Weekend Update – March 13, 2016

While most see virtually no chance of an interest rate increase announcement at this week’s FOMC meeting, it is expected that a June or July rate hike has a 50% chance of occurrence.

Stock market investors may like certainty, but traders often like the volatility that arises from uncertainty.

In this case, however, as there may be increasing certainty of a rate hike, time may be running out for traders who have generally reveled in a low rate environment and lashed out when threatened with rate increases.

For one group time may be running out, but for another their time may be coming. That could make the next 3 months interesting as positioning one’s self for advantage in anticipation of events may be a reasonable idea.

That’s not to say, though, that the past 3 months haven’t been interesting and haven’t offered opportunities for re-positioning. So far, 2016 has been a tale of two markets, with a sharp dividing line at February 11th.

The week’s spike in the 10 Year Treasury Note still leaves market determined interest rates far from where they were as 2016 got started. The same is true for 30 Year Daily Mortgage Rates rates as such arcane issues as “supply and demand” can end up doing the FOMC’s work and by the time June rolls around we may all be wondering what they had been waiting for.

Of course, the same was appearing to be the case just a few months ago, but then the lack of strong evidence of an environment that might have warranted the FOMC’s interest rate increase decision may have given traders new life.

That may explain the nearly 10% market jump in the past month that has almost erased the 2016 loss up until that point.

Or for those technicians who may be agnostic as to events going on around them, they may point at Bollinger Bands and the 50 Day Moving Average. For them, February 11th and 29th may have been the key moments in defining the market’s next move, regardless of what headlines may have been appearing,

Either of those explanations for the market’s sudden rise is far easier to understand than it simply following the price of oil higher.

One has to wonder how much time is left for that association to continue to play out. While there had been some disagreement over what relative roles supply and demand may have played in oil’s price descent, there’s increasing agreement that decreasing demand was not the driver in the dynamic.

Yet markets have reacted as if the price of oil was being predicated purely by demand. While it made little sense for a broad stock market decline as supply driven oil price decreases were unfolding, it doesn’t get any better by stocks moving higher in tandem with oil.

Time may also be running out for the illogical response to the changes in the price of oil, particularly if its ascent  continues. At some point, maybe that surfeit of energy will cause a light bulb to get powered someplace and to finally go on in someone’s head long enough to ask an obvious question or two.

Why the demand for stocks should rise as the price of oil does the same, whether supply or demand driven, is curious as that price increase only serves to sap profits and the consumer’s discretionary cash pile.

I’ve been happy to see the stock market’s recovery in the past 30 days, but as supply and demand may be somewhat arcane, there is another general law that may have some application.

What goes up must come down.

Unless your own personal time is really running out, we’re all destined to see gravity return sooner or later, even as it has been suspended for the past few weeks.

If you have more time remaining than most then you’ll be chagrined to see the same over and over again only to come to the realization that from an investing point of view, time never really runs out.

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

As so much attention is placed on oil and interest rates, it was actually nice to see a stock like Pfizer (PFE), discussed last week, actually move up on pertinent news.

However, it wasn’t the specter of pertinent news that put some focus on Pfizer. Instead it was more of a case of looking at stocks and sectors that had been left behind in the market’s move higher.

Add Astra Zeneca (AZN) to that list.

Astra Zeneca isn’t a stranger to being left out of the limelight and its less than desirable liquidity in the options market is one reflection of that relative anonymity and one reason that I don’t consider its purchase very often.

However, it appears as if it is developing some reasonable support at the $29 level and with an equally reasonable premium it is a stock that I wouldn’t mind holding for a longer period of time, particularly if that came as a result of frequent rollovers of the weekly options.

Given the low volume of options trading in Astra Zeneca, it was noticeable that a relatively large out of the money position traded with a 4 month time frame, which would encompass next month’s earnings, but not that of the subsequent quarter.

The expectation, given the expanded open interest of the $32.50 and $35 calls and in a volume far greater than those of July 2016 put contracts, is that some significant move higher awaits.

If Astra Zeneca can trade at the $29-$30 level for some time until July, I would be more than happy to serially collect the option premiums, even if to see shares ultimately assigned following the anticipated price surge.

GameStop (GME) is a company that has spent years fighting the conviction of so many, particularly those making it one of the most popular stocks to short, that it’s time was running out.

Somehow, GameStop has consistently been able to prove the long term thesis to be wrong, even as it has periodically gone through some downward paroxysms that may have regarded well time short sales of the stock.

The most recent strategic challenge came about 2 years ago when Wal-Mart (WMT) announced that it  would start buying back used games for store credits.

In the “Where Are They Now?” department, Wal-Mart is still buying back games, but price sensitive gamers may still find that GameStop is the place to take their business.

GameStop is usually a company that I prefer to explore through the sale of puts. Its premium always reflects the chance that the bottom could fall out anytime soon and earnings will be reported on March 24th, with expectations of $2.25/share earnings on what I consider a staggering $3.6 Billion on the quarterly top line.

Not too bad for a dinosaur whose time has repeatedly run out.

Another whose time may be running out is Williams Companies (WMB) in its merger with Energy Transfer Equity LP (ETE). In what has already been a very rocky road, the pock marks became more clear as an SEC filing indicated that Energy Transfer Equity had carried out a private offering of convertible shares to a select group of investors, in order to finance the merger.

