buy/write or put sale. In either case, some consideration should also be given to the fact that The Gap will also report its quarterly earnings right before the conclusion of the November 2014 option cycle, which can offer additional opportunity or peril.

Also like Whole Foods, I currently own a much more expensive lot of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), but have had several assigned lots subsequently help to offset those paper losses. Shares have been unusually active lately, increasingly tied to news from China, where Las Vegas Sands has significant interests in Macao.

Share ownership in Las Vegas Sands can be entertaining in its own right, as there has lately been a certain roller coaster quality from one day to the next, helping to account for its attractive option premium. In the absence of significant economic downturn news in China, which was the root cause of the recent decline, it appears that shares have found some support at its current level. Together with those nice premiums and an attractive dividend, I’m not adverse to taking a gamble on these always volatile shares, even in a market that may have some uncertainty attached to it.

Finally, Facebook (FB) and Twitter (TWTR) each reported earnings last week and were mentioned as potential earnings related trades, particularly through the sale of put options.

Both saw their shares drop sharply after the releases, however, the option markets predicted the expected ranges quite well and for those looking to wring out a 1% weekly ROI even in the face of post-earnings price disappointment were rewarded.

I didn’t take the opportunities, but still see some in each of those companies this week.

While Twitter received nothing but bad press last week and by all appearances is a company that is verging on some significant dysfunction, it is quietly actually making money. It just can’t stick with a set of metrics that are widely accepted and validated as having relevance to the satisfaction of analysts and investors.

It also can’t decide who to blame for the dysfunction, but investors are increasingly questioning the abilities of its CEO, having forgotten that Twitter was a dysfunctional place long before having gone public and long before Dick Costolo became CEO.

At its current price and with its current option premiums the sale of out of the money puts looks as appealing as they did the previous week, as long as prepared to rollover those puts or take assignment of shares in the event the market isn’t satisfied with assurances.

Facebook, on the other hand is far from dysfunctional. Presumably, its shares were punished once Mark Zuckerberg mentioned upcoming increased spending. Of course, there’s also the issue of additional shares hitting the markets, as part of the WhatsApp purchase.

Both of those are reasonable concerns, but it’s very hard to detract from the vision and execution by Zuckerberg and Cheryl Sandberg.

However, the option market continues to see the coming week’s options priced as if there was more than the usual amount of risk inherent in share pricing. I think that may be a mistake, even while its pricing of risk was well done the previous week.

Bears may be beaten and wondering what hit them, but a good tonic is profit and the sale of puts on Facebook could make bears happy while hedging their bets on a market that may put rational thought to rest for a little while longer.

Traditional Stocks:   Starbucks, The Gap

Momentum: Facebook, Twitter, Las Vegas Sands

Double Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (11/5), Intel (11/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (11/3 PM), Whole Foods (11/5 PM)

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

Weekend Update – September 14, 2014

Two weeks ago the factors that normally move markets were completely irrelevant. Instead, investors focused much of their attention on the tragic story that ended with the passing of Joan Rivers, while allowing the market to go on auto-pilot.

The fact that economic and geo-political news was ignored during that week wasn’t really much of a concern as markets went on to secure their fifth straight weekly gain.

This past week was essentially another one where the the typical kind of news we look to was irrelevant, at least as far as gaining our attention. This week most of our efforts focused on the unfortunate story of a talented, but abusive football player and the introduction of new products from Apple (AAPL).

There was a time, not so very long ago, when that football player was considered a soft spoken role model. In fact, somewhere is a photo of my wife, in a Baltimore Ravens jersey, and he at a charitable event, one of many that he attended and supported.

Amazingly, as the home Baltimore Ravens played their game on Thursday night, there were reportedly many female fans wearing the jersey of that abusive player, even though there were plenty of offers and incentives to exchange such jerseys in for pizza, drinks and other items.

The memory of the past is apparently more relevant than the reality of the present, sometimes.

There was a time, also not so very long ago, that Apple’s fate was the same as the fate of the markets, except that when Apple went higher, the market lagged and when Apple went lower, the market outpaced in the decline. Now, its ability to lead is less evident and so its place in the week’s news was mostly as a products release event, rather than as a marking moving event.

Those days of past are now irrelevant and Apple’s reality is tied and the market routinely part ways.

Unfortunately, that football player’s brutish actions made the new iPhone 6’s planned publicity campaign appear to be ill-conceived. Equally unfortunate was that this past week’s irrelevancies weren’t sufficient to allow markets to return to auto-pilot and instead snapped that weekly winning streak, as fears of liquidity may have captured investor’s attention.

Weeks filled with irrelevancy are likely to come to an end as the coming week is filled with lots of challenges that could easily build upon the relatively mild losses that broke that successive streak of weekly gains.

