It was a little odd having the Employment Situation Report released on a day that stock markets were closed yet bond markets and equity futures were trading on an abbreviated schedule.
It reminds me of the frustrations that I sometimes experience when being unable to react to news that moves a stock’s price after the market has closed on the Friday of option expiration. The option holder has the advantage of being able to exercise or not until nearly 90 minutes after the market has closed while as the seller of an option I can do nothing to respond to the news.
In trading circles that is something referred to as “a case of the blue calls.”
Not that I would know, but I would imagine that’s something like being in the old Times Square, before Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned it up and chased all of the adult entertainment away. Those glass walls between the patrons pumping quarters into the booth and the paid entertainment must have been frustrating for those watching events unfold but being incapable of taking appropriate action. That’s especially the case if knowing that a more genteel, moneyed and privileged clientele was in the back room and had less restricted access.
Or so I’ve heard. I believe that there was an expression describing that situation, as well.
While analysts are going to be spending time trying to find something good to say about the data released, the number of new jobs created was the smallest in more than a year and included downward revisions of the past 2 months. In fact, the 126,000 new jobs created in March was about half of what the consensus had been expecting. The 69,000 jobs downward revisions makes you wonder whether the decidedly negative reaction to what was perceived as a heating up jobs market previously was warranted.
The smaller than expected job creation number caused an immediate and large decline in interest rates and a meaningful decline in stock futures, although on very light volume.
Still, there was a net increase in jobs, and there is no specter of unmanageable and unruly lines queuing up as in scenes from 75 years ago. Yet we will begin trading on Monday on the far end of a 3 day vacuum having been unable to respond to the immediate reactions to Friday morning’s news.
After a few days to mull it over we may learn whether the disappointing employment news is ultimately interpreted as being good or bad for the stock market and more specifically for the likelihood of interest rates being increased sooner rather than later.
After all, lately that seems to be all that markets have cared about and the speculation has gone back and forth as the data has done the same.
As far as the Treasury market is concerned their bet is on lower interest rates after the Employment Situation Report was released and they’re said to be smarter than the average investor.
When rates go back up just as quickly, as they have volleyed back and forth over the past few weeks, we can remind ourselves that the back and forth of rates simply reflects how smart those bond traders really are.
One might think that any further decline in rates would be good for stocks particularly as an alternative to bonds, unless it is interpreted as being bad news that the tepid economic expansion was actually beginning a deceleration phase.
Couple that thought with the worry that the upcoming earnings season is going to highlight currency woes more than costs savings from lower energy and you do have the makings of continued uncertainty about where the next catalyst to move stocks higher will be coming from.
Normally, I like uncertainty, but unfortunately, the uncertainty that we’ve seen over the past few weeks as markets have regularly alternated between triple digit gains and losses hasn’t really moved volatility as much as it would seem to have been logical. That’s because most days have actually traded with great certainty, showing little variance from where the day’s trading started and then giving way to an all new kind of certainty the very next day.
We’ll see how that certainty shows itself on Monday.
It’s anyone’s guess.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) is one of many stocks that I currently own that are not earning their keep because they’re too far below their purchase price to warrant writing calls and generating premium income. While shares do go ex-dividend this week, the dividend is too small to justify chasing or to make a trade simply in the hopes of capturing that dividend.
However, I’ve been happy to see some of the share gains seen after earnings in February get digested, notwithstanding this past Thursday’ strong gain. The slow and methodical retracement of those gains is providing an opportunity to add shares of Whole Foods again with the goal of using new shares to help offset some of the losses on the non-performing lot, as was done 5 times in 2014.
However, following the previous share increase after earnings those shares just seemed too expensive to use as an offset to paper losses. However, now they appear to be more reasonably priced and ready to stabilize at that lower level.
Having add my General Motors (NYSE:GM) shares assigned last month I’ve wanted to repurchase shares since then. At the time the entry of an activist into the picture was unexpected and poor timing for me, but I’m glad to see shares come down from that activist induced high.