Williams Companies was reportedly not satisfied with the transaction which it believed was too costly wand would dilute shares.

The arbitrage community took note of the increasing divergence between Williams’ market price and that which was being offered in the merger, as an increasing likelihood of the deal not being consummated.

If you can bear some significant drama and maybe some significant trauma in a sector that already has plenty of its own, without the need for a side show, this is the place to be.

With a weekly ROI of approximately 5%  if an at the money call option is sold a few weeks of continued clashing between Williams and Energy Transfer Partners could result in significant accumulation of premium.

Interestingly, the options market seems to be more optimistic, at least for the coming week, at least not believing that a complete breakdown is in the near future.

With a beta of 3.5, there’s not too much doubt that establishing any kind of position in Williams Companies might just be the very definition of insanity.

Finally, there are actually various definitions of what may constitute insanity. 

After having owned shares of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) on many occasions over the past few years, I’m still sitting on two lots of shares at much higher prices and am looking forward to being extricated. At the same time, though, I’m thinking of adding shares.

Insane?

On the one hand, you might define insanity as having funded the Newt Gingrich effort for pre-eminence in the 2012 Republican primaries to the tune of $100 million or more.

On yet another hand, given the volatility in Macao and the ability of the Chinese government to create or destroy opportunity by simple edict, along with the ability to present economic reports to suit the needs of the moment, insanity may be the decision to purchase more shares of Las Vegas Sands.

Or perhaps insanity may be deciding to increase your dividend by 30% after your shares had fallen by almost 40%.

Still, no one has called Sheldon Adelson insane, as there is undoubtedly lots and lots of method behind his decisions, particularly the use of the dividend to support his own interests. That makes me suspect that the current 119% payout ration doesn’t require a red flag to be raised.

With a $0.72 dividend representing a 5.6% yield, I might be willing to cede that dividend and accept early assignment of shares if selling calls, simply to get the premium, which represents some reward for the insanity of purchasing shares.

At the age of 82, Adelson gives no suggestion of time running out, even as a man who knows the odds as well as anyone.

For now, I think that dividend is safe and even with a significant decline in price from here, perhaps to the $45 level, the premiums still offer enough opportunity to offset that risk, but in such an event, it may be nice to let someone pay you for the time it could take for the share price to recover.

Luckily, with options, time never really has to run out if you’re doing the selling.

Traditional Stocks: Astra Zeneca

Momentum Stocks: GameStop, Williams Companies

Double-Dip Dividend:  Las Vegas Sands (3/18 $0.72)

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 – June 7, 2015

 

In statistics, there is a concept of “degrees of freedom.”

It is the number of independent ways by which a dynamic system can move, without violating any constraint imposed upon it.

For example, if you know that you have a dollar in change distributed between your 2 pockets and one of those pockets has $0.75 in it, there aren’t too many possibilities for what the other pocket will contain. That’s an example of a single degree of freedom. However, as soon as you throw a third pocket into the mix there are an additional 25 permutations possible, as a second degree of freedom opens up lots of possibilities.

Poor Janet Yellen. So few possibilities and so many constraints tying her up.

Since US interest rates can’t go much lower, she doesn’t have too much choice in their direction. She has no choice but to raise rates.

Eventually.

Her only freedom is in the timing of action. If you’re married to data, as is now being professed, she has to balance the opinion of a well regarded economist with the latest employment data release and the prospects of upwardly revised GDP statistics.

Her degrees of freedom situation got a little muddled this past week as Christine Lagarde, who is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, urged her to stay in line with the European Central Bank and keep interest rates low. At the same time the Employment Situation Report, released on Friday morning came in with job growth stronger than expected.

As the popular song once asked “should I stay or should I go?” is the kind of decision facing Janet Yellen right now and regardless of her decision, it’s going to be second guessed to death and much more likely to receive blame than credit for whatever near term or longer term outcomes there may be.

Doing nothing may be the safest decision, although this week the US bond market made its feelings known as rates moved in the only direction that makes sense.

That’s because suddenly the data has shifted the discussion back to the potential for the announcement of an interest rate increase as early as June 17th, the date of the next FOMC Statement release. That’s happened within days of the discussion having been about whether that increase would even occur in 2015.

With competing pressures of being out of synchrony with the direction of rates in the rest of the world and the reality of an economy that now may actually be growing at a stronger rate than had been believed, inaction would seem to be the obvious path to take.

Being tied up makes it easier to fail to act, but I’m betting that if any one can break free of the duct tape constraints that seek to bind her, it will be Janet Yellen.

The expression became long ago hackneyed, but while we all await a decision of interest rates, I suspect that Janet Yellen will break out of the box. As Bernanke before her, she will put her own twist on our narrow and limited expectations, leaving Christine Lagarde to realize that being late to the game is not a good reason to heed advice.

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

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) had a really terrible week last week as the news that everyone had come to expect regarding its intentions with Altera (NASDAQ:ALTR) became confirmed.

The funny part, although not if you’re an Intel shareholder, is that when rumors first surfaced earlier in the year, the initial response was positive for Intel’s share price.

Not so much, though, as rumors became news and suddenly every one started questioning intel’s strategy with the acquisition.

As weak as the overall market was this past week, it was well ahead of Intel, which lost nearly 8%. That drop in price has made the shares once again appealing, as its CEO, Brian Krzanich, shouldn’t strike anyone as being frivolous, particularly as it comes to operations, having previously served as Intel’s COO. I would guess that Krzanich can sense a strategic fit better than most at a company where he has spent nearly 33 years of his life.