In the coming week there is an FOMC statement release as well as the Chairman’s press conference. Many are expecting some change in wording in the FOMC statement that would indicate a willingness to commence interest rate increases sooner than originally envisioned. That could have an adverse impact on equity markets as a drying up of liquidity could result.

Perhaps even more of a impetus for decreased liquidity is the planned Ali Baba (BABA) IPO. Likely to be the largest ever for US markets, the money to pay for those shares has to be coming from someplace and could perhaps have contributed to this week’s preponderance of selling. It’s not too likely that a lot of money will be coming off the sidelines for these share purchases, so it’s reasonable to expect that funds have been and will be diverted.

Unfortunately, the IPO comes at the end of the week, so I don’t expect much in the way of discretionary spending to buy markets before that, unless some nice surprise in the way the FOMC’s statement is interpreted.

Let’s not also forget this week’s referendum on Scotland’s independence. No one knows what to expect and a nervous market doesn’t like surprises, nor sudden adverse shifts in currency rates.

It’s hard to know whether these events will be more relevant than some of the irrelevancies of preceding weeks, but they certainly represent upcoming challenges.

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

This is a week that I don’t have too much interest in earnings or in “momentum” kind of stocks, unless there’s also a dividend involved in the equation. Having watched some well known and regarded companies take their knocks during this past week, yet fully aware that the market is not even 2% below its recent high level, there’s not too much reason to be looking for risk.

As volatility rises concurrent with the market dropping, the option premiums themselves should show evidence of the perceived increased risk and can once again make even the most staid of stocks start looking appealing.

With my personal cash reserves at lower levels than I would like, I’m not eager to make many new purchases this week, despite what appear to be some relative bargains.

While the market was broadly weak I was fortunate in having a few positions assigned and may be anxious to re-purchase those very same positions at any sign of weakness or even if they stay near their Friday closing prices.

Those stocks were British Petroleum (BP), T-Mobile (TMUS) and Walgreen (WAG). Although they’re not included in this week’s listing, they may be among the first potential purchases that I look toward completing and may be satisfied being an onlooker for the rest of the week.

Among other stocks that may warrant some interest are those that have under-performed the S&P 500 since the beginning of the summer, a completely arbitrary measure that I have been using for the past few weeks, particularly during the phase of the market’s continuing climb.

^SPX ChartGeneral Electric (GE) is one of those staid stocks whose option premiums of late have been extraordinarily low. It goes ex-dividend this week and is starting to look a little bit more inviting. Having now spun off some of its financial assets and made preparations to sell its appliances divisions to my old bosses at Electrolux (ELUXY), General Electric is slowly refocusing itself and while not having looked as a stellar performer, it has greatly out-paced the S&P 500 since the bottom of the financial crisis in 2009. In hindsight it is a position that I’ve owned far too infrequently over those years.

Dow Chemical (DOW) and DuPont (DD) have both lagged the S&P 500 over the past two months, much of it having come in the past week. Those drops have brought shares back to levels that I would entertain share re-purchases.

The option premium pricing may indicate some greater risk in Dow Chemical, however both companies have some activists interests that may help to somewhat offset any longer term pressures.

I’ve been waiting for Verizon (VZ) shares to drop for a while and while it has done so in the past week, it’s still not down to the $47.50 level that I my eyes on. However, its current level may offer sufficient attraction to re-enter a position in advance of its upcoming, and increased dividend.

Without a doubt the mobile telephone sector has been an active one of late and I suspect that T-Mobile’s very aggressive strategy to acquire customers will soon show up in everyone’s bottom line and not in the way most would like. However, with strong price support at $45, a combination of option premiums and dividends could help ownership of Verizon shares offset those pressures while awaiting assignment of shares.

While Intel (INTC) hasn’t followed the pattern of the preceding selections and has performed well since the beginning of summer, it did give back enough ground in the past week to return to a level that interests me. On the downside is the credible assertion that perhaps shares of Intel have accelerated too much in the past few months and can be an easy target for any profit taking. WHile that may certainly be true, by all appearances the once moribund Intel has new life and I suspect will be reflected in earnings, should the goal of short term ownership turn into something longer.

As with Verizon, and hopefully General Electric, as its option premiums could still stand to improve, the combination of a strong dividend yield and option premiums can be helpful in waiting out any unexpectedly large and sudden price declines.

Given the mediocrity of performance by eBay (EBAY) over the past couple of years, it may be hard for anyone to find much relevance in the company, except for that potential jewel, PayPal. I purchased more shares last week and did expect that there might be some downside pressure if Apple announced a new payment system, as had been widely expected. Moving higher into the upcoming Apple event shares did go strikingly lower once details of “Apple Pay” became known. The use, however, of an expanded weekly option provided a rich premium related to the uncertainty surrounding the Apple event and time to dig out of any hole.

