Sometimes if you take a step back and look at the big picture it’s much easer to see what’s going on as you distance yourself from the source.
No one, for example, falls off a cliff while watching the evening news from the safety of their media room, although being in the last car of a train doesn’t necessarily protect you when the lead car is getting ready to take a dive.
I’m not certain that anyone, whether knee deep in stocks or just casually looking at things from a dispassionate distance could have foreseen the events of the past week.
For starters, there really were no events to foresee. Certainly none to account for the nearly 4% decline in the S&P 500, with about half of that loss coming on the final trading day of the week.
What appears to have happened is that last week’s strong Employment Situation Report was the sharp bend in the track that obscured what was awaiting.
Why the rest of the track beyond that bend disappeared is anyone’s guess, as is the distance to the ground below.
With Friday’s collapse that added on to the losses earlier in the week, the market is now about 6% below its August highs and 2.3% lower on the year, with barely 3 weeks left in 2015.
Not too long ago we saw that the market was again capable of sustaining a loss of greater than 10%, although it had been a long time since we had last seen that occur. The recovery from those depths was fairly quick, also hastened by an Employment Situation report, just 2 months ago.
I don’t generally have very good prescience, but I did have a feeling of unease all week, as this was only about the 6th time in the past 5 years that I didn’t open any new positions on the week. All previous such weeks have also occurred in 2015.
The past week had little to be pleased about. Although there was a single day of gains, even those were whittled away, as all of the earlier attempts during the week to pare losses withered on the vine.
Most every sell-off this year, particularly coming at the very beginning of the week has seemed to be a good point to wade in, in pursuit of some bargains. Somehow, however, I never got that feeling last week, although I did briefly believe that the brakes were put on just in time before the tracks ran out up ahead early during Thursday’s trading.
For that brief time I thought that I had missed the opportunity to add some bargains, but instead used the strength to roll over positions a day earlier than I more normally would consider doing.
That turned out to be good luck, as there again was really no reason to expect that the brakes would give out, although that nice rally on Thursday did become less impressive as the day wore on.
Maybe that should have been the sign, but when you’re moving at high speed and have momentum behind you, it’s not easy to stop, much less know that there’s a reason to stop.
Now, as a new and potentially big week is upon us with the FOMC Statement release and Janet Yellen’s press conference to follow, the real challenge may be in knowing when to get going again.
I plan on being circumspect, but wouldn’t mind some further declines to start the coming week. At some point, you can hand over the edge and realize that firm footing isn’t that far below. Getting just a little bit closer to the ground makes the prospect of taking the leap so much easier.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in the Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
It’s not entirely accurate to say that there were no events during the past week.
There was one big, really big event that hit early in the week and was confirmed a few days later.
That was the merger of DJIA component DuPont (DD) and its market capitalization equivalent and kissing cousin, Dow Chemical (DOW).
After both surged on the initial rumor, they gave back a substantial portion of those gains just two days later.
I currently own shares of Dow Chemical and stand to lose it to assignment at $52.50 next week, although it does go ex-dividend right before the end of the year and that may give some incentive to roll the position over to either delay assignment or to squeeze out some additional premium.
While it would be understandable to think that such a proposed merger would warrant regulatory scrutiny, the announced plans to break up the proposed newly merged company into 3 components may ease the way for the merger.
A with the earlier mega-merger between Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN) for some more questionable reasons related to tax liability, even if higher scrutiny is warranted, it’s hard to imagine action taken so quickly as to suppress share price. Because of that unlikely situation, the large premium available for selling Dow Chemical calls makes the buy/write seem especially inviting, particularly as the dividend is factored into the equation.
General Motors (GM) is ex-dividend this coming week and like many others, the quick spike in volatility has made its option premiums more and more appealing, even during a week that it is ex-dividend.
I almost always buy General Motors in advance of its dividend and as I look back over the experience wonder why I hadn’t done so more often.
Its current price is below the mean price for the previous 6 holdings over the past 18 months and so this seems to be a good time to add shares to the ones that I already own.
The company has been incredibly resilient during that time, given some of its legal battles. That resilience has been both in share price and car sales and am improving economy should only help in both regards.
After a month of rolling over Seagate Technology (STX) short puts, they finally expired this past Friday. The underlying shares didn’t succumb to quite the same selling pressure as did the rest of the market.
As with Dow Chemical, I did give some thought to keeping the position alive even as I want to add to my cash position and the expiration of a short put contract would certainly help in that regard.
With the Seagate Technolgy cash back in hand after the expiration of those puts, I would like to do it over again, especially if Seagate shows any weakness to start the week.
Those shares are still along way away from recovering the large loss from just 2 months ago, but they have traded well at the $34.50 range.
By my definition that means a stock that has periodic spasms of movement in both directions, but returns to some kind of a trading range in between. Unfortunately, sometimes those spasms can be larger than expected and can take longer than expected to recover.
As long as the put market has some liquidity and the options are too deeply in the money, rolling over the short puts to keep assignment at bay is a possibility and the option premiums can be very rewarding
Finally, it was a rough week for most all stocks, but the financials were hit especially hard as the interest rate on a 10 Year Treasury Note fell 6%.
That hard hit included Morgan Stanley (MS), which fell 9% on the week and MetLife (MET), which fared better, dropping by only 8%.
The decline on the former brought it back down to the lows it experienced after its most recent earnings report. At those levels I bought and was subsequently assigned out of shares on 4 occasions during a 5 week period.
In my world that’s considered to be as close to heaven as you can hope to get.
With the large moves seen in Morgan Stanley over the past 2 months it has been offering increasingly attractive option premiums and can reasonably be expected to begin to show some strength as an interest rate increase becomes reality.
MetLife, following the precipitous decline of this past week is now within easy striking distance of its 52 week low. However, shares do appear to have some reasonably good price support just $1 below Friday’s close and as with Morgan Stanley, the option premiums are indicating increased uncertainty that’s been created because of the recent strong moves lower.
In a raising rate environment those premiums can offset any near term bumpiness in the anticipated path higher, as these financial sector stocks tend to follow interest rates quite closely.
The only lesson to be learned is that sometimes it pays to not follow too closely if there’s a cliff awaiting you both.