With Chuck Robbins set to start soon as the new CEO at Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), more executive level changes were announced this past week, as shares also well under-performed the S&P 500 for the week.

Although nowhere as severe as Intel’s weekly decline, the drop in Cisco’s shares bring them closer to an appealing price once again, as its ex-dividend data nears in a few weeks.

While shares are still a little higher priced than I might like to initiate a position, its recent weakness hasn’t had very much basis. Robbins’ new team, even though comprised of many Cisco insiders, is likely to hit the ground running with strategic initiatives and will probably be more focused on near term victories, than was outgoing CEO John Chambers.

I think that creates short term opportunities even as Robbins may pull out varied accounting tricks in the waning days of June in order to make the next quarter’s earnings pale in comparison to the subsequent quarter, thereby creating a positive early image of his leadership.

Altria (NYSE:MO) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) are both ex-dividend this week and both offer a very attractive dividend. While one seeks to improve people’s lives through better chemistry, the other takes a different path.

Tobacco companies faced some challenges last week as the market didn’t react well to news of a $15 billion Canadian court penalty. Nor did it react well to news that a lawsuit regarding package labeling against the FDA was being dropped. A nearly 6% drop for the week is enough evidence of market displeasure.

Those drops helped to bring shares near some support levels just in time for the dividend and surprisingly good option premiums. While I don’t take any particular delight in the products or in the consequences of their use, there has never been a very good time to bet against their continued ability to withstand challenges.

That ability to withstand challenges is one of the signs of a great company and Merck falls into that category, as well.

Most often, companies like Altria and Merck, that have better than average dividend yields and whose dividend is about the size of a strike price unit or larger, in this case $0.50, are difficult to double dip in an effort to have some of the share price reduction brought about by going ex-dividend get subsidized by the option premium. However, with pharmaceutical companies being in play of late, the option premiums are higher than they have been for quite some time, even during an ex-dividend week.

Merck is rarely a candidate for a double dip dividend trade, but may be so this coming week, having also concluded a very weak past few trading days that highlighted a number of drug study trial results.

Finally, Williams Company (NYSE:WMB) is also ex-dividend this week having fallen sharply following the very positive reception it received after announcing the planned purchase of the remainder of its pipeline business, Williams Partners (NYSE:WPZ).

With a nearly 10% decline in the past month since that announcement, as with both Altria and Merck, it offers a better than average dividend yield and a dividend that is greater than its strike price units. However, it too, is now offering an option premium that allows for double dipping that is so often now possible or feasible.

However, as with Altria, the recent decline seems to have been over-exaggerated and rather than selling an in the money call in an attempt to double dip on dividend and premium, I think that i may be inclined to forgo some of that double dipping in exchange for capital gains on the underlying shares by using out of the money options.

Either way, it’s an exercise in greed, but I like having the increased degree of freedom to do so.

Traditional Stocks: Cisco, Intel

Momentum Stocks: none

Double-Dip Dividend: Altria (6/11), Williams Company (6/10), Merck (6/11)

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 – December 8, 2013

Sometimes good things can go good.

Anyone who remembers the abysmal state of television during the turn of this century recalls the spate of shows that sought to shock our natural order and expectations by illustrating good things gone bad. There were dogs, girls, police officers and others. They appealed to viewers because human nature had expectations and somehow enjoyed having those expectations upended.

That aspect of human nature can be summed up as “it’s fun when it happens to other people.”

For those that loved that genre of television show, they would have loved the stock markets of the last few years, particularly since the introduction of Quantitative Easing. That’s when good news became bad and bad news became good. Our ways of looking at the world around us and all of our expectations became upended.

Like everyone else, I blame or credit Quantitative Easing for everything that has happened in the past few years, maybe even the continued death of Disco. Who knew that pumping so much money into anything could possibly be looked at in a negative way despite having possibly saved the free world’s economies? While many decried the policy, they loved the result, in a reflection of the purest of all human qualities – the ability to hate the sinner, but love the sin.

Then again, I suppose that stopping such a thing could only subsequently be considered to be good, but rational thought isn’t a hallmark of event and data driven investing.

With so many believing that all of the most recent gains in the market could only have occurred with Federal Reserve intervention, anything that threatens to reduce that intervention has been considered as adverse to the market’s short term performance. That means good news, such as job growth, has been interpreted as having negative consequences for markets, because it would slow the flow. Bad news simply meant that the punch bowl would continue to be replenished.

For the very briefest of periods, basically lasting during the time that it wasn’t clear who would be the successor to Ben Bernanke, the market treated news on its face value, perhaps believing that in a state of leadership limbo nothing would change to upset the party.

It had been a long time since good news resulted in a market responding appropriately and celebrating the good fortune by creating more fortunes. This past week started with that annoying habit of taking news and believing that only a child’s version of reverse psychology was appropriate in interpreting information, but the week ended with a more adult-like response, perhaps a signal that the market has come to peace with idea that tapering is going to occur and is ready to move forward on the merits of news rather than conjecture of mass behavior.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

Coming off a nearly 200 point advance on Friday what had initially looked like relative bargains were now pricey in comparison and at risk to retrace their advances.