The bounce back came sooner than expected as some rumors regarding Google’s (GOOG) interest in eBay made their rounds. Whether valid or not, there’s not too much question that the pressure to consider a spin off of the PayPal unit is ramping up and may, in fact, be seen as necessary by eBay if it perceives any erosion on PayPal’s value as a result of a successful Apple Pay launch. In such a case, it’s far better to spin off that asset while it is still in its ascendancy, rather than to await some evidence of erosion. That is known as the “take the money and run” strategy and may serve eBay’s interests well, despite earlier assertions that PayPal functioned best and provided greatest value as an eBay subsidiary division.

While Visa (V) has announced its alignment with Apple, MasterCard (MA) always seems to be somewhat left out or at least not in a proactive position in the changing payments landscape. Yet even while it has ceded much of the debit card arena to Visa, it continues to be a very steady performer trading in a reasonably narrow range and offering an equally reasonable premium for the risk of owning shares. While selling those options also gives up the potential for upside share appreciation, that upside potential has been limited since the stock split. Much in the way as with eBay, the consideration of a covered option trade may be warranted and a means to generate returns from a position that has little net movement.

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) is the lone momentum stock for the week and it has a dividend this week that warrants some consideration. Having been brutalized in the last few weeks as the gaming sector, particularly those with interests in Macao have seen significant price erosion it appears to be developing some support in the $62.50 level. While I wish I knew that with certainty, what I do know with some degree of confidence is that when Las Vegas Sands does find that level of support it has consistently been a very good covered options position.

Finally, I jumped the gun with one of this week’s selections, having purchased shares of Cypress Semiconductor (CY) on Friday afternoon. I particularly like this company for non-investing reasons because it has been a fertile breeding ground for innovation in an number of different areas. However, by the same token, the same broad thinking that allows it to serve as an incubator also has its CEO spend too much time in the spotlight on policy related issues, when all I really want is for its share price to grow and to return to profitability.

In this case I was eager to purchase shares again in anticipation of its upcoming dividend early in the October 2014 option cycle. However, I also wouldn’t mind early assignment, having sold a deep in the money option. EIther way, the prospects of a satisfactory return look good, as even if not assigned early, there is a potential ROI of 2.5% even if shares fall nearly 5% from the purchase price.

The one caveat, if you find such things to be relevant, is that earnings will be released just two days before the end of the October cycle so there may be reason to consider rolling this forward at that point that the November 2014 options are available for sale.

Of course, all relevancy is in the eye of the beholder and sometimes it is nice to not have any weighty issues to consider. After this coming week we may find ourselves wishing for those mindless days glued to “Access Hollywood” rather than the stock ticker.

Traditional Stocks: Cypress Semiconductor, Dow Chemical, DuPont, eBay, Intel, MasterCard, Verizon

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: General Electric (9/18), Las Vegas Sands (9/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – July 27, 2014

It seems that almost every week over the past few months have both begun and ended with a quandary of which path to take.

Talk about indecision, for the previous seven weeks the market closed in the an alternating direction to the previous week. This past week was the equivalent of landing on the “green” as the S&P 500 was 0.12 higher for the week, but ending the streak.

Like the biology experiment that shows how a frog immersed in water that is slowly brought to a boil never perceives the impending danger to its life, the market has continued to set new closing record high after record high in a slow and methodical fashion.

With all the talk continuing about how money remains on the sidelines from 2008-9, you do have to wonder how getting into the market now is any different from that frog thinking about climbing into that pot as it nears its boiling point.

Unless there’s new money coming in what fuels growth?

That’s not to say that danger awaits or that the slow climb higher will lead to a change in state or a frenzied outburst of energy leading to some calamitous event, but the thought could cross some minds.

Perhaps Friday’s sell off will prompt some to select one path over another, although a single bubble doesn’t mean that as you’re immersed in a bath that it is coming to a boil. It may entirely be due to other reasons, such as your most recent meal, so it’s not always appropriate to jump to conclusions.

While the frog probably doesn’t really comprehend the slowly growing number of bubbles that seem to be arising from the water, investors may begin to notice the rising number of IPO offerings entering the market and particularly their difficulty in achieving pricing objectives.

I wonder what that might signify? The fact that suddenly my discount brokerage seems to be inundating me with IPO offers makes me realize that it does seem to be getting hotter and hotter around me.

This coming week I’ve had cash reserves replenished with a number of assignments, somehow surviving the week ending plunge and I see many prices having come down, even if just a little. That combination often puts me into a spending mood, that would be especially enhanced if Monday begins either on the downside or just tepidly higher.

