After setting a new high on the S&P 500 last week, the bull was asleep this holiday shortened trading week, having been virtually flat for the first 3 days of trading and having been devoid of the kind of intra-day volatility that has marked most of 2015.
That’s of course only if you ignore how the week ended, as this time the S&P 500 wasn’t partying alone, as the DJIA and other indexes joined in recording new record highs.
For the briefest of moments as the market opened for trading on Friday morning it looked as if that gently sleeping bull was going to slip into some kind of an unwarranted coma and slip away, as the DJIA dropped 100 points with no consequential news to blame.
However, as has been the case for much of 2015 a reversal wiped out that move and returned the market to that gentle sleep that saw a somnolent market add a less than impressive 0.1% to its record close from the previous week.
In a perfect example of why you should give up trying to apply rational thought processes to an irrational situation, the market then later awoke from that gentle sleep in a paroxysm of buying activity, as an issue that we didn’t seem to care about before today, took hold, thereby demonstrating the corollary to “It is what it is” by showing that it only matters when it matters.
That issue revolved around Greece and the European Union. The relationship of Greece and the EU seemed to be heading toward a potential dissolution as a new Greek government was employing its finest bluster, but without much base to its bravado. As it was all unfolding, this time around, as compared to the last such crisis a few years ago, we seemed content to ignore the potential consequences to the EU and their banking system.
While that situation was being played out in the news most analysts agreed it was impressive that US markets were ignoring the drama inherent in the EU dysfunction. The threat of contagion to other “weak sister”nations in the event of a member nation’s exit and the very real question of the continuing integrity of that union seemed to be an irrelevancy to our own markets.
Yet for some reason, while we didn’t care about the potential bad news, the market seemed to really care when the bluster gave way to capitulation, even though the result was reminiscent of the very finest in “kicking the can down the road” as practiced by our own elected officials over the past few governmental stalemates.
From that moment on, as the rumors of some sort of accord were being made known the calm of the week gave way to some irrational buying.
Of course, when that can was on our own shores, the result in our stock market was exactly the same when it was kicked, so the lesson has to be pretty clear about ever wanting to do anything decisive.
Next week, however, may bring a rational reason to do something to either spur that bull to new heights or to send it into retreat.
Forget about the impending congressional testimony that Janet Yellen will be providing for 2 days next week as the impetus for the market to move. Why look for external stimulants in the form of economist-speak when you already have all of the ingredients that you need in the form of fundamentals, a language that you understand?
While “Fashion Week” was last week and exciting for some, the real excitement comes this week with the slew of earnings from major national retailers trying to sell all of those fashions. While their backward looking reports may not reflect the impact of decreased energy prices among their customers, their forward looking comments may finally bring some light to what is really going on in the economy.
With “Retail Sales” reports of the past two months, which also include gasoline purchases, having left a bad taste with investors, a better taste of things to come has already been telegraphed by some retailers in their rosy comments in advance of their earnings release.
This coming week could offer lots of rational reasons to move the market next week. Unfortunately, that could be in either direction.
With earnings reports back on center stage after a relatively quiet earnings week, stocks were mostly asleep, but, that was definitely not the case in other markets. If looking for a source of contagion there are lots of potential culprits.
Bond markets, precious metals and oil all continued their volatility. The 10 Year Treasury Bond, for example saw abrupt and large changes in direction this week and has seen rates head about 30% higher over the past couple of weeks after the FOMC sowed some doubt into their intentions and timing.
While Janet Yellen may shed some light on FOMC next steps and their time frame, she is, to some degree held hostage by some of those markets, as traders move interest rates and energy prices around without regard to policy or to what they position they held deeply the day before.
For my part, I don’t mind the marked indecision in other markets as long as this current market in equities can keep moving forward a small step at a time in its sleep.
As usual, the week’s potential stock selections are classified as being in Traditional, Double Dip Dividend, Momentum or “PEE” categories.
Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) after all of these years is sadly in the position of having to establish an identity for itself, although with a market capitalization of $42 billion lots of that sadness can be assuaged.
It’s difficult to think of another situation in which a CEO has seen shares rise nearly 180% during their tenure, in this case about 30 months, yet remain so highly criticized. However, after a storied history it is a little embarrassing to be best known as the company that once owned Alibaba (NYSE:BABA), although the billions received and the billions more to come help to ease some of that awkwardness.
With Alibaba’s next lock-up expiration coming on March 18, 2015, there’s potentially some downward pressure on Yahoo which still has a sizeable stake in Alibaba, However, as has been seen over the last few years the flooding of the market with new shares doesn’t necessarily result in the logical outcome.
In the meantime, while there is some concern over the impact of that event on Yahoo shares and as Alibaba has its own uncertainties beyond the lock-up expiration, option premiums in Yahoo have gotten a little richer as shares have already come down 11% since earnings were reported. After that decline either a covered call or put sale, as an intended very short term trade may be appropriate as waiting for Yahoo to find itself before you grow too old.
For as long as Jamie Dimon remains as its CEO and Chairman, JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) isn’t likely to have any identity problems. Despite not having anywhere near the returns of Yahoo during the period of his tenure and having paid out much more in regulatory fines than Yahoo received for its Alibaba shares, the criticism is scant other than by those who battle over the idea of “too big too faii” and the actual fine-worthy actions.
However, just as the CEO of Yahoo was able to benefit from an event outside of her control, which was the purchase of Alibaba by her predecessor years earlier, Dimon stands to benefit from what will eventually be a rising interest rate rate environment. Amid some confusion over the FOMC’s comments regarding the adverse impact of low rates, but also the adverse impact of raising them too quickly, rates resumed their climb after a quick 4% decline. While the financial sector wasn’t the weakest last weak, energy had that honor, there isn’t too much reason to suspect that interest rates will return to their recent low levels.