While last week was one in which dividends were a primary source of my happiness, unfortunately this week is not likely to be the same. As in life where I just have to get by on my looks, this week I’ll have to get by on new purchases that hopefully don’t do anything stupid and have a reasonable likelihood of being assigned or having their calls rolled over to another point in the near future. The principle reason for that is that most of the stocks going ex-dividend this week that have some appeal for me only have monthly options available. Since I’m already overloaded on options expiring at the end of the this monthly cycle my interests are limited to those that have weekly options. With volatility and subsequently premiums so low, as much as I’d like to diversify by using expanded options, they don’t offer much solace in their forward week premiums.

While the energy sector may be a little bit of a mine field these days, particularly with Iran coming back on line, Williams Companies (WMB) fits the profile that I’ve been looking for and is especially appealing this week as it goes ex-dividend. Williams has been able to trade in a range, but takes regular visits to the limits of the range and often enough to keep its option premium respectable. With no real interest in longer term or macro-economic issues, I see Williams for what it has reliably been over the course of the past 16 months and 9 trades. Despite its current price being barely 6% higher than my average cost of shares, it has generated about 35% in premiums, dividends and share appreciation.

Another ex-dividend stock this week is Macys (M). Retail is another minefield of late, but Macys has not only been faring better than most of the rest, it has also just hit its year’s high this past week. Ordinarily that would send me in the opposite direction, particularly given the recent rise. With the critical holiday shopping season in full gear, some will have their hopes crushed, but someone has to be a winner. Macys has the generic appeal and non-descript vibe to welcome all comers. While I wouldn’t mind a quick dividend and option premium and then exit, it is a stock that I could live with for a longer time, if necessary.

Citibank (C) is no longer quite the minefield that it had been. It may be an example of a good stock, gone bad, now gone good again. When I look at its $50 price it reminds me of well known banking analysts Dick Bove, who called for Citibank to hold onto the $50 price as the financial meltdown was just heating up. Fast forward five years and Bove was absolutely correct, give or take a 1 to 10 reverse split.

But these days Citibank is back, albeit trading with more volatility than back in the old days. I’m under-invested in the financial sector, which didn’t fare well last week. If the contention that this is a market that corrects itself through its sector rotation, then this may be a time to consider loading up on financials, particularly as there are hints of interest rate rises. Citibank’s beta inserts some more excitement into the proposition, however.

Like many others, Dow Chemical (DOW) took its knocks last week before recovering much of its loss. Also like many that I am attracted toward, it has been trading in a price range and has been thwarted by attempts to break out of that range. Mindful of a market that is pushing against its highs, this is a stock that I don’t mind owning for longer than most other holdings, if necessary. The generous dividend helps the patient investor wait on the event of a price reversal. For those a little longer term oriented, Dow Chemical may also be a good addition for a portfolio that sells LEAPs.

Like all but one of this week’s selections, I have owned shares of International Paper (IP) on a number of occasions in the past year. While shares are now well off of their undeserved recent lows there is still ample upside opportunity and shares seemed to have created support at the $45 level. My preference, as with some other stocks on this week’s list is that a little of the past week’s late gains be retraced, but that’s not a necessary condition for re-purchasing International Paper.

Baxter International (BAX) has been also in a trading range of late having been boxed in by worries related to competition in its hemophilia product lines to concerns over the impact of the Affordable Care Act’s tax on medical devices. Also having recovered some of its past week’s losses it, too, is trading at the mid-point of its recent range and doesn’t appear to have any near term catalysts to see it break below its trading range. The availability of expanded options provide some greater flexibility when holding shares.

Joy Global (JOY) had been on an upswing of late but has subsequently given back about 5% from its recent high. It reports earnings this week and its implied price move is nearly 6%. However, its option pricing doesn’t offer premiums enhanced by earnings for any strike levels beyond that are beyond the implied move. While a frequent position, including having had shares assigned this past week, the risk/reward is not sufficient to purchase shares or sell puts prior to the earnings release. However, in the event hat shares do drop, I would consider purchasing shares if it trades below $52.50, as that has been a very comfortable place to initiate positions and sell calls.

LuLuLemon Athletica (LULU) on the other hand, has an implied move of about 8% and can potentially return 1.1% even if the stock falls nearly 9%. In this jittery market a 9% drop isn’t even attention getting, but a 20% drop , such as LuLuLemon experienced in June 2013 does get noticed. Its shares are certainly able to have out-sized moves, but it has already weathered quite a few challenges, ranging from product recalls, the announced resignation of its CEO and comments from its founder that may have insulted current and potential customers. I don’t expect a drop similar to that seen in December 2012, but can justify owning shares in the event of an earnings related drop.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD), long a favorite of mine, is generally a fairly staid company, as far as staying out of the news for items not related to its core business. It can often trade with some volatility, especially as it has a habit of providing less than sanguine guidance and the street hasn’t yet learned to ignore the pessimistic outlook, as RIverbed tends to report very much in line with expectations. Recently the world of activist investors knocked on Riverbed’s doors and they responded by enacting a “poison pill.” While I wouldn’t suggest considering adding shares solely on the basis of the prompting from activist investors, Riverbed has long offered a very enticing risk/reward proposition when selling covered calls or puts. It is one of the few positions that I sometimes consider a longer term option sale when purchasing shares or rolling over option contracts.