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

The big news in the markets this week was Facebook (FB) as its earnings report continued to make clear that it has mastered the means to monetize a mobile strategy. While it produces nothing it’s market capitalization is stunning and working its way closer to the top spot. For those in the same or reasonably close sector, the trickle down was appreciated. One of those, Twitter (TWTR) reports earnings this week and the jury is still very much out on whether it has a viable product, a viable management team and even a viable life as an independent entity.

For all of those questions Twitter can be an exciting holding, if you like that sort of thing. I currently hold shares that were assigned to me after having fallen so much that I couldn’t continue the process of rolling over puts any longer. The process to recover has been slow, but speeded a bit by selling calls on the way higher. However, while that has been emotionally rewarding, but as may be the case when puts are sold and potential ownership is something that is shunned, has required lots of maintenance and maneuvering.

With earnings this week the opportunity arises again to consider the sale of new Twitter puts, either before earnings are released or if shares plunge, afterward.

The option market is implying an 11.7% move in shares upon earnings. a 1% weekly ROI may possibly be obtained at a strike price that’s 14.8% below Friday’s close.

While Twitter is filled with uncertainty, Starbucks (SBUX) has some history behind it that gives good reason to have continuing confidence. With the market having looked adversely at Starbucks’ earnings report, Howard Schultz gave an impassioned and wholly rational defense of the company, its operations and prospects.

In the past few years each time Starbucks shares have been pummeled after earnings and Schultz has done as he did on Friday, it has proven itself an excellent entry point for shares. Schultz has repeatedly shown himself to be among the most credible and knowledgeable of CEOs with regard to his own business and business strategy. He has been as bankable as anyone that can be found.

With an upcoming dividend, always competitive option premiums and Schultz standing behind it, the pullback on Friday may be a good time to re-consider adding shares, despite still trading near highs.

While I suppose Yelp (YELP) could tell me all about the nearest Starbucks and the experience that I might expect there, it’s not a site that gets my attention, particularly after seeing some reviews of restaurants that pilloried the businesses of places that my wife and I frequent repeatedly.

Still, there’s clearly something to be had of value through using the site for someone. What does have me interested is the potential opportunity that may exist at earnings. Yelp is no stranger to large moves at earnings and for those who like risk there can be reward in return. However, for those who like smaller dosages of each a 1% ROI for the week can potentially be achieved at a strike price of $58 based on Friday’s $68.68 closing priced and an implied move of 12%. Back in April 2014 I received an almost 3% ROI for the risk taken, but don’t believe that I’m willing to be so daring now that I’m older.

Following the market’s sharp drop on Friday it was difficult to not jump the gun a little bit as some prices looked to be either “too good” or just ready. One of those was General Motors (GM). Having survived earnings last week, albeit with a sizeable share drop over the course of a few days and wading its way through so much litigation, it is quietly doing what it is supposed to be doing and selling its products. An energized consumer will eventually trade in those cars that have long passed their primes, as for many people what they drive is perceived as the best insight into their true standing in society. General Motors has traded nicely as it has approached $33 and offers a nice premium and attractive dividend, making it fit in nicely with a portfolio that tries to accentuate income streams even while shares my gyrate in price.

I never get tired of thinking about adding shares of eBay (EBAY). With some of my shares assigned this past Friday despite some recent price strength after earnings, I think it is now in that mid-point of its trading range from where it has been relatively easy to manage the position even with some moves lower.

Carl Icahn has remained incredibly quiet on his position in eBay and my guess, based on nothing at all, is that there is some kind of behind the scenes convergence of thought between Icahn and eBay’s CEO, John Donahoe, regarding the PayPal jewel.

With all of the recent talk about “old tech,” there’s reason to consider one of the oldest, Texas Instruments (TXN) which goes ex-dividend this coming week. Having recently traded near its year’s high, shares have come down considerably following earnings, over the course of a few days. While still a little on the high side, it has lots of company in that regard, but at least has the goods to back up its price better than many others. It, too, offers an attractive combination of dividend, premiums and still possibility of share appreciation.

Reporting earnings this week are both MasterCard (MA) and MetLife (MET). Neither are potential trades whose premiums are greatly enhanced by the prospects of earnings related surprises. Both, however, are companies that I would like to once again own, possibly through the sale of put options prior to earnings being announced.

MasterCard suffered on Friday as collateral damage to Visa’s (V) earnings, which helped drag the DJIA down far more than the S&P 500, despite the outsized contribution by Amazon (AMZN) which suffered a % decline after earnings. On top of that are worries again from the Russian market, which earlier in the year had floated the idea of their own credit system. Now new rules impacting payment processors in Russia is of concern.

MasterCard has been able to generate satisfactory option premiums during an otherwise low volatility environment and despite trading in a $72 – $78 range, as it has regular bounces, such as seen this past week.