BGC Partners (NASDAQ:BGCP) is another company that has no such identity problems as much of its identity is wrapped up in its Chairman and CEO, who has just come to agreement with the board of GFI Group (NYSE:GFIG) in his takeover bid.
For the past 10 years BGC Partners has closely tracked the interest rate on the 10 Year Treasury Note, although notably during much of 2014 it did not. Recently, however, it appears that relationship is back on track. If so, and you believe that rates will be heading higher, the opportunity for share appreciation exists. In addition to that, however, is also a very attractive dividend and shares do go ex-dividend this week. With only a monthly option contract available and large gaps between strike levels, this is a position that may warrant a longer term time frame commitment.
Also going ex-dividend this week are McDonalds (NYSE:MCD) and SanDisk (NASDAQ:SNDK).
I often think about buying shares of McDonalds, but rarely do so. Most of the time that turned out to have been a bad decision if looking at it from a covered option perspective. From a buy and hold perspective, however, it has been more than 2 years since there have been any decent entry points and returns.
With a myriad of problems facing it and a new CEO to tackle them my expectation is that more bad news is unlikely other than at the next earnings release when it wouldn’t be too surprising to see the traditional use of charges against earnings to make the new CEO’s future performance look so much better by comparison. Between now and that date in 2 months, I think there will be lots of opportunity to reap option premiums from shares, as I anticipate it trading in a narrow range or higher. Getting started with a nice dividend this week makes the process more palatable than many have been finding the menu.
SanDisk is a company that was written off years ago as being nothing more than a company that offered a one time leading product that had devolved into a commodity. You don’t, however, see too many analysts re-visiting that opinion as they frequently offer buy recommendations on shares.
SanDisk is also a company that I’ve very infrequently owned, but almost always consider adding shares when I have cash reserves and need some more technology positions in my portfolio. After a week of lots of assignments both are now the case and while its dividend isn’t as generous as that of McDonalds, it serves as a good time for entry and offers a very attractive option premium even during a week that it goes ex-dividend.
Despite a 10% share price increase since earnings, it is still about 15% below its price when it warned on earnings just a week prior to the event and received a belated downgrade from “buy to hold.” WIth continuing upside potential, this is a position that I would consider either leaving some shares uncovered or using more than one strike level for call sales
Most often when considering a trade involving a company about to report earnings and selling put options, my preference is to avoid taking ownership of shares. Generally, put sales shouldn’t be undertaken unless willing to accept the potential liability of ownership, but sometimes you would prefer to only take the reward and not the risk, if you can get away with doing so.
Additionally, I generally look for opportunities where I can receive a 1% ROI for the sale of a weekly put contract that is a strike level below the lower range of the implied move determined by the option market.
However, in the cases of Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and The Gap (NYSE:GPS) that 1% ROI is right at the lower boundary, but I would still consider the prospect of put sales because I wouldn’t shy away from share ownership in the event of an adverse price move.
The Gap, which makes sharp moves on a regular basis as it still reports monthly sales, did so just a week earlier. It seems to also regularly find itself alternating in the eyes of investors who send shares higher or lower as if each month brings deep systemic change to the company. However, taking a longer term view or simply looking at its chart, it’s clear that shares have a way of just returning to a fleece-like comfortable level in the $39-$41 range.
In the event of an adverse price movement and facing assignment, puts can be rolled over targeting the next same store sales week as an expiration date or simply taking ownership of shares and then using that same date as a time frame for call sales. If rolling over puts I would be mindful of an April ex-dividend date and would consider taking ownership of shares prior to that time if put contracts aren’t likely to expire.
Since I have room for more than a single new technology position this week, Hewlett Packard warrants a look, as what was once derisively referred to as “old tech” is once again respectable. While I would consider starting the exposure through the sale of puts, with an ex-dividend date coming up in just a few weeks, I’d be more inclined to take assignment in the event of an adverse price move after earnings.
Finally, there’s still reason to believe that energy prices are going to continue to confound most everyone. The coupling and de-coupling of oil to and from the stock market, respectively has become too unpredictable to try to harness. However, given the back and forth seen in prices over the past month as a floor may have been put in oil prices, there may be some opportunity in considering a pairs trade, such as Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) and United Continental (NYSE:UAL).
United Continental and other airlines have essentially been mirror images to the moves in oil, although not always for clearly understandable reasons, as the relative role of hedging can vary among airlines, although United has reportedly closed out its hedged positions and may be a more pure trading candidate on the basis of fuel prices..
While it’s not too likely that either of these stocks will move in the same direction concurrently, the short term volatility in their prices and the extremely appealing premiums may allow the chance to prosper in one while awaiting the other’s turn to do the same.
The idea is to purchase shares and sell calls of both as a coupled trade with the expectation that they would be decoupled as oil rises or falls and one position or another is either rolled over or assigned, as a result. The remaining position is then managed on its own merits or possibly even re-coupled.
As with earnings related trades that I make that are usually agnostic to the relative merits of the company, focusing only on the risk – reward proposition, this trade is not one that cares too much about the merits of either company. Rather, it cares about their responses to the unpredictable movements in oil price that have been occurring on daily and even on an intra-day basis of late.
Traditional Stocks: JP Morgan Chase, Marathon Oil
Momentum Stocks: United Continental Holdings, Yahoo
Double Dip Dividend: BGC Partners (2/26), McDonalds (2/26), SanDisk (2/26)
Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Hewlett Packard (2/24 PM), The Gap (2/26 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.