Finally, and this is certainly getting to be a broken record, but eBay (EBAY) has once again fulfilled prophecy by trading within the range that was used as an indictment of owning shares. For yet another week I had two differently priced lots of eBay shares assigned and am anxious to have the opportunity to re-purchase if they approach $52, or don’t get higher than $52.50. While there may be many reasons to not have much confidence in eBay to lead the market or to believe that its long term strategy is destined to crumble, sometimes it’s worthwhile having your vision restricted to the tip of your nose.

Traditional Stocks: Baxter International, Dow Chemical, eBay, International Paper

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Macys (ex-div 12/11), Williams Co (ex-div 12/11)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Joy Global (12/11 AM), LuLuLemon Athletica (12/12 AM)

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

Weekend Update – October 6, 2013

This is the time of year that one can start having regrets about the way in which votes were cast in prior elections.

Season’s Misgivings

The sad likelihood, however, is that officials elected through the good graces of incredibly gerrymandered districts are not likely to ever believe that their homogeneous and single minded neighbors represent thoughts other than what the entire nation shares.

That’s where both parties can at least agree that is the truth about the other side.

Living in the Washington, DC area the impact of a federal government shutdown is perhaps much more immediately tangible than in a “geometric shape not observed in nature” congressional district elsewhere. However, there is no doubt that a shutdown has adverse effect on GDP and that impact is cumulative and wider spreading as the shutdown continues.

It’s unfortunate that elected officials seem to neither notice nor care about direct and indirect impact on individuals and financial institutions. In war that sort of thing is sanitized by referring to it as “collateral damage.” As long as it’s kept out of sight and in someone else’s congressional district it doesn’t really exist.

Pete Najarian put it in terms readily understandable, much more so than when some tried expressing the cost of a shutdown in terms of drag on quarterly GDP.

Of course, the real challenge awaits as we once again are faced with the prospect of having insufficient cash to pay debts and obligations. But for what it’s worth at least the rest of the world gets a much needed laugh and boost in national ego, while McGraw Hill Financial (MHFI) and others ponder the price of their calling it as they see it.

At the moment, that’s probably not what the economy needs, but in the perverse world we live in that may mean continued Federal Reserve intervention in Quantitative Easing. While “handouts” are decried by many who don’t see a detriment to a government shutdown, the Federal Reserve handout is one that they are inclined to accept, as long as it helps to fuel the markets.

However, as we are ready to enter into another earnings season this week many are mindful of the fairly lackluster previous earnings season that just ended. While the markets have recently been riding a wave of unexpected good news, such as no US intervention in Syria, continued Quantitative Easing and the disappearance of Lawrence Summers from the landscape, we are ripe for disappointment. We were spared any potential disappointment on Friday morning as the release of the monthly Employment Situation Report fell victim to someone being furloughed.

So what would be more appropriate than to re-introduce the concept of stock fundamentals, such as earnings, into the equation? During this past summer, when our elected officials were on vacation, that’s pretty much where we focused our attention as the world and the nation were largely quiet places. While no one is particularly effusive about what the current stream of reports will offer, a market that truly discounts the future already has its eyes set on the following earnings season that may begin to bear the brunt of any trickle down from a prolonged government shutdown.

At the moment, sitting on cash reserves, I am willing to recycle funds from shares that have been assigned this Friday (October 4, 2013), but am not willing to dip further into the pile until seeing some evidence of a bottoming to the current process that had the S&P 500 drop 2.7% since September 19, 2013 until Friday’s nice showing pared the loss down to 2%. But I need more evidence than a tepid one day respite, just as it will take more than a resolution to the current congressional impasse to believe that we wouldn’t be better served by an unelected algorithm.

As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum and “PEE” categories this week (see details).

I’m certain many people miss the days when a purchase of shares in Apple (AAPL) was a sure thing. While I like profits as much as the next person, I also enjoy the hunt and from that perspective I think that Apple shares are far more interesting now as we just passed the one year anniversary of having reached its peak price and tax related selling capitalizing on the loss will likely slow. Suddenly it’s becoming like many other stocks and financial engineering is beginning to play a role in attempts to enhance shareholder value.

Without passing judgment on the merits of the role of activist investors it doesn’t hurt to have additional factors that can support share price, particularly at times that the market itself may be facing weakness. Apple has increasingly been providing opportunities for short term gains as its price undulates with the tide that now includes more than just sales statistics and product releases. Capital gains or shares, an attractive dividend and generous option premiums make its ownership easier to consider at current prices. However, with earnings scheduled to be reported on October 22, 2013 I would likely focus on the sale of weekly option contracts as Apple is prone to large earnings related moves.

While Apple has done a reasonable job in price recovery over the past few months amid questions regarding whether its products were still as fashionable as they had been, Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) hasn’t yet made that recovery from its most recent earnings report that saw a more than 20% price drop. As far as I know, and I don’t get out very much, talks of it no longer being the “cool” place to buy clothes aren’t the first item on people’s conversational agenda. The risk associated with ownership is always present but is subdued when earnings reports are still off in the distance, as they are currently. In the meantime, Abercrombie and Fitch always offers option premiums that help to reduce the stress associated with share ownership.

Ironically, the health care sector hasn’t be treating me terribly well of late, perhaps being whipsawed by the fighting on Capitol Hill over the Affordable Care Act and proposed taxes on medical devices. Additionally, a government shutdown conceivably slows the process whereby regulated products can be brought to the market. Abbott Labs (ABT), whose shares were recently assigned at $35 has subsequently dropped about 5% and will be going ex-dividend this week. Although the dividend isn’t quite as rich as some of the other major pharmaceutical companies after having completed a spin-off earlier in the year, I think the selling is done and overdone.