I have been waiting for MetLife to trade down to about the $52 range for the past two months and perhaps earnings will be the impetus. For that reason I might be more inclined to consider opening a position through the sale of puts rather than an outright buy/write. However, also incorporated into that decision process is that shares will be going ex-dividend the following week and there is some downside to the sale of puts in the face of such an event, much as their may be advantage to selling calls into an ex-dividend date.

Finally, there hasn’t been much that has been more entertaining of late than the Herbalife (HLF) saga. After this past week’s tremendous alternating plunge and surge and the absolute debacle of a presentation by Bill Ackman that didn’t quite live up to its billing.

While there may certainly be lots of validity to Ackman’s claims, which are increasingly not being nuanced, the opportunity may exist on both sides of the controversy, as earnings are announced next week. Unless some significant news arises in addition to earnings, such as from the SEC or FTC, it is like any other high beta stock about to report earnings.

The availability of expanded weekly options makes the trade more appealing in the event of an adverse move bringing shares below the $61.50 level suggested by the implied volatility, allows some greater flexibility. However, because of the possibility of other events, my preference would be to have this be as short term of a holding as possible, such that if selling puts and seeing a rise in shares after earnings, I would likely sacrifice remaining value on the options and close the position, being happy with whatever quick profits were achieved.

Traditional Stocks: eBay, General Motors, MasterCard, MetLife, Starbucks

Momentum: none

Double Dip Dividend: Texas Instruments (7/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Herbalife (7/28 PM), Twitter (7/29 PM), Yelp (7/30 PM)

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

Weekend Update – March 23, 2014

There was a time when the Chairman of the Federal Reserve did not hold press conferences.

In the past that would have been a very good thing, as the last Chairman to not have held press conferences, Alan Greenspan, was cryptic. When he did speak, such as during congressional testimony, he could send markets gyrating to opposite extremes before even having uttered a single verb. 

When Ben Bernanke succeeded him and introduced the concept of a regularly scheduled press conference people were thrilled with the idea that there would be a new era of transparency and an end to the use of words shrouded by their own opacity.

For the most part Ben Bernanke’s press conferences were yawners. Not because of a lack of interesting subject matter, but because the markets rarely reacted to any new insights and inadvertent slips of strategic policy intentions just weren’t going to come from someone who carefully measured every word.

Now it was Janet Yellen’s turn and there had even been talk of her holding such press conferences after each FOMC minutes release and not simply on an alternating monthly basis.

Yellen performed admirably, once you get over the fact that with your eyes closed she sounds like Woody Allen’s sister, never batting an eyelash when one questioner twice referred to the FOMC members as “you guys” and then herself once referred to the cultural phenomenon of “shacking up,” it was what she said or didn’t say or maybe meant or maybe didn’t mean that sent the market abruptly tumbling at 3:04 PM Wednesday afternoon.

What was learned was that in a world of imprecision, especially when discussing time frames, any lapse that leads to a more precise time frame can create reactions from people that claim to loathe uncertainty but are really more afraid of certainty. The very idea that interest rates might begin to rise as soon as 6 months from now as part of a strategic plan by the Federal Reserve was a momentary reason to panic.

But was it really because of what Janet Yellen said or more a case of traders going to a second or even third derivative of the consequences of whatever it is that she may have said or may have meant.

That seems like good enough reason to exercise the emotional part of a coherent investing strategy.

The market’s response this week showed that it is very much on edge and harbors a significant amount of nervousness, but it also shows impressive reparative ability. 

Over the past few weeks it is that reparative ability that has repeatedly been tested and repeatedly met the challenge. 

With continued challenges in mind, this week more of my attention is focused upon positions that may be less susceptible to a breakdown in the event of a market giving into some of the challenges that may await. While in recent weeks I haven’t been adverse to more risky or volatile positions, I once again find myself not being attracted to risk as the market is again near all time highs, despite its seeming resilience and resistance to challenges.

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

The world of a stock analyst continues to confound me. On the one hand, I saw this week’s decline in shares of Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY) as an opportunity to consider bringing it back into my portfolio, particularly since I need additional healthcare representation. However, this week came a curious assessment from analysts at The Jeffries Group who raised their price target of shares to $48 and issued a “hold” rating on shares.

Since a $48 price target is about 10% below the Friday’s close, which itself is 8% lower than where shares started the month, it does beg a question or two. 

Rather than asking those questions, I like what appears to be an opportunity, having waited for shares to return to my comfort level. The fact that Bristol Myers will be paying a dividend shortly further encourages me to consider going for the trifecta; an increase in share value, an option premium and the dividend, during what is hoped to be a short period of ownership.