Through several bouts of share ownership during the Mary Barra era I’ve continued to be amazed at how well share price has persevered against a barrage of bad news. The toll on share price has generally been small and short lived, while being able to roll over option contracts helped to increase yield while awaiting assignment.
Shares offer attractive premiums, an increasingly attractive dividend and the watchful eyes of activists. That can be a good combination particularly since earnings are still a month away, giving some opportunity to collect those premiums before contending with the challenge of currency.
Bed Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) reports earnings this week and used to be one of those traditionally being among the last of S&P 500 members to report earnings. Now it’s either still among the last or possibly among the first, as earnings seasons now just tend to flow one into the next.
While Bed bath and Beyond isn’t likely to suffer much due to the strengthening dollar, in fact it may benefit from increased buying power, it may report some detriment from the west coast port disruptions.
Bed Bath and Beyond is no stranger to large moves when announcing its earnings, but this time the options market is implying a move of 6.5%. A 1% ROI may be possible by selling put options as much as 7.1% below the week’s closing price. That’s not as large of a cushion as I would prefer seeing, but if selling puts and faced with the possibility of assignment, I wouldn’t mind taking ownership of shares rather than attempting to roll the put options over.
Being booted from the DJIA isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just as being added isn’t always a good thing as far as stock prices go.
Few have done as well as Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which despite a nearly 50% decline since reaching it’s peak post-DJIA share price is still about 65% higher and has well out-performed the S&P 500 and the DJIA.
Alcoa, which reports earnings this week, and while perhaps no longer considered to be the kick-off to a new earnings season still remains the first to get much attention.
Shares have been in a considerable decline for the past 2 months after having recovered from most of the decline that preceded the market’s decline in early December 2014. The subsequent recovery in share price at that time was in lock step with the S&P 500 from mid-December to mid-January when earnings intervened.
Unlike most earnings related trades that I consider, for this one I’m not looking at the sale of puts, but rather a buy/write and am further considering the use of a slightly out of the money option, rather than an in the money strike price, in the belief that there’s reason to suspect both on a technical basis and a fundamental basis that there is room to move higher.
While it’s too soon to tell how its continuing performance will be, AT&T (NYSE:T) has joined Alcoa as an ex-member of the DJIA. During the two week period of its exile, shares have out-performed the S&P 500, just as its replacement has trailed.
While 2 weeks doesn’t make for a trend, as AT&T shares are ex-dividend this week, I think there may be enough past history with other ex-members in the immediate period of their expulsion to create a tiny additional increment of confidence. WHile that confidence doesn’t necessarily extend to believing that shares will move higher in the very near term, it does make me feel better about the prospects of it continuing to out-perform the broader market.
With it’s very generous dividend the option premium isn’t very large, but at the very least will offset some of the decline in price that will occur as the dividend is taken into account. With much of the competitive hoopla and pressure now in the past and with less of a concern about currency fluctuations, this may be a good time to consider a position as shares may be a bit more immune to some of the pressures that may face many other multi-national companies as earnings are soon to be released.
Finally, being added to the DJIA isn’t necessarily a golden ticket, either, as some more recently added members may attest.
In exchange for AT&T’s departure Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was added and has since trailed the narrow index as excitement mounts over the prospects for its latest product entry.
I’m not as excited about that as I am about the prospects of Apple announcing a dividend increase most likely concurrent with its next earnings release in 3 weeks. Between now and then I think there are going to be many opportunities for Tim Cook and others to increasingly whip up excitement and demand for a product that has a fairly low bar being set.
In the meantime Apple continues to offer an attractive option premium and can easily be considered as either a buy/write or put sale, as there is considerable liquidity on either side of the options aisle.
Traditional Stocks: Apple, General Motors
Momentum Stocks: none
Double Dip Dividend: AT&T (4/8), Whole Foods (4/8 $0.13)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Alcoa (4/8 PM), Bed Bath and Beyond (4/8 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.