For me, a purchase of MetLife (MET) is nothing more than replacing shares that were just assigned after Friday’s opportune price surge and that have otherwise been a reliable creator of income streams from dividends and option premiums. At the current price levels MetLife has been an ideal covered call stock having come down in price in response to fears that in a reduced interest rate environment its own earnings will be reduced.

International Paper (IP) is an example of a covered call strategy gone wrong, as the last time I owned it was about a year ago having had shares assigned just prior to its decision to go on a sustained rise higher. While frequently cited by detractors as an argument against a covered option strategy, the reality is that such events don’t happen terribly often, nor does the investor have to eschew greed as share price is escalating or exercise perfect timing. to secure profits before they evaporate. I’ve waited quite a while for its share price to drop, but it is still far from where I last owned them. Still, the current price drop helps to restore the appeal.

Being levered to China or even being perceived as levered to the Chinese economy can either be an asset or a liability, depending on what questionable data is making the rounds at any given moment. Joy Global (JOY) is one of those companies that is heavily levered to China, but even when the macroeconomic news seems to be adverse the shares are still able to maintain itself within a comfortably defined trading range. With Friday’s strong close my shares were assigned, but I would like to re-establish a position, particularly at a price point below $52.50. If it stays true to form it will find that level sooner rather than later making it once again an appealing purchase target and source of option related income.

With the start of a new earnings season one stock that I’ve been longing to own again starts out the season. YUM Brands (YUM) is an always interesting stock to own due to how responsive it is to any news or rumors coming from China. Over the past year it’s been incredibly resilient to a wide range of reports that you would think were being released in an effort to conspire against share price. Food safety issues, poor drink selection during heat waves and Chinese economic slow down have all failed to keep the share price down. While the current price is near the top of its range I think that expectations have been set on the low side. In addition to reporting earnings this week shares also go ex-dividend the following day.

A little less exciting, certainly as compared to Abercrombie and Fitch is The Gap (GPS). In a universe of retailers going through violent price swings, The Gap has been an oasis of calm. It goes ex-dividend this week and if it can maintain that tight trading channel it would be an ideal purchase as part of a covered call strategy.

While The Gap isn’t terribly exciting, Molson Coors (TAP) and Williams Co. (WMB) are even less so. While I usually start thinking about either of them in the period preceding a dividend payment they have each found a price level that has offered some stability, thereby providing some additional appeal in the process that includes sale of near the money calls.

Finally, I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with Mosaic (MOS). The hate part is only recent as shares that I’ve owned since May 2013 have fallen victim to the collapse of the potash cartel. In a “what have you done for me lately” kind of mentality that kind of performance makes me forget how profitable Mosaic had been as a covered call holding for about 5 years. However, the recent “love” part of the equation has come from the serial purchase of shares at these depressed levels and collecting premiums in alternation with their assignment. I have been following shares higher with such purchases as there is now some reason to believe that the cartel may not be left for dead.

Traditional Stocks: International Paper, Molson Coors, Williams Co.

Momentum Stocks: Apple, Joy Global, MetLife, Mosaic

Double Dip Dividend: Abbott Labs (ex-div 10/10), The Gap (ex-div 10/11), YUM Brands (ex-div 10/9)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: YUM Brands (10/8 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 – June 2, 2013

Who’s wagging who?

Anytime a major market goes down 7% it has to get your attention, but what seemed to set Japan off? Maybe it was just coincidental that earlier in the day across an ocean, the United States markets had just finished a trading session that was marked by a “Key Reversal,” ostensibly in response to some nuanced wording or interpretation of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s words in testimony to a congressional committee.

The very next day we showed recovery, but since then it’s been an alternating current of ups and downs, with triple digit moves back in fashion. Intra-day reversals, as in their May 22, 2013 “Key Reversal” extreme have been commonplace in the past week after a long absence

Whether there is any historical correlation, direct or inverse between gold and our markets, gold has been experiencing the same kind of alternating gyrations and actually started really wagging a day before simple words got the better of our markets.

In the meantime, Japan clearly was the last to wag, but buried in the chart is the fact that in the after hours the Nikkei has had significant reversals of the day’s trading and it appears that our own markets have then taken their cues from the Nikkei futures.

 

 

 

It may have all started with a daily price fix in London and then it may have been fired up with mere words, but then having gone across the Pacific, it has all come back to our shores with great regularity and indecision.

For me, that is painting an increasing tenuous market and it has shown in individual stocks.

 

As a covered option seller, I do like alternating moves around a mean. I don’t really care what’s causing a stock to wag back and forth. In fact, doing so is an ideal situation, but more so when the moves aren’t too great and the time frames are short. Certainly the most recent activity has been occurring within short time frames, but the moves may presage something more calamitous or perhaps more fortuitous.

It’s hard to know which and it’s hard to be prepared for both.

Toward those ends I continue to have a sizeable cash position and continue to favor the sale of monthly contracts, but it can’t be all passive, otherwise there’s the risk of letting the world pass you by, so I continue to look for new investing opportunities, although I’ve been executing fewer weekly new positions than it generally takes to make me happy.