British Petroleum (BP) is another stock that has seen its shares fall about 8% this month. I haven’t owned shares since November 2012, but have been anxious to do so since that time, futilely hoping that it would return to the $43 level at which I had repeatedly traded its shares. Sometimes you may have to give up some hopes and perhaps come to the realization that after its 8% fall that may be the biggest gift that is to come. While its option premium is less rich than I would like the enticement of its dividend makes it one of those companies that I don’t mind owning for more than an occasional short term fling, particularly since it doesn’t appear to be poised to present undue risk, even in a falling market.

While British Petroleum may now seem to have much in the way of added risk, Holly Frontier (HFC) is not exactly be a prototypical stock to consider when looking to avoid risk. It certainly trades with some sudden and rapid moves in both directions and does so on a regular basis. Yet despite that kind of behavior it seems to also be very capable of finding its way back home. Having owned several times in the past few months and having just had shares assigned this past week, I’m interested in restoring them to my portfolio. The single caveat is that it is near the top of the range that I’ve had comfort initiating a position.

With the attentions of Nelson Peltz and Carl Icahn, Mondelez (MDLZ) and eBay (EBAY), respectively have seen their initial bursts of share appreciation moderate of late. Until Icahn came onto the scene eBay was one of my very favorite covered call trades as it so reliably traded in a range. His sudden interest and unimaginative plan to spin off the PayPal unit was initially news divulged by eBay upon its earnings announcement and it shifted focus from mediocre performance to activist investing.

Following some fairly nasty exchanges, including a battle of words with Marc Andreessen, who sits on the board of eBay, the share price has started moderating a bit, having gone down approximately 5% from its peak earlier this month. That’s still on the high end of my trading range, but the interest is returning and would be greatly enhanced with any further drop.

Mondelez, on the other hand, has made some peace with its activist and its shares have stagnated ever since. As with eBay and so many other stocks, I like stagnation, especially if punctuated with occasional bursts of activity that keeps traders and especially potion buyers ion their toes. Mondelez goes ex-dividend this week and that has been a good time to consider entering into a new position or adding shares.

A Court of Appeals ruling on Friday regarding debit card swipe fees was greeted by differing levels of enthusiasm for shares of Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) that appeared to adversely impact MasterCard well out of proportion to the favor found in Visa. Despite the acknowledged greater market share that Visa controls in the debit card area, analysts predominantly noted an incremental benefit to MasterCard as well, however its shares fell sharply, placing it back in the attractive price range

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) reports earnings this week. With a new clothing line recently released and with new leadership, as an existing shareholder with much more expensively priced shares, my hope is that they will provide guidance that casts an optimistic light on its future fortunes. No stranger to large earnings related moves there is, however, the possibility that this earnings report could be the kind that a new CEO often uses for advantage by dumping all of the bad news and dead weight so that, by comparison, future earnings reports are glowing and reflect upon the new CEO.

The option market is implying a 10.5% move when earnings are announced. By some of its own historical standards that may be an understatement of what its shares are capable of doing and the direction has been predominantly on the downside. The 1% ROI that may be able to be obtained even with a 14% drop in share price may make that risk worthy for some, especially if you believe, as I do, that this earnings report will be greeted in a positive manner.

Family Dollar Stores (FDO) has not had a good month ever since a downgrade to “sell” and disappointing earnings from Dollar General (DG). Now near its yearly lows volatility has returned to its option premiums helping to balance the risk that may be associated with this purchase, despite its historically low beta level. I already own shares and have been fighting back its price drop by attempting to take advantage of that enhanced option premium. While there may be some disagreement about what an improving retail sector means for the lower echelon of retailers, such as Family Dollar Store, I subscribe to the “high tide theory” particularly since economic recovery is leaving many behind and increasingly tethered to the lower echelon of retail.

Other than being named as one of the world’s most ethical companies, there really was no other bad news to have accounted for International Paper (IP) being unable to capitalize on the market’s advance this week. It’s current price places it close to the lower end of its trading range and makes it increasingly appealing to own. With more spin-offs of its assets planned within the next few months in pursuit of a successful strategy that has seen a number of such assets spun off, International Paper has created and optimized value without the need for outside agitation and has been a good candidate for a covered option strategy in the past year.

Finally, GameStop (GME) reports earnings this week. It received a blow to its share price when Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it was encroaching on GameStop’s core business by offering to exchange Wal-Mart shopping credit for used video games. Whether Wal-Mart believes that they have a potentially profitable product line in used video games or simply plan to use customer entry into the stores as a means of enticing them toward other Wal-Mart purchases isn’t clear, but I think that impact on GameStop will be far less than the market has already assigned.

Wal-Mart, priding itself on offering the lowest prices, isn’t likely to offer the highest prices on its game repurchases. Secondly, only the most desperate of families is going to garnish their kid’s video games, which through some tradition have become the property of kids to do with as pleased and then trade them in for a chance for even more Wal-Mart goods. The rightful owners of those games, the kids, are going to need a really compelling reason to go into Wal-Mart.

Adult gamers, on the other hand, may not have enough energy to re-direct their inertia and change their game swapping habits.

The option market is implying a 5.5% move upon earnings release and GameStop is certainly no stranger to large price swings. However, the sale of a put option at a strike price about 11% below Friday’s closing price can still return a weekly ROI of 1%. That’s the sort of fun that could have me easily glued to the ticker crawl on my stock screen.

 

Traditional Stocks: Bristol Myers Squibb, British Petroleum, eBay, Family Dollar Store, Holly Frontier, International Paper, MasterCard

Momentum Stocks: none

Double Dip Dividend:  Mondelez (3/27)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: GameStop (3/27 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (3/27 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 – March 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That hasn’t happened in a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momentum Stocks: Freeport McMoRan

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

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: none

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

Weekend Update – July 28, 2013

Stocks need leadership, but it’s hard to be critical of a stock market that seems to hit new highs on a daily basis and that resists all logical reasons to do otherwise.

That’s especially true if you’ve been convinced for the past 3 months that a correction was coming. If anything, the criticism should be directed a bit more internally.

What’s really difficult is deciding which is less rational. Sticking to failed beliefs despite the facts or the facts themselves.

In hindsight those who have called for a correction have instead stated that the market has been in a constant state of rotation so that correction has indeed come, but sector by sector, rather than in the market as a while.

Whatever. By which I don’t mean in an adolescent “whatever” sense, but rather “whatever it takes to convince others that you haven’t been wrong.”

Sometimes you’re just wrong or terribly out of synchrony with events. Even me.

What is somewhat striking, though, is that this incredible climb since 2009 has really only had a single market leader, but these days Apple (AAPL) can no longer lay claim to that honor. This most recent climb higher since November 2012 has often been referred to as the “least respected rally” ever, probably due to the fact that no one can point a finger at a catalyst other than the Federal Reserve. Besides, very few self-respecting capitalists would want to credit government intervention for all the good that has come their way in recent years, particularly as it was much of the unbridled pursuit of capitalism that left many bereft.

At some point it gets ridiculous as people seriously ask whether it can really be considered a rally of defensive stocks are leading the way higher. As if going higher on the basis of stocks like Proctor & Gamble (PG) was in some way analogous to a wad of hundred dollar bills with lots of white powder over it.

There have been other times when single stocks led entire markets. Hard to believe, but at one time it was Microsoft (MSFT) that led a market forward. In other eras the stocks were different. IBM (IBM), General Motors (GM) and others, but they were able to create confidence and optimism.

What you can say with some certainty is that it’s not going to be Amazon (AMZN), for example, as you could have made greater profit by shorting and covering 100 shares of Amazon as earnings were announced. than Amazon itself generated for the quarter. It won’t be Facebook (FB) either. despite perhaps having found the equivalent of the alchemist’s dream, by discovering a means to monetize mobile platforms.

Sure Visa (V) has had a remarkable run over the past few years but it creates nothing. It only facilitates what can end up being destructive consumer behavior.

As we sit at lofty market levels you do have to wonder what will maintain or better yet, propel us to even greater heights? It’s not likely to be the Federal Reserve and if we’re looking to earnings, we may be in for a disappointment, as the most recent round of reports have been revenue challenged.

I don’t know where that leadership will come from. If I knew, I wouldn’t continue looking for weekly opportunities. Perhaps those espousing the sector theory are on the right track, but for an individual investor married to a buy and hold portfolio that kind of sector rotational leadership won’t be very satisfying, especially if in the wrong sectors or not taking profits when it’s your sector’s turn to shine.

Teamwork is great, but what really inspires is leadership. We are at that point that we have come a long way without clear leadership and have a lot to lose.

So while awaiting someone to step up to the plate, maybe you can identify a potential leader from among this week’s list. As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories (see details).

ALthough last week marked the high point of earnings season, I was a little dismayed to see that a number of this week’s prospects still have earnings ahead of them.

While I have liked the stock, I haven’t always been a fan of Howard Schultz. Starbucks (SBUX) had an outstanding quarter and its share price responded. Unfortunately, I’ve missed the last 20 or so points. What did catch my interest, however, was the effusive manner in which Schultz described the Starbucks relationship with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). In the past shares of Green Mountain have suffered at the ambivalence of Schultz’s comments about that relationship. This time, however, he was glowing, calling it a “Fantastic relationship with Green Mountain and Brian Kelly (the new CEO)… and will only get stronger.”