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

I’ve been a fan of Dow Chemical (DOW) for a long time. It’s performance over the past year is a great example of how little a stock’s price has to change in order to derive great profit through the sale of call options and collecting dividends. It is one of those examples of how small, but regular movements round the mean can be a great friend to an investor. While I prefer assignment of my shares over rolling contracts over to the next time period, in this case, Dow Chemical goes ex-dividend at the very beginning of the July 2013 option cycle, thereby adding to the attraction.

I recently sold puts on Intuit (INTU) minutes before earnings were released, having waffled much the way our markets are doing, up until the last minute before the closing bell. Having had two precipitous falls in the weeks before earnings, there wasn’t much bad news left to digest and I was able to buy back puts the following morning, as shares went higher. June isn’t always a kind month to shares of Intuit, but it isn’t consistently a negative period. I think it has still enough stored bad will credit to offer it some stability this June.

Transocean (RIG) is just another of those stocks that’s part of the soap operas created when Carl Icahn puts a company in his cross-hairs. Having just re-initiated the dividend, Transocean has done an incredible job of maintaining value during the period when it ceased dividends and was still subject to lots of liability related to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about Weyerhauser (WY). I currently own higher priced shares that have withstood the surprisingly low lumber futures thanks to a recent dividend and option premiums. As there is increasing evidence that the economy is growing there’s not too much reason to fear a continued slide in asset value.

Joy Global (JOY) reported earnings last week and I didn’t go along with last week’s suggestion that it would be a good earnings related trade, having also gone ex-divided. Although earnings weren’t stellar, some of the news from Joy Global was and indicated growth ahead, not just for its own operations, but in mining sectors and the economy. Shares seem to have been holding very well at the $55 level

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) is always on my mind for either a purchase or sale of puts in anticipation of a purchase at a lower price. Unfortunately, I don’t always listen to my mind, sometimes forgetting that Riverbed Technology has been a consistent champion of the covered call strategy over a five year period and was highlighted in one of the first articles I wrote for Seeking Alpha, which includes a delightful picture at the end of the article.

Coach (COH) is another of my perennial holdings, however, it was most recently lost to assignment at a substantially lower price, following good earnings. Despite the higher price, it is in the range that I originally initiated purchases and also goes ex-dividend this week. What gives it additional appeal is that now weekly options are available for sale.

Baxter International (BAX) also goes ex-dividend this week and like so many in the health care sector has performed very nicely this year. It recently responded very well to the adverse news related to one of its drugs in the United Kingdom and otherwise has very little putting it a great risk for adverse news. Being currently under-invested in the healthcare sector I’d like to add something to the portfolio and Baxter seems to have low risk at a time that I’m increasingly risk adverse.

Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE) is a stock that I have never owned, despite having considered doing so ever since its IPO, which was more years ago than I care to divulge. It is down approximately 5% from its recent high and appears to have support about $2 lower than its current price. I think that it can withstand any tumult in the overall market with its option premium and dividend offering some degree of comfort in the event of a downturn.

Although, I currently own shares of Williams Companies (WMB) and am uncertain as to whether I will add shares, as I’m over-invested in the energy sector and may favor Transocean to Williams. However, it too, offers a dividend this week and shares seem to be very comfortable at t its current level, which is about 7% lower than its April 2013 high point.

Finally, the lone earnings related trade of the week is Navistar (NAV), now back from the pink sheet dead. Mindful that its last earnings report saw a 50% rise in share price, you can’t completely dismiss a similar move to the downside in the event of a disappointment in earnings or guidance. However, recent reports from Caterpillar (CAT), Cummins Engine (CMI), Joy Global and others suggests that there won’t be horrible news, although you can never predict how the market will react or what other factors may drag an innocent company along for a ride. In Navistar’s case, the weekly futures imply about a 7% move. In the meantime, the sale of a put at a strike price 10% below the current price could provide a 1% ROI. NAy more than that loss and you should be prepared to add Navistar shares to your portfolio and hopefully you’ll enjoy the ride.

Traditional Stocks: Dow Chemical, Intuit, Transocean, Weyerhauser

Momentum Stocks: Joy Global, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: Baxter International (ex-div 6/5), Coach (ex-div 6/5), Coca Cola Enterprises (ex-div 6/5), Williams Companies (ex-div 6/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Navistar (6/6 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 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 – March 3, 2013

Sequester This.

Despite being a reasonably smart guy, I’ve never understood how to play the game of “craps.” It’s too fast, there are too many possible decisions and when you get right down to it, it’s name is probably based on something that aptly describes something you’d rather not touch or taste. A name like that should serve as fair warning to stay away. Sometimes a glance at the people playing the game sends the same message.

Not that a word like “sequester” is any better. The very sound of “sequestration” makes me want to cringe as I think about what my poor dachshund had to endure. It’s probably almost as bad as what the individual investor has to endure on a maddeningly frequent basis as markets whipsaw for no apparent reason, yet there’s never a shortage of reasons to explain the unexplainable. At least the dog never required an explanation and eventually went on his way, fully healed from the experience. I can’t say the same thing about my portfolio.

The events that spurred the past week’s early sell-off was by all accounts equal parts Italy, Federal Reserve and Sequestration. Later in the week, as the market was knocking at the gates of 2007’s record levels it was Italy, the Federal Reserve and the lack of interest in the Sequestration that were responsible for the turn of events.

What’s not to understand?