Green Mountain reports earnings during the August 2013 option cycle. It is always a volatile trade and fraught with risk. Having in the past been on the long side during a 30% price decline after earnings and having the opportunity to discuss that on Bloomberg, makes it difficult to hide that fact. In considering potential earnings related trades, Green Mountain offers extended weekly options, so there are numerous possibilities with regard to finding a mix of premium and risk. Just be prepared to own shares if you opt to sell put options, which is the route that I would be most likely to pursue.

Deere (DE) has languished a bit lately and hasn’t fared well as it routinely is considered to have the same risk factors as other heavy machinery manufacturers, such as Caterpillar and Joy Global. Whether that’s warranted or not, it is their lot. Deere, lie the others, trades in a fairly narrow range and is approaching the low end of that range. It does report earnings prior to the end of the monthly option cycle, so those purchasing shares and counting on assignment of weekly options should be prepared for the possibility of holding shares through a period of increased risk.

Heading into this past Friday morning, I thought that there was a chance that I would be recommending all three of my “Evil Troika,” of Halliburton (HAL), British Petroleum (BP) and Transocean (RIG). Then came word that Halliburton had admitted destroying evidence in association with the Deepwater disaster, so obviously, in return shares went about 4% higher. WHat else would anyone have expected?

With that eliminated for now, as I prefer shares in the $43-44 range, I also eliminated British Petroleum which announces earnings this week. That was done mostly because I already have two lots of shares. But Transocean, which reports earnings the following week has had some very recent price weakness and is beginning to look like it’s at an appropriate price to add shares, at a time that Halliburton’s good share price fortunes didn’t extend to its evil partners.

Pfizer (PFE) offers another example of situations I don’t particularly care for. That is the juxtaposition of earnings and ex-dividend date on the same or consecutive days. In the past, it’s precluded me from considering Men’s Warehouse (MW) and just last week Tyco (TYC). However, in this situation, I don’t have some of the concerns about share price being dramatically adversely influenced by earnings. Additionally, with the ex-dividend date coming the day after earnings, the more cautious investor can wait, particularly if anticipating a price drop. Pfizer’s pipeline is deep and its recent spin-off of its Zoetis (ZTS) division will reap benefits in the form of a de-facto massive share buyback.

My JC Penney (JCP) shares were assigned this past week, but as it clings to the $16 level it continues to offer an attractive premium for the perceived risk. In this case, earnings are reported August 16, 2013 and I believe that there will be significant upside surprise. Late on Friday afternoon came news that David Einhorn closed his JC Penney short position and that news sent shares higher, but still not too high to consider for a long position in advance of earnings.

Another consistently on my radar screen, but certainly requiring a great tolerance for risk is Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). It was relatively stable this past week and it would have been a good time to have purchased shares and covered the position as done the previous week. While I always like to consider doing so, I would like to see some price deterioration prior to purchasing the next round of shares, especially as earning’s release looms in just two weeks.

Sticking to the fashion retail theme, L Brands (LTD) may be a new corporate name, but it retains all of the consistency that has been its hallmark for so long. It’s share price has been going higher of late, diminishing some of the appeal, but any small correction in advance of earnings coming during the current option cycle would put it back on my purchase list, particularly if approaching $52.50, but especially $50. Unfortunately, the path that the market has been taking has made those kind of retracements relatively uncommon.

In advance of earnings I sold Dow Chemical (DOW) puts last week. I was a little surprised that it didn’t go up as much as it’s cousin DuPont (DD), but finishing the week anywhere above $34 would have been a victory. Now, with earnings out of the way, it may simply be time to take ownership of shares. A good dividend, good option premiums and a fairly tight trading range have caused it to consistently be on my radar screen and a frequent purchase decision. It has been a great example of how a stock needn’t move very much in order to derive outsized profits.

MetLife (MET) is another of a long list of companies reporting earnings this week, but the options market isn’t anticipating a substantive move in either direction. Although it is near its 52 week high, which is always a precarious place to be, especially before earnings, while it may not lead entire markets higher, it certainly can follow them.

Finally, it’s Riverbed Technology (RVBD) time again. While I do already own shares and have done so very consistently for years, it soon reports earnings. Shares are currently trading at a near term high, although there is room to the upside. Riverbed Technology has had great leadership and employed a very rational strategy for expansion. For some reason they seem to have a hard time communicating that message, especially when giving their guidance in post-earnings conference calls. I very often expect significant price drops even though they have been very consistent in living up to analyst’s expectations. With shares at a near term high there is certainly room for a drop ahead if they play true to form. I’m very comfortable with ownership in the $15-16 range and may consider selling puts, perhaps even for a forward month.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Dow Chemical, L Brands, MetLife, Transocean

Momentum Stocks: Abercrombie and Fitch, JC Penney

Double Dip Dividend: Pfizer (ex-div 7/31)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (8/7 PM), Riverbed Technology (7/30 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.

 

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.