Just a few months earlier the new year’s gains were said to be due to averting the Fiscal Cliff. You may or may not recall the gyrations the market took as competing elected officials decided to vent and spew as they raised and then dashed hopes of a meaningful resolution and simply played craps with other people’s portfolios. Since we’ve all learned that ethical guidelines regarding investment portfolios of elected officials are rather lax, you had to wonder just how the “house” odds were stacked in their game of craps.

This time around as the Sequestration deadline loomed the market just kept chugging along higher. It’s hard to understand that as it seems that there can only be a downside, regardless of whether a resolution is reached or not, unless it becomes clear that there really is no danger posed by this thing they’ve called “The Sequester.”

It seems odd that many are taking great pains to paint frightening and untenable outcomes if the sequestration becomes reality. Yet no one seems to care. Not the man on the street, who based on his knowledge of geography can’t possibly have any idea of what the sequestration is, nor the markets.

To me, the ultimate game of craps was being played this week, as no one really knows what either outcome to this most recent crisis will bring the economy or the markets. Yet that didn’t stop concerned parties from dueling press conferences and then abandoning Washington, DC prior to the deadline and prior to an agreement. Most of all, it didn’t end money pouring into stocks and pushing them higher and higher.

Couple that uncertainty with the certainty that myriads of people beginning to foam at the corners of their mouths felt as we got tantalizingly closer to the heights of 2007. That’s precisely how storms are created.

Just as there were dueling certainties, we also had dueling countdown clocks this past week. Nothing good ever comes of those clocks, whether for the sequestration deadline or Dow points until 14164.

Option to Profit subscribers know that I’ve been unusually dour the past week or two out of concern for a repeat of 2012’s market month long 9% drop. The course that we’re following currently seems eerily familiar.

With that personal concern it’s somewhat more difficult to select stock picks for the coming week, particularly while also looking for opportunities to raise cash positions in preparation for bargains ahead.

However, as Jim Cramer has long said, “there’s always a bull market somewhere.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but there’s always a strategic approach to fit every circumstance.

In this case, while I strongly favor weekly options, where they are available, concerns regarding a quick and sharp downturn lead me to look more closely at monthly or even longer option opportunities in an attempt to still put money to work but to not be left empty handed after expiration of a weekly contract, while then holding a greatly devalued position. The longer term contracts, although perhaps offering lower time adjusted ROIs, do offer some opportunity to assure premium flow for more than a single week and do allow for greater time to ride out any storms.

The week’s selections are categorized as either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” and include a look at premiums derived from selling weekly, remaining March 2013 options or April 2013 options (see details).

Deere (DE) was on my list last week, as well. But like most items on the list last week, it remained unpurchased as my cautionary outlook was already at work. In the past month Deere has already had a fairly big drop compared to the S&P 500. I don’t see very much sequester related risk with a position right now, but Deere does have a habit of getting dragged along with others reacting to bad industrial news.COF

Citibank (C) was also on the list last week, but was replaced by Morgan Stanley (MS) as one of the few trades of the week. Although I’m expecting some market challenges ahead, I don’t believe that the decline will be lead by financials, which have already been week of late. If the sequestration occurs and some of the forecasted job cuts become reality, in the short term, I would expect the credit side of Capital One’s (COF) business to benefit. I’ve had Capital One on my wish list in the past, but haven’t bought shares for quite a while, as its monthly only options premiums were always off putting. Now that there are weekly options available, it seems strange that I’d be looking more toward the security provided by the longer term contracts.

With all of the dysfunction at JC Penney (JCP) and Sears’ (SHLD) ambivalence about its position in retail, Kohls (KSS) is just a solid performer. Its been in the news lately, including the rumor category. My shares were recently assigned, but as earnings are out of the way and price is returning to the comfort range, Kohls, too, is another of the boring, but reliable stocks that can be especially welcome when all else is languishing.

Although I own Williams Companies (WMB) with some frequency, I’m not certain that I can refer to it as one of my “favorites.” It’s performance while holding it is usually middling, but sometimes it’s alright to be just average. Williams does go ex-dividend this week and is also in my comfort zone with its current price.

YUM Brands (YUM) is one of those stocks that seem to have a revolving door in my portfolio. It is probably as responsive to analysts interpretation of events as any stock that I’ve seen and it typically finds its way back to where it started before the poorly conceived interpretations were unleashed on the investing public. I had wanted to pick up shares last week to replace those assigned the week prior, but simply valued cash more.

Praxair (PX) is just a boring company whose big gas tanks are ubiquitous. Sometimes boring companies are just the right tonic, when the stresses of a falling market are prevailing, at least in my mind. Making a dividend payment this week makes it less boring and perhaps it still has enough helium on hand to resist falling.

Pandora (P) reports earnings this week and it is fully capable of moving 25% on that event. At the moment, the options market is factoring in approximately a 16% move. AT it’s current price, I would strongly consider taking chances of receiving a 1+% ROI in return for seeing a 25% or less price drop.

On a positive note, we can draw a parallel from an astute observation from more than a century ago. Since “everything that can be invented has been invented,” there was clearly no future need for the Patent Office. So too, with the passing of the Sequestration, there can be no other unforeseen man made fiscal crises possible, so it should all be milk and honey going forward. Don’t let the higher volatility fool you into believing otherwise.

Traditional Stocks: Deere, Capital One, Kohls

Momentum Stocks: Citibank, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Williams Company (ex-div 3/6)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Pandora (3/7 PM)